Darryl Parker doesn't expect a honeymoon period following his election as president of United Steelworkers Local 1375 at Warren's largest steel mill.
"I hit the ground running," the local's first African-American president said, noting he's already talked with Bill Beinecke, chief operating officer of RG Steel's Warren mill, and plans to meet soon with Tom Cera, chief executive officer of the Warren and Wheeling-Pitt operations.
United Steelworkers Local 1375 president Darryl Parker takes the reins at at RG Steel’s Warren mill.
A 32 year veteran of the mill - 44 years total in the steel industry - Parker replaces Ed Machingo in a year of celebration but also of concern.
The mill is marking its 100th anniversary after being founded in 1912 as the Trumbull Steel Co. Photos, facts and figures of its history are on display at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor on the Youngstown State University campus.
But RG's roughly 1,100 hourly and salaried workers are facing another in a series of challenges that began with layoffs during the steep recession in late 2008 and the mill's idling for about a year before reopening in March 2010.
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
Parker, right, is seen with Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.
RG last week announced temporary pay and some benefit cuts for about 140 salaried and nonunion office workers in an effort to save money due to rising cost of raw materials needed to make steel, along with operating expenses.
Parker, who will be 62 at the end of the month, urged the government to put more emphasis on helping the steel industry.
"I feel steel should be part of our national security because of its importance to the military and survival of our troops," he said.
Darryl Parker file
Who: First African-American president of United Steelworkers Local 1375 at RG Steel's Warren mill
Age: 62 at end of May
Family: wife, Colette; daughter, Angelica, 14
Quote: "I feel steel should be part of our national security because of its importance to the military and survival of our troops."
Parker also urged lawmakers to pass a transportation infrastructure construction and repair bill to boost demand for steel used in bridges, highways and public transportation.
Steel prices have fluctuated but have dropped to $680 a ton from $740 a ton, he said, complicating RG's future.
Parker, who followed the January swearing-in of Warren's first African-American mayor, Doug Franklin, said he doesn't feel any extra pressure as the first African-American president of Local 1375, which emerged from the Little Steel Strike in 1937.
"The pressure is to keep this facility running," he said.
The mill needs a reline of the blast furnace, where iron ore, limestone and a coal-based fuel known as coke are burned to make iron ore, he said.
"They've been doing some repairs to keep us running, but if we don't get a commitment for the blast furnace, I think our facility is in deep trouble," he said.
Parker said he's been in talks with management to be creative in finding wasy to start up other operations to enhance the mill's position with customers.
"We feel they've gone too long without necessary repairs," he said, noting the mill's recent series of small fires and malfunctions. "The problems are solvable. They know what they have to do."
Parker said one advantage the Warren mill may have is that RG's owner is New York financier Ira Rennert, who owned the mill after buying it in 1988 in LTV Corp.'s bankruptcy.
He lost control when creditors brought the mill out of its own bankruptcy in May 2006, but reclaimed it and two other large mills, Sparrows Point in Baltimore and Wheeling-Pitt, in a $1.2 billion deal with Russia's OAO Severstal in March 2011.
"Rennert knows our facility better than he knows the other two. He knows the quality here," Parker said, adding the mill has always been profitable or near-profitable.
With a veteran work force - the average age is 56 - RG is known for filling small, special orders that larger mills can't or don't want to bother with. Products include high strength steel for pipe, tubing and auto parts.
Pipes needed to tap and transport natural gas and oil out of the area's rich Utica shale formation is one fast developing market. RG supplies steel for pipemakers Bull Moose Tube, Wheatland Tube and others, Parker said.
Parker is no stranger to challenges. One of seven children, he helped raise younger siblings after his mother, Gloria Parker, became ill with diabetes. She suffered brain damage after slipping into a diabetic coma, prompting his grandmother, Anna Dansby, and other family members to help raise the children.
"We all came together," Parker said, adding neighbors, teachers and others served as role models. "I had a lot of individuals who took me under their wing and pulled on me if I was doing something wrong."
The determination to overcome adversity is critical, he said.
"We've become a society of excuses. If I can overcome the issues I had as a kid and adult, I don't see why others can't overcome theirs," he said.