Emotions ran high as the AK Steel Ashland Works coating line conducted its final run.
Monday marked another step toward finality at the century-old plant. Workers produced the last coil at 10:14 a.m.
“Everyone was walking the line, and as we walked the line, everyone watched it,” said Brian Boggs, a 54-year-old who is in his 32nd year with the company. He’s an electronics technician. “That just shows the pride people have in the job. It’s world class. Even today, we’re setting records as we shut down. AK Steel will miss Ashland Works.”
In September, AK’s remaining 260 employees received notices of Ashland Works’ end-of-year closure. A number of them have transferred to other AK plants. The first phase of layoffs takes effect this week. As of next Monday, about 84 employees will remain. They will wrap up their time at Ashland Works by Dec. 31. Boggs is among them.
As with many area families, a few branches of the family tree consist of steel.
Arthur Boggs, Brian’s father, retired from the B.O. (basic oxygen) shop after 34 years. The father and son worked together for 11 years before Arthur retired in 2003. He has uncles who also worked for AK.
“It was awesome,” Brian reflected on that time period. “Even when I was a kid, I remember my dad coming home with a lunch bucket. … When people said, ‘the mill,’ everybody knew they were talking about Armco (which later became AK).”
The hard-working, blue-collar mentality permeated the plant and was passed down through generations.
Boggs began his career as a laborer in 1988 before navigating to the electronics shop in 1990.
Both Boggs and Rob Yoak were among several who signed the final coil throughout the somber day.
Yoak, 42, notched his 20-year anniversary with the company in August.
“It was definitely an emotional day,” Yoak said. “A lot of us guys were basically kids when we hired in here. We grew up together here. We shared in each other’s marriages, in children, all the different aspects of life.”
Yoak is a third-generation steelworker. His father, Bob, retired in the early 2000s from the 3-line. Bob’s stepfather also worked at AK.
Both Boggs and Yoak said it often felt like more hours were logged at the mill than at home.
“It’s a family; that’s the best way to describe it,” Boggs said.
A figurative dark cloud has hovered over the Amanda blast furnace since it idled in 2015. But, for a while, employees and their families clung to glimmers of hope. As the outlook became more grim, though, Boggs said the workers’ dedication never vacated.
“Even though people knew they were losing their jobs, they still did their job,” he said. “A lot of them don’t understand why (AK Ashland is) closing. The customers want the steel we’re coating.”
Yoak and Boggs haven’t nailed down future plans. Is more education an option? They must wait and see.
“We’re still in limbo to see what benefits will be available,” Yoak said. “The TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) program that people got after the ’15 layoffs, which paid for schooling for two years, I don’t know if we’ll get that.”
Lisa Jester, AK Steel’s corporate manager of communications and public relations, said AK hopes even more Ashland employees will land at other AK facilities in the near future.
Said AK Steel CEO Roger Newport during the company’s third quarter financial release call on Oct. 31: “I would like to thank our Ashland Works team for their tremendous dedication to our company, and for all that they have done to make this transition a smooth one. Many of our Ashland employees have already accepted positions at other AK Steel locations, and I am hopeful that even more will do so going forward.”