Charles Hurwitz was a pivotal figure in the labor dispute between Kaiser Aluminum and the United Steelworkers.
The Texas billionaire’s company, Maxxam Inc., bought Kaiser in 1988 for $930 million. Hurwitz already had a reputation as a corporate raider. The earlier purchase of Pacific Lumber Co. in Northern California gave Maxxam control of large holdings of redwoods, where the company’s accelerated harvest of old-growth trees provoked environmentalists’ anger and protests by celebrities.
Hurwitz also had part ownership of United Savings of Texas, which failed during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. The bailout cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 billion.
“A lot of us didn’t have much of an idea about Charles Hurwitz until we ended up on the picket line,” said Erv Schleufer, a former welder at Kaiser’s Trentwood plant.
During the labor dispute, Hurwitz became the target of Steelworkers ire. They accused him of breaking the company by leveraging it to the point that failure was imminent. Hurwitz lost his controlling interest in Kaiser Aluminum when the company emerged from bankruptcy.
Schleufer spent about 18 months as a “road warrior” during the labor dispute, raising awareness of the Kaiser lockout and other West Coast labor issues. Schleufer’s travels took him to Humboldt County, California, where labor groups joined with environmentalists to protest redwood logging by Hurwitz’s lumber company.
Hurwitz, 77, remains at the helm of Maxxam as president and chief executive officer, according to the company’s website. His son, Shawn Hurwitz, the former CEO of the Houston investment firm, was killed in a boating accident three years ago.
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