Granite City, IL – Granite City Steel and its workers got some good news on Tuesday, Dec. 13, as U.S. Steel announced it would re-open part of the plant and bring back about 220 employees, although about a thousand will remain laid off.
The plant will begin processing slabs on its hot strip mill in mid-February, the company said, because the company wants to source slabs from its own domestic facilities.
“U.S. Steel is making this adjustment to its hot strip mill operating configuration to provide better alignment with customer needs and improve service while increasing the pace of its asset revitalization plan,” the company said in announcing the plans.
The announcement also said the plans include periodic outages “to improve the capabilities and reliability of the hot strip mills” in Gary, IN at Gary Works, Detroit at Great Lakes Works and Pittsburgh at Mon Valley Works. Granite City will essentially be restored to that group of producers.
Blast furnaces and steelmaking facilities at Granite City will remain idle for now. “The pickle line, cold mill and finishing lines at Granite City Works will continue to operate,” the company said. The pick line is a specialized processing unit.
Those returning include about 200 union members, with 185 United Steel Workers members among them.
While the announcement leaves many Granite City workers laid off, it was the first move to resume operations there in recent months. Most of the plant was shut down indefinitely in December, 2015, when about 2,000 workers were laid off, including about 1,900 union workers. About 435 union workers have continued working at units that were not shut down.
Dan Simmons, president of USW Local 1899, the largest local at the plant, said the announcement stems from recent federal trade cases against low-balling foreign competitors and from negotiations within the company and union.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “We had been working on and talking about things like this for some time. This is a minimal operation, but once it’s up and running, you can always add to the process.”
Jeff Rains, president of the Granite City SOAR retirees’ chapter, said it was welcome news to his active membership. “That’s a lot better than nothing,” he said. “You’ve got a big, valuable piece of machinery that will be running instead of deteriorating.”
State Representative Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, welcomed the news.
“While it is not even close to everything we are working for, there has been some good news from the U.S. Steel plant,” he said in a statement.
Plant worker Bill Plantz was greeted by reporters in the parking lot on Tuesday.
“I hope this opens the door up, and maybe step by step we can open the whole plant back up,” he told them.
State Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton) saw it as a good first step.
“While there is still significant work to be done to ensure the steel industry’s longevity, this is good news from the Granite City plant,” he said. “People are going back to work, which shows progress. We must continue our efforts to make sure that we are using American-made steel in our construction projects and putting people back to work.”
Haine is also running a petition drive to support use of American steel products.
The petition states:
“If we’re going to rebuild America, let’s rebuild it with American steel!
I don’t want my tax dollars used to buy low-grade, low-cost foreign steel. I don’t want my tax dollars used to prop up overseas steel mills and foreign workers.
“We have steel mills and steel workers here who are more than up to the challenge. I want to see Granite City Works at full production and full staffing, cranking out steel for these projects, not continually undercut by cheap foreign steel dumped into the U.S. market.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do across this country. And it should start by putting people to work here in our own backyard.
“Sign my petition to call on Congress and the president-elect to commit to using American-made steel if a national building plan becomes law.”