Improvement in work orders forestalls shutdown
By CARL GREEN
Granite City – It was feared throughout the Metro East like an economic tsunami, but the indefinite shutdown of Granite City Steel has been canceled.
About 2,000 workers were to lose their jobs indefinitely until word edged out last month that the shutdown was off. The entire region, which had braced itself for its most-feared economic disaster, could feel some relief.
“Fantastic! That’s good news,” said B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, when the reversal was presented at that group’s May 28 meeting in East Alton.
For its part, U.S. Steel wasn’t saying much about the welcome turnaround, admitting only that the shutdown was based on “market conditions” and declining to hint about future employment adjustments.
Dan Simmons, president of USW Local 1899, the largest union local at Granite City Steel, told the Federation that an upturn in orders was the main reason for the reversal, saving the company the high cost of closing the plant and then re-opening it later.
Simmons had been given a preview of the announcement but did not permission to reveal it until last week.
“We actually were told that last Thursday (May 21),” he said at the meeting. “Sometimes that mill makes more rumors than steel.”
The plant will now complete installation of a new, improved caster in one of its blast furnaces. That will keep some 80 workers off the job temporarily.
Simmons said the target date for full operation is Aug. 18.
LEGISLATION COULD HELP
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Belleville) was the first to announce the good news, and he used the occasion to promote trade legislation he has been working on in Congress that could help the steel industry in the future.
But even Bost had to admit that the turnaround was not the result of the legislation.
“No legislation would have brought them back to work. It’s the market that had to do that,” he said at a news conference in Belleville.
DECLINING DEMAND, RISING IMPORTS
The entire steel industry has been fighting a deadly combination of slower demand for its products and below-cost dumping in the U.S. by overseas steel makers. The decline in the price of oil, welcomed by most people, has severely reduced demand for steel pipe products.
Congress has been working on trade legislation that could make things better or worse.
A key issue is “Trade Promotion Authority,” also known as Fast Track, which gives the President authority to make international trade deals. Unions have been campaigning against the current proposal. The Steelworkers themselves led a rally on the street below Bost’s office last month.
But Bost said the current legislation is misunderstood and would actually give the President less autonomy from Congress on trade than previous versions of Fast Track.
“A lot of people refer to it as Fast Track, but actually it’s slower,” he said. “It’s truly giving more authority to Congress, and I’m kind of for that.”
Bost said he and allies in Congress are adding language to the customs and enforcement section of the bill that will let steel and other industries get help in situations of import dumping.
The current process dates back to the Roosevelt administration and requires about three years of work to prove that economic damage has occurred.
“It almost has to be until things start shutting down,” Bost said. “What this language does is allows it to happen quicker. They can say, ‘Here’s a loss in revenue and here’s why,’ and we can start responding quicker.”
Steel industry claims about dumping have frequently been rejected, as well, but Bost says the new rules, if passed, would make it easier to get help in the form of tariffs.
“They can show paperwork showing where the damage is occurring, where these markets are being flooded. Once they show that, the Trade Commission can start to respond,” he said. “It allows for faster placing of tariffs to block that dumping from occurring.”
He expects the changes to pass in Congress, possibly this week.