Granite City Steelworkers in talks with company over shutdown

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JOBS ON THE LINE: Workers leave at the end of a shift at the U.S. Steel 's Granite City Works steel mill in Granite City. U.S. Steel plans to shut down a section of the works, but the union is in talks with the company to try to minimize the impact. – Erik M. Lunsford/Post-Dispatch photo
JOBS ON THE LINE: Workers leave at the end of a shift at the U.S. Steel 's Granite City Works steel mill in Granite City. U.S. Steel plans to shut down a section of the works, but the union is in talks with the company to try to minimize the impact.
– Erik M. Lunsford/Post-Dispatch photo

Union trying to minimize the impact

Granite City – When U.S. Steel announced last week that it would shut down a section of its Granite City Works, the company issued statements saying 176 jobs would be lost.

Steelworkers’ leaders say that might not be the case. The union is now in talks with the company to plan the shutdown of the plant’s two coke batteries, and those talks, established by the union contract’s Layoff Minimization Plan language, will help determine how much impact the shutdown ultimately has.

“Those discussions are not complete,” said Dave Dowling, Sub District 2 Director for United Steelworkers of America. “The local leaders are trying to minimize the impact, but that’s all ongoing.

“It could be more, it could be less, as we determine what it means,” he said. “We have very competent and very experienced local union leadership. The company must assess what it needs; we’re trying to minimize the impact.”

The shutdown will be especially tough on Local 50, whose membership includes the coke battery workers, while most other Granite City Steel workers are in the larger Local 1899.

The locals are working together on the situation. Local 1899 President Dan Simmons told the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor last week that the problem is U.S. Steel having more overall coke capacity than it needs in a steel industry downturn, while the two coke batteries at Granite City are among its oldest suppliers.

“We’re feeling it across the company,” he said.

Simmons agreed that number of jobs to be lost issued by U.S. Steel is preliminary. The union was given notice on Jan. 19 that the units would close in 90 days. “It was no shock,” he said. “At the same time, it’s still bad news.”

Coke, derived from coal, is a fuel used in the steelmaking process. Gateway Energy and Coke, also a plant in Granite City that supplies U.S. Steel, is not affected by the shutdown.

The company said it would also close a tin mill in East Chicago in mid-March, affecting some 369 jobs, as a result of cheaper imports cutting into the business.

U.S. Steel issued one other statement last month. In 2014, the company had its best full-year profit since 2008, with an adjusted net income of $676 million on cash flow of $1.5 billion.

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