By CARL GREEN
Granite City – Workers in the steel industry have been speaking out for years, demanding that a reluctant government enforce its trade laws to keep unfair practices by foreign steel makers from wrecking the domestic industry.
Well, the crisis is at hand, with the current indefinite closing of Granite City Steel, and at least the local elected officials are stepping up to make their voices heard.
The county boards of both Madison and St. Clair counties have passed resolutions describing the devastation to the local economy and damage to the national economy from relentlessly unequal trade practices.
A delegation of local officials would have been in Washington last month to plead that case in person, but the trip was delayed a few days by the winter storm that plastered the east coast.
Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan kicked off the effort at the latest board meeting in Edwardsville.
“The more than 2,000 men and women at Granite City Steel produce the highest quality steel in the world but are being laid off as a result of factors beyond their control,” Dunstan said. “Granite City Steel is absolutely a vital part of the Metro-East economy. The idling of the mill will certainly negatively impact the local economy, but it could be absolutely devastating for the mill’s hard-working, skilled workers.”
He predicted another 5,000 area workers could be affected
“It’s time for Congress and our federal government to level the playing field and take action on behalf of the workers at Granite City Steel and throughout the country.”
Dunstan was planning to take with him Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer; United Steelworkers Local 1899 President Dan Simmons and Local 50 President Jason Chism; and Frank Miles, community and economic development administrator for the county. Their plan was to meet with both Illinois senators, Democratic leader Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, a Republican; plus the three Republicans who represent southern Illinois and the Metro-East in the U.S. House – John Shimkus, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost.
According to Dunstan, they were also set to see some trade officials in the Department of Commerce, and Rep. Pete Visclosky, who represents Gary, IN. “He is a staunch advocate of stringent enforcement of trade laws, particularly those laws that affect the steel industry,” Dunstan said.
“We will be asking Congressman Visclosky what can be done at the local level to support his and other officials’ efforts to support the American steel industry,” Dunstan said. “And we will ask Sen. Durbin, Sen. Kirk and the members of our congressional delegation for their leadership and support, not only for the steel industry, but for the men and women employed at the Granite City Steel works.”
The St. Clair County Board followed suit, passing a resolution calling for the Congressional delegation to try to reduce the dumping of foreign steel.
It states: “Domestic steelmakers continue to lose substantial sales to foreign countries, particularly China and South Korea, which have dumped their steel products in the U.S. market at prices below fair market value.”
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern noted that while many of the employees live in his county, it’s a regional issue.
“We’ve got to stick together, be regional and talk about these issues that are important to all of us,” he said. “These days, great-paying jobs like those at Granite City Steel don’t come easy, and we want to make sure that those in Congress know we would like them to do anything they can to make sure those jobs are preserved in this community.”
On the plus side, Kern noted, is that U.S. Steel has invested heavily in keeping Granite City up to date and productive.
“Granite City Steel has done a lot of great things to modernize that facility,” he said. “They’ve worked together with local labor to perform those improvements, and we want to make sure that the money they’ve invested is put to good use, and the maximum number of employees work there.”
In recent years, Granite City Steel has been a rolling mill making pipe products for the oil industry, which is now in a severe depression. Dunstan suggested finding another market for the plant and noted that the plant could produce a type of steel that Nissan wants to use. Talks are continuing with the car-maker.