By ELIZABETH DONALD
When U.S. Steel idled the last remaining blast furnace at the Granite City Steelworks in September, the company blamed the then just started United Auto Workers (UAW) strike against the Big Three automakers for what it anticipated would be lower demand for steel.
Now that the UAW has reached agreements with the Big Three automakers, the question remains, will U.S. Steel restart the Granite City blast furnace? If so, when can Granite City steelworkers expect to come back to work?
The answers to both questions are, so far, unknown.
AN EXCUSE TO DIVIDE UNIONS
When U.S. Steel announced it was idling the blast furnace, just days after the UAW strike began, Labor leaders and Democratic political leaders said the company’s attempt to blame the idling on the UAW strike was nothing more than an excuse intended to divide the unions against each other.
U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski called it an “a shameful attempt to pit working people against one another.”
Budzinski was not alone in calling out U.S. Steel’s reasoning. State House candidate Nick Raftopoulos also denounced the move. Republican state Rep. Amy Elik did not issue a statement.
Approximately 300 steelworkers have already been laid off, and so far no recall has been announced.
AUTOMAKERS TRYING TO BLOCK SALE
U.S. Steel has been weighing the sale of the company to Cleveland-Cliffs, which made an unsolicited offer to acquire U.S. Steel for $7.25 billion. Of the various entities interested in purchasing U.S. Steel, only Cleveland-Cliffs has the backing of the United Steelworkers (USW), which has cited its commitment to the steel industry, particularly the blast furnace segment.
But now a group representing U.S. automakers has announced it opposes the sale.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagon, Hyundai and other major automakers, said costs will go up and electric vehicle sales will slow if Cleveland-Cliff takes over.
Alliance CEO John Bozzella sent a letter to lawmakers and to the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust division, arguing that the merger had the potential for anti-competitive pricing of materials.
The auto industry is reliant on steel for vehicle frames, doors, hoods, fenders and the steel parts of electric vehicle motors. Bozzella wrote that a merger would increase costs across the industry for both materials and finished vehicles, noting that 100 percent of the metal needed for electric vehicle motors – known as e-steel – would be provided by the combined company.
CONCERN FOR THE FUTURE
The future of U.S. Steel is of high concern to Labor leaders and steelworkers employed at the Granite City plant.
Last month, U.S. Steel announced dividends of $0.05 per share to stockholders and third-quarter earnings of nearly $300 million. The company also launched a new electrical steel line, a non-union facility located in Osceola, Ark., a so-called “right-to-work” state.