OPINION: Budzinski stands up for Granite City steel workers in Congressional Steel Caucus’ annual “State of Steel” meeting


(Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript of Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski (D-Ill.) questioning Richard Fruehauf, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy & Sustainability Officer at U.S. Steel Corporation about the company’s proposed plan to sell Granite City Steel to SunCoke Energy during the Congressional Steel Caucus’ annual “State of Steel” meeting. The planned closure would result in the loss of 1,000 union jobs. During her questioning, Budzinski urged the company to do what’s right for workers and continue operating in Granite City.)

Thank you Chairman Crawford and Co-Chairman Mrvan for hosting this very important meeting. I appreciate that and I want to say good morning to all of the panelists.

I’m going to spend most of my time allotted speaking to Mr. Fruehauf on U.S. Steel. Granite City, which I appreciate you mentioning in your opening comments, a town of 27,000 which you know is located, as you know, in the district I’m so honored to represent. It’s really a town that is synonymous with U.S. Steel. You opened your doors in 1878 – making sheet iron, switching to steel in 1895. Generations of families have been raised at Granite City Steel Works.

You are a union shop, and what that means is that with the collective bargaining agreement with the United Steelworkers, you have helped to build the middle class in my home state, in Illinois, by providing good wages, benefits and safe working conditions for working people for generations.

Just the other week, I had the opportunity to meet with a constituent whose father and grandfather both worked at the mill – and that’s how he was put through college and he then went on to start his own healthcare business which is profitable and now provides for his own family.

And yet, despite years of good fortune and record profits for U.S. Steel, you’re ready to pack up and leave – leaving hundreds of families behind. The proposed sale to SunCoke is forecasted to cut 1,000 jobs in the community of Granite City – which will be a death blow to an industrial community like Granite City.

So, the question I continue to ask myself is why? Why leave?

Why would U.S. Steel choose to abandon high-skilled labor?

Why would U.S. Steel be uninterested in pursuing the litany of tax credits?

We talked a lot today about the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Bill. You know before I came to Congress, I got to work at the Office of Management and Budget, I was the Chief of Staff. I helped the President set up the Made In America Office and we’re talking about how we all support buying American. I was so proud to be a part of that and I have no doubt that U.S. Steel has benefitted from that – and so why are there no green electric arc furnaces being built in Granite City, the home again since 1895?

And, I also want to note too, that we should not forget that SJ 18, a lightweight, hard steel used in automotive production, is only made in Granite City in the United States, and other mills have not been able to replicate its production. There are capabilities of high-grade production at Granite City no other integrated facility can match in the United States.

So how could the answer be to get rid of these blast furnaces in Granite City?

The answer to me is not surprising, and to many folks I think here. U.S. Steel, Mr. Fruehauf, I believe, has calculated that moving operations to (so-called) “right-to-work” states helps their profit margins. Cheaper labor, with fewer protections, means an exit strategy out of the industrial Midwest. And I have to say quite frankly, Granite City is not alone in this trend. We shouldn’t stand for this.

Mr. Fruehauf – I implore you and the rest of the U.S. Steel team, that it is not too late to change your mind.

Shortly, you will be hearing from my team as well as from my colleagues in many other states, which I just mentioned, where you’ve ceased investments on a wide range of options your company has to protect these workers and continue your legacy in this community. 

So Mr. Fruehauf, I too am interested in seeing your company take the steps to protect our environment and make the next generation of U.S. Steel. But let’s do it in Granite City. And I pledge, I will be there every step of the way to ensure that you get as much help as you need from the federal government to make this feasible.


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