Steelworkers celebrate a return to steel making – with a warning

NICK RICHEY, 21, of Granite City (at left), is carrying on the local tradition of young people going to work at the steel mill. He is a mechanical electrician, seen here with has dad, Mark Richey. – Labor Tribune photo

Punish China,
not Canada, union says

Illinois Correspondent

Granite City – The United Steelworkers reminded the community June 2 that the revival of U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works is the result of a long, arduous campaign by the union and its supporters, not just recent political pronouncements.

The tariffs on imported steel helping open the market for domestic steel are legal under the federal 232 trade law, which allows them to ensure the nation can supply its security needs without relying on foreign producers.

So when Granite City workers and community members gathered outside the union hall to celebrate the return of steelmaking, their leaders reminded them that the 232 ruling came from a process that began long before the current American president took office.


Mike Millsap, USW District 7 director, said President Trump and the current congressman, Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) should not expect all the credit for reviving the plant.

“I can tell you right now, neither one of them did a damn thing,” Millsap told some 200 people who turned out for the Fire Up event. “It was the Steelworkers. It was you. It was (Local 1899 President) Danny Simmons, it was (International President) Leo Gerard, it was (Vice President) Tom Conway.

“We’re the ones who went around and pushed the administrations for the 232. That’s what happened here. It wasn’t anybody else,” he added. “It was the United Steelworkers, and you, and people like Brendan Kelly, who’s running against Bost. That is what has opened Granite City back up and started the furnaces. And our fight is not done.”

Millsap and Simmons warned that Trump is making a big mistake by targeting trade partner Canada while considering exempting the real cause of the world’s steel over-supply – China.


STEELWORKERS LOCAL 1899 President Dan Simmons (left) greets Congressional candidate Betsy Dirksen Londrigan and Steelworkers District Director Mike Millsap. – Labor Tribune photo

“Canada is the one he wants to put the tariff on, who we have a surplus with – a surplus!” Millsap said. “Guess who he’s going to let off the hook? China, the biggest abuser in the world. They’ve got more capacity than what’s needed in the world, and they’re dumping the steel in the U.S., and Trump is talking about excluding them, and he’s talking about going after Canada, our friend. That’s not what our fight was about, so we’re not done!”


The Fire Up event was a sort of carnival in the parking lot next door to the Granite City Labor Temple, where the plant’s USW locals are based. The musical team of Scott and Michelle Smith, of Granite City, provided folk, country and popular music, while members of the SOAR retirees group served up food and drinks. Before Scott and Michelle started, songs by Arlo Guthrie, the Byrds and Harry Nilsson could be heard over the P.A.

Attending was one of the plant’s newest employees, Nick Richey, 21, of Granite City hired as a maintenance electrician. He hadn’t even started work yet on the day of the event. His father Mark, who also came to the party, has worked at the plant all of Mike’s life.

Kelly, the Democratic nominee for Congress in Illinois’ 13th District, was in attendance, as was the 15th District nominee, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, plus numerous county-level and legislative candidates, including Rachelle Aud Crowe, a Madison County Assistant State’s Attorney running as a Democrat to replace retiring Senator Bill Haine, and Madison County Associate Judge Sarah Smith, a Democratic candidate for circuit judge.


U.S. Steel’s announcement in March that one of the two main steel furnaces would be restarted for the first time since 2015 meant the plant would restore about 500 full-time jobs.

Simmons, who leads the largest USW local at the plant, said the resulting hiring and job training is still going on.

U.S. Steel announced recently that it was restarting the second furnace and hiring an additional 300 workers.

“We got all the guys who were on layoff status called back, and we already have rehired about 40 of our guys who were on severance but wanted to come back, and we’re probably close to about 75 or 100 brand new hires off the street,” Simmons said.

STEEL MAKERS ON HAND to celebrate the plant’s revival included (from left) Mike Parkinson, Gary Rainwater and Mark Richey. – Labor Tribune photo


He noted there are more factors than just the tariffs – demand is strong, and prices are good.

“I think we’re right on the verge of opening it wide open,” he said. “They wanted to start it two months ago when they announced it, but you can’t just flip a switch and have these things start up right away.”

In a brief speech, Simmons said it was a big day for the entire community. “The significance is that we will start being steel producers again, and we haven’t done that since December of 2015,” he said. “It’s not really a celebration just for our employees and the members we represent and their families, but it’s for this whole community that supported us this entire time. Two and half years is too frickin’ long, right?”

The crowd cheered at that.

“Today is nothing more than the good news that we’ve been expecting for so long – too long,” he added.


Simmons also warned against singling out Canada for tariffs.

“That is not what we’ve been lobbying for the last 10 or 15 years,” he said. “We were trying to attack the bad trade partners, and it’s easy to distinguish between the two. What they’re doing to our Canadian partners, brothers and sisters and everybody from Canada, it’s not proper, because we only asked for a level playing field.”

“It can’t not help us by shrinking the competition when it comes to opening up markets that we haven’t been able to get to before, but at the same time, we have no idea where it’s going to send us the other way with the counter tariffs.

“I hope we can work this out, because we don’t need to attack our good trade partners, that’s for sure.”

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