By CARL GREEN
Granite City, IL – U.S. Steel Corp. says it will restart the second of two shuttered blast furnaces, hire 300 additional workers and have the Granite City Works fully operational with 1,500 active employees by the end of the year.
That decision follows a March announcement that the company would restart its other blast furnace and recall 500 laid-off workers.
U.S. Steel laid off hundreds of workers when it idled the furnaces in late 2015, with employment at the nearly 2,000 worker plant dipping as low as 100 in the last two years. Now, it appears the economic tide has turned.
U.S. Steel says the restart of the first furnace is in progress and that the second furnace should be in operation around Oct. 1. After the two restarts are complete, about 1,500 people will be working at the plant.
“We are excited to announce that after the restart of the ‘A’ blast furnace on or around Oct. 1, all of the steelmaking operations at Granite City will be back on line, helping us meet an increased demand for
American-made steel that has only grown since our March announcement,” U.S. Steel President and CEO David Burritt said in a statement.
“After careful consideration of market conditions and customer demand … the restart of the two blast furnaces at Granite City Works will allow us to serve our customers’ growing demand for high quality products melted and poured in the United States.”
EVERYONE WAITING FOR RECALL HAS BEEN RECALLED
Tom Ryan, a production worker at the mill and chairman of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1899 Grievance Committee, said the first newly made steel made in over two years came out of the plant last week. He said the plant is close to hiring the 500 people U.S. Steel said it would hire in March. Many of them are experienced workers who have been waiting for the plant to restart, but Ryan said some former employees moved on during the long outage.
“Everybody who was out there waiting for recall has been recalled,” he said. “We’re hiring off the street now and working diligently to do that.”
TARIFFS ON FOREIGN STEEL, PRESSURE FROM STEELWORKERS, ILLINOIS SENATORS
It might be easy to credit the restart of the mill on moves by President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
But Mike Millsap, USW District 7 director, said it was the Steelworkers union that pressured Washington to impose tariffs under the federal 232 trade law, which allows tariffs to ensure the nation can supply its security needs without relying on foreign producers. (See related story above.)
It also involved the efforts of U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and others in Congress pushing the Department of Commerce to better protect American steel industry jobs.
“I’m pleased that this decision will help hardworking Illinoisans provide for their families,” Duckworth said. “I will continue working to reverse the trend of shuttered factories so that we can keep manufacturing jobs in America and increase the production of high-quality American steel.”
Citing how 50 percent of America’s basic oxygen furnace steel-producing facilities have either closed or been idled since 2000 – and employment in the U.S. steel industry has dropped by 35 percent since 1998 – Duckworth has repeatedly urged the Trump administration to take responsible, targeted actions to crack down on unfair trade practices like the illegal dumping of foreign-made steel products, which have been devastating America’s steel industry.
Along with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Duckworth urged the Commerce Department in April 2017 to strengthen protections against the dumping of foreign-made steel in American markets.
After the Trump administration dragged out the investigation, Duckworth and Durbin wrote to the Secretary of Commerce in December to encourage him to quickly complete the investigation, citing how foreign steel imports surged by 21 percent in the eight months since the Commerce Department announced it would study how illegal steel dumping is impacting the United States’ defense industrial base.
Illinois’ steel industry currently supports 64,000 jobs, including over 9,400 jobs at steel mills.