U.S. Steel to sell Granite City mill; 1,000 jobs to go

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By CARL GREEN
Correspondent

Granite City – The hard-working Steelworkers of U.S. Steel in Granite City got the worst of news last week when the company announced it will sell a large part of the mill, a deal expected to eliminate up to 1,000 union jobs in coming years – jobs that have been the backbone of the Granite City area for more than a century.

Much of the work will eventually go to non-union “mini-mill” plants in Arkansas and other states, the company said.

United Steelworkers Local 1899 President Dan Simmons called the decision unfair, unjust and totally unnecessary.

“Today, Granite City Works is a viable and profitable steel operation,” he said. “There is no compulsory economic need to shut down its steelmaking and finishing capacity.

“However, in pursuit of financial greed, U.S. Steel plans to shut down these vital resources and turn its back on both the skilled, hard-working steelworkers who have made this company successful and the community that has sustained it.”

U.S. Steel said it will sell the mill’s two blast furnaces to Suncoke Energy, a raw materials company that now operates nearby. U.S. Steel said Suncoke will use the blast furnaces as a “two million ton granulated pig iron production facility.” Pig iron is used to fuel electric arc furnaces in steel-making.

The union estimates the deal could eliminate up to 1,000 jobs with the permanent shutdown of both steel-making and finishing operations, Simmons said.

‘SIGNIFICANT COST ADVANTAGE’
U.S. Steel said it plans to sell iron ore from its own mines to SunCoke, which would sell the materials back to U.S. Steel for use at smaller “mini-mills” in Arkansas and other locations, creating a “significant cost advantage” by cutting out the Granite City workers.

“We want to be as self-sufficient as possible,” said U.S. Steel spokesperson Amanda Malkowski. She predicted the loss of union jobs would be about 950 and said the deal may be finalized yet this summer.

About 1,500 people now work at the Granite City mill, and as the deal is planned, it would retain about 550 jobs, she said. The layoffs would come about two years after the deal is finalized, permits are secured and the pig iron plant is built.

The “mini mills” that will receive and handle the pig iron to be produced are non-union, unlike the company’s traditional mills.

TRUMP’S ‘PROMISE’
U.S. Steel, based in Pittsburgh, bought Granite City Steel from bankrupt National Steel in 2003. Just four years ago, former President Donald Trump was at the plant to laud the restarting of one of the steel furnaces after he had placed 25 percent duties on imported steel.

United Steelworkers President Tom Conway noted that the workers who came back then will apparently soon be sent home.

“In its announcement regarding Granite City’s future, the company callously failed to mention a word about the massive job loss or impact the decision will have on a skilled and loyal workforce, their families or their community,” Conway said. “It is another tale in a long string of betrayals by the company.”

The union said it does not intend to become a pig iron supplier to the non-union steelmaking operations.

CONTRACT TALKS IN SEPTEMBER
The announcement comes just before talks on a new contract between the union and U.S. Steel, with the current contract to expire in September.

The negotiations can be expected to be contentious.

“People are mad and disappointed,” Conway said. “They’re scared when these things happen.”

Suncoke Energy said that for now, it will continue to operate its plant here, supplying coke, which is used to make steel, to the Granite City Works.

STATE REPS SPEAK UP
Two of the strongest union supporters in the Illinois House, state Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville), and Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), said they would both work to relieve the suffering of the Steelworkers.

“We are incredibly concerned by U.S. Steel’s current proposal to change operations at Granite City Works and are doing everything we can in partnership with local, state and federal leaders to maintain the plant’s existing operations and workforce,” they said in a joint statement.

“This region, and the committed, skilled and experienced workforce of Granite City Works, are advantageous assets for U.S. Steel that deserve to be invested in. Despite significant adversity in recent years, the dedicated employees of Granite City Works have always been ready to step up and deliver. We strongly encourage U.S. Steel to pursue a more positive direction and choose to invest in Granite City and the working families who call our community home.”


 

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