GRANITE CITY – Union officials and district leaders pledged Wednesday to tackle deep cuts at a century-old steel mill here at the target of a gear-shifting company.
The plant’s owner, Pittsburgh-based US Steel Corp., said this week it is working on plans to sell key parts of Granite City Works to Chicago-based SunCoke Energy and to end steel production in late 2024. About 1,000 jobs will be eliminated.
US Steel said it will continue to process steel at the facility, and SunCoke plans to convert the facility’s blast furnaces into a 2 million-ton “pig iron” business that produces building blocks for steelmaking at other company facilities. But that can only sustain a third of the current workforce.
Dan Simmons, head of the local division of United Steelworkers, called the decision treason.
“Today, Granite City Works is a viable and profitable steel business,” Simmons said in a statement. Said. “However, in pursuit of financial greed, USS plans to turn its back on both the talented, hard-working steelworkers that have made this company a success, and the community that keeps it going.”
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Officials have pledged to combat job loss. “Granite City is a warrior town and we’re getting our ducks on top to fight it,” said Mayor Mike Parkinson.
But it fits the company’s strategy of building “better, not bigger.” US Steel, one of the largest steel companies in the country, has informed investors that it is repurposing an old, coal-fired plant to fuel its growing fleet for newer and more efficient electrically powered operations. This is a step that competitors have already taken. “It’s safer, cleaner and cheaper,” said steel industry analyst Gordon Johnson, founder of GLJ Research in New York.
There has been a Granite City steel mill for longer than Granite City.
st. Wanting to make steel on cheap land across the river, Louis industrialists opened the plant that would become Granite City Works in 1895, a year before the city was founded. The sister supplied rolled sheets to a stamping plant.
By the end of the next decade, it employed more than 1,000 people and took its place as the cornerstone of a town that calls itself the “Great Industrial City”, connected by 10 railway lines.
But when foreign competition and collapse in demand in the 1970s and 1980s caused the industry to collapse, Granite City went with it. The factory’s workforce fell from a peak of 5,000 in the mid-1970s to 2,800 in late 1982.
US Steel bought the business from a bankrupt National Steel in 2003 and shocked the town by closing the plant five years later. Cafes have seen their lunch orders dry up. The trucks that once went in and out of the mill have disappeared. Thousands of workers flocked to the unemployment line. They returned the following year, but it happened again in 2015.
When former President Donald Trump announced new duties on imports in 2018 and US Steel reopened once again, there was hope that the good times were back. Trump personally came to Granite City and delivered just that message.
“We’re watching this closely and it’s going up, Dave, just up,” Trump told US Steel CEO David Burritt, who joined the president on stage during his speech.
But the following year, US Steel spent $700 million to buy a stake in the Big River Steel plant in northeastern Arkansas and its cleaner, cheaper electric furnaces, a move it once resisted.
Analysts asked Burritt if the Big River acquisition meant there would be a shutdown in Granite City. He sought his suggestions early.
But on Tuesday, the call came and the worries started again.
“These guys get a good salary,” said Mayor Parkinson.
Craig McKey, vice president of the local union, said people lost their cars and homes the last time the venue was closed.
Parkinson said he did everything he could to prevent it. He spent the morning going from phone call to phone call, reaching out to the company, government officials, and the state’s congressional delegation for help.
He said the company had previously tried to pull out of Granite City and had yet to be successful.
But McKey, who has worked at the facility for more than 25 years, worries this time it might be the one who did it.
“I fear the worst,” he said.
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