GRANITE CITY – Union officials and regional leaders on Wednesday promised to fight the closure of a centuries-old steel mill here, in the seat of a gearshift company.
The plant’s owner, US Steel Corp. Pittsburgh-based, said this week it is working on a plan to sell key parts of Granite City Works to Chicago-based SunCoke Energy and end steel production by the end of 2024. Nearly 1,000 jobs will be removed.
US Steel said it will continue to refine steel at the plant, and SunCoke plans to convert the facility’s blast furnaces into a 2 million-ton “cast iron” facility that produces building blocks for steelmaking at the plant. other facilities of the company. But that would only sustain about a third of the current workforce.
Dan Simmons, president of the local branch of the United Steelworkers, called the decision a betrayal.
“Today Granite City Works is a viable and profitable steel operation,” Simmons said in a statement. “However, in pursuit of financial greed, USS plans to turn its back on both the skilled, hard-working steelworkers who have made this company successful and the communities that sustain it. “
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Officials vowed to fight the job loss. “Granite City is a town of warriors, and we are putting our ducks in a row to fight this,” Mayor Mike Parkinson said.
But for the company, it aligns with a “better, not bigger” building strategy. US Steel, one of the largest steel companies in the country, made news for investors as it relocated an older coal-fired power plant to fuel a fleet of newer electric vehicles, their increasing efficiency. It’s a step that competitors have 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 longer than a Granite city.
The industrialists of St. Louis, looking to make steel on cheap land across the river opened the factory that became the Granite City Works in 1895, a year before the city was incorporated. It supplies roll sheets to a sister stamping mill.
By the end of the next decade, it employed more than 1,000 people and positioned itself as the cornerstone of a town that boasts connections to 10 railway lines and calls itself the “City of Great Industries.” “.
But when foreign competition and a decline in demand caused the industry to collapse in the 1970s and 1980s, Granite City went with it. The factory’s workforce dropped from a peak of 5,000 in the mid-1970s to 2,800 in late 1982.
U.S. Steel acquired the operation in 2003 from a bankrupt National Steel, and five years later, closed the plant, sending the town reeling. Cafes see their lunch orders dwindling. The trucks that used to rush in and out of the factory disappeared. Thousands of workers are inundated with unemployment. They returned the following year, but in 2015 it happened again.
When former President Donald Trump announced new tariffs on imports in 2018 and US Steel reopened once more, it was hoped the good times had returned. It was Trump who went to Granite City and delivered 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. me.
But the following year, U.S. Steel spent $700 million to buy a stake in the Big River Steel plant in northeast Arkansas and its cheaper, cleaner electric furnaces, taking a step it once resisted.
Analysts asked Burritt if buying Big River would mean shutting down operations in Granite City. He called their proposal premature.
But on Tuesday, the call was dropped and the worries started again.
“These people earn a good salary,” Mayor Parkinson said.
Craig McKey, vice president of the local union, said the last time the place closed, people lost their cars and homes.
Parkinson said he is doing all he can to prevent that. He spent the morning going from one phone call to another, reaching out to the company, state officials and the state congressional delegation for help.
The company has tried to pull out of Granite City before, he said, and it hasn’t been successful.
But McKey, who has worked at the plant for more than 25 years, worries that this time could be one of those things.
“I fear the worst,” he said.