Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Anticipating action on imports, U.S. Steel announces it will restart a blast furnace.

It was quite a scene at the United Steelworkers Local 1899 union hall in Granite City, Ill., on Wednesday morning. As local president Dan Simmons put it, “it’s chaos around here. But it’s welcome chaos.”

Granite City Works | Photo courtesy U.S. Steel

The frenzy percolated after an announcement by U.S.  Steel Corporation President David B. Burritt that the company will call back to work about 500 Granite City Works employees who have been laid off since December 2015. This action is a direct result of President Trump’s intention to finally act to combat foreign steel imports, Burritt told CNBC.

“It’s awesome and long overdue welcome news,” Simmons said. “These people, the members and this community have been hurting for long enough. It’s great news. We’ve been waiting for this for two years and three months since we’ve been idled.

“We have the opportunity now to show them what we can do here.”

Granite City Works employed approximately 1,800 steelworkers when it was idled because of poor market conditions. The culprit? Foreign steel products being dumped into the U.S. market. Many of the foreign steel importing countries, including China, heavily subsidize their steel industries. That makes it impossible for America’s steelmakers to remain competitive.

Trump announced last week that he plans to place a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. The official announcement is expected to come on Thursday.

It’s awesome and long overdue welcome news. These people, the members and this community have been hurting for long enough. It’s great news. Dan Simmons, United Steelworkers Local 1899 President

That was welcome news in Granite City.

“It really kicked off around here when the president made the announcement about tariffs last week,” said Simmons. “We were worried but optimistically skeptic. I expected this once the Commerce Department made its ruling and handed it to him. Once we got the announcement of some tariffs, I felt that would be enough to push us over the edge.”

U.S. Steel will restart one of its two blast furnaces at the integrated Granite City mill, allowing it to resume full steelmaking capabilities. As of this week, about 700 workers remain employed at the mill, running minimum operations including the finishing of steel slabs produced at other U.S. Steel facilities.

Simmons’s phone has been ringing off the hook as laid-off employees who have not yet retired or moved on to other jobs are calling to find out if the rumors — which had been circulating in Granite City since Monday — were true.

“The members have all been around here and are exuberant,” said Simmons. “I feel like I’ve talked to 500 members.

“I had a guy come up here late last night. He snuck up the stairs and I said, ‘who’s coming up here this late’ and the next thing you know he peeked his head in the office and said, ‘tell me that the rumor is true.’ I told him that I heard they were supposed to announce this and he looked at me with a big grin on his face and came up and hugged me. This is a guy that doesn’t hug people. He said it’s the best news he’s heard in a long time. He’s been on his fourth job since he’s been idled. He was overwhelmed. He was elated.”

While all the details have yet to be worked out on the restart, it is expected to take up to four months to get all the workers back on the job making steel with the mill’s “B” blast furnace. Granite City’s “A” blast furnace will remain idled for now. Simmons said that if the “A” blast furnace was also restarted in the future, the mill could add another 300 to 400 workers.

“Theses 500 employees, pretty much with what we have with those that remain on layoff status, will help this community greatly,” Simmons said. “I can’t imagine none of our laid-off guys not having an opportunity to come back. So, it’s great news.”