Join our brand new verified AMN Telegram channel and get important news uncensored!

US Steel to idle only operating blast furnace at Illinois plant, citing auto strike

Liquid steel is poured into a steel-making unit at Granite City Works Thursday, June 28, 2018 in Granite City, Illinois. U.S. Steel is idling one of its blast furnaces at the plant, citing softening demand from the auto industry during the United Auto Workers strike. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

U.S. Steel plans to temporarily idle one of the blast furnaces at its Granite City plant and shift some work to other facilities, citing softening demand from the automotive industry during the United Auto Workers strike.

That furnace is the only one currently operating at the plant. A local United Steelworkers representative said Monday that about one-third of the union employees there work in the areas that will be affected, where the plant converts ore and pellets into metal slabs.

The other two-thirds of employees work in areas that turn those slabs into the steel coils that are shipped out to customers on trucks and trains, said Dan Simmons, president of USW Local 1899.

A U.S. Steel spokeswoman said Monday that the company is still determining the number of employees who will be affected at the facility, where 1,450 people work — 1,250 of them represented by USW.

Temporary layoffs will begin in phases as equipment is idled, U.S. Steel spokeswoman Amanda Malkowski said in an email.

However, even in the portion of the plant that is idled, a certain number of workers will be needed to maintain the equipment and machinery, Simmons said.

“We’ll argue for more people, and they’ll argue for less,” he said.

Simmons said he’ll attempt to find other assignments within the plant for the remaining workers, but he still expects some will be temporarily laid off.

“There’ll be fallout,” he said.

Malkowski said the decision to idle the blast furnace was made after the United Auto Workers announced plans to strike at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. UAW workers, as of Monday, were striking at one major plant at each company, including the General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri.

U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Illinois, said in a statement that the temporary layoffs were expected to affect hundreds of employees. Budzinski called U.S. Steel’s decision “an outrage” and cast the company’s statements attributing the layoffs to the UAW strike as an attempt to “pit working people against one another.”

The United Steelworkers chapter in Granite City, Local 1899, wrote in a Facebook post that the union will be meeting with the company to put together a layoff minimization plan.

The long-term future of the Granite City plant has been in limbo since last summer, when U.S. Steel announced plans to sell a portion of the facility to Chicago-based SunCoke Energy in a deal that would eliminate nearly 1,000 jobs.

The uncertainty around the plant’s future heightened in July of this year, when the Cleveland, Ohio-based steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs made an offer to buy U.S. Steel. At least two other companies have since made offers.

U.S. Steel rejected the offer from Cleveland-Cliffs but said in August that it was reviewing proposals. The steelworkers’ union has backed the Cleveland-Cliffs offer, arguing that under its labor agreement, it has certain powers to oppose bids by other buyers.

“It sure would be welcomed right now,” Simmons said, “to come in here and pull us out of this.”

As of last month, U.S. Steel was still hoping to come to an agreement to sell part of the Granite City plant to SunCoke but had not yet reached a deal.

“At some point, we really have to protect these jobs,” said Granite City Mayor Mike Parkinson. “These are good-paying, American jobs.”


© 2023

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC