By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
The potential loss of up to 1,000 jobs at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works as part of an updated metals strategy is prompting fiery reaction from all corners of the community.
The company announced Tuesday that it had signed a Non-Binding Letter of Intent calling for SunCoke Energy Inc. to purchase and repurpose two blast furnaces at Granite City Works.
SunCoke would also build its own 2-million-ton facility to supply the granulated pig iron that serve as “building blocks” to steel production. Once the new facility construction is complete, SunCoke would supply U.S. Steel 100 percent access to its pig iron production for the next 10 years for its electric arc furnaces. Construction of the new facility is projected to take two years.
In its initial statement, the company said the proposed transaction “is not expected to impact intermediate staffing levels at Granite City Works.” Later, a company spokeswoman told media that up to 1,000 jobs could be lost.
United Steelworkers Local 1899 President Dan Simmons has also pointed out that U.S. Steel’s announcement neglected to explain the ways in which its deal with SunCoke will affect the Granite City community, especially the hardworking members of the United Steelworkers and their families.
Simmons said, “Let me be clear, since U.S. Steel hasn’t: The announced potential agreement could result in the permanent shutdown of the steel making and finishing operations at Granite City Works, leading to the loss of nearly 1,000 jobs at the Mill and devastating our local economy.”
“The shutdown of steelmaking and finishing operations at Granite City Works is a betrayal by USS of its workers and the Granite City community,” Simmons said in a statement. “USS now fails to meet its obligation to invest in Granite City Works. Instead, it would take the wealth created by its workers in Granite City and use it to construct facilities in Arkansas while closing the steel operations from which its profits came. USS would abandon Granite City workers who are responsible in part for its record profitability.”
Simmons offered an alternative for U.S. Steel to consider that has potential to be a win-win for the company and its Granite City workers.
“As president of Local 1899, I call upon United States Steel to invest in Granite City Works. Specifically, it should fulfill its commitment obligation per the bargaining agreement and construct the pig iron granulator at our Granite City facility; fire up the idled A-Furnace to feed that operation while continuing to supply hot metal with the B-Furnace to retain steel production.”
Several people have weighed in since the Illinois Business Journal’s initial story was published online June 28 following the company’s announcement.
Longtime local Granite City steelworker Dan Bunker posted his feelings on the story.
“It will be a sad day in Granite City when the last coil rolls off the hot strip mill,” Bunker said. “When/if this deal is complete, the steel making and steel rolling operations in Granite City will be idled, aka shut down indefinitely/permanently. Close to 1,000 workers will be impacted one way or another. The entire city has been built around the plant.”
Further noting that he has been employed at the plant since September 1999, Bunker said that he is a third-generation steelworker. His daughter also works there now, representing the next generation.
“Four generations of steelworkers, so it’s sentimental a bit,” said Bunker.
Granite City Mayor Mike Parkinson weighed in with his initial reaction to the company’s announcement through a post on the city’s official Facebook page.
He said, “Any announcement with US Steel has a big impact on the region. Like many elected officials, I am evaluating the impact to Granite City. Preliminary reports initially call for more investment and property taxes for us with potential long-term job impact more on the Metro-East region.”
“We need to build a strong Granite and region so working with our elected officials is important for me,” Parkinson added, while also sharing that he planned to continue updating the city council and the Granite City community as the conversation continues.
State Rep. Amy Elik, R-Fosterburg, released a statement on Wednesday regarding the potential downsizing at the Granite City steel mill.
“These are good-paying union jobs. We can’t keep losing manufacturing jobs, our state needs to do everything it can to create more jobs in the Metro East. I am fully committed to growing our manufacturing base right here in the Metro East and will continue to support policies to do just that.”
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, and state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, issued the following joint statement Wednesday as well in response to possible plans from U.S. Steel to sell blast furnaces and significantly reduce the workforce at Granite City Works:
“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. 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.”
Greater St. Louis, Inc. CEO Jason Hall also issued a statement in response to the U.S. Steel announcement:
“I’m a native of Granite City. Three generations of my family, including my father, have worked at the Mill. This announcement by U.S. Steel is personal for me, just as it is personal for all the current and former employees and their families, for the residents of Madison County, and for our entire metro.
“These are highly skilled jobs that are critical to the region, and we will do everything in our ability to keep them. Our team regularly works with both public- and private-sector leaders in Madison County and throughout Southwestern Illinois, and we are reaching out to those leaders to offer our full support.
“This situation also highlights how critical manufacturing and our growing advanced manufacturing sectors are to the St. Louis metro. Keeping the manufacturing jobs we have and adding more strength in advanced manufacturing is critical to the future of our regional economy and is a core part of our efforts to grow our region’s job base.”