GRANITE CITY – Union officials and regional leaders pledged on Wednesday to fight deep cuts at a century-old steel mill here, in the crosshairs of a company that is switching.
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 end steel production by the end of 2024. Nearly 1,000 jobs would disappear.
US Steel said it would continue to finish steel at the plant, and SunCoke plans to convert the plant’s blast furnaces into a 2 million-ton “pig iron” operation that produces the building blocks for steelmaking in other countries. business facilities. But that will only support about a third of the current workforce.
Dan Simmons, president of the local branch of the United Steelworkers, called the decision treason.
“Today, Granite City Works is a viable and profitable steel operation,” Simmons said in a statement. “However, in pursuit of financial greed, USS intends to turn its back on both the skilled, hard-working steelworkers who have made this business successful and the community that has kept it alive.”
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Officials pledged to fight job losses. “Granite City is a city of warriors, and we are lining up our ducks to fight this,” said Mayor Mike Parkinson.
But for the company, it fits into a strategy of building ‘better, not bigger’. US Steel, one of the largest steel companies in the country, presented the news to investors as repurposing an older coal-fired plant to fuel its growing fleet of newer, more efficient electric-powered operations. It 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 steel mill in Granite City longer than in a Granite City.
St. Louis industrialists looking to make steel on cheap land across the river opened the factory that would become Granite City Works in 1895, a year before the city was incorporated. It supplied rolled sheets to a sister stamp factory.
By the end of the next decade, it employed more than 1,000 people and had taken its place as a cornerstone of a 10-rail-line city that called itself “The City of Great Industries.”
But when foreign competition and a slump in demand caused the industry to collapse in the 1970s and 1980s, Granite City went with it. The plant’s workforce declined from a peak of 5,000 in the mid-1970s to 2,800 in late 1982.
US Steel bought the operation from the bankrupt National Steel in 2003 and closed the factory five years later, leaving the city on the run. Cafes saw their lunch orders dry up. Trucks that once buzzed in and out of the mill disappeared. Thousands of workers flooded the unemployment line. The following year they came back, but in 2015 it happened again.
When former President Donald Trump announced new taxes on imports in 2018 and US Steel reopened, there was hope that the good times were back. Trump himself came to Granite City and delivered that same message.
“We’re watching this one closely, and it’s going up, Dave, just going up,” Trump told US Steel CEO David Burritt, who took the podium with the president during his speech.
But the following year, U.S. Steel spent $700 million to buy a stake in Northeast Arkansas’s Big River Steel plant and its cleaner, cheaper electric furnaces, a move it once resisted.
Analysts then asked Burritt whether the Big River purchase meant a shutdown in Granite City. He called their suggestions premature.
But on Tuesday, the call came and the worries started again.
“These guys earn a good wage,” Mayor Parkinson said.
Craig McKey, a vice president at the local union, said the last time the business was closed, people lost their cars and their homes.
Parkinson said he is doing everything he can to prevent that. He spent the morning going from phone call to phone call asking the company, state officials, and the state congressional delegation for help.
The company has previously attempted to withdraw from Granite City, he said, and has not yet succeeded.
But McKey, who has worked at the factory for more than 25 years, feared it might just happen this time.
“I fear the worst,” he said.