GRANITE CITY, Ill. — U.S. Steel is temporarily idling furnace B at the Granite City steel plant, the company said Monday.
According to a statement from a U.S. Steel spokeswoman, the move is "risk mitigation" in response to the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike that began last week.
Here is the full statement:
"Following the announcement of UAW strike actions, we are executing our risk mitigation plan to ensure our melt capacity is balanced with our order book. As a result, we have decided to temporarily idle blast furnace ‘B’ at Granite City Works and are reallocating volumes as needed to other domestic facilities to efficiently meet customer demand. We thank our employees for working to ensure the temporary idling of the furnace will be conducted safely and efficiently. We do not take these decisions lightly and will continue to monitor and assess market conditions. It would not be prudent to speculate as to how long we expect the idling to last, but we currently believe that layoffs will last less than 6 months."
U.S. Steel did not respond to our requests for an interview and only provided the statement above.
United Steelworkers Local 1899 President Dan Simmons said the union is still working to understand how many workers could be affected. He estimated perhaps 300 to 350 of the plant’s 1,300 workers could be laid off, though he cautioned that figure was preliminary.
“They’re saying this is a temporary idle,” he said. “It won’t be a total plant shutdown.”
Simmons said it was a shock to everyone.
"When I went through these idles, I've had grown men crying in my office that don't know how they're going to provide for their families. It's very difficult. And we've had suicides out of this popup. And it's just it's a tough decision to make. And I know it's business to them, but it's personal to us," Simmons said.
The announcement comes four days after the UAW began their strike. About 10% of the union's workers went on strike Friday at three different plants across the country, but Simmons said he isn't buying U.S. Steel's explanation for the move.
“Our order book here was solid,” Simmons said. “It kind of caught us all off guard. It is total bull [expletive] that they’re trying to point to UAW. They’re looking at disruptions down the road. They had this planned for a while.”
Simmons says on their end, they aren’t feeling the effects of the United Auto Workers strike and it would take months and more locations going on strike for it to affect them.
"We here at Granite don't supply a whole lot to the automotive sector. We service a whole lot of the construction market, agriculture, appliance business," Simmons said.
Simmons said they will do their best to keep layoffs to a minimum by reassigning people to other work areas.
The change also comes more than a year after U.S. Steel announced a plan to sell the plant.
In June of 2022, U.S. Steel told the Pittsburgh Business Times, a sister publication to the St. Louis Business Journal, that it planned to sell two blast furnaces at its big Granite City, Illinois, facility. The company said the sale of the blast furnaces would result in an estimated 550 jobs remaining out of 1,500 at Granite City Works.
The plant would be sold to a company called SunCoke Energy. SunCoke would use the blast furnaces to produce a type of crude iron called pig iron.
U.S. Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski is questioning this decision and said she believes they are using a loophole in a law called the Warn Act to push layoffs through quickly and avoid having to give 60-day notice.
"What U.S. Steel has decided to do is to give pink slips to working people at Granite City Steel that start tomorrow. And they're circumventing the Warn Act, in my opinion, because they're saying right now that these cuts are going to be made for just less than six months," Budzinski said.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin also released a statement:
“Steel production is a key component of our nation's economic health. It is also a major source of employment throughout the country and in the State of Illinois, where the steel industry supports thousands of jobs. Idling blast furnace ‘B’ at Granite City Works—even temporarily—will have a significant impact on its workers and the local economy. I urge U.S. Steel to work closely with the community and employees to ease these impacts and reopen blast furnace ‘B’ as soon as possible.”
Granite City Mayor Mike Parkinson said these layoffs could affect a huge part of southern Illinois.
"This could have dire consequences on housing, in the housing market, in the area if these guys can't afford to pay their bills. Your local restaurants, your gas stations, it'll have an affect on a lot of people in a lot of communities," Parkinson said.