There’s Joy in Granite City, Ill., Where 500 Steelworkers are Heading Back to Work

Jeffrey Bonior

Jeffrey Bonior Researcher/ Writer, 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.”

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.

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.”

***

This has been reposted from the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Mr. Bonior began his writing career as a reporter and copy editor in 1977 at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He later wrote copy as a voice-over talent in Delray Beach, Florida. Mr. Bonior was born in Detroit to an active, pro-manufacturing, pro-union family, and is a veteran of numerous political and initiative campaigns.

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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