Metro-East News

U.S. Steel decides not to close Granite City mill

Jeff Benson, of Greenville, talks to reporter about the planned closing of the coke plant outside U.S. Steel in Granite City earlier this year. On Thursday, U.S. Steel announced it would not close the plant.
Jeff Benson, of Greenville, talks to reporter about the planned closing of the coke plant outside U.S. Steel in Granite City earlier this year. On Thursday, U.S. Steel announced it would not close the plant. News-Democrat file photo

Leaders from U.S. Steel have announced that the company’s Granite City mill won’t be closed this month as planned.

Company leaders said they have decided against plans to shut down the plant completely, which was expected to happen today. Instead, they’ll lay off 80 workers but will keep one blast furnace in operation.

The closure was supposed to only be temporary. About 2,080 people work at the plant.

The news came through U.S. Rep. Mike Bost’s office. His spokesman, Jim Forbes said the company informed Bost, R-Murphysboro, of its intentions Thursday morning.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Sarah Cassella verified the change in plans. But she wouldn’t specify what made the company decide to alter its course.

“It’s just a general change of plans,” Cassella said.

Cassella, when asked if the steel market has rebounded to the point that closing the Granite City mill is off the table, said: “I can’t speculate what this development holds for the future of that facility.”

United Steel Workers union leaders in Granite City didn’t immediately respond to calls seeking comment about the change in plans.

The plant, and the American steel industry in general, have fallen on hard times in recent years because of a rise in the amount of steel the United States imports. The steel industry is currently working at about 70 percent of capacity because of the increase in imported steel, Bost said. Still, U.S. Steel leaders said as recently as last month that they have invested too much in the Granite City plant to close it permanently in the near future.

“I couldn’t be happier that the vast majority of steelworkers at Granite City Works will remain on the job and able to provide for their family,” Bost said. “These hard-working Southern Illinoisans now have more certainty about their future, but that doesn’t mean the fight for our plant is over.”

In a meeting with reporters in his Belleville office Thursday afternoon, Bost said the legislation he’s working on and the announcement from U.S. Steel were not linked.

“No legislation would have brought them back to work. It’s the market that had to do that,” he said. He added that U.S. Steel officials still had not told him what changed their minds, leading them to cancel the closure.

A member of Congress’ steel caucus, Bost has been pushing legislation that would prevent foreign countries from making their steel exports unfairly cheaper than domestically produced steel.

He has focused on the customs and enforcement portion of the hotly-contested Trade Promotion Authority legislation currently up for debate in Congress. Under that portion of the proposed law, American manufacturers won’t have to go through as lengthy a process to prove that foreign countries are undermining international trade laws. That process has included using domestic plant closures as evidence of a particular country’s shenanigans, but under the proposed adjustments to the law, companies wouldn’t need to wait until facilities close.

“Let’s say the steel industry in this nation sees this dumping occur. The process took about three years to get through because they had to prove the damages and the level of damages,” Bost said. “It almost had to be until things started shutting down. What this language does is it allows a quicker reaction time (for businesses).”

Congressmen Rodney Davis and John Shimkus pledged to pitch in on the fight against cheap foreign steel.

“It is great news that 2,000 workers at the steel plant in Granite City will be able to keep their jobs and we must do everything we can to ensure these jobs, and other opportunities, are around for the long-term,” said Davis, R-Taylorville. “We can start by putting a stop to foreign competitors like China who break our trade laws and put good-paying American jobs at risk. I will continue to push for stronger trade enforcement policies that make it easier to punish violators and prevent this unfair advantage.”

Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said it was likely the effort of the steel caucus that caused U.S. Steel to decide to keep the Granite City mill open.

“Today’s announcement is encouraging news, and I applaud U.S. Steel for reversing their decision to fully close the Granite City Works,” Shimkus said. “I also want to thank Congressmen Bost and Davis for their leadership in mobilizing the House Steel Caucus to back bipartisan legislation that would speed up the process for challenging illegal trade practices that threaten American jobs.”

Bost and Davis recently introduced H.R. 2523, the Trade Enforcement Effectiveness Act that will improve the ability of domestic manufacturers to fight foreign illegal trade practices. The bill currently has 27 bipartisan cosponsors and has been endorsed by U.S. Steel and other representatives of the steel industry.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or 618-239-2626. Follow him on Twitter: @scottwuerzBND. Contact reporter Tobias Wall at twall@bnd.com or 618-239-2501. Follow him on Twitter: @Wall_BND.

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