Photo by Jason White
(From left) Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, United Steelworkers Local 50 President Jason Chism and United Steelworkers Local 1899 President Dan Simmons speak at a press conference Friday at the United Steelworkers’ office in Granite City.
GRANITE CITY — A local delegation made a full-court press for three days in the nation’s capital in support of the steel industry and restarting operations at the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City.
A group led by Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan went to Washington, D.C., Feb. 22-24 to meet with congressmen, senators and U.S. Department of Commerce representatives. The delegation included Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, United Steelworkers officials Dan Simmons and Jason Chism, Madison County Administrator Joe Parente, Madison County Community & Economic Development Administrator Frank Miles and the legislative staff of United Steelworkers’ Washington office.
They had two goals: addressing the plight of unemployed workers and showing the effect of unfair trade practices on local economies.
Approximately 1,600 of 2,080 Granite City Works employees have been laid off since U.S. Steel announced a temporary idling of the plant in October. The company cited falling steel prices, a fluctuating oil market and unfair trade practices as reasons for the idling.
At a Friday press conference at the United Steelworkers office in Granite City, Dunstan said one of the most productive meetings was with Department of Commerce officials who enforce steel dumping laws. Dumping refers to imports, often subsidized by foreign governments, priced at below-market costs.
“It really put a local take on what’s happening nationally,” Dunstan said.
According to figures presented at the press conference, foreign steel comprises 29 percent of the domestic steel market. U.S. steel production is down 13 percent from 2000, while China’s production is up 540 percent; China is responsible for 400 million of the 700 million tons of excess worldwide steel capacity.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, an effort to improve enforcement of anti-dumping regulations. All of the legislators the delegation met with — including Sen. Mark Kirk and Illinois U.S. Reps. John Shimkus, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost — voted in favor of the law. The delegation also met with U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Indiana), U.S. Rep Jason Smith (R-Missouri) and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri).
“This is one time where I think Washington, D.C., did work together to come up with solutions,” Dunstan said, adding that the congressmen pledged to identify additional funding for trade law enforcement.
Delegation members also stressed the need for faster resolution of trade cases, which can last up to three years.
“Until those cases are heard more quickly, we just continue to get hurt,” Hagnauer said. “We made that very clear that they need to be more aggressive with what they do.”
The mayor, who works across the street from the United Steelworkers office, said he’s seen workers leaving meetings with tears in their eyes.
“The most important thing to do is to continue the fight until we are at 100 percent capacity of what we can make for steel in the United States and not have to depend on imported steel,” Hagnauer said.
One trade case that saved 140 jobs at Granite City Works was a Dec. 22 finding that China, India and other nations had engaged in dumping related to corrosion-resistant steel. In a case involving cold-rolled steel, federal regulators ruled March 1 that producers in China and five other countries sold products at unfair prices and will be taxed at 266 percent of the steel’s sale price. A third case over hot-rolled steel will be adjudicated this month. The cases will be submitted to the International Trade Commission and a final determination of anti-dumping duties is expected before the end of summer.
“The long-term fix here is these trade cases,” said Simmons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1899.
“The Commerce officials understand the urgency of our laid-off steelworkers and the need to start our idled mill, to take care of our families and to protect the American market from unfairly traded steel,” he said.
Nationwide, steel industry employment dropped from 154,000 in January 2015 to 143,000 in November 2015. Every steel job supports seven other jobs. In Granite City, steelworkers patronize restaurants and other small businesses.
Hagnauer said the city hasn’t seen much of an economic impact yet, but he expects to see the ripple effect eventually.
The delegation met with U.S. Steel lobbyists but they weren’t able to answer key questions. Local leaders have reached out to company executives for more definitive explanations about the idling’s duration and the plant’s future direction.
“We just don’t know how long this is going to last,” Hagnauer said.
Dunstan said one focus of working with company officials may be finding ways to diversify the plant to supply automotive industry products. The plant mainly produces steel used in oil industry infrastructure.
“This plant is well-configured to do other types of steel,” Dunstan said.
“Granite City is one of the most efficient steel operations in the world,” he said. “Given the chance to compete, it will flourish.”
In the meantime, every week more workers get their last paycheck. Some of them go to the union hall when they don’t know where else to turn.
“It’s been a struggle,” said Chism, president of United Steelworkers Local 50. “Those are family-sustaining jobs you never get back.”