Photo by Theo Tate
U.S. Steel's Granite City Works plant.
The Granite City steel mill will remain open for business.
The U.S. Steel Corporation announced Thursday it will not shut down its Granite City Works operations. A total of 80 workers will be laid off.
“It’s wonderful for our community,” Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said. “When you can take 2,000 jobs and let people know that we’re not going to idle anymore and we’ll continue to work, it’s great for us.”
Business leaders echoed that response.
“I heard of the news as we were welcoming over 175 players and volunteers to the chamber’s annual Golf Playday,” Southwestern Illinois Chamber of Commerce Rosemarie Brown said. “After a huge round of applause, the tournament started, but you could see and feel the relief and excitement during the entire day. There were many comments touching on the easing concerns and the feelings of relief for the workers, for the community and for the many other businesses that would have been affected.”
Two months ago, U.S. Steel announced that it would temporarily idle the Granite City steel plant and 2,080 workers will be laid off. All of those workers were going to be issued notices under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) Act and the layoffs were going to be effective on Thursday.
“I guess they changed their minds,” said Rick Thompson from Edwardsville, who has been a crane operator at the steel mill for 19 years.
Hagnauer said driving by the steel mill was one of the first things he did Thursday morning.
“I drove by the steel mill and the old coke plant and there were still cars there,” Hagnauer said. “It doesn’t mean a lot. They could have still continued to do it (shut down), but my hopes were that when I drove by that it wouldn’t be a bare parking lot and it wasn’t. I had a meeting at 9:30 and when I came out, I drove back by and hearing all of the rumors that it may stay open.”
Hagnauer said he found out U.S. Steel’s decision of keeping the plant open at 2:15 p.m. Thursday.
“I would say it’s a sigh of relief, but we always know with the steel industry that things can change day to day, month to month, year to year,” Hagnauer said. “So we’re very ecstatic that they’re opening and continuing to stay open, but still there’s always caution there that something can happen and we get back in the situation later in the year.”
In March, U.S. Steel announced that the steel plant was going to be shut down after the company decided to consolidate its North American Flat-Rolled operations.
“Your heart just dropped because we went through this in 2008,” Hagnauer said. “Even though the steel industry is bad, the economy isn’t, so it was a very unexpected announcement, so it was like, ‘Wow, it’s one that we didn’t expect.’ The economy was getting better and Granite City was getting better and we were building from 2008 and things were improving. When this happened, it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Now, we slid halfway back down the hill.’ That’s changed.”
Granite City Works, a leading supplier of steel products and Granite City’s biggest employer, had 1,600 of its workers being laid off by U.S. Steel when the plant was idled for about seven months in 2009.
U.S. Steel, which has its corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, also has steelmaking operations in Birmingham, Ala., Braddock, Pa., Gary, Ind., and Ecorse/River Rouge, Mich.
Hagnauer said he’s pleased more than 2,000 workers will keep their jobs.
“It’s very important to our community to have those people working in the steel industry and continue here because the impact is greater than U.S. Steel,” Hagnauer said. “There are other industries that depend on U.S. Steel for their business, too.”
Larry Petri has been the manager of Petri Cafe, just a few blocks from the steel plant, for more than 30 years. He said the steel workers are among his biggest customers.
“Anything that we can get from there, to me, is a bonus,” Petri said.
Hagnauer said help will be provided for the workers who were laid off.
“Our hope is to see how long this project is going on and how long they may be laid off,” Hagnauer said. “We’ll probably be in contact with the general manager at a later date just to find out what their plans are and if it’s a long-term thing.”