The blast furnace of a steel mill.
It wasn’t the early birthday present Stephen Boyd had in mind.
Just three days before he will turn 45 years old, Boyd found out on Wednesday that the U.S. Steel Corporation will temporarily idle its Granite City Works operations and more than 2,000 workers will be laid off.
“I was shocked,” Boyd said after leaving the mill on Thursday.
Boyd, who has two daughters in college, has been working at the plant for 10 years. He said if the plant gets shut down, he’s going to do one thing.
“Go to the hall and pray,” Boyd said.
A total of 2,080 employees at Granite City Works are being issued notices under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. The layoffs will be effective on May 28.
“This is due to challenging market conditions as well as other influences in the market, including unfair trade, imports and fluctuating oil prices,” said Sarah Cassella, who is the public affairs representative for U.S. Steel.
The Granite City Works operations will be shut down after U.S. Steel announced that it will be consolidating its North American Flat-Rolled operations.
“Lone Star Tubular was the primary flat-roll recipient of Granite City Works and they have adjusted their operations, which had a ripple effect on Granite City,” Cassella said.
Cassella said there is no timetable on how long the steel mill will be shut down.
Austin Garrett, 34, has been working at the steel mill since 2012. He said he’s optimistic that the mill will not be shut down permanently.
“Honestly, it’s out of my hands,” Garrett said. “There is nothing I can do.”
Tina Hubert, executive director of the Six Mile Library District in Granite City, said the layoffs will be a big blow for the Granite City downtown area. The steel mill is located about three blocks from the library, which was renovated last fall.
“There will be a lot of people without jobs,” Hubert said.
Hubert said the library is finding ways to help.
“We’re working with the downtown business foundry to see what services we can bring to make sure there’s help for the workers right here at their own town,” Hubert said. “We’re working on it immediately. The business foundry meets here every Thursday. Juliette Douglas is our deputy director and works with the business foundry. They were talking about it this morning and they’re starting to figure out what to do before the layoffs actually occur.”
U.S. Steel, which has its corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, will continue to operate its steelmaking operations in Birmingham, Ala., Braddock, Pa., Gary, Ind., and Ecorse/River Rouge, Mich.
Granite City Works, which is a leading supplier of steel products and Granite City’s biggest employer, had 1,600 of its workers laid off by U.S. Steel when the plant was idled for about seven months in 2009.
Granite City has been a big steel town since brothers William and Frederick Niedringhaus founded the city in 1896. They established it as a steel-making company town for the manufacture of kitchen utensils made to resemble granite.
Dunstan calls closure "devastating blow"
Madison County Board Chairman Alan J. Dunstan Wednesday called the plans “a devastating blow to the thousands of families who will be affected by the plants closing.”
“The effect of shutting down the plant is dramatic enough for the 2,080 employees and their families, but the closing also impacts the thousands of people employed at satellite businesses which serve the Granite City plant,” Dunstan said.
Dunstan said Madison County will join with all levels of government to do whatever possible to ensure the plant’s closing is temporary and not permanent.
“We are hopeful the temporary closing of the plant can be averted, but if the closing does occur we want to make sure it is a temporary closing and not permanent,” Dunstan said. “The modernization of the steel plant over recent years, along with the exceptionally skilled workforce, has maintained the plant’s competitiveness. The steel plant in Granite City has been in operation since 1878, and we want to do whatever possible to keep it in operation for many years to come.”
“We will continue to work with the members of our congressional delegation in an attempt to address the situation that penalizes the United States’ steel industry while making it attractive for businesses to import steel from China and South Korea,” Dunstan said.
Dunstan said Madison County is working with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to deploy a Rapid Response Team that will aid furloughed workers with programs and services.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to help families get through this situation,” he said.