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Some Granite City steelworkers may be back on job next week

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 12, 2009 - About 30 or 40 laid-off steelworkers should be back on the job early next week as U.S. Steel's Granite City Works plans to resume at least limited operations, according to Dave Dowling, a spokesman for the local United Steelworkers.

Dowling said that the presidents of union locals were unexpectedly called to a meeting with U.S. Steel management Friday morning and told that operations would begin at the plant as soon as possible. Maintenance workers will be among the first to be called back and should be notified over the weekend.

The call-back will be in stages, and U.S. Steel would not commit to how much of the plant would eventually resume operation -- or how many of the plant's more than 2,000 workers would be called back -- but that at least one blast furnace would resume operation, said Dowling, the director of Sub District 2 of District 7 of the United Steelworkers.

"It is really unexpected. We know there's been a slow and steady uptick in steel orders; we've been monitoring that closely. This week, the orders surged, and the sense of urgency apparently set in to start up steel-making as soon as possible,'' Dowling said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Steel would say only that the company continues to adjust production according to customer demand.

“We do not provide updates on our operations. However, we are continuing to adjust production to remain in line with customer demands and to adjust our workforce as appropriate to match production levels,’’ said Erin DiPietro, senior public affairs representative for the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker. "We also typically don’t provide numbers when it comes to call-backs or layoffs.’’

Dowling said today's news has understandably created excitement with the union membership.

"We're very happy, very pleased,'' Dowling said. "Our members are anxious. They want to know what departments and when -- when am I being called back? We just can't answer those questions right now.''

As the Beacon reported in a story earlier this week, local steelworkers have held out hope that when U.S. Steel decided to restore idled operations, the Granite City Works would have an edge because of a partnership with SunCoke, which is readying a new low-emission coke-making facility that will also provide low-cost energy to the steel plant.

The Toronto Star and Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator are also reporting that U.S. Steel is recalling 800 workers laid off from its plant in Hamilton, Ontario. According to the report, the president of the local United Steelworkers said the plant would restart its coke ovens and begin recalling workers.

The report speculated that the Hamilton recall was connected to resumption of operations at Granite City and noted that U.S. Steel was facing a deadline under Ontario's Employment Standards Act, which requires companies to set aside funds for permanent severance pay to workers who have been laid off for more than 35 weeks. Several hundred Hamilton workers would reach that point in mid-July, costing U.S. Steel about $15 million.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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