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Union admits steel plant shutdown has 'been a struggle'

United Steelworkers Local 50 President Jason Chism after a news conference in Granite City in Feb. 2016.
File Photo | Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

A United Steelworkers local president is trying to remain as upbeat as possible, even though there is no indication when U.S. Steel might resume production in Granite City.

"I'm an optimistic person so my glass always runs half-full, even though it's been running close to empty here lately," USW Local 50 President Jason Chism told St. Louis Public Radio Friday.

"We stand hopeful and know that there's (sic) a lot of people working on our behalf to try and keep our jobs here in Granite City."


The temporary idling of the Metro East plant is expected to eventually leave roughly 2,000 employees out of work. Chism says it has "been a struggle" for many, especially when they have the impression that other sectors of the economy are bouncing back.

Granite City Works has been hit by a double-whammy; the flood of cheaper overseas steel on the U.S. market and the drop in gas prices.

Union officials along with local, state and government representatives say overseas steel has been allowed to enter the domestic market at unfairly low prices. Much of that has come from China, which has significantly increased the amount it sends to the U.S. over the past few years. Most Chinese suppliers are run by the government.

The falling prices at the pump have prompted oil companies to reduce drilling operations and orders for equipment. The Granite City plant has produced steel for the petroleum industry.

Those factors have played a key role in the temporary end of production in Granite City and U.S. Steel is not saying how long the shutdown might last.

"The rest of the economy it seems around you is starting to do well, and here we are falling off the end of the cliff," says Chism.

USW Jobs Sign
Credit Wayne Pratt|St. Louis Public Radio
An effort is underway in Granite City to come up with a long-term solution to steel trade issues so future temporary shutdowns can be avoided.

"And folks are not being able to come in and swipe their time cards in and make a good living for their families."

Chism was part of an area delegation that recently met with federal officials in Washington, D.C. to emphasize the impact of the steel industry downturn on Granite City.  Members are also hoping to hold talks with senior officials at Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel.

Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.