Granite City steel union says notice of mass layoffs will not be as bad as first expected
One day after more than 1,000 steelworkers at Granite City Works were notified they could be laid off in January, the president of the local representing employees said the news may not be as bad as first expected.
After speaking with U.S. Steel leadership on Tuesday, Dan Simmons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1899, said Wednesday he doesn’t anticipate more layoffs than the roughly 400 employees already laid off this fall.
“It had a lot of people believing that there were some additional layoffs coming,” Simmons said of the notices filed on Tuesday. “That's not the case.”
U.S. Steel’s spokeswoman Amanda Malkowski said on Tuesday it's possible more than just those 400 employees will be laid off. “We anticipate that approximately 60% of employees who receive WARN notices will be impacted,” she said.
Asked on Wednesday about the discrepancy between the union’s estimation and the company’s, Malkowski said: “60% of 1,000 is 600.”
Simmons said Tuesday's announcement of federally required notices was U.S. Steel protecting itself after temporary layoffs turned indefinite.
In September, U.S. Steel announced layoffs for what would end up to be roughly 400 employees starting in October. The Pittsburgh-based company laid off those steelworkers without giving 60 days' notice under the federal WARN Act because they were expected to be temporary — or less than six months.
U.S. Steel announced on Tuesday it would “indefinitely idle” the blast furnace “out of an abundance of caution,” Malkowski said. In total, the company delivered 1,076 potential layoff notices, according to the Illinois WorkNet Center.
That’s because the company doesn’t know when exactly it plans to reopen the shuttered furnace, meaning it could go past the temporary status, Simmons said.
“We're running closer to that six-month deadline, where they still don't have a definitive startup date,” he said. “Therefore, they're covering their butts by posting and providing now a WARN notification in case that they go beyond the six months.”
The decision to issue notices gives U.S. Steel flexibility in the future with Granite City, Simmons said. It could mean the company lays more people off after the six-month notice period, which would be the end of March.
In the eyes of the union, the company should have provided the notices in September when the first set of layoffs were announced, Simmons said. Malkowski repeated that the temporary layoffs earlier in the fall were part of the company’s risk mitigation plan in response to strikes by autoworkers.
“Because we can meet customer demand by leveraging our active iron and steelmaking facilities, we have made the decision to indefinitely idle Granite City’s primary operations,” she wrote.
If found to have violated the WARN Act by not bringing back workers by the end of March, U.S. Steel would have to pay each relevant employee an amount equal to back pay and benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In the meantime, Simmons said the Granite City mill will operate with approximately 800 remaining employees. The steelworkers will continue to ship in slabs of steel from other U.S. Steel locations that will be turned into rolled coils and finishing steel.
Despite the news of indefinitely shutting down the blast furnace, Simmons said he’s optimistic.
To start, the price of steel has been trending up over the past month, he said.
There will be some downturn in demand for the steel market when construction slows over the cold winter months, he said. But when that picks up it will be hard for a shareholder to want to keep Granite City’s blast furnace closed.
“It's kind of like a racehorse and holding the bridle back,” he said.