Why is Steel Important to You?
America's steel communities are at the heart of our current national politics. What do people living and working in these communities have to say? Read their stories — and share your own.Submit your Story
69 / Harrisburg, Pa.
James Roberts is a retired steelworker who worked for 33 and a half years at Bethlehem Steel in Steelton, Pa., just down the road from his home in Harrisburg. He started working at Bethlehem at the age of 20 and has been retired for 15 years.
Roberts was a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel for 28 years. He started his career in the steel foundry, and in five years worked his way up to crane operator.
"It was a fully integrated mill," said Roberts. "We made it all. We made rails on the one end and pipe on the other end and in between we made all the other products. The time is quite different from when I started until the time I left. Departments closed down and when I left the steel foundry shut down. Little by little, departments kept closing. But ArcelorMittal bought parts of the mill and is still making steel there today. The mill itself never stopped running."
The value of the ArcelorMittal operation is the making of steel rail. There are only three mills that continue to make steel rail in North America.
"Chinese steel has caused many folks to get laid off," Roberts said. "We have Chinese competition, Japanese competition and domestic competition. China steel companies get subsidies from their government and they manipulate their currency so the trading is not fair. And often, it’s illegal."
Steelton has been decimated by the loss of the steel jobs. When Roberts started working at Bethlehem Steel there were approximately 4,000 jobs at the plant. Today there are about 600 steelworkers manning the ArcelorMittal operations.
"There are a lot of empty storefronts on Main Street in Steelton," said Roberts. "Businesses in Steelton closed down because the steelworkers are gone. The local restaurants and convenience stores depended on the workforce for their living.
"My job meant a lot to me and provided for my family decent wages, health care and a livable wage. You don’t see those types of jobs anymore," he added. "There are not that many around, period. In this area, there is something like 600 of them down there that pays that kind of money. Even what is considered good paying jobs don’t pay what the mill pays."
When Roberts retired, he was finishing up his third term as financial secretary at United Steelworkers Local 1688.
"The workers were losing their health care," said Roberts. "All the benefits they had for retirement were gone plus I lost one-third of my pension. When I retired, I had health care, a life insurance policy and all that went down the tubes. Without these steel imports there would be a lot more jobs in steel. If we could just stop the illegal imports that would have a big effect on it. I believe we have to have trade but the kind of trade we have been having is not good for us."
Dan Pierce is from Minnesota’s Iron Range. He’s a diesel mechanic who works at a facility there that mines taconite – a key ingredient for steelmaking. His parents actually met at that same facility. And his grandfather was a miner before them.
That makes him a third-generation miner.
“Either you work in the taconite industry, or at the hospital or some other kind of health care facility,” he says of people in this corner of northern Minnesota.
Pierce has almost two decades of experience at his facility, U.S. Steel KeeTac in Keewatin. He’s vice president and grievance chairman of Local 2660. But has been laid off for approximately a year, as the mill has largely idled.
Pierce says this is his fifth shutdown. He says this one was caused by the downturn in the market for steel tubular goods. This is the steel pipe and tube that was gobbled up by the energy industry for the construction of oil pipelines and rigs. The mine in Keewatin fed ore directly into tubular mills.
But as oil prices have plummeted, so has demand for steel tube.
“They’re pumping, but not they’re not drilling,” say Pierce. “And if they don’t need drill steel, they don’t need the tubular division.”
U.S. Steel brought trade cases against companies that were undercutting domestic tube producers on price. But the lengthy litigation process is a drag.
“Each one of these cases we put in front of the ITC can take up to a year to see an end to them, or longer,” says Pierce. “It’s very frustrating as a union official, and it must be frustrating on the federal level.”
That said, and albeit slowly, Pierce thinks the industry will recover. And he can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“If I had to leave the Iron Range, I don’t know if I could do it. I enjoy going to bigger cities on union business, but to relocate my family, and living somewhere where there’s a bazillion people? I could never do it.”
66 / Granite City, Ill.
The photo Gary Gaines wanted to share isn't that of himself, but of his grandfather, Lars Peter Madsen, who came to the United States from Denmark in 1873.
"After bouncing around from Detroit to Montana he ended up in a steel mill in Granite City, Ill., that was founded in 1878," Gaines recalled. "It was small as steel mills go — but it was a 'bucket shop' — they called it 'rocks to docks.'"
Like his grandfather, father, and uncle before him, Gary Gaines worked in a steel mill in Granite City, U.S. Steel Granite City Works. His wife, Norma, also worked in the plant as an electrician — she was one of the first female employees there.
"We melted ore into iron and eventually made high grade flat rolled steel out of it. The products known as Strong Barn and Strong Panel that build barns and silos and other farm buildings were invented at my plant," said Gaines, who is now retired. "The plant is just less than two miles from the Mississippi River and the largest shipping canal system in the USA. The St. Louis region is the 2nd largest concentration of major railroads outside of Chicago. Interstates 44, 55, 64, 70 all come together right here. There is no better place to put a steel mill in the USA."
Right now, however, the mill is idle because of unfair trade. Government-owned and operated steel companies in places like China are making more steel than they need, then dumping its excess into the U.S. market at rock-bottom prices.Times are tough in Granite City; Gaines said he's heard of at least 25 families who have lost their homes.
"This plant is state of the art. It has some of the most modern equipment in North America," Gaines said. "Why can't we save this industry that is vital to our economic and military security? We need to stand up and fight back."
50 / McKeesport, Pa.
Keli Vereb is a third generation steelworker from the MonValley near Pittsburgh, and has been employed as a scheduler at the U.S. Steel Irvin Plant for more than 21 years.
When she was graduating high school in the early 1980s, the steel industry was in crisis.
"The MonValley lost more than 150,000 jobs in a short amount of time. My local area became a ghost town," Vereb recalled. "I was very fortunate to find a job in the mill after being laid off from an accounting position with a local hydraulics company."
Although the Irvin Plant managed to survive the tough times of the 1980s, the current steel imports crisis is putting jobs like Vereb's at risk. Already about 19,000 steelworkers have received layoff notices because of the crisis, which is driven by countries like China, which makes far more steel than it needs — and then dumps the excess into the U.S. market at rock-bottom prices.
"In the 21 years at U S Steel we have seen massive surges of steel dumping. Our workforce has declined by 40 percent in the time that I have been there," Vereb said. "Tariffs are helping, but not until the damage has been done."
47 / Germantown, Ill.
Steel runs in the family for Terry Biggs. The 20+ year industry veteran is a fourth generation steelworker. He's seen slowdowns before, but nothing like the current steel imports crisis, which has led to nearly 19,000 layoffs nationwide and dozens of factory closures.
"I have gone threw downturns in the '80s with my father being laid off long term and it puts your whole family in a spin waiting on the economy and steel sector to get back on track," Biggs said. "This time it's different. I am the father going through this downturn with my family and now know the stress and strain my father felt not knowing when the mill will fire up."
Biggs blames "bad trade deals and lack of enforcement, letting China flood our markets with cheap steel" for the industry's current troubles. "And my brothers and sisters in the steel sector are paying the price," he added.
"I have been blessed starting a new job in June as a labor liaison with the United Way and AFL-CIO, and my position allows me to assist my brothers and sisters with some resources and one-on-one assistance they are needing to get through there situation they are facing," Biggs said. "Never did I think I would have to set across a desk with a brother or sister I worked beside in the mill discuss food banks and disconnect notices from power companies. But I am thankful, I now hold a position to offer them assistance to ride out the storm we are facing."
41 / Granite City, Ill.
United Steelworkers Local 50 President Jason Chism said "steel means everything to myself and my family." But he added that the current situation at his facility, U.S. Steel Granite City Works, is "the worst I've seen in my 20 years at the mill."
Granite City Works has been devastated by the dumping of unfairly trade steel from countries like China. The plant idled the week before Christmas in December 2015, and 530 members of Chism's local were laid off. An additional 1,100 people from other locals in Granite City also received layoff notices, Chism said.
"It's just been heartbreaking to see what is happening in Granite City and [to] our members," he said. "We have food banks set up at the union halls. Members being re-trained in other job fields. Members not being able to find family sustaining jobs. Most members are out of benefits."
The layoffs have hit home for Chism. His father worked in the mill for 38 years and his younger brother spent 15 years there. Both are now laid off.
"It hits at the heart of what we do," Chism said. "It's just unbelievable to know it's to no fault of your own, and to know it's because of foreign imports and our bad trade deals that has allow this to happen."
While Chism and his fellow union members are hopeful things will turn around, he said the steel community needs politicians "to stand up and fight back for what is right in this country."
"This is a national defense issue," he added. "If we do not make our own steel, then who will? China? Stand up and fight back. Let's get back to making steel."
Mayor Richard Lattanzi
Richard Lattanzi never set out to enter public office. He just wanted to fix the local Little League field.
Lattanzi is a plumber by trade. He got hired at the U.S. Steel Clairton Plant in 1990 as a pipe fitter, and the last six years he’s been a safety representative, charged with keeping people safe at work.
But he's also the mayor of Clairton, Pa., a job he never thought he would take on.
It started a few years back, when Lattanzi was working as a baseball coach and the athletic director for a local Catholic school. The athletic facilities he coached at were in rough shape, and Lattanzi decided to go ask the city council to make much-needed repairs.
He gave an impassioned speech at a meeting, only to get turned down. But afterward he got a phone call from someone in the audience, who urged him to run for office.
"I said, "I don’t know anything about politics," Lattanzi recalled. "And the guy said: 'Exactly.'"
Lattanzi won a seat, and immediately got to work repairing the city’s athletic facilities. Now as mayor, his goal is to create a new, vibrant future for the city.
Clairton was hit hard in the 1980s after a number of area steel mill closures, and many local businesses shut down. Starting in 1988, Clairton was labeled a "financially distressed" city, which meant its finances were overseen by the state.
Lattanzi worked hard to get the city’s finances back in shape — a difficult process that Lattanzi says cost him some friendships — but Clairton finally emerged out of distressed status last year.
Now Lattanzi wants to create a brighter future for the steel town. He and the council have come together, working to demolish unused buildings and hosting citywide cleanups in an attempt to attract investors. “We want to rebuild. We need a grocery store, we need retail stores, we need more housing,” he said.
The survival of the Clairton steel plant is key to that success. "That’s one-third of our tax base," Lattanzi said.
Despite the continued challenges, Lattanzi thinks Clairton is finally in a position to move forward.
"For 20 years we’ve been stagnant," he said. "I see a ray of hope right now."
45 / Wyandotte, Mich.
Bonnie Burke, a 45-year-old expediter at the U.S. Steel Great Lakes Works (GLW) plant in Ecorse, Mich., located downriver from Detroit, is aware of how fortunate she is to be working at a major steel mill during the steel imports crisis.
The resurgence of American automobile sales during the past five years has kept the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States from falling into the abyss the way coal mining and construction jobs have floundered. And if it wasn’t for strong auto sales, the U.S. steel industry, which already has seen nearly 19,000 layoffs, would have fallen even further.
"We make the steel for the cars," Burke said. "That’s exactly what we do – Ford, Toyota, Honda and more – they all buy our steel. I am a union (USW Local 1299) representative but in the mill I order parts. I order re-factory and send parts out for repair. I work with both our production and maintenance crew."
Of the approximately 2,000 employees at GLW, about 1,800 are USW members. GLW is a fully integrated mill with an expected solid future because of its close proximity to the auto plants that purchase the U.S. Steel auto-making steel.
"The GLW starts out producing the iron ore with one of its three blast furnace," Burke said. "We have a galvanizing coating line. The hot dip for the galvanizing or the Electro dip. With the blast furnaces we are making steel and making the slabs. And we have our hot roller and our coating lines. We start with raw material and end up with a finished product."
But steel from China and other Asian countries has even effected this dedicated plant. "Our business has been affected tremendously," Burke said.
"In just my 10 years, China imports have had a decline on our workforce, a big decline in our morale, and just a decline in orders from other customers. They take a lot of employed people and not just those that work in the mill. When we had to idle in 2008, a lot of our small businesses closed down and they’ve never reopened. All these businesses right through the downriver area are still closed and empty today. The area has been devastated."
Burke is recently divorced and lives in nearby Wyandotte with her three sons, Stevan, 20, Johnathan, 17 and Andrew, 15.
"I am still raising them. I’m lucky to be working at the U.S. Steel Great Lake Works. It’s not easy. I can’t imagine the people raising kids that are making less money than I am," she said.
75 / Chicago, Ill.
Victor Storino spent a lifetime working in steel.
He immigrated to the United States from Italy as a teenager, following in the footsteps of his father. Once he turned 18, he followed his father into working in steel.
Storino worked at Wisconsin Steel for about a year, but got laid off when staff cuts hit. He then landed a job at Republic Steel, where he worked until the plant closed in 2002.
“At that time, it was one of the better jobs around,” Storino recalls. “The wages were higher, you could make a good living, if you knew how to manage your money.”
Storino often worked seven days in a row and long shifts. The work was hard, and the working conditions were tough. But Storino’s steel job allowed him to buy two houses for his family and pay for his children’s college educations.
Storino worked a variety of steel jobs. At Wisconsin Steel, he started as a member of the “floating gang,” which meant he worked wherever the plant needed him that day. By the time he retired, he was a mechanic. He also went to night school and got involved in the United Steelworkers, where he remains active in the union’s retirees’ branch, SOAR.
Most of Chicago’s steel mills are now shutdown, but the devastation left by their closure remains. Not only steelworkers were impacted; folks who depended on the steel industry for their business, like the local machine shop, also closed.
“I’m sure a lot of people that worked in the steel mill, they’re still looking for jobs,” Storino said. “Some people I know, they never found a job once the mill shut down.”
41 / Wenatchee, Wash.
Jason Roach has basically lived his entire life in Wenatchee, Washington.
“I grew up there,” he said. “I moved there when my dad got transferred in the early 80’s and lived my whole life there, minus the time I was in the Air Force.”
He’s there no longer. Roach now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he’s a staff representative for the Alaska Public Employees Association. He took that job after the Alcoa aluminum smelter where he worked for 18 years was idled, and its entire workforce of 450 was laid off. Roach has been in Fairbanks since June.
“It’s okay, but it’s nothing compared to where I came from. I probably lived in in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but there’s just no opportunity there and I had to make some sacrifices. I was gonna be homeless and possibly unemployed.”
Working in a smelter, Roach will tell you, is by no means easy work. But in the rural community of Wenatchee, a job there was among the best opportunities around. He raised four kids on this salary.
“The wages, the benefits, all that stuff is what really attracted me to it, he said. “It’s a living wage, union job that I could raise my family with. I was making $9.50 for that year, and when I got hired on I started to make $23 an hour. It completely changed my life.
“First, I was able to move out of my parents’ house and I was able to rent a place. Then a few years later we were able to buy a house, get braces for my kids, do all kinds of things for our family. It was really good times for us.”
The aluminum smelting industry, as Roach describes it, was a turbulent one. He was very active in his union, United Steelworkers Local 310A, and eventually rose to become its president – while still working fulltime. “I was tired of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for things to happen,” he said. “I wanted to be in the middle of it.”
Now, though, with the smelter gone, Roach is worried about Wenatchee’s economy – and the people who live there.
“When those paychecks run out, I don’t know what’s going to happen to our town. The company was such an integral part. They gave a lot of money to the community and, obviously, we spent all our money there. We had a payroll of several million dollars a month, and all that money is gone now. It will never be the same in our town. There’s no way they can replace it.
“I don’t know, man. It’s just really sad, and scary. It’s just bad news.
“I hope that our story does get out there, because something needs to change.”
56 / Granite City, Ill.
Dan Simmons has spent 38 years of his life at the steel mill in Granite City. He started at 18 years old right out of high school, in general labor. Then, after an apprenticeship, he worked as a pipefitter, until 2003 when he took a full-time position with the union. All of this only 25 minutes down the road from where he grew up in southern Illinois.
“I’m a second-generation,” he says. “My dad was a general foreman when he retired. He was on the salary side and I was on the union side, actually, in the department where I was a shop steward.”
Today Dan is president of United Steelworkers Local 1899, home to hundreds of workers, the vast majority of whom have suffered layoffs from U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works. The entire mill was idled in late 2015, as the company and union have cited a flood of cheap imports that have soured the market and left 2000 people out of work.
A few favorable trade rulings later, and 500 people are back on the job.
“We hope to put a plug in the dyke, so to speak,” says Simmons.
But the town is beginning to feel the economic ripple effect, he says, and those still jobless, he says it hasn’t been easy. Bills are piling up.
“We’re offering as much help as we can. We’ve got limited resources, but we’re trying to work with them and their financial institutions.
I’ve got a food bank, from where we’re getting some donations, but it’s kina hard to get a once-too-proud-to-accept-a-handout steelworker to take one. They don’t want to. They do it almost with a tear in their eye, they won’t look you in the eye. They’re embarrassed.
But I keep telling them, ‘no, that’s not what this is about.’ Most of the donations up to this point? They’ve been from retired steelworkers, and I say to my members: ‘They’ve been through the same thing. They’re glad to help us out in these situations.’
61 / Granite City, Ill.
Granite City Works has a long steel-making history dating back to 1896 in southeastern Illinois’ Madison County, part of the St. Louis region. After a series of mixed messages throughout 2015, the giant U.S. Steel mill was idled one week before Christmas. What remains at the site today are approximately 200 members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1899 working at the cold rolled finishing and galvanizing line.
It’s a surprise that one of the remaining workers is not Doug May, who retired on Feb. 6, 2016 after working 43 years at Granite City Works as a sort of master of all trades. The 61-year-old May began his career as a laborer in production at the age of 18. He held down many positions at the mill and on his retirement date, he was working as a crane operator. As valuable as he was to his coworkers in the manufacturing process, his newsletter and website writing and reporting kept his USW Local 1899 members informed of issues important to the U.S. Steel workforce.
"I figured 43 years of shift work was just about enough," said May. "I did all the shift work, weekends, holidays and I still check what’s going on. In fact, I was just exploring the resources fair we had in Granite City because so many of our members have been laid off. It’s over nine months and people are running out of unemployment and there are foreclosures going on. It’s to see if we can extend out some opportunities and hopefully get us some help."
May certainly provided Granite City Works with plenty of his own help. He has worked inside the furnace, held a letter production job, worked in the coke plant, poured steel into the pit’s mold and helped with the building of a new caster before becoming a switch man on the plants railroad.
"In addition to making a good living and sending three sons to college, I recognized the importance of my job to the community," he recalled. "A good day’s work gave me a good feeling that I was doing my part to continue to care for the next generation, what so many previous generations had done to make my life more rewarding.”
53 / Fairfield, Ala
David Clark is president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1013, representing a majority of the employees at the Fairfield Tubular Operations on the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala. The Tubular Operations mill is all of what remains today of Fairfield Works, once a fully-integrated steel mill that at one time employed nearly 50,000 steelworkers in factories in and around Birmingham.
All of the necessary ingredients for making top-quality steel are part of the Alabama landscape, a fact that was not lost on U.S. Steel Corporation.
"We’d bring in the raw materials, convert it into iron, convert the iron into steel, cast it into slabs then reheat it in our rolling and finishing mills," Clark recalled. "Everything was done right here. Everything was in house, on site, and we took it from raw materials into finished goods."
But when unfair trade competition from China forced U.S. Steel to close the blast furnace and flat-rolled finishing operations in November 2015, all that remained was the Tubular Operations, where the 53-year-old Clark has worked for more than 16 years. He is a maintenance and utility man on the pipe mill side, where less than 600 workers are still on the payroll. There were approximately 2,600 employees at the mill in August 2015.
"Look around the community and you can tell since the Steel Works closed, you see businesses closing and relocating. You’ve got a city government with a crumbled tax base and they struggle just to pay the employees," Clark said. "There have been recent issues about being able to pay police and firemen. This job has enabled me to raise a family, put kids through college, to have good benefits for myself and my spouse. It’s also afforded me a retirement plan and health care for the future and provided me with a very good income for myself and my family.
"There’s always been a sense that it was a cornerstone of the area and that the steel industry would always be here. Well, those days are long gone."
48 / Fairfield, Ala.
At the Fairfield Works and Fairfield Tubular Operations in Alabama, Martin Edwards is simply known as “Detroit.” He was an auto worker in the Motor City who took an early buyout after a series of layoffs. He decided to look for work near Birmingham, Ala., where his retired parents settled after long careers working for General Motors in Detroit.
He quickly found a job driving a “straddle buggy” that moves materials throughout the U.S. Steel mill in Fairfield. It is a well-paying, benefit-friendly position.
Edwards, now 48, went into U.S. Steel with cautious optimism. He has been at U.S. Steel for more than seven years and is the grievance director for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1013. He is fortunate to still be on the job, since the tubular operations run sporadically. China and South Korea’s dumping of government-subsidized steel forced U.S. Steel to close nearly all of Fairfield Works.
"This foreign steel interrupted a five-year plan I had for myself. This job is my livelihood. Basically without it, there is no me. I’ve had a few different health issues and luckily I still have good health insurance. We are going to fight it out here," Edwards said.
"You can see how the lack of jobs has been devastating to the community. All of the smaller businesses are no longer here, the city can’t pay for a lot of city services because it is struggling," he added. "They don’t have that income base, that tax base any longer. Even the Walmart closed down. If they closed the pipe mill, I don’t think the city would barely exist. It would be another Flint, Michigan."
32 / McMinnville, Ore
Tim Davis is a 32-year-old steelworker from McMinnville, Oregon. For the past two years he has been a crane operator at Cascade Steel. He works in shipping, moving the new steel out of the mill into bays where he eventually loads the rebar and wire products onto trucks and rail cars.
Cascade Steel had to lay off 80 employees in February 2016 because rebar from Turkey — via China — was being dumped into the busy California market where Cascade Steel gets most of its orders. Fortunately, by August 2016 Cascade Steel had called back most of the steelworkers who were laid off.
Davis, who testified before the International Trade Commission (ITC) about Chinese overcapacity early in 2016, feels fortunate to be a steelworker. “It’s financial support and being able to actually live a life. I work to live, not live to work and this job gives me the ability to where I have the financial means to live instead of working to just pay bills.”
Cascade Steel is probably the largest supplier of high-paid jobs in Yamhill County.
“We have about 400 employees and all the money we make goes back into the community," Davis said. "There are tons of small businesses on our historic 3rd Street and there’s mom-and-pop shops that most of the people patronize here. If these jobs went away, that money would be gone from our local community and we’d see all these businesses losing money and closing down.”
35 / North Huntington, Pa
Justin Ellsworth recently celebrated his 11th anniversary working for U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works located on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh. The 35-year-old production and transportation worker is currently on leave from the coke plant, where he held several chairmanship positions at United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1557, which represents about 1,200 USW members. Ellsworth is temporarily working as an organizer for USW International.
The U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works is the largest coke plant in America and is not operating at full capacity. Coke, an essential ingredient in steel making, can disintegrate without constant heat, so even though the plant has experienced layoffs and half schedules, it stays open to basically keep enough production going so the facility won’t be damaged.
“Obviously, things like infrastructure spending, price controls, tariffs and countervailing duties against China would help a lot,” said Ellsworth. “It’s not just the people that work directly for the steel plants. I always tell people that for every direct steel job, there’s another five indirect jobs in the economy we support. And you start talking about things like national security implications, not having commodity manufacturing the United States, it’s scary.
“There were small businesses up and down the Alleghany Valley that were severely impacted by the closing of Pittsburgh area steel facilities. Everything from pizza shops to convenience stores, auto sales and housing. If anything worse were to happen, it would be devastating.”
61 / Philadelphia, Pa
Lindsay Patterson worked for 25 years at Allied Tube and Conduit Corp. in Northeast Philadelphia when the plant shut down in October 2015. He’s been working a casual staff job for the United Steelworkers union since then, helping other local unions organize and at the bargaining table.
At Allied Tube, Patterson worked as a mill operator and then a cutoff operator. In those days, Allied Tube was known as the fastest tube mill in the world, running conduit pipe at 1,000 feet per minute. China was capable of running only 80 feet per minute.
“With subsidizing from their government, China factories were able to cut their prices in half and in my opinion, they cornered the market by manipulating their currency," Patterson said.
Patterson was president of USW Local 404 and his work at Allied Tube allowed him to buy a house in Voorhees, N.J., where he found a quality school system for his two children.
He continues his passion for USW members and has been able to work 1,000 hours per year with the union. He loves his work, but at the age of 61, he is still looking for a full-time position.
“If it wasn’t for the union, there is no way I would have made it 25 years in that plant. But because of the USW and the support I had, I was able to survive.”
Georgetown, South Carolina
James Sanderson got his start at Georgetown Steel in July 1974 as an electrician. He soon joined the United Steelworkers union and became a local president in 1988.
But the plant closed in 2015, a victim of the steel imports crisis. More than 200 people lost their jobs, and Sanderson now helps those workers find work or build new careers. “It’s very devastating. Very, very devastating,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson said steel jobs like his once offered “job security, a bright future, and a steady income with benefits, and [to] be able to retire with dignity and respect.” But he can’t remember a time the plant wasn’t threatened by unfair imports.
Now it is empty. The city is looking to redevelop the property. The town of Georgetown likely won’t survive unless something is done, Sanderson said.
“It’s just sitting over there. They’ve got a banner hanging from one of the buildings, ‘For Sale and Lease, Buildings and Land,’” Sanderson said. “It’s a slap in the workers’ face.”
42 / Hibbing, MN
Cliff Tobey is a steelworker at the currently idled U.S. Steel KeeTac taconite plant on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. The native of Hibbing, Minn., has worked for more than 20 years as a mechanic on the heavy equipment that is used to extract the low-grade iron ore from the Iron Range which is processed into taconite pellets. Taconite pellets are used to make steel since America is now lacking in pure, natural iron ore.
Tobey is the President of USW Local 2660. There are six taconite plants remaining on the Iron Range employing approximately 6,000 workers. While the U.S. Steel KeeTac plant is idled, Tobey is temporarily working at MinnTac, a sister plant of U.S. Steel.
China’s illegal dumping of its steel into the U.S. market has caused 50 percent layoffs on the Iron Range. “People are actually walking into banks and just dropping their keys for their houses on the table,” said Tobey. “And other people start getting into the drugs and alcohol.
“I’m a third generation miner on the Iron Range. I was born and raised here as were my parents and it’s pretty much the place and the work that I know. It’s where my whole world is. There is nothing else here. There is no other work here. This is it.”