Whatever the president decides to do about steel imports will deeply effect Granite City, Ill.
The Commerce Department on Jan. 11 sent President Trump the findings of its “Section 232” investigation into steel imports. Steelworkers and steel companies are now counting on Trump to act to defend good-paying jobs — and our national security — from foreign imports. In an occasional series, we catch up with steelworkers across the country to get their thoughts about the president’s impending decision.
The U.S. Steel mill in Granite City, Ill. has been part of Dan Simmons’ entire life. His father worked there as a general foreman, and Simmons become a steelworker right after finishing high school at the age of 18.
Simmons will celebrate his 40th anniversary at Granite City Works in August, and he certainly has seen a lifetime of changes at the mill.
When Simmons was hired in 1978, there were approximately 4,800 employees on staff. It was a fully integrated steel mill that could compete in almost any sector of steelmaking.
Today, Granite City Works struggles to stay open with about 700 workers.
This is because American steelmakers are under attack from China, Russia and other countries that dump their cheap, government-subsidized steel into the global market, selling it for less than American companies can manufacture the products. This has devastated the American steel industry — which operates in an open market and thus cannot compete with foreign governments — and led to dozens of plant closings and tens of thousands of job layoffs.
But relief for the American steel industry is as close as President Trump’s signature. The administration is currently reviewing a “Section 232” investigation into whether foreign steel threatens our national security, and the president can now act at any time to remedy the situation and defend American industry.
Simmons, as president of United Steelworkers Local 1899, has rallied his members in support of a positive Section 232 ruling.
“Our guys have been more educated in the last three or four years when it comes to tariffs and steel imports, and they understand what it is to have tariffs and fight these guys globally where we never had to be that way before,” Simmons said. “We talk about it in depth because if affects their livelihoods.
“I think President Trump has all the information he needs from the 232 investigations and the Commerce Department knows there is a serious problem. Our future is totally reliant on this decision.”
The entire steelmaking process at Granite City, a St. Louis suburb, was halted in December 2015 when nearly 1,800 employees were laid off. Today, some of them are back at work, but the mill is only doing a small amount of finishing work on steel slabs coming from U.S. Steel’s Gary Works in Indiana and Edgar Thomson Works in Pennsylvania.
“I know with the 232 Trump has options,” Simmons said. “It’s good, better or best. If he gives us a small percentage on the tariffs it might not help much. If it’s a better percentage, it will help us, but if he gives us a big percentage, it’s going to help us a lot.”
A favorable decision by Trump with substantial tariffs could bring at least 700 employees back to the job at Granite City Works, according to Simmons. That would enable the mill to restart the blast furnaces and begin making hot-rolled steel again.
“It afforded us an opportunity to have a piece of the pie. That’s what steelworker jobs can do for you… Without this job I doubt it would have happened.” Dan Simmons
Granite City Works is unique in that it has the capability of making steel for a variety of niche markets, including automotive, appliances, construction, sheeting tin, pipe tube and other specialty markets.
“This was a mini-mill before mini-mills were built,” Simmons said. “We could do everything from rock to the docks. We had our own coke batteries, coke ovens, we made our own pig iron that we torpedoed over to finishing. We had our own blast furnaces meaning we could make any kind of recipe or whatever you want to call it. We could make so many different products with our Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF).
“We can make everything from automotive to OCTG (Oil Country Tubular Goods) to hot band all the way to finish products. We do coating and galvanizing, and before they shut us down, we were successful with high tensile steel.”
Simmons, like most employees of Granite City Works, has been able to live a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, buying a suitable home, raising three children and paying for their educations. He also has educated his union workforce.
“Like most of the workers here, I was able to afford a modest home and raise a family with a nice middle-class job,” said Simmons. “We’ve had good health insurance, which was huge because all of my kids played sports and I still do as an old man.
“It afforded us an opportunity to have a piece of the pie. That’s what steelworker jobs can do for you. It has been comfortable. Without this job I doubt it would have happened.”