United Steelworkers, US Wind Announce New Steel Facility at Baltimore’s Sparrows Point

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Aug 03 2021 |
Sparrows Point once employed tens of thousands of people in union jobs. Its famed steel mill closed in 2012. Photo by vmaurin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

A portion of the former steel mill will be transformed into a manufacturing facility supporting the growth of offshore wind energy.

Steel is coming back to Sparrows Point, and so are the United Steelworkers (USW).

Wind farm developer US Wind on Tuesday announced that it plans to build a new steel fabrication facility on the landmark Baltimore site, where it will create the foundations needed to anchor wind turbines to the ocean floor. The new facility, which will be known as Sparrows Point Steel, is expected to employ around 500 people once it is operational.

The USW will help recruit and train those new workers. The union announced it is partnering with US Wind on the new facility, noting in a press release that the union and company “share a number of goals, including ensuring that the U.S. has strong domestic supply chains for emerging energy industries and creating high-quality manufacturing jobs.”

“The loss of the Sparrows Point steel mill, which once employed thousands of workers, was a huge blow to the Baltimore community and to U.S. manufacturing as a whole,” said USW President Tom Conway. “Now, we have a chance to create the jobs of the future right here on this historic site and ensure that they are good, union jobs that will again support families across this region.”

Along with the 500 factory jobs, US Wind estimated that 3,500 construction jobs will be created to build the new facility.

Sparrows Point served as a hub of steelmaking for over a century. The Pennsylvania Steel Company first made steel on the site back in 1887, but the site reached new heights in 1916 after it was purchased by the famed Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Workers at the site made steel that went into everything from the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building to tin for canned goods to battleships that were deployed during both world wars.

But Sparrows Point also was the center of some of the 20th Century’s important fights for worker rights and racial and gender equality. The plant was unionized after World War II, but didn’t desegregate its job classifications until the 1970s. That same decade, women steelworkers began working at Sparrows Point.

Sparrows Point was especially important to Baltimore because it supported Charm City’s middle class. By the 1960s, the plant had stretched to four miles long and employed over 30,000 people. Bethlehem Steel was one of the world’s largest steelmaking and shipbuilding companies, a symbol of America’s industrial strength.

Until it wasn’t.

Job losses began as the steel industry declined in the 1970s, and Sparrows Point never reached its former heights. Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001, and officially dissolved in 2003. The steel plant at Sparrows Point was then sold to several companies before officially closing its doors in 2012, leaving many of the remaining employees without a lifeline.

In the years since, companies like Amazon have used the massive site for things like distribution centers. But much of it has remain unused, a vacant reminder of its former glory.

While the construction of the new Sparrows Point Steel factory won’t match the massive size of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, it is a positive step forward in the effort to revitalize the site — and ensure that America’s clean energy future is Made in America.

“For more than a century, the steel that literally built our country was produced right here in Sparrows Point. Now, with US Wind and the United Steelworkers, that legacy will continue, providing more jobs that will support more local families,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). “It will also help lay the foundation for our country’s new clean energy economy, with the potential to become the largest offshore wind staging ports in America.”