Union fears future of steel mill is uncertain
On Oct. 18, the 14,000 workers of ArcelorMittal nationwide approved a new three-year contract.
But last week, 20 workers at the company’s Georgetown plant found out they no longer have jobs.
The mill is now operating only 36 hours each week. Each shift is 12 hours, meaning the mill is operational only three days a week.
The reason for the downturn is because of steel imports from China, according to United Steelworkers of America Local 7898 president James Sanderson. He also reemphasized his plea for the deepening of the Port of Georgetown, saying the future of the plant is dependent on that happening.
Saying the mill is now in “survival mode. Sanderson predicted if the mill shuts down again, it will likely never reopen. He said the port dredging and the unfair imports need to be addressed in 2013 for the mill to survive.
In an email released Monday, a spokesperson for ArcelorMittal said the company “is being forced to respond to the impact that wire rod imports are having on our primary producer of wire rod in the United States.”
The release states the company “is carefully monitoring the situation and anticipates returning to a three-crew operation when market conditions can sustain full operations.”
At a news conference Monday, Sanderson said this past week “has been a very hectic week” for the workers who have been laid off.
He said the workers will receive benefits for the next 20 weeks. He is pushing to have Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) enacted which would extend the benefit period. It would also help workers who want to enroll in remedial training.
All of the impacted workers have been with the company for less than two years. Had they been there two years or longer, they would have been eligible for up to $75,000 in severance pay.
Not sure where to turn
Jordan Mann is one of the workers now out of a job.
He has a wife and two children to support and has no idea what he will do.
His wife is a student at Clemson University, so Mann — a Georgetown native — says he will likely have to move to the Upstate in order to find a job.
He said he hopes he can find something with the Department of Transportation because he trained for that type of work during his eight years in the military.
“It hit me very hard,” Mann said of the layoff announcement. “I pay a good amount of child support.”
He also said he was disappointed in the way the company handled the layoff situation. He said he no one from management told him he was no longer working. He, and many of the other laid off workers, found out when they looked at work schedules on a bulletin board and their names were not listed.
Joshua Keith, who is married with four children, said he found out the same way.
“There was no call. No text. No group meeting,” he said.
He said he plans to take advantage of the educational programs that are being offered.
“It may mean we have to move,” he said.
The job loss hit especially hard because it is the start of the holiday season, said Keith.
“It seems more personal when it is near the holidays,” he said.
Both Keith and Mann said there are things going on inside the plant that make workers feel the it may not be in operation much longer.
Mann said there is a lot of equipment in the mill that is very old and needs to be replaced but no investment is being made.
“They don’t fix anything. Just patch stuff up,” Mann said. “To me it does not look like they will stay open.”
Keith agreed, saying the work environment is dangerous.
“They just put band aids on things that need to be replaced. I am talking about equipment they have had since the 1960s,” he said.
Both men said they were excited when the new contract was ratified because they felt they had at least three years of job security.
Keith said he does not believe the company and others did not know the situation was dire when the contract was approved.
“If all these imports they are talking about had left China the day the contract was signed, they still would not have made it here,” Keith said.
Call for dredging
Sanderson once again stressed the importance of the dredging of the port.
He said because the channel is too shallow for cargo ships, the mill has to receive its needed supplies over land by way of Wilmington, N.C., which adds to the company’s costs.
“I am tired of the lack of attention being given to the Georgetown Port,” Sanderson said.
By Scott Harper
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