Local officials and business people around Georgetown County voiced their concern for workers when they learned that ArcelorMittal will be shutting down its steel mill in the city for a month. About mid-day Wednesday the Georgetown Times reported on its Web site that the doors at ArcelorMittal Georgetown will close again this month. It’s the third time since October lack of orders has forced the plant to go idle. Around the world, ArcelorMittal and other companies are cutting back on their production as demand for steel slackens. Adam Warrington, manager of external communications in the company’s Chicago office, said hourly employees will be laid-off during the temporary closure. Twenty will remain to handle required maintenance duties. Laid-off employees will be compensated via sub-pay and unemployment benefits, which are in accordance with ArcelorMittal's labor contract with the United Steelworkers, he said. That means the workers will get all but about 25 percent of their normal pay through the furlough period. Warrington said the “exact length of the temporary closure is not known at this time, but is anticipated to last less than one month.” Another plant official said workers in the steelmaking part of the plant will leave Sunday and return March 30. The rolling mill shuts down the following Sunday and workers return April 6. “This was a difficult decision to make, but the company is being forced to respond to the extraordinary economic environment we are facing. We will be carefully monitoring the situation and we look forward to many of our employees returning to work as soon as it is warranted by market conditions.” Warrington said the company will continue to work with the United Steelworkers “to minimize the impact on our employees and their families.” When the plant reopened in January after a shutdown that lasted more than a month, 51 workers were not called back.
“It is so unfortunate,” Wayne Gregory said. He’s director of Economic Development for Georgetown County. “Things are so bad in so many places. It has really hit home for us here in Georgetown County. 240 people losing their jobs is never a good thing.” While Gregory and his staff have some good prospects, he said, it will be awhile before any announcements could be made. In the meantime, for the laid-off employees at the steel mill, “It really hurts to see people losing their jobs like this.” “I would love to see an uptick,” Gregory continued.” With the federal stimulus plan, he hopes, “People will begin buying materials again, particularly appliances and cars that will provide jobs for the steel mill.” Interim City Administrator Miles Hadley said he’s disappointed to learn of the layoffs. “We’ll just have to asses what difference it will mean to the city as far as our budget,” he said. His major concern is for the “folks being laid off. It seems to be happening everywhere.” As for the practical matter of the city’s budget, Hadley said, “We’re not depending on their taxes.” “We do have some other issues with water and utilities, but there taxes were not something we depended on,” Hadley said. “We all share the concerns about the employees at the steel mill,” County Council Chairman Johnny Morant said. He’s hopeful that Warrington’s comments about a return to operations in 30 days will work out. For the individual employees, Morant said, they will get unemployment benefits and “sub-pay.” He suggested that employees take advantage of the time and opportunity for training through the Workforce Investment Board for upgrading skills and for alternative work. Noting that 51 employees were not called back to work after the last layoff, Morant said “That’s why it’s so important for the employees to at least explore the assistance that may be available to them” through the act. Many of the mill’s employees live in Georgetown County, Morant continued. “Their salaries are usually spent in Georgetown County, so it has a multiple effect.”
One person, who didn’t want his name used, said if the steel mill should close permanently, it could open up an significant area of the waterfront for development. The federal “superfund” may be able to help clean up the site, which has held the steel mill for more than 40 years. Before that, Atlantic Lumber Company and other businesses were on the property. That would provide additional jobs by creation of new business in the area, that person said. The loss of the 250 jobs at the steel mill — if it came to that — could be offset to some extent by new business. “The port is a major factor,” he added. The mill is locked in to its location. With the loss of tonnage from the steel mill that used to use the port, something will need to be done to help keep the port operating. New business or industry could help in that regard.
Other business leaders around town suggest now may be a good time to do something about the CSX Railroad crossing at Front and Fraser streets. Work has begun on replacing some of the railroad ties and adding gravel at the crossing. Jeepy Ford of Parrish Motor Co. sent an e-mail to other business people and local government officials. “This would be an excellent time for our city fathers to move the spur coming into the mill across Fraser St. (US17),” Ford suggested. “It can be reengineered and moved to the existing industrial spur that currently runs through IPCO and the Port of Georgetown terminal. This would run under the Sylvan Rosen (Sampit River) Bridge. By doing this there would be no train traffic holding up US 17 traffic. CSX already has brought rails and ties to redo the current spur. This could save lives both from accidents as well as emergency medical trips to Charleston.” Along with that practical suggestion of work that could be done while the steel mill is idle, Ford said “I hate to see people being laid off and out of work. It’s a sign of the hard economic times we are all going through.”
My prayers are with the steel workers who have been laid off, as well as those across this great county without a job; however, I must point out how fortunate the hourly employees of the steel mill are because they are receiving all but 25% of their regular pay during this lay off period. Ladies and gentlemen of ArcelorMittal....you are blessed! Be thankful! There is an entire country of unemployed citizens that envy you!!!
Posted by Proud Daughter of a Steel Worker
Thank you Georgetown Times for not giving James Sanderson ink to use this unfortunate situation for political blabber. I read in the sun news where he used the opportunity he was given to speak about the workers to bash Mark sanford. I am glad you didn't allow that.
Posted by Praying for the workers
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