GRANITE CITY — The last operating blast furnace at a US Steel plant in Granite City will remain idle indefinitely, extending a closure that was first described as temporary, the company said Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the company also notified an additional 600 employees that they could lose their jobs.
However, U.S. Steel spokeswoman Amanda Malkowski said the company only expects to lay off a portion of those.
A local union official said he believed the factory would continue to operate with the same number of workers, at least for now.
The fate of the Granite City plant has been in question since last summer, when US Steel unveiled plans to sell part of the facility to Chicago-based SunCoke Energy in a deal that would eliminate nearly 1,000 of the plant’s 1,450 jobs.
Companies are still under discussion.
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Then, adding to the uncertainty, US Steel said this summer that it was considering selling the company.
The Pittsburgh-based steel company has not made any public announcements about the completion of either potential deal.
The Granite City facility contains two furnaces used to make steel. One of them was previously closed.
This fall, US Steel temporarily closed the second company, expecting the closure to last less than six months.
But in a layoff notice submitted to district officials, dated Tuesday, the company told 1,000 employees that it now expects the closure to last longer.
Of these, 400 workers were temporarily laid off from the site. A notice this week warned another 600 that permanent layoffs could be on the horizon.
Dan Simmons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1899, said Tuesday afternoon that he expects the plant to continue operating with the same number of workers for now.
The company estimated that of the 1,000 total workers who received the notices, 60% could ultimately be affected, Malkowski said.
The changes will begin as early as January 28, according to the notice.
When the decision to shut down the blast furnace was first announced in September, the company blamed falling demand from the auto industry, caused by the sprawling United Auto Workers strike. Officials responded to the company’s assertions that the strike was to blame: U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Ill., called it an attempt to “pit workers against each other.”
The UAW strike at the Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — ended in late October.
On Tuesday, US Steel said the move to stop the blast furnace indefinitely was made to balance its production with customer demand.
The company will continue its steel rolling and finishing operations on site using sheet metal from other facilities.
Granite City Mayor Mike Parkinson said he’s already thinking about what buildings and land will be left vacant with parts of the plant closing. He said he is concerned about how these areas will be preserved, and is raising the issue with US Steel.
“I’m going to force them to start thinking about that,” Parkinson said. “My citizens deserve better.”