GEORGETOWN, SC — After years of on-again off-again work at Georgetowns steel mill, workers are now facing more bad news as the mill cuts back.
Twenty workers at the mill have been laid off and another 20 open positions will go unfilled, local Steelworkers Union President James Sanderson said Saturday.
In a reduction Sanderson blamed on cheaper steel imports from China, the mill shed the 20 workers Oct. 26, shifting from three crews to two crews. Sanderson said the change means the mill now employs a little less than 200 workers, down from 282 workers and four crews in 2008.
After suffering through an idle mill in late 2009 and 2010, workers are upset and frustrated at the latest sour economic news, Sanderson said.
They are very, very upset; very uncertain. They basically said deja vu, here we go again.
This is only the latest of a series of troubles for the mill over recent years.
In 2003, the plant, then known as Georgetown Steel, filed for bankruptcy. It reopened under new ownership in 2004. ArcelorMittal, the worlds largest steel producer, bought the plant in 2007.
In April 2009, mill officials said the plant would go down in 60 days, due to lack of orders. That announcement came after months of on-and-off layoffs as the sputtering economy crushed the demand for steel.
The mill stopped production on July 10, 2009, laying off about 240 workers.
When it reopened in January 2011, workers had secured a promise from owner ArcelorMittal that it would not be entirely shut down again until their contract expired, but that promise ended with their contract in September.
The layoffs come as ArcelorMittal reported Oct. 31 its lowest quarterly profit in almost three years and slashed its dividend for investors by almost 75 percent.
The company reported Wednesday that it suffered a $709 million loss from July to September, a sharp contrast with last years equivalent profit of $659 million and the second-quarters profit of $959 million.
ArcelorMittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal blamed lower economic growth in China, which is now the worlds second-largest economy after years of stellar growth.
Calls to ArcelorMittals U.S. headquarters on Saturday were not returned, and calls to the plant in Georgetown were answered by a security guard, who said nobody was available to talk about the layoffs.
Sanderson blamed the shallow Georgetown port, which has languished in need of dredging for years, for at least part of the slowdown.
Its very vital we get this port dredged for the survival of this steel mill, he said.
What about the mills future? Are more layoffs possible?
Sanderson wasnt sure, but said anythings possible.
He was not optimistic about the future of the plant if it suffers through yet another shutdown, however.
Im a firm believer that if that mill goes down again it wont come back up.
The mill is one of Georgetowns largest utility customers, contributing tens of thousands of dollars a month to the citys budget, and any cutback in production could ripple through the city.