US Steel announced Monday that it intends to permanently close its blast furnace and associated steelmaking operations at Fairfield Works in Alabama. Most of the flat-rolled finishing operations at Fairfield will also be shut down. About 1,100 employees will lose their jobs due to the closure.
“We have made some difficult decisions over the last year as part of our portfolio optimization,” said Mario Longhi, U. S. Steel President and CEO. “We have determined that the permanent shut-down of the Fairfield Works blast furnace, steelmaking and most of the finishing operations is necessary to improve the overall efficiency and cost structure of our flat-rolled segment.”
Idling of the furnace and operations is expected by November 17, 2015. US Steel will be permanently closing their 6,000 tons per day blast furnace and Q-BOP (basic oxygen furnace) as well as their vacuum degassing and ladle metallurgy equipment. The company will also idle their two walking beam reheat furnaces, their hot strip mill (HSM), cold reduction, temper, batch anneal and pickling operations. The number 4 hot dipped coating line had been previously idled but will now be permanently closed. The slab and rounds casters, the #5 coating line and the Double G hot-dip galvanizing joint venture in nearby Jackson, Miss. will continue to operate.
The Fairfield Works blast furnace has been on and off all year and most recently was restarted in June and idled again in August. The blast furnace was slated to be shut down upon completion of a 1.6 million ton capacity electric arc furnace at Fairfield Works in the second half of 2016. The EAF will reduce the facilities current blast furnace capacity from 2.4 million tons but will provide flexibility to changing market conditions along with reduced operating and maintenance costs. US Steel has not disclosed how many employees will be required for the EAF operations.
USW International Vice President Tom Conway said he knew the shutdown was coming and talks are continuing with US Steel regarding the impact of the closing.
“We are discussing the future and anticipated staffing needs at the newly announced operations as well as the remaining operating facilities and the potential addition of new operations at the Fairfield Works,” said Conway. “The USW will continue to work to salvage every possible job at the facility and to insure that our members are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned and deserve during this difficult time,” he added.
USW International President Leo Gerard issued a statement following the closure announcement blaming unfair steel imports for disrupting the U.S. steel market.
“There can be no doubt that U.S. Steel’s decision to shut down the blast furnace and other operations in Fairfield, months before its new electric arc furnace comes online, was the result of unfairly traded foreign steel imports,” said Gerard. “In particular, China has repeatedly violated international trade rules to bolster its state-owned industry while dumping its products into our market, and American workers have already paid the price.”
US Steel acquired the mill in 1907 from the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company which established the company in the 1890’s. During World War II the company employed 45,000 workers and most of the people in the town worked for the company. Fairfield Works currently employs approximately 1,500 workers.
The closure will not affect Fairfield Tubular Operations. Customers will continue to be served from other US Steel operations including Gary Works, Granite City and Mon Valley Works.
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