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Idle mill puts Alabama workers in limbo

Marketplace Staff May 8, 2009
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Idle mill puts Alabama workers in limbo

Marketplace Staff May 8, 2009
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KAI RYSSDAL: GM announced this afternoon that CEO Fritz Henderson is going to meet with reporters on Monday morning. He’ll talk about the carmaker’s ongoing restructuring. Probably be asked about more job cuts, too.

Production cuts that Detroit has been making for the past couple of years are working their way through the global economy. This has been a tough week for the steel industry in particular. Today the German steel giant ThyssenKrupp said it’ll cut as many as 2,000 jobs in the next two years. And yesterday the American steel industry announced almost 5,000 layoffs, including 1,700 positions at a U.S. Steel mill in Alabama. From WBHM in Birmingham, Tanya Ott reports.


Tanya Ott: U.S. Steel says it’s temporarily shutting down part of its mill in Fairfield, Ala. — on the western edge of Birmingham. The mill employs 1,700 workers. The company isn’t saying how many will be let go or how long the plant will be idled. And that frustrates Mark Bentley, who’s been cutting steel pipe here for six years.

Mark Bentley: If they could sit and tell us we’re going to shut down for two months people could deal with that a lot better. But for them to say, you know, ‘we don’t know.’ Well somebody knows.

Bentley says workers don’t know what they should do — whether they should get other temporary jobs or perhaps leave the steel industry completely.

Bentley: We’ve been told everything from the beginning from a boss that the second half the year, orders are great. Are they telling the truth? Are they lying?

U.S. Steel has already idled mills in Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota and Canada. Peter Morici is an economist and steel industry expert at the University of Maryland. He predicts demand for steel will rebound with the economic recovery, but…

Peter Morici: Unless we get a rapid expansion, unless we do something about the all the import competition in places like automobiles and construction steel and so forth, it’s going to be more and more difficult for American mills to maintain their market share.

Morici expects President Obama to address the trade issue next year — including the thorny problem of how China handles its currency. Critics say it artificially manipulates currency to keep exports cheap. And Morici says that’s been one of the biggest threats to the U.S. steel industry.

In Birmingham, Ala., I’m Tanya Ott for Marketplace.

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