Why a Phone Call was a Lifesaver for This Steelworker — and Others in His Tight-Knit Community

Jeffrey Bonior Researcher/Writer, AAM

Being called back to work at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works could not have come at a more opportune time for steelworker Scott Wolfe.

The 44-year-old married father of two had been forced out of his job since Feb. 7, 2016, when a massive layoff hit nearly 1,500 mill workers after the plant’s steelmaking blast furnaces went cold.

But then Wolfe received a phone call on March 7, from U.S. Steel’s human resources department, asking him if he wanted to return to his job. President Trump had announced he was going to set steel import tariffs of 25 percent, spurring U.S. Steel to call back approximately 500 laid-off workers in Granite City and restart one of the plant’s two blast furnaces.

Trump made it official the next day, with a formal signing of the tariff proclamation at the White House.

“We knew the night before that it was going to happen because the beans had been spilled but it wasn’t official yet,” said Wolfe. “I found out about 8 o’clock the night before and at 1 o’clock the next day they called me back to work.”

To say Wolfe was elated is an understatement.

“I was relieved. Very relieved,” he said. “I had just lost my health insurance on March 1 and we had to go on my wife’s insurance, but it was going to cost us. She works for the school district. I lost my insurance and sub-pay on March 1 and was called back on March 7. So, it was perfect timing.”

Wolfe has worked at the Granite City steel mill since Sept. 11, 1995. During his 22-year tenure, he had been laid off once before in 2008 and 2009.

“The first time I was laid off it was seven months,” he said. “This time I was called back exactly 25 months later. I was surprised we were laid off that long. Initially, when we were all laid off, we thought maybe six months and then it just kept dragging on and dragging on. So, I was surprised they called us back when they did.

“We were all sitting here wondering what was going to happen with Trump signing the 232 tariffs, but we knew he had until April, so I wasn’t expecting the decision to be made early.”

Wolfe sent out nearly 300 resumes during the time he was laid off and only got three job interviews. He did manage to land a job last December with an ambulance service, but it paid only $11.75 per hour.

But to Wolfe and his laid-off United Steelworker Local 1899 colleagues, the earlier tariff decision by the Trump administration was cause for celebration.

“You spend so many hours and years with the guys and right now it’s like a family reunion, everybody coming back together,” Wolfe said. “It’s still fresh to everyone right now getting back in there. When I walked back in it was like I never left.”

And that same steelworker bond holds true when his family gets together. Wolfe and his younger brother are the third generation of Wolfe brothers to work in the mill. Both his father and uncle, and his grandfather and his grandfather’s brother, established careers as Granite City steelworkers.

“Me and my brother ended up running the same cranes that my dad used to,” he said. “My grandpa worked in the open hearth and when they shut the open hearth down he went to the caster when they opened it up. My uncle was the safety chairman at the blast furnace. My grandpa retired in 1986 but my dad, I remember very well him being laid off. I guess it’s the nature of the business but hopefully that cycle will eventually quit.”

Wolfe sent out nearly 300 resumes during the time he was laid off and only got three job interviews. He did manage to land a job last December with an ambulance service, but it paid only $11.75 per hour.

Like his father before him, Wolfe decided to enroll in college. He is studying fire science at Southwest Illinois College with tuition provided by the federal government’s Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA). He is also a volunteer firefighter in Mitchell, Ill., which is an unincorporated area of Granite City.

But times got rough in the Wolfe household as the layoff period continued.

“Our savings is gone. We’ve got the car payment, the mortgage payment and those two years on layoff I didn’t get to save toward my kids’ college education,” said Wolfe, who is the father of a 12-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. “Now I am happy, my wife is happy and my kids are readjusting to me being back at work now. It’s a good time in Wolfe house right now. It’s a good time in the whole community.”

Wolfe began working at Granite City Works at the age of 22. He has worked many jobs in the mill but has spent most of his time in the shipping department operating cranes and other heavy equipment. He also is a safety representative and for the five years prior to the layoff his work was mostly in safety. He is temporarily doing laborer jobs in the plant but has been asked to resume his safety representative position in the coming days.

“Getting called back to U.S. Steel was definitely a lifesaver right now,” he said. “It was hard for so many people from the mill to find other jobs because these companies know that if you have any amount of time in the mill, you probably are going to go back when the layoffs end. So, they don’t want to hire people out of the mill.

“Going back to U.S. Steel means we don’t have to worry so much about money and we have insurance. I would like to say it’s financial stability but if they go back on these tariffs who knows actually how stable we are?

“For the time being it’s great. I will have the opportunity to get some overtime and start building the savings back up a little bit. It’s a good feeling and great for the area. One of our steel jobs effects seven other jobs in the area.”

But, just in case, Wolfe is going to pursue a little career insurance of his own.

“My TRA is going to end after this semester, but I am going to continue going to school until I get my master’s degree,” he said. “I don’t want to be in this boat again.”


Reposted from AAM

Stronger Together

Stronger Together