U.S. Steel ends an era in Hamilton – by Greg Keenan (Globe and Mail – October 30, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

TORONTO — United States Steel Corp. will permanently cease steel production at its Hamilton mill at the end of the year, ending an era that goes back more than a century.

The blast furnaces at the massive Hamilton Works site have been on what U.S. Steel calls “temporary idle” since late 2010. The permanent closure will leave just a coke-making operation, a cold mill that processes steel from the Nanticoke, Ont., operations and the company’s Z-line galvanizing operation, which finishes steel for automotive customers and others.

“Decisions like this are always difficult, but they’re necessary to improve the cost structure of our Canadian operations,” Mario Longhi, president of U.S. Steel said on a conference call for the company’s third-quarter financial results Tuesday.

The permanent end of steel making in what was the cradle of the Canadian steel industry is the latest step in what has been a troubled history for U.S. Steel with the operations of the former Stelco Inc., which it took over in 2007. Each set of negotiations with members of the United Steelworkers union in Hamilton or Nanticoke, Ont., led to lockouts of workers.

The Pittsburgh-based giant’s shutdown of both mills during the financial crisis in 2008 led to a protracted legal battle with the federal government, which accused U.S. Steel of breaking promises it had made about investment and steel production.

“We kept hoping it would start up again,” said Rolf Gerstenberger, president of local 1005 of the United Steelworkers, which represents about 600 of the 875 employees remaining at the Hamilton operations.

Mr. Gerstenberger noted that slabs made in Hamilton were shipped to the Nanticoke mill in 2006-2007 before the recession hit.

But since the recession, the company has not run at more than 80 per cent of capacity, so “I guess they finally decided they’re never going to need our slab capacity,” he said.

He said it makes no sense to be closing two million tons of steel-making capacity in Canada when as many as eight million tons are being imported annually.

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