Citing the illegal foreign “dumping” of steel products at below market rates, primarily by South Korean manufacturers, U.S. Steel announced two weeks ago that it would close its lone remaining steel tubing facility in McKeesport indefinitely, eliminating 177 jobs.
Now that’s not many compared with the 600 the city lost when the EchoStar facility closed in 2004 or the thousands of jobs lost when U.S. Steel’s entire National Tube Works mill closed in the 1980s, but for a city with an unemployment rate above 10 percent—and more than 20 percent for Blacks—it’s not welcome news.
McKeesport Councilwoman V. Fawn Walker-Montgomery said the financial blow to the city is minimal.
“They weren’t paying the business privilege tax, so the only loss is payroll taxes. And just 23 of the employees lived in McKeesport,” she said. “The real impact is on the families of those workers, and to the businesses like Subway and the surrounding stores where they spent their money.”
But, she said, there may be a greater impact with the loss of the Labor Ready office on Fifth Avenue. Anywhere from 50 to 150 people were sent to job site via that office daily. For some of them who have criminal histories, or are recent ex-offenders, it was one of the few places to make an honest days’ wage, or a week’s wage depending on the assignment.
“It will have more of an effect because of the kind of jobs they offered, and that place was geared toward folks with records,” said Walker-Montgomery. “We’d heard rumors about the closing, but they didn’t reach out, they just left. It was done in the dark of night so I don’t think a lot of people know about it yet. I told my colleagues about it and only Keith Soles heard anything and that was a rumor.
“And it’s also the people who staffed the office—they got laid off too. They were from McKeesport and some of them were Black, so, yeah, it might be a bigger blow all the way around.”
Labor Ready is now handling all its temporary assignments to available employees via text and email notices sent from its North Side office in Pittsburgh. According to the company web site, it is the only office remaining in Allegheny County.
As for the U.S. Steel closing, in other circumstances, the soon-to-be-furloughed employees might have been offered positions at another company tube works like, say, the one in Bellville, Texas. But U.S. Steel is closing that one too, again citing loses to illegal foreign competition.
Walker-Montgomery said the mayor is petitioning U.S. House and Senate representatives to push new anti-dumping regulations/tariffs to protect domestic steel. And on the local front, she and her colleagues continue working to bring in businesses, but the closing may harm those efforts too.
“While it’s not a big financial blow, it’s still a blow to McKeesport’s image because it’s another business leaving,” she said. “But in the last year, we’ve added Dollar General, Dunkin’ Donuts, we have a Bottom Dollar grocery, and a Speedway station—it’s like Sheetz, you can order food, get gas (and) groceries. It employs between 10-15 people. So, we’re trying.”
Walker-Montgomery said she is constantly pushing for more minority- and women-owned business contracts. Moving forward, she said the city will continue to look for tenants for the massive idle EchoStar facility. A few companies have looked at it, but none have gone further.
“In the meantime, we’re addressing another issue that we didn’t realize was an issue—certification,” she said. “It turns out that a lot of Black owned firms in the Mon Valley aren’t certified. So we’re having a meeting June 25 with (Allegheny County MWDBE Director) Ruth Byrd Smith at the (Renziehausen) Park main pavilion.”
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