canton – Steel Republic announced that it would cease steelmaking operations “indefinitely” in Canton and Lackawanna, New York, ending leaded steel production in the United States.
Grupo owner Simec said Thursday that about 500 steelworkers will be furloughed indefinitely. Republic Steel Republic, which is headquartered in Canton, is a subsidiary of the Mexican company. They are among the leading suppliers of special billet quality (SBQ) steel and the only producers of leaded steel in North America.
Jaime Vigil, a Republic Steel board member and executive advisor, said Grupo Simic exhausted all other options before deciding to go out of business.
“We are facing significant challenges in the SBQ market in the United States, with competitive market pricing and low demand,” he said in a prepared statement. “At the same time, we’ve had to deal with increasing input costs on all raw materials, consumables and labor, all as a result of the inflationary environment in the US over the past year.”
Grupo Simec has stated that it will provide uninterrupted service to US customers through its steel plant in Tlaxcala, Mexico.
The Canton plant at 2633 Eighth Street NE has been the subject of environmental concerns from residents of the area and continued enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency in Ohio and the United States. Republic Steel has been operating under a court order since July 2021 regarding the amount of lead released into the air and has been in recent settlement discussions with the state.
Grupo Simec said the company has invested $10 million in the Canton facility over the past several years to comply with environmental regulations, particularly national lead-free ambient air quality standards.
“Although Republic Steel has, for the past two years, remained in strict compliance with national ambient air quality standards for the production of leaded steel, ensuring future environmental compliance while producing the steel in facilities up to 125 years old that have also proven tough,” according to the company’s announcement. “As a result, Grupo Simec felt it would be more environmentally responsible to do so in a new state-of-the-art mill in Tlaxcala.”
Vigil said this move is the only reliable way to supply steel products at a competitive price. He thanked the American Steelworkers for their contributions.
“The employees of Republic Steel are diligent and loyal,” he said in the prepared statement. “Their roots go back to the late 19th century. They are an important reason why this company has been a leader in the industry for so long.”
Steel Republic also has operations in Massillon and Lorain. Messages sent to the company seeking clarification on what will happen at these facilities were not immediately returned.
Republic Steel president Andy Ramos said the company first shut down the Lorraine rolling mill in 2016. After a brief restart in 2018, Republic Steel operated the plant from June 2021 to March 2022 before closing again. United Steelworkers Local 1104.
“We’ve been in this idle mode ever since,” he said.
An announcement that surprises city and steel workers
United Steelworkers Local 1200 — which represents about 185 workers at the steel mill in Canton — and the city of Canton reported receiving no notice of the closure.
“Our contract said they were supposed to give us 90 days notice, and they didn’t,” said union president Todd Fitzgibbon.
Grupo Simec bought Republic Steel in 2005. Fitzgibbon, who worked for Republic Steel for 27 years, said it has been a “miserable, terrible company to work for” ever since and has been plagued by environmental and operational problems.
The union contract requires employees to receive lockout benefits. The company averted that by calling it a temporary shutdown, Fitzgibbon said, and employees were told “one lie after another” to return to work after a training class in late July.
“I don’t know what to say other than that the company continues to lie, not only to employees but to the union and to the public,” Fitzgibbon said.
Christopher Hardesty, the city’s director of economic development, said the company has not reached out to Canton for any kind of commercial assistance. He said the city’s limited interaction with the company was through Canton City Public Health’s enforcement of EPA sanctions against Republic Steel for exceeding air pollution standards.
“It’s quite surprising that he’s apparently gone from his job to shutting down operations now,” said Hardesty, who said the city has yet to receive any official communication from Republic Steel about Canton’s slowdown in operations.
Hardesty plans to reach out to the company in hopes of helping affected Canton employees find new jobs by connecting them with community workforce partners, such as the Stark Economic Development Board, OhioMeansJobs, and Strengthening Stark.
Room plans manufacturing job fair
The Canton Provincial Chamber of Commerce plans a job fair to connect steelworkers with other manufacturing opportunities in the region.
“The closure of Republic Steel is a loss to society,” said Denis Saunier, president and CEO of the chamber, adding that the top priority now is helping furloughed workers find work.
The Chamber manages the nonprofit Stark County Industrial Workforce Development Partnership, a member network of more than 60 employers. Existing contacts with local manufacturers enable the chamber and its partner agencies to get up and running quickly, said Barb Bennett, chamber vice president for education and workforce.
The Manufacturing Partnership conducts surveys about open positions at its monthly meetings. Bennett said there were 250 positions available as of last month that could include everything from metalworking to entry-level production jobs.
“Based on this situation at Republic, we can organize a job fair with our local manufacturers to help place Republic unemployed workers,” she said.
Bennett said the chamber also has access to a “variety of funds” for technical training for the unemployed, the displaced and existing workers. More information about the Career Fair and other opportunities will be announced as details are finalized.
You can reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or [email protected] on Twitter: @kbyerREP
Reporter Kelly Ware contributed to this report.
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