EDITORIAL: Dying coke batteries don't jeopardize jobs

2013-11-05T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Dying coke batteries don't jeopardize jobs nwitimes.com
November 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The decision by U.S. Steel to shut down two coke batteries at Gary Works means 120 workers will be displaced, but not necessarily that they'll no longer be loyal employees.

The steelmaker is not planning layoffs, spokeswoman Sarah Cassella said.

Instead, the displaced workers will be offered jobs elsewhere in the company's local operations. Gary Works employs some 5,000 workers.

Attrition will help the company's bottom line as aging steelworkers retire.

U.S. Steel is closing down two of the four coke batteries at Gary Works as a way to reduce costs. The facilities would have needed major work soon, and it isn't worth the expense to maintain them, CEO Mario Longhi said last week.

Coke batteries process coal into purified coke that is fed into the blast furnace.

The smaller No. 5 coke battery, which employed 25 workers, was shut down Oct. 4. The No. 7 battery, which employs 95, will be shut down by the end of the year. Both were built in 1954. They are among the company's most expensive in terms of maintenance costs.

Technology has improved considerably since then.

Emissions from these coal-fired operations are among the dirtiest at the steel mill. Obviously, there will be environmental advantages to closing these coke batteries.

Closing the coke batteries, along with other cost-cutting moves, will save the company an estimated $75 million.

But U.S. Steel is spending money on Gary Works, too. The company expects to increase its repair and maintenance spending by $60 million in the fourth quarter, with most of that going toward relining a blast furnace.

U.S. Steel should be commended for keeping the 120 workers employed locally when the two aging coke batteries are shut down.

The closure will be an environmental improvement and will save the company money without sacrificing production or jobs.

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