Steelworker Death At U.S. Steel's Gary Works Prompts Outcry

Oct 5, 2016

U.S. Steel's Gary Works, on the Lake Michigan shore in Lake County, is the largest steel mill in North America.
Credit The Center for Land Use Interpretation

A steelworker was killed at U.S. Steel's Gary Works plant last Friday. It's the second death there this year, and it comes amid rising tensions over safety and staffing at the plant.

Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows 28 primary metal manufacturing workers were killed on the job across the country in 2014. Two of those deaths were in Indiana, about average for the past few years.

In the past few months, there have been two deaths at Gary Works, which is the largest steel mill in North America: 67-year-old electrician Charles Kremke, fatally electrocuted in June, and 30-year-old Jonathon Arrizola, killed last week while doing maintenance on a crane.

Some employees are blaming recent layoffs for those deaths.

A post in a public United Steelworkers Facebook group, signed by Local 1014 president Rodney Lewis, says the August layoffs of 75 Gary Works maintenance staff and pay cuts for 200 more have jeopardized safety -- forcing fewer workers to cover more tasks.

"Working with bare bones crews ain't cutting it. Bad news is not an if, but a WHEN," Lewis says in the post. "As terrible as it sounds haven't we been saying that something was coming??"

The layoffs sparked protests and a union complaint, which is being handled through a third-party arbiter.

U.S. Steel spokesperson Sarah Cassella declined to comment on that complaint. She also declined to release more details on the worker deaths, but said in an email that the company is investigating along with the union and federal agencies.