State and local taxpayers are backing a $50 million expansion project underway at Gerdau’s St. Paul steel mill with a package of incentives, grants and forgivable loans. But members of St. Paul Pipefitters Local 455 say the project has left local workers out in the cold.
The dispute stems from Gerdau’s decision to accept a Georgia contractor’s bid to do mechanical work on the expansion project, which has otherwise been an all-union construction job.
Industrial Construction Services’ bid, according to Local 455 Business Manager Rick Magler, came in 50 percent lower than the closest Minnesota union contractor’s bid, raising concerns about worker training, job quality and area wage standards on the government-supported project.
Pipefitters from Local 455 this week shared those concerns with the public, manning a banner and distributing leaflets outside Gerdau’s plant, located near the intersection of Interstate 494 and Highway 61.
Leaflets accuse Gerdau, a Brazilian company, of sending “millions of dollars out of Minnesota’s economy” by hiring an out-of-state contractor and workers. They urge supporters to call management at 651-731-5600 and tell the company its actions are unfair.
Gerdau’s St. Paul plant, formerly North Star Steel, recycles junk vehicles and produces rebar and other steel products. It employs about 370 people, including members of United Steelworkers Local 7263.
The expansion replaces the facility’s continuous caster. Gerdau has said the upgrade will increase the plant’s efficiency and will boost its production capacity, ensuring the plant continues to operate in St. Paul for years to come.