In 2008, before the financial crisis struck, the plant ran around the clock. Now, the mill coughs to life just five days a week, for eight hours at a time. The machines shovel 10-ton steel slabs into a furnace, where they are heated to 2,000 degrees, then funnel them through giant rollers and cooling jets of water, like a massive, fiery carwash.
The plant’s specialty is ultrastrong, military-grade steel — something that Eric Smith, a former Army paratrooper who has worked at the plant for over 30 years, prides himself on. Mr. Smith ranks 16th on the plant’s seniority list, and he expects to survive the coming round of layoffs.
He grew up just down the street. The weathered houses of his old neighborhood on that dim day were fringed with icicle lights, evergreen bows and flags paying homage to Santa and the Philadelphia Eagles.
As a boy, he would long to work at the factory as he passed it. These days, he said, he gets a sinking feeling as he goes through the turnstile and enters the plant.
“You just got to keep on pushing forward. It is sad that Christmastime is coming around,” he said. “You don’t want to splurge for your kids like you want to, because the plant may be closing.”
While he didn’t support Mr. Trump, Mr. Smith said he hoped that the president would follow through on his plans. “It’s still kind of early,” he said.
Reforming trade was one of the president’s signature campaign promises, and in his first months in office, Mr. Trump issued dozens of executive actions. One pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade pact. Others ordered investigations into imports or…