Steelworkers celebrate tariffs announcement, return of jobs
By CARL GREEN
Granite City, IL – The sidelined Steelworker looked at his local president, Dan Simmons, and asked, doubtfully, if the rumors were true that the U.S. Steel plant here would start making steel again.
After two hard years of coping and worry, Simmons was able, this time, to nod and say, “Yes, it’s true.” It was the night before the big announcement.
“He gave me a hug, and he had a tear in his eye,” said Simmons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1899, who has been presiding over as many food collections as work issues in recent months. That’s changing now.
Granite City is the once and future steel-making town. A city weighed down with problems and limited means for solving them has a new outlook now that U.S. Steel is recalling 500 workers and firing up one of its two steel-making blast furnaces.
“Everybody who is coming back is ecstatic,” Simmons said. “They’re ready to come back.”
U.S. Steel announced March 7 that it would restart the blast furnace following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will place a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum, under trade law Section 232, which allows such tariffs to protect the nation’s ability to defend itself.
Trump campaigned for president on preserving the industries, but his administration’s slow preparation to act on those promises stretched into long months of uncertainty and faced enormous opposition from most Republicans and many Democrats who fear the tariffs could bring on a trade war and recession.
The Steelworkers are aligned with the steel industry and Trump on this issue at a time when unchecked trade cheating is being seen from China, Indonesia and other producing nations.
“For years, the USW has led the way in the fight for fair trade,” Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard said. “This decision, along with the President’s recent move to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, is a direct result of that activism. Workers across the United States, especially those in steel towns like Granite City, have for too long been the victims of the illegal and unfair practices of our overseas trading partners, particularly China. Our hope is that this marks the beginning of a much-needed recovery for the domestic steel industry and for American manufacturing.”
U.S. Steel President David Burritt said the Section 232 findings strongly support using tariffs to protect the industry.
“Our Granite City Works facility and employees, as well as the surrounding community, have suffered too long from the unending waves of unfairly traded steel products that have flooded U.S. markets,” he said. “The Section 232 action … recognizes the significant threat steel imports pose to our national and economic security. The President’s strong leadership is needed to begin to level the playing field so companies like ours can compete, win and create jobs that support our employees and the communities in which we operate as well as strengthen our national and economic security.”
NEW HIRING POSSIBLE
The plant’s two blast furnaces and steelmaking facilities were shut down in December 2015, and the hot strip mill followed in January 2016. Other facilities, including the cold mill, finishing lines and pickle line, continued to operate, but most of the workers were laid off. The hot strip line resumed in February 2017, helping keep the plant alive.
In the meantime, hundreds of workers have either moved away, taken other jobs or seen their callback rights expire. As a result, the callback will include all remaining workers, and the company will probably have to make some new hires, Simmons said. When they have returned, the plant will have about 1,250 union members working in it.
Burritt said it will take about four months to complete the restart.
‘WE’VE FOUGHT HARD TO GET THIS TURNAROUND’
Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said the announcement should mean great things for the community.
“It means just about everything,” he said. “We’ve fought hard to get this turnaround. They’re not just steelworkers, they support the community 100 percent.”
Despite the setbacks of the closings, the city has held its own fairly well in the meantime, Hagnauer said.
“It’s major for us, but really it’s great for the whole region to get these guys back to work,” he said. “We’ll help in any way we can. Our hope is that this isn’t just a short-term deal. We’re looking for some continuity on this.”
Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, welcomed the decision for the effect it will have on union employment in the region – including generating work for the building trades.
“Hopefully, that will help a lot of trades get to work out there,” Stewart told the Council. “We need that. It’ll be good for us once it’s up and running.”
STEEL PRODUCTS ARE VITAL TO OUR NATIONAL SECURITY
Following President Trump’s announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo Gerard and International Vice President Tom Conway issued the following statement:
[Last week] the President took decisive action to ensure that adequate supplies and industrial capacity of aluminum and steel were available to support national security. That decision and the announced action align with what every citizen knows: these products are vital to our national security.
The decision relies on exhaustive reports prepared by the Department of Commerce that recognized the need not only for sustainable industrial capacity but a skilled work force. Adequate production and trained workers go hand-in-hand. The announced relief has already sent a positive charge through the industry that the decline in steel and aluminum sectors can be reversed.
For decades, the USW has fought foreign unfair and predatory trade practices to protect our members’ jobs and ensure a strong defense industrial base. From missiles and munitions, to motors and machinery, steel and aluminum are critical products used in direct military applications and in critical infrastructure.
For too long, common sense has fallen prey to free trade ideology, multinational corporations and special interest lobbyists who have profited at the expense of domestic production and employment. Trade cheating has, all too often, gone unanswered by our government. That’s had a crippling effect on good, family-supportive jobs and our ability to provide the needed products.
The USW – both our U.S. and Canadian membership – has been united in advocating that Canadian production of steel and aluminum not be subject to any tariffs. We’ve raised that point at every level of the administration, including with the President. Our supply chains are integrated and, in steel, the United States runs a trade surplus with Canada. Also, our national security interests are inextricably intertwined with a unique defense and intelligence relationship.
Canada is not one of the countries cheating and is not contributing to the decimation of U.S. production. However, both Canada and Mexico need to take the necessary steps to ensure they do not become points of circumvention for imports into the United States from other nations. This is something our members on both sides of the border have been affected by, and it’s time for our allies to join us.
Our members have been on the front lines in the fight for fair trade. They have sent tens of thousands of e-mails, walked the halls of Congress, placed calls and engaged in grass roots action to get help. Today, their call for action was answered.
Now, we have to hope that the relief is quickly implemented and that it is sustained so that the investments in plants, equipment and people will occur.
(The United Steelworkers represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining and the service and public sectors.)