Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘steel workers’

Brazilian and U.S. Workers Confronting Common Threat Build Solidarity in the Global Labor Movement

Friday, October 11th, 2019

This week, the AFL-CIO joins much of the global labor movement in Brazil to participate in the 13th Congress of Brazil’s largest labor organization, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT). Fred Redmond, AFL-CIO vice president and United Steelworkers vice president for human affairs, is leading the AFL-CIO delegation.Image result for brian finnegan afl-cio

Addressing the entire congress, Redmond pointed out the many challenges workers face in both Brazil and the United States, calling for unity and solidarity to move forward. In particular, he denounced the anti-worker laws and policies being driven by right-wing presidents in Brazil and the United States to weaken unions and collective bargaining.

Redmond also lamented that the current presidents in both countries have risen to power and exercise it by increasing fear and hatred, especially racial prejudice, rather than by leading.

Finally, he rallied the hundreds of delegates to the global labor movement’s call for the immediate release of Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, unjustly imprisoned for the last year and a half. Redmond closed by announcing to the crowd the upcoming visit of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) to present the 2019 George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to Lula in prison. The decision to give the award to Lula was announced in March.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 11, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO

U.S. Steel lays off Michigan workers a week after Trump bragged 'business is thriving'

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Just last week, Donald Trump was bragging about the success of his steel tariffs. This week, U.S. Steel is laying off workers in Michigan—temporarily, but for as long as six months.

“Steel was dead. Your business was dead. Okay? I don’t want to be overly crude. Your business was dead. And I put a little thing called ‘a 25 percent tariff’ on all of the dumped steel all over the country. And now your business is thriving” Trump said, in the same Monaca, Pennsylvania, speech at which he had a coerced audience of workers told they’d lose pay if they didn’t attend. “And I’ll tell you what,” he added later, “Those steel mills—U.S. Steel and all of them, all of them—they’re expanding all over the place. New mills. New expansions. We hadn’t have—we didn’t have a new mill built in 30 years, and now we have many of them going up.”

This is, of course, false. There are not “many” new steel mills going up (and on top of it, there had been at least one built within the last 30 years). U.S. Steel is investing $1 billion in its Mon Valley Works facilities, but there’s no guarantee of new jobs there.

And now U.S. Steel is idling blast furnaces and laying off workers—temporarily, we very much hope—as steel prices have fallen significantly from a 2018 peak shortly after Trump announced his tariffs. The steel tariffs did at least temporarily lead to increased investment and jobs. But of course Trump had to lie about the scale of the improvements and you’re unlikely to see him admitting to the slump that’s hitting now.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on August 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

New Rules Needed to Solve Steel Crisis

Friday, September 9th, 2016

China is gorging itself on steelmaking. It is forging so much steel that the entire world doesn’t need that much steel.

Companies in the United States and Europe, and unions like mine, the United Steelworkers, have spent untold millions of dollars to secure tariffs on imports of this improperly government-subsidized steel. Still China won’t stop. Diplomats have elicited promises from Chinese officials that no new mills will be constructed. Still they are. Chinese federal officials have written repeated five-year plans in which new mills are banned. Yet they are built.

All of the dog-eared methods for dealing with this global crisis in steel have failed. So American steel executives and steelworkers and hundreds of thousands of other workers whose jobs depend on steel must hope that President Barack Obama used his private meeting with China’s President XI Jinping Saturday to press for a novel solution. Because on this Labor Day, 14,500 American steelworkers and approximately 91,000 workers whose jobs depend on steel are out of work because China won’t stop making too much steel.

A new report on the crisis, titled “Overcapacity in Steel, China’s Role in a Global Problem,” by the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness flatly concludes that existing policies to stop China from building excessive steel capacity have failed.

steel-overcapacity-table

Since 2007, China has added 552 million metric tons of steel capacity – an amount that is equivalent to seven times the total U.S. steel production in 2015. China did this while repeatedly promising to cut production. China did this while the United States actually did cut production, partly because China exported to the United States illegitimately subsidized, and therefore underpriced, steel.

That forced the closure or partial closure of U.S. mills, the layoffs of thousands of skilled American workers, the destruction of communities’ tax bases and the threat to national security as U.S. steelmaking capacity contracted.

Although China, the world’s largest net exporter of steel, knows it makes too much steel and has repeatedly pledged to cut back, it plans to add another 41 million metric tons of capacity by 2017, with mills that will provide 28 million metric tons already under construction.

None of this would make sense in a capitalist, market-driven system. But that’s not the system Chinese steel companies operate in. Chinese mills don’t have to make a profit. Many are small, inefficient and highly polluting. They receive massive subsidies from the federal and local governments in the form of low or no-interest loans, free land, cash grants, tax reductions and exemptions and preferential access to raw materials including below market prices.

That’s all fine if the steel is sold within China. But those subsidies violate international trade rules when the steel is exported.

These are the kinds of improper subsidies that enable American and European companies to get tariffs imposed. But securing those penalties requires companies and unions to pay millions to trade law experts and to provide proof that companies have lost profits and workers have lost jobs. So Americans must bleed both red and green before they might see limited relief.

The Duke report suggests that part of the problem is that market economies like those in the United States and Europe are dealing with a massive non-market economy like China and expecting the rules to be the same. They just aren’t.

Simply declaring that China is a market economy, which is what China wants, would weaken America’s and Europe’s ability to combat the problems of overcapacity. For example, the declaration would complicate securing tariffs, the tool American steel companies need to continue to compete when Chinese companies receive improper subsidies.

The Duke report authors recommend instead delaying action on China’s request for market economy status until China’s economic behavior is demonstrably consistent with market principles.

The authors of the Duke report also suggest international trade officials consider new tools for dealing with trade disputes because the old ones have proved futile in resolving the global conflict with China over its unrelenting overcapacity in steel, aluminum and other commodities.

For example, under the current regime, steel companies or unions must prove serious injury to receive relief. The report suggests: “changing the burden of proof upon a finding by the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel of a prohibited trade-related practice, or non-compliance with previous rulings by the WTO.”

It also proposes multilateral environmental agreements with strict pollution limits. Under these deals, companies in places like the United States and Europe that must comply with strong pollution standards would not be placed at an international disadvantage as a result, and the environment would benefit as well.

In addition to the family-supporting steelworker jobs across this country that would be saved by innovative intervention to solve this crisis, at stake as well are many other jobs and the quality of jobs.

The Congressional Steel Caucus wrote President Obama before he left last week on his trip to Hangzhou for the G-20 Summit asking that he secure the cooperation of China and pointing out the large number of downstream jobs that are dependent on steel.

Also last week, the Economic Policy Institute issued a report titled “Union Decline Lowers Wages of Nonunion Workers.” It explained that the ability of union workers to boost nonunion workers’ pay weakened as the percentage of private-sector workers in unions fell from about 33 percent in the 1950s to about 5 percent today.steel-overcapacity-table-2

The EPI researchers found that nonunion private sector men with a high school diploma or less education would receive weekly wages approximately 9 percent higher if union density had remained at 1979 levels. That’s an extra $3,172 a year.

Many steelworkers are union workers. If those jobs disappear, that would mean fewer family-supporting private sector union jobs. And that would mean an even weaker lift to everyone else’s wages.

America has always been innovative. Now it must innovate on trade rules to save its steel industry, its steel jobs and all those jobs that are dependent on steel jobs.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on August 25, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Foreign Trade Rules Are Killing Jobs and Communities. They Need Fixing Now.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Leo GerardSucker punched by massive, illegally subsidized imports, American steel producers laid off thousands of workers in bedrock communities from Ohio and Illinois to Texas and Alabama.

That’s in just the past three months.

The families of furloughed workers are struggling to pay mortgage bills. The communities, losing tax dollars, are canceling needed road work. The companies are talking about the similarities between now and the 1990s when half of the nation’s steel firms disappeared. Members of the Congressional Steel Caucus are worrying about the effect on national security if America can’t make its own steel for guns and tanks.

Virtually everyone who testified last week at a Congressional hearing on the state of steel fingered bad trade as the culprit in the current collapse. Lawmakers, steel company executives, industry group leaders and a vice president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union all agreed on this. Foreign firms, particularly those operating in non-capitalist countries, are violating international trade regulations. Those rules also require American companies, communities and workers to forfeit a pound of flesh before trade enforcement can occur. They’re failing America.

Just seven days into 2015, U.S. Steel said it would lay off 636 workers at its Lorain, Ohio, tubular plant. Before January’s end, the company announced it would furlough 2,000 workers at three locations in Alabama and Texas. In February, U.S. Steel disclosed plans to close its Gary, Indiana, coke plant, displacing 300 workers. Early in March, U.S. Steel revealed the loss of another 83 jobs at its Gary Works, for a total of 780 there this year, as well as 412 at one of its iron-ore operations in Minnesota. Later in March, the company said it would indefinitely shut down its Granite City, Illinois, mill and lay off 2,080 workers.

It’s relentless. And that’s just U.S. Steel. Other U.S. producers furloughed workers too.

Steel executives told lawmakers last week that the job cuts are a direct result of foreign companies dumping steel in the U.S. market. “American steel companies are being irreparably harmed by illegal trade practices,” U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi said.

China produced as much steel last year as the rest of the world combined. It continued doing so despite dwindling demand within China as both its real estate development and economy cooled.

China sends the excess steel overseas. Last year, China exported more steel than any country this century. And the numbers are still rising. China’s steel exports rose 63 percent in January from a year earlier.

The USW and U.S. producers have won trade case after trade case involving Chinese-made steel because it violates international regulations forbidding government subsidization of exported products. Those improper subsidies lower the price. When trade regulators determine that Chinese producers violated international rules and place tariffs on a particular steel product increasing its price, China ships a different one. In addition, though it’s not considered in trade cases, China manipulates the value of its currency so that its exports are cheaper.

At the Congressional hearing last week, John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, a non-union steel company, described the situation this way:  “Blatant foreign government support of their steel industries has resulted in a glut of global steel production. A brazen disregard for international trade rules has led to the dumping of steel products in our market. As a result, one in three tons of steel sold in the U.S. today is produced abroad by less efficient, less safe, and less environmentally friendly countries. Our government must take a much tougher line with countries that break the law.”

This is not whining from uncompetitive producers. The European Union, Korea, Australia, even low-labor-cost India, are investigating whether China is dumping steel in their countries in ways that violate international law.

U.S. Steel’s Longhi talked about the consequences for national security if nothing is done.  “We do not build a steel plant in an emergency,” such as war, he told lawmakers last week. Instead, he said, “we rely on it” to already exist and quickly fulfill national needs.

He noted that during World War II, his company produced 90 percent of the steel used to make 21 million military helmets.

“In a moment of exceptional need for the steel required to maintain its strength, America makes a local call,” he told the Congressmen. It doesn’t call China.

Dumping means companies like U.S. Steel and Vallourec USA that have invested billions in modernizing and expanding their American mills face financial difficulty. The same is true of furloughed workers and their communities.

Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said that while the U.S. Steel plant in his town was shut down in 2008, 10 times as many residents sought help at food banks. Granite City business owners are concerned about U.S. Steel’s indefinite shut down beginning in May because mill jobs pay good, middle class wages that 2,080 laid off workers will not have to spend.

The lost jobs also mean lower tax revenues for towns and school districts. In Lorain, Ohio, now hit by layoffs at Republic Steel and U.S. Steel, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said that to balance the budget he would have to consider scaling back city projects and leaving job vacancies open.

For this to stop, USW Vice President Tom Conway told the Congressmen at the hearing, trade laws must be fixed. “I understand aggressive enforcement of trade laws, but aggressively enforcing a lousy law does not get you much,” he said.

“The continual failure and weakening of our laws is killing us, and it is time to rewrite our laws,” he added.

The laws should not require draconian damage before trade sanctions can be imposed, he said, and Congress must stop the swindle called currency manipulation.

No new trade deals, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), should be approved without these changes, he said. In addition, Congress certainly should not prohibit itself from amending proposed trade agreements by fast-tracking them, he said, because the price of bad trade is too high.

This article originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on March 31, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

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