Steelworkers Descend on Washington, Urging President Trump to Finally Act on Steel Imports

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Black Monday, the infamous day in 1977 when Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. abruptly shut its doors. Thousands of steelworkers were suddenly without a job.

That terrible day marked a turning point for Youngstown, Ohio, and many industrial cities across the nation. Steel facilities across the country closed not too long after, and hundreds of thousands of people lost good-paying, middle-class sustaining jobs. Local grocers, restaurants, department stores and others were forced to shutter, unable to survive without the business a customer base of steelworkers once provided. Entire communities were dismantled.

Four decades after Black Monday, steelworkers are again at risk of losing their jobs — and the survival of the American steel industry itself is at stake.

Dozens of steelworkers headed to Washington on Tuesday to urge the Trump administration to finally act to safeguard American steel (and aluminum) from the threat of unfairly traded imports. The steelworkers met with lawmakers and members of the press, too, explaining that they are counting on President Trump to keep his promise to workers — noting that by not acting quickly, the president is making the problem worse.

“We’ve seen an increase in the amount of imports since President Trump made these promises, and lacking the actual action by President Trump, this is actually hurting us,” steelworker Cliff Tobey told us, via the Manufacturing Report podcast. “I really do hope that the president stands by his word and he does it relatively quickly, because we’re actually seeing an increase, and that’s not good for the steel industry in the United States.”

It truly is a critical moment for the steel industry, along with the aluminum industry.

Earlier this spring, Trump launched two investigations — one into steel, one into aluminum — to determine whether surging imports pose a threat to America’s national security. It’s clear that they do; ten retired military leaders even wrote the president last week outlining all the reasons why.

The Trump administration said the investigations would be wrapped by the end of June. But three months later, nothing has been unveiled.

And as Tobey explained, that’s making the problem worse, since importers are moving as much product into the country as they can to get ahead of the two reports (which, by law, the administration has until January 2018 to release).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) meets with steelworkers in his office in Washington.

"People are frustrated right now," said Tom Duffy, a U.S. Steel safety inspector. "There is not enough being done for the steel industry. We are looking to see this big light of hope that Trump said was going to save the steel industry, but we're just not seeing action."

That’s what brought the steelworkers to Capitol Hill today. In meetings held with lawmakers and their staffs, the steelworkers ask Members of Congress to do their part to urge the president to move ahead with the investigations.

“Typically I shy away from politics. I’m not a very political person,” said Billy Neal Phillips, a steelworker at U.S. Steel Great Lakes Works in Michigan. “But this is something I felt strongly about, that I wanted to come out here and push them to do what they need to do for our industry, and really, for our country, too.”

Indeed, a growing bipartisan contingent of Members are speaking up — Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) sent a joint letter to Trump just last week asking him to move quickly on a decision in the investigations, for example.

Meanwhile, the livelihood of American steelworkers remains at stake. The industry today directly employs about 140,000 people in the United States, and it directly or indirectly supports nearly 1 million jobs. 

Steelworkers met with lawmakers and their staffs to urge them to press President Trump to act on steel imports.

“It seems that a lot of the conversation with national security has to do with ships and planes and that sort of thing,” said William “Billy” McCall, a steelworker at U.S. Steel Gary Works in Indiana. “But, in fact, our national security is the American family. That’s the point I want to get across to them.” 

“We’re the people in the trenches,” Tobey added. “We’re the ones [whose] lives are directly affected by these decisions. All we can hope is that we can find some of our legislators in Washington who have an open ear and an open mind to our plight.”

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Freight can’t wait

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work