USW Members, Employers Stand Up for Steel Jobs

Across the road from the site of the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike, one of the deadliest and most bitter labor clashes in American history, Steelworkers and management joined forces on May 19 for a common cause: saving USW members – and their employers – from unfairly traded, job-killing steel imports.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) organized the rally, the third of at least six around the country billed as “Stand up for Steel Jobs,” specifically to call on the Commerce Department to support anti-dumping duties on Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG) from South Korea.

The Commerce Department in February imposed duties on such imports from eight countries, but did not include South Korea. A final recommendation is expected in July, with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) issuing its decision in August. Failure to impose the duties could result in the loss of thousands of jobs in the steel industry.

“The Department of Commerce failed miserably,” USW International Vice President Tom Conway told the crowd outside of U.S. Steel’s Research and Technology Center in Munhall, Pa.

Conway pointed out that most of the steel pipe produced overseas is made specifically to undercut U.S. manufacturers. “South Korea is not using one inch of this product,” he said.

Mark Fronczek, president of USW Local 5852, joined nearly 150 of his 175 brothers and sisters from U.S. Steel’s nearby McKeesport pipe and tube plant at the May 19 rally. He said that management chose to shut down the facility and only leave a small crew behind so that as many workers as possible could participate in an event vital to the plant’s survival.

The McKeesport plant has already suffered due to unfair imports, reducing its workweek from seven to five days, although workers have been spared layoffs for now, Fronczek said.

John Blozik, the plant’s manager, said the AAM’s “Stand up for Steel” events were “huge” in terms of drawing attention to an issue that could make or break a region’s economy.

“We have a great work force,” Blozik said. “We can fairly compete with anybody in the world.”

Speaker after speaker – more than a dozen politicians and labor leaders – echoed Blozik’s sentiments.

“This is really simple,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “If we have a level playing field, our workers can compete with anyone.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pittsburgh), who said his father and grandfather worked in local steel mills, said the region’s natural gas boom should be providing good jobs for American workers and their families – not supporting workers on the other side of the world.

“We are under siege,” Doyle said. “If we aren’t using American products, we ought to have our heads examined.”

The 2014 fight against illegal South Korean imports is reminiscent of a 2008 battle for duties against similar unfairly traded products from China, U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi told the crowd. Once those duties were implemented, China abandoned the market, proving that their steel producers couldn’t compete when forced to trade fairly, Longhi said.

The issue of unfair imports is one on which Democrats and Republicans, unions and managers should agree, said AAM Director Scott Paul.

Republican Congressman Tim Murphy, chairman of the House Steel Caucus, told the crowd that he was preparing a letter calling on U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to support duties on South Korean steel pipe. Murphy said he would attempt to get every member of Congress to sign the letter.

“We’re not going to put up with this anymore,” Murphy said.

Bob Territ, who works in central maintenance at U.S. Steel’s Irvin facility in the Pittsburgh suburb of West Mifflin, said he has seen a number of similar battles against unfair trade in his 36 years as a Steelworker.

Territ, who serves as a trustee for USW Local 2227, said a number of younger workers with families depend on the good jobs that steel mills like the Irvin plant provide. He said that the workers shouldn’t have to hold rallies to convince leaders in Washington of the importance of taking action on trade.

“We elect these people,” Territ said. “They are supposed to be working for us, and we have to fight them to save our own jobs.”

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