Testimony: Tom Conway, USW Vice Pres. at USITC

Final Trade Case Hearing: Hot-Rolled Steel

Countries – Australia, Brazil, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Turkey & United Kingdom

(Washington, D.C., Aug. 4) -- Good morning, Madam Chairman and members of the Commission.  I am Tom Conway, International Vice President of the United Steelworkers, or USW.  The USW is the largest industrial union in North America with hundreds of thousands of active and retired members in steel and many other industries.  USW members produce hot-rolled steel at approximately 16 facilities and supporting operations throughout the United States.

Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about the critical importance of hot-rolled steel industry jobs to American steelworkers and the very real harm caused by the onslaught of unfairly traded imports.  I also want to thank our steelworkers who have traveled to be here today and recognize their hard work and support.

In the wake of several waves of predatory steel imports over the past 30 years, our members and retirees have sacrificed to make the American steel manufacturing industry the most competitive steel industry in the world. We agreed to company consolidations, workforce reductions, and changes in workplace rules to increase productivity.  We negotiated agreements that encouraged companies to put money back into the mills.       

The latest steel crisis threatens what we have been working so hard to preserve.  Steelworkers are suffering lost jobs, fewer hours, and lower wages – losses that have accelerated in the past year.  Cancelled capital expenditures hurt our ability to remain a world-class industry.  Last year, U.S. Steel permanently closed parts of its Fairfield facility, leaving about 1,100 workers unemployed.  AK Steel idled its steelmaking operations at Ashland, leading to approximately 600 layoffs.  Just a few months ago, ArcelorMittal shut down the 84-inch hot strip mill at Indiana Harbor, displacing 300 employees.    

The situation is particularly dire in Granite City, where U.S. Steel idled its plant, affecting 2,000 steelworkers.  Laid off workers have exhausted their unemployment eligibility and are desperate without any other employment options in the entire region.  The Union’s food bank cannot keep up with requests.   

These steelworker jobs – good, family-supporting jobs – are the bedrock of U.S. manufacturing.  The erosion of the industry caused by the repeated torrent of unfair imports mean that we’re not likely to get them back.  But this is also about our national security.  Do we want to be dependent on imported steel because there are no American steelmakers left?

I’m told that your staff report provides some frightening data for the first quarter of 2016 about the devastating impact of the import surge.  One figure jumped out: steelworker wages are almost $50 million less than they were in the first quarter of 2015!  Think of what lost income of this magnitude means to real people, real families.            

In fact, families are already struggling with fewer and smaller paychecks because of layoffs, “pay for performance” policies that impact wages when business is bad, reduced overtime, and mandatory vacations.  Retirees are barely hanging on to pensions and health care benefits. The VEBAs – voluntary employment benefit associations – that were established to offset the losses of the past decades are at risk because they depend on the financial health of the industry, which is a lot smaller than it was 30 years ago.  We have to stop the bleeding. 

Please realize that this situation is not going to get better on its own.  China continues to produce steel at a record pace.  Although there is currently an antidumping duty order on hot-rolled steel from China, China’s massive steel overcapacity is simply going elsewhere, squeezing other countries to export their hot-rolled steel here at any price.

We are doing everything we can, but we need the Commission’s help. We cannot stop the injury being caused by overwhelming volumes of dumped and subsidized imports.  On behalf of our union’s members and the retirees and communities that depend on them, I urge the Commission to find that unfairly priced hot-rolled steel imports are injuring the U.S. industry and its workers. 

Thank you. 

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