USW Members Testify on Aluminum Industry Crisis

Two USW members and an assistant to USW President Leo W. Gerard testified Thursday before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), arguing that decisive action is needed to combat the effects of unfair trade on the U.S. aluminum industry. 

Also attending the hearing were concerned members from Aleris in Hawesville, Ky., and Alcoa in Massena, N.Y.

Robert Smith, president of USW Local 420-A in Massena, N.Y., shared with the commission his memories of the day in 2015 that he learned that his workplace, Alcoa’s smelter in Massena, was likely to be shut down due to unfair trade.

“I remember that night vividly,” Smith said. “I was scared for my family’s future. What kind of life would my kids live?”

Smith and his co-workers were largely spared due to an 11th-hour agreement that secured local, state and federal aid to allow Alcoa to continue to operate. But that agreement was a temporary solution.

“Alcoa was able to keep the smelter open for now,” Smith said. “But we are simply on borrowed time.”

Fixing trade rules and enforcement and cracking down on Chinese overproduction and overcapacity would be a long-term solution, Smith said.

“We can’t continue to wait for the Chinese to address the problem voluntarily,” Smith said.

The ITC, an independent federal agency, held the hearing in Washington, D.C., as part of its investigation into the crisis, largely driven by China, which has devastated the domestic aluminum industry in recent years.

The commission is expected to deliver the results of its investigation next June to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which requested the probe. 

Andy Meserve, president of USW Local 9423 at the Century Aluminum smelter in Hawesville, Ky., said only about 240 of the local’s 540 members are currently working due to the effects of Chinese trade and excess capacity.

“We cannot allow overcapacity and oversupply to take down our industry,” Meserve said.

The Century plant is too important, not only to the families of USW members, but to the overall community and to the nation as a whole, Meserve said.

The plant contributes to local and state tax rolls, helps to fund schools and other public services, and helps keep other local business in the region thriving, he said.

In addition, “the continued operation of the Hawesville smelter is critical to U.S. national security,” Meserve said. “Hawesville is capable of producing some of the purest aluminum in the world. This purity is required in our defense, aerospace and aircraft industries.”

USW Assistant to the President and Legislative Director Holly Hart said the effects of trade on the U.S. aluminum industry have reached a critical point. Eight years ago, there were 14 American aluminum smelters, but only five are operating today, Hart said.

“Chinese overcapacity, oversupply, and exports are devastating the global market for aluminum, and our members and their families are bearing the burden,” Hart said.

Also representing USW aluminum workers were Chris Geary, president of USW Local 9443-01, and Dale Cooper, president of USW Local 9443 along with Mark Goodfellow, vice president of USW Local 420-A in Massena, N.Y.

Geary, who works at the Aleris mill in Lewisport, Ky., said, “USW members know what foreign trade, and specifically unfair Chinese trade, have done to our members and the U.S. aluminum market. It’s alarming to look at the evidence presented to the USITC today and the threat these unfair trade practices have over our industry. We can't afford to sit back and hope things get better on their own; we must make sure our voices are heard and we have to fight back.”

Another major concern for the USW is the reported planned acquisition of Aleris International by Zhongwang USA LLC. Zhongwang USA is owned by Lui Zhongtian, who is the founder and chairman of Zhongwang holdings Ltd of China, both of which have been accused of being a major participant in the illegal dumping of aluminum in the United States.

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