Local union leaders met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Tuesday in Virginia and expressed the need for immediate action, which the national USW branch backed in a statement Wednesday.
U.S. steel and ore producers have been hit hard this year by a global glut in production due to illegally dumped foreign steel on the market. On the Iron Range, United Taconite in Eveleth and Forbes and Keetac in Keewatin, among other mines, are idled as steel prices remain at recent-record lows, with no end in sight if the status quo prevails.
“For decades, American workers have paid the price of failed trade policies and inconsistent enforcement of flawed trade agreements,” said USW International Vice President Tom Conway, one of the union’s lead contract negotiators in Pittsburgh. “Congress and the administration need to take responsibility for changing the system that has cost more than a million manufacturing jobs and shuttered thousands of factories, mainly in industries that employ USW members.”
Eighth District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Iron Range legislators have urged President Barack Obama to use executive action under Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act to impose high tariffs on foreign steel.
Presidents Ronald Reagan did so in the 1980s and George W. Bush enacted it in the 2000s.
Nolan has a bill in Congress that would impose a five-year ban on steel imports to help the market recover.
Steel imports are 31 percent of the U.S. market, but mills are only operating at 70.5 percent, leading to nearly 2,000 layoffs on the Range, and numerous mines and steel mills shutting down across the country recently.
Emil Ramirez, director of USW District 11, told McDonough the industry is having modest success on enforcement of dumped and subsidized steel from China, but a host of other countries are also a threat to steel jobs. Ramirez was among those invited to a private meeting with McDonough, local and state political leaders, business leaders, mine executives and other labor heads at Mesabi Range College on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing steel crisis.
“We are at war with China’s illegal steel imports flooding into our market,” Ramirez said in a statement. “During some months last year, China dumped more than 100,000 tons of cold-rolled sheet into our market and that was not the only product or country stealing our jobs here on Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. This is just one battle in what is expected to be a protracted war, unless swift, concerted government action is taken both here and internationally.”
McDonough said Obama understands the situation and will understand more after he reports back.