Granite City region rejoices in Trump’s proposed steel tariff

By Bob Pieper For Chronicle Media

Granite City Steelworks laid off thousands of employees in 2015.

The United States Department of Commerce (DOC) this week begins assessing a 25 percent tariff on imported steel this week – a move that is drawing praise in and around Granite City.

Nearly 2,000 workers were laid off at U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works in April 2015. Company spokesperson and local steelworkers both blame the “dumping” of subsidized foreign steel products by South Korea and other nations, at below market prices in the U.S. Sixty-two employees were laid off the same month at nearby Alton Steel.

About 200 workers have since been recalled to the U.S. Steel facility. Ten to 15 of the Alton Steel employees have since returned to work, according to the company.

However, up the half the Granite City-area economy linked directly or indirectly to the steel industry, according to study conducted by city staff last year. The extended layoffs have had a devastating effect on the community, city officials readily acknowledge.

President Donald Trump announced the new steel tariff, as well as a new 10 percent tariff on aluminum, March 1.

“Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!,” President Trump said in a Twitter post.

The action drew praise from United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard, who, along with steel and aluminum industry executives, attended a White House meeting with President Trump, just prior to the announcement.

“The steel and aluminum sectors have been under attack by predatory trade practices. For too long, our political leaders have talked about the problem, but have largely left enforcement of our trade laws up to the private sector. This is not what hard-working Americans want from their government. They expect national security, the foundation of which is built with steel and aluminum, to be protected,” Gerard said.

U.S. Steel President David B. Burritt, who also attended the White House meeting concurred.

“This is vital to the interests of the United States,” Burritt said in a transcript of the meeting, released by the Trump administration. “We are not protectionists.  We want a level playing field.  It’s for our employees; to support our customers.”

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler meets with U.S. Congressman Mike Bost (12th Dist., Ill.)
(Photo courtesy of Madison County)

However, neither U.S. Steel nor Alton Steel immediately announced plans to recall workers after the announcement of the tariffs last week.

The tariffs come in the wake of Commerce Department Section 232 investigation, released to the public on Feb. 16, which found excess steel and aluminum imports poses a potential security risk to the U.S.

In issuing the report, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross offer the president three options: impose across-the-board tariffs on steel and aluminum, target select countries with even higher tariffs, or limit the total steel and aluminum coming into the United States.

The Commerce Department report summarizing findings from the Section 232 investigation was delivered to the President on Jan. 11. The administration had 90 days following the delivery of the report to decide on any potential action.

The White House announcement also drew praise from Illinois 12th District U.S. Congressman Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) who represents the Granit City area and who, as co-chair of the Congressional Steel Caucus, has been pushing the administration to levy a steel tariff.

“I’m very encouraged by President Trump’s critically important decision,” said Bost.  “As the Department of Commerce Section 232 investigation indicated, the domestic industry has suffered greatly at the hands of global steel overcapacity and unfair trade, which threatens our national security interests. We’ve seen the harm that unfair and illegal trade practices have done to our steel industry right in Madison County, with the idling of Granite City Works and layoffs at Alton Steel. Today’s announcement is a bold step forward to stop unfair trade practices so American steelworkers can continue to make American steel that supports our military, critical infrastructure, and the livelihoods of American families.”

United Steelworkers Local 1063 in Granite City had not yet issued formal statement on the tariff on either its website or Facebook at the Chronicle’s deadline. Despite Bost’s work with the steel caucus, the local is endorsing St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, a Belleville Democrat, in this year’s 12th District U.S. Congressman

Also in Washington last week, as the tariffs were announced, was Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, who met with Bost as well as officials from the Department of Commerce, that American Iron and Steel Institute and U.S. Steel.

In a prepared statement on the Madison County website, Board Chairman Prenzler took exception to criticism that the DOC report had not truly identified a national security issue associated with the steel imports.

“Workers in the United States produce the world’s highest quality steel,” Prenzler said. “Do we really want our country’s military using products made with (foreign) steel?” Most of the steel that is being dumped is coming from South Korea.”