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Blocking Foreign Steel

Tuesday, June 5, 2001 at 2:18 PM

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During the past 4 years, steel executives and labor leaders have begged the government to block the amount of steel flowing into the U.S. They point to imports as the reason behind thousands of layoffs in the Greater Cleveland area and elsewhere in the region. Now the Bush administration has decided to get more involved -- but it could too little, too late for some companies. Mike West reports.

Mike West- This week a crowd celebrated as word of the government’s investigation into steel dumping reached a labor rally in Cleveland. Union and political leaders made speeches while busses were loaded for a trip to Washington D.C. They’re demanding passage of laws that will help bail out the sinking steel industry. Congressman Dennis Kucinich told the crowd that the “201 investigation” by the U.S. Commerce Department which will look into illegal imports of steel. He says the decision is overdue.

Dennis Kucinich- And this is the first time, it didn’t happen with the last administration, we’re getting a president to come forward and says he is going to have a section 201 case filed on behalf of the men and women of the United States of America who are concerned about this.

MW- Congressman Kucinich was one of the first to come to the aid of LTV Steel in Cleveland, one of 18 steel companies that have gone bankrupt in the last 2 years. The “201 investigation” could lead to tariffs on offending countries that are so high. Foreign steel will be more expensive than American-made. Relief from foreign steel isn’t guaranteed, and the action will take time. That’s why Kucinich asked workers to help lobby for quick passage of House Bill 808, also known as the “Steel Revitalization Act.”

DK- We know that filing of a 201 can take 6 months. In the meantime, brothers and sisters, as your congressional representative, I am going to work with other members of congress and we are going to work to push (House Bill) 808 through to conclusion on the floor, we’re going to bring it out for a vote on the floor of the House, we’re over 200 co-sponsors right now. When we get to the magic 218, we’ll move for a release petition. That release will give us an opportunity to have a vote in the house.

MW- Kucinich insists 808 will pass in the House and then the effort for approval will begin in the Senate, which means more time will go by on a bill that has been around since last winter. The “Steel Revitalization Act” includes tariffs or quotas on imports, placing fees on the sale of steel to help pay retiree benefits and increases the amount of money the government will back for steel company loans. American steel welcomes the news, but is it enough to make a difference for bankrupt companies that include LTV, which plans to fire 900 workers and shut down one of its Cleveland mills in the coming weeks. Spokesman Mark Tomash.

Mark Tomash- But it’s also clear that this industry is not getting government protection. The government clearly expects the industry to restructure, to consolidate, to do whatever it takes to compete in a global marketplace. From LTV’s unique perspective this is not going to be a particular immediate help to our company in our circumstances.

MW- Tomash says what needs to be focused on is that the trade investigation is not a rescue. He says LTV’s problems are much more immediate, and that they have to find a way to save the company the jobs of thousands.

MT- The key to that is implementation of our restructuring plan. We’re working very hard on that, making excellent progress and I would say about 2/3 of the restructuring plan, we’re ahead of schedule. It’s clear the plan is working. We are reducing our costs and we are still trying hard to reach an agreement with the union concerning the labor costs portion of our restructuring.

MW- It may have nothing to do with the decision by the Bush administration, to call for the import investigation and possible trade restriction. But last Friday the head of the United Steel Workers of American met with trade and commerce officials demanding action from the president. USWA President Leo Gerard says the government wanted to help but hadn’t decided exactly how they would do it. But Gerard says a big part of the answer is the “Steel Revitalization Act.” He says part of the rally at the Capitol yesterday by union members an retirees included delivering half-a-million signed letters and an action to plan to every member of Congress and the Senate.

Leo Gerard- We intend to go congressional district by congressional district and ask them if they are going to stand up for American steel workers or whether they’re going to stand up for foriegn illegal dumpers.

MW- It may sound heavy handed, but Gerard insists if other, more glamorous products were being affected, they would be getting a lot more action that steel has received.

LG- I can guarantee you this, if they were dumping Microsoft CDs or Britney Spears cassettes, these guys would be in the streets. So they got a damn choice to make this round, and if they choose to stand up with illegal foreign dumpers then we intend to do whatever we can to make sure there’s going to be a political consequence. Were gonna do that state-by-state, congressional district-by-congressional district.

MW- But companies that use steel to manufacture their products don’t want to see the price of steel go higher. They run the factories that also employ many Ohioans. Car makers and others are already warning consumers that higher prices for steel will be passed on to consumers. And could mean job losses if they have to pay more for raw materials used on many production lines. In Cleveland, I’m Mike West, 90.3 WCPN News.

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