LORAIN — The fight to ensure fair competition for American-made steel products represents a historic moment for U.S. steelworkers, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, said of the “anti-dumping” decision expected to be rendered in July by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Kaptur, speaking Monday in Lorain to more than 200 steelworkers and supporters, said the battle to protect American-made steel goods represents “the biggest economic fight our generation faces.”
Red, white and blue signs with slogans that included messages such as “SOS: Save Our Steel” and “Steel’s Our Strength” were held up by steelworkers, most of who were garbed in orange coveralls.
Some additionally wore safety helmets as they gathered in a wide semi-circle around the elevated stand just outside the gate of the U.S. Steel Lorain Tubular Operations plant on East 28th Street.
“We need to enforce trade laws (for the plant’s nearly 700 workers),” said John Wilkinson, Lorain Tubular Operations plant manager. “Lorain can compete and win against anyone in the world if the playing field is fair.”
“Dumping” describes the practice of foreign countries financially subsidizing their own steel industries, which enables those companies to export goods at artificially low prices into American markets.
As a result, American steelmakers such as U.S. Steel cannot compete economically.
Kaptur, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, and others are calling on the Department of Commerce to impose tariffs on South Korean-made steel to enable American-made steel products to be sold at a more competitive level.
South Korean steel accounts for 20 percent of Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG) consumed in the U.S. Foreign imports of OCTG from South Korea and other countries have doubled since 2008.
OCTG steel products are chiefly used in domestic oil exploration, particularly for shale deposits.
U.S. Steel in Lorain and Vallourec Star in Youngstown are among the U.S.’s top producers of OCTG.
“Enough is enough,” Dan Voorhees, president of Local 1104 of the U.S. Steelworkers Union, shouted to a boisterous, cheering audience. “We need to stand up, fight back and save our jobs.”
U.S. Steel laid off 108 workers at Lorain Tubular Operations in February.
Brown described how the steel industry has long been a key factor in the growth of America’s middle class, noting the loss of more than 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010.
Kaptur spoke of several fair-trade agreements signed into law over the years — which she and Brown opposed — that were advertised as means of major job creation that never materialized.
The years-long negative impacts of fair-trade agreements have led to a $20 billion trade deficit with South Korea, Kaptur said.
Ralph Mercado, a Lorain Tubular worker who is employed at the No. 6 Quench and Temper finishing line, urged his fellow steelworkers to keep fighting against unfair trade. “We’ve got to keep people working,” said Mercado, who also operates a local barbershop. “We have to feed our families.”
State Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, discussed how the city’s steel mills have provided jobs to generations of families, including those of many from other countries.
“Many immigrants would never have heard of Lorain if not for U.S. Steel,” Ramos said.
The Lorain plant is ready for battle following a recent $100 million investment. “Steel is our history, our blood and our future,” Ramos told the crowd.