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Leo W Gerard: Bad Trade Leads To More Jobs Lost

By Leo W Gerard
President of the United Steelworkers

Sucker punched by massive, illegally subsidized imports, American steel producers laid off thousands of workers in bedrock communities from Ohio and Illinois to Texas and Alabama.

That’s in just the past three months.

The families of furloughed workers are struggling to pay mortgage bills. The communities, losing tax dollars, are canceling needed road work. The companies are talking about the similarities between now and the 1990s when half of the nation’s steel firms disappeared. Members of the Congressional Steel Caucus are worrying about the effect on national security if America can’t make its own steel for guns and tanks.

Virtually everyone who testified last week at a Congressional hearing on the state of steel fingered bad trade as the culprit in the current collapse. Lawmakers, steel company executives, industry group leaders and a vice president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union all agreed on this. Foreign firms, particularly those operating in non-capitalist countries, are violating international trade regulations. Those rules also require American companies, communities and workers to forfeit a pound of flesh before trade enforcement can occur. They’re failing America.

Photo of Save Our Steel Jobs rally in Pittsburgh in May 2014 by Chelsey Engel

Photo of Save Our Steel Jobs rally in Pittsburgh in May 2014 by Chelsey Engel

Just seven days into 2015, U.S. Steel said it would lay off 636 workers at its Lorain, Ohio, tubular plant. Before January’s end, the company announced it would furlough 2,000 workers at three locations in Alabama and Texas. In February, U.S. Steel disclosed plans to close its Gary, Ind., coke plant, displacing 300 workers. Early in March, U.S. Steel revealed the loss of another 83 jobs at its Gary Works, for a total of 780 there this year, as well as 412 at one of its iron-ore operations in Minnesota. Later in March, the company said it would indefinitely shut down its Granite City, Ill., milland lay off 2,080 workers.

It’s relentless. And that’s just U.S. Steel. Other U.S. producers furloughed workers too.

Steel executives told lawmakers last week that the job cuts are a direct result of foreign companies dumping steel in the U.S. market. “American steel companies are being irreparably harmed by illegal trade practices,” U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi said.

China produced as much steel last year as the rest of the world combined. It continued doing so despite dwindling demand within China as both its real estate development and economy cooled.

China sends the excess steel overseas. Last year, China exported more steel than any country this century. And the numbers are still rising. China’s steel exports rose 63 percent in January from a year earlier.

The USW and U.S. producers have won trade case after trade case involving Chinese-made steel because it violates international regulations forbidding government subsidization of exported products. Those improper subsidies lower the price. When trade regulators determine that Chinese producers violated international rules and place tariffs on a particular steel product increasing its price, China ships a different one. In addition, though it’s not considered in trade cases, China manipulates the value of its currency so that its exports are cheaper.

At the Congressional hearing last week, John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, a non-union steel company, described the situation this way:  “Blatant foreign government support of their steel industries has resulted in a glut of global steel production. A brazen disregard for international trade rules has led to the dumping of steel products in our market. As a result, one in three tons of steel sold in the U.S. today is produced abroad by less efficient, less safe, and less environmentally friendly countries. Our government must take a much tougher line with countries that break the law.”

This is not whining from uncompetitive producers. The European Union, Korea, Australia, even low-labor-cost India, are investigating whether China is dumping steel in their countries in ways that violate international law.

U.S. Steel’s Longhi talked about the consequences for national security if nothing is done.  “We do not build a steel plant in an emergency,” such as war, he told lawmakers last week. Instead, he said, “we rely on it” to already exist and quickly fulfill national needs.

He noted that during World War II, his company produced 90 percent of the steel used to make 21 million military helmets.

“In a moment of exceptional need for the steel required to maintain its strength, America makes a local call,” he told the Congressmen. It doesn’t call China.

Dumping means companies like U.S. Steel and Vallourec USA that have invested billions in modernizing and expanding their American mills face financial difficulty. The same is true of furloughed workers and their communities.

Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said that while the U.S. Steel plant in his town was shut down in 2008, ten times as many residents sought help at food banks. Granite City business owners are concerned about U.S. Steel’s indefinite shut down beginning in May because mill jobs pay good, middle class wages that 2,080 laid off workers will not have to spend.

The lost jobs also mean lower tax revenues for towns and school districts. In Lorain, Ohio, now hit by layoffs at Republic Steel and U.S. Steel, Mayor Chase Ritenauer saidthat to balance the budget he would have to consider scaling back city projects and leaving job vacancies open.

For this to stop, USW Vice President Tom Conway told the Congressmen at the hearing, trade laws must be fixed. “I understand aggressive enforcement of trade laws, but aggressively enforcing a lousy law does not get you much,” he said.

“The continual failure and weakening of our laws is killing us, and it is time to rewrite our laws,” he added.

The laws should not require draconian damage before trade sanctions can be imposed, he said, and Congress must stop the swindle called currency manipulation.

No new trade deals, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), should be approved without these changes, he said. In addition, Congress certainly should not prohibit itself from amending proposed trade agreements by fast-tracking them, he said, because the price of bad trade is too high.

Leo W Gerard: The GOP Has Money To Kill

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell (FLIKR CC Peter Stevens)

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell (FLIKR CC Peter Stevens)

By Leo W Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers

Shock and awe describes the budgets issued last week by Republicans in the House and Senate. The shock is that the GOP never stops trying to destroy beloved programs like Medicare. Awe inspiring is their audacity in describing their killing plans as moral.

When the House released its budget last Tuesday, Georgia Republican Rep. Rob Woodall said, “A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are.” His chamber’s spending plan shows that Republicans highly value war and place no value on health care for America’s elderly, working poor and young adults.

The opposite of win-win, the GOP budgets are kill-kill. Despite the GOP’s successful demand in 2011 for spending caps, Republicans now want more money for the military. War kills, as too many families of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan know. By contrast, Republicans gouge domestic spending, condemning Americans to die unnecessarily from untreated disease. The GOP intends to revoke the health insurance of tens of millions by repealing the Affordable Care Act, voucherizing Medicare and slashing Medicaid. The Republican plans mandate overtime for the Grim Reaper.

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Shock and awe was the euphemism the military used as it launched war in Iraq. The focus on fireworks obscured death and dismemberment on the ground. Republicans try the same gimmick with their 10-year budgets. They employ perky language to conceal the casualties they would cause.

The House GOP called its document “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America.” Republicans see strength only in a fat military, not in healthy Americans. The House and Senate Republicans evade the sequester spending caps by giving an additional$38 billion to the military through a war account not subject to limits.

The euphemism House Republicans use to distract attention from the $150 billion they cut from Medicare is “premium care.” It’s a scheme to give less to seniors newly qualifying for Medicare. They’d voucherize Medicare for new qualifiers and call it “premium,” even though Americans have loudly protested and Congress has soundly rejected the scam every time Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin proposed it in the past.

What “premium care” really means is underfunded vouchers. Republicans cut money from Medicare then give seniors “vouchers” to buy their own health insurance on the open market. Americans know those cheap vouchers won’t cover the full cost, forcing seniors to pay thousands they don’t have each year for their doctors’ visits, arthritis medications and flu shots.  It’s really “premium uncare,” and Senate Republicans know that, so they didn’t propose it. They simply cut $430 billion from Medicare.

Enacted into law, the “premium uncare” scam would cost lives. As seniors delayed seeing doctors and scrimped on their diabetes and high blood pressure medication to save money, some would die. Sending grandma to an early grave is a price House Republicans are willing to pay.

Both the House and Senate Republican budgets would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That would cancel the health insurance of millions who got coverage through the ACA Medicaid expansion adopted by 29 states and the District of Columbia. It would cancel the health insurance of more than 16.4 million Americans who got covered through the exchanges and other ACA measures.  Altogether, the Obama administration estimates that the ACA repeal and broader Medicaid cuts proposed in the Republican budgets will deny health insurance to 37 million.

The ACA decreased the percentage of Americans without health insurance to 13.2.  Republicans, who offer no plan at all to replace the insurance they intend to seize, would increase the percentage of Americans without coverage back up to 20, where it was before the ACA.

Everyone would be affected. Without the ACA, insurers would once again be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions like asthma and diabetes. They’d once again be able to cap benefits so that sickly newborns and victims of recurring cancers would lose coverage. Insurers would dump the young adults that the ACA now covers under their parents’ plans to age 26.

More than 9,800 Americans would die unnecessarily each year if they could not get insurance through the Affordable Care Act. That’s the estimate that multiple public health scholars and the American Public Health Association provided to the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers overturning part of the law.  Other estimates of needless deaths are much higher.

The House and Senate GOP budgets also brutalize Medicaid funding, then turn the program over to the states to administer. After slashing $913 billion, the House GOP describes dumping the program on the states like this: “Our budget realigns the relationship the federal government has with states and local communities by respecting and restoring the principle of federalism.”

House Republicans “respect” the right of impoverished old and disabled people to try to survive without Medicaid insurance by eliminating funding for it. The Senate GOP was less “respectful,” slashing funding for Medicaid by only $400 billion and retaining coverage for low-income elderly and disabled people.

While asserting their budgeting morality, Republicans fail to mention that their “balanced” spending plans are propped up by $2 trillion in revenue from ACA taxesthat the GOP intends to repeal along with the ACA.  The GOP would use the money that it will magically receive from repealed health care taxes to pay for an additional $38 billion in military weapons in their magically balanced budgets.

The Republican budgets embody their values: they want tax dollars to kill, not heal.

USW President Leo W. Gerard: The GOP’s Big Squeeze

Editor’s note: Beginning this week, the NH Labor News will also be posting a weekly editorial from United Steelworkers President Leo W Gerard. 

(Image by Gage Skidmore CC FLIKR)

(Image by Gage Skidmore CC FLIKR)

Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation last week to lower the wages of Wisconsin’s middle class workers. He wants pay cuts for hard working Wisconsinites.

It’s part of a pattern established by Wisconsin’s Republican governor and the Republicans who control the state legislature. Earlier, they slashed the paychecks ofteachers and government workers by 8 to 10 percent. Wisconsin Republicans refused to raise the minimum wage for workers who haven’t seen an increase in six years, even as 29 states gave raises to the lowest paid. Meanwhile, Walker and his GOP gang butchered state funding for public schools and propose the same fate for the state’s public universities – the colleges that, until now, the middle class could afford.

For putting the squeeze on workers, Walker is the darling of the GOP. In some polls,the college dropout is their leading candidate for the presidential nomination. His Mitt Romney-like hatred of the 47 percent, the working poor and organized labor is so GOP-revered that freshmen Republican governors like Bruce Rauner of Illinois are aping his efforts to shove workers down.

 

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Photo by Rob Chandanals on Flickr.

 

The legislation Walker signed last week is called right-to-work-for-less. That’s because workers in states with these laws are paid $1,500 a year less. Wherever Republicans control a house of a state legislature, they propose it.

After Republicans won majorities in both houses in West Virginia for the first time in eight decades, the GOP immediately introduced right-to-work-for-less legislation. GOP Gov. Rauner, a billionaire, tried to circumvent Illinois’ Democrat-controlled legislature by imposing right-to-work-for-less on government workers by executive fiat.

Every adult American, of course, has the right to work. What this legislation does is help corporations and state governments cut workers’ pay. Its intent is regressive. Republicans want to return America to the days when robber barons controlled workers’ lives completely. This was a time of grotesque income inequality, of child labor, of tragically unsafe workplaces, of bosses compelling workers to remain on the job 50, 60 even 80 hours a week with no overtime pay.

American workers already are suffering the worst income inequality since the Great Depression. Right-to-work-for-less laws worsen that. These statutes forbid employers and labor organizations from negotiating collective bargaining agreements requiring all workers to pay either fair share fees or union dues.

At workplaces where employees have chosen union representation, federal law requires the labor organization to act on behalf of all of the workers, whether or not they join and pay dues. Fair share fees, which are less than dues, cover costs such as bargaining contracts that benefit all workers and representing workers who haven’t joined the union but want it to file grievances for them against the company.

Right-to-work-for-less laws are intended to bankrupt unions. And they do.

In Wisconsin four years ago, before passage of right-to-work-for-less legislation for government workers, Council 40 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing county and municipal workers, received dues or fair share payments from 32,000 workers. Now, Council 40 gets dues from 13,000. That cut nearly in half the funds it has to represent all 32,000 workers. As reduced income diminishes the AFSCME Council’s ability to do that well, more workers may quit and stop paying dues. That’s the death spiral Republicans are seeking.

Wisconsin unions representing workers at private companies face that same fate as a result of the new right-to-work-for-less legislation that Gov. Walker signed last week.

Right-to-work-for-less laws take from workers the tool they used for decades to secure better wages and working conditions. Right-to-work-for-less sends workers back to the desperate days before 1935. That’s the year Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act encouraging collective bargaining.

For nearly four decades after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the act, union membership grew, America’s middle class blossomed and income inequality shriveled. For the past three decades, as Republicans attacked workers’ right to collectively bargain for better lives, union membership shrank and workers’ wages stagnated. Now, income inequality is back to robber baron levels.

While the GOP attacked unions, Republicans like Walker and Rauner wounded the working poor and middle class in other ways as well. They cut funding for public transit, day care and unemployment insurance. They slashed spending for public education from Florida to Oklahoma to Arizona.

Now, GOP governors are demanding hundreds of millions in cuts to the public universities attended by the children of America’s middle class. Rauner wants to take $400 million from the University of Illinois. Walker wants to slash $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey wants to carve $75 million out of his state’s universities.

The result is that while workers get paid less, they’re shelling out more to buy bus tickets to their jobs, to ensure that while they work their toddlers are safe and to give their kids a college education.

This is the GOP’s big squeeze. It means the death of opportunity for the working poor to climb into the middle class. It means more of the middle class dragged down into poverty as workers scramble to pay ever-climbing bills with ever-smaller paychecks.

Unions and progressive groups are fighting back. Unions, including the United Steelworkers, have filed lawsuits in Wisconsin and Illinois to try to reverse right-to-work-for-less in those states. And a coalition of progressive groups and social welfare organizations staged protests last week across the country under the banner: “We Rise.”  They’re demanding politicians put people and the planet first – that is, before the greed interests and ecological disinterest of Republicans and big corporations.

They refuse to be strangled by the GOP.

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