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Leo W Gerard: GOP Goes for Win on Taxes, Consequences be Damned

An entire year of legislative defeats has grated on the GOP.

Getty Images/marvinh

Their promised Affordable Care Act repeal failed – again and again and again. Their Muslim ban was, well, banned by the courts. And now, in the waning days of November, their infrastructure bill, big beautiful border wall and brand new NAFTA are all missing.

Republicans have lost so much, they’re downright desperate for a win. And that’s why they’re pushing a tax scam supported by a mere 25 percent of Americans, according to the latest Quinnipiac Poll.

They’ve just got to rack up a win, consequences and American workers be damned. They’re so desperate that GOP Sen. Bob Corker, a self-described deficit hawk, agreed in committee Tuesday to send the bill to the floor for a vote after he got promises for changes. What he wants is cancellation of the bill’s tax breaks if they don’t stimulate economic expansion as Republicans say they will. The GOP keeps swearing the cuts will cause growth despite the fact that the Bush tax breaks didn’t and despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the cuts will add $1.44 trillion to the deficit.

Some deficit hawk. But, hey, anything for a win.

Republicans are so desperate that they’re shoving this scam through what is supposed to be a deliberative process without any of that deliberation – without, for example, routine hearings or assessment by the Treasury Department or Joint Committee on Taxation. So there’s no bipartisan government evaluation of the GOP assertion that the tax breaks will generate economic growth sufficient to account for the massive revenue losses they’ll cause.

Americans hate this scam for good reason. And they do hate it. The latest Harvard-Harris survey showed 54 percent oppose it and the same percent say the scam is likely to hurt them financially. They know a swindle when they see one.

But Republicans feel like they’ve got to have a win. No matter what. Poor people, working people, old people be damned.

And damned they are by the GOP scam.

The GOP bill delivers massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. The House version, for example, eliminates the estate tax. This is charged only on estates worth $5.49 million or more. So only the richest of the rich, the top 0.2 percent pay. And among the tiny number nationwide that owe estate tax in 2017, the average effective rate paid is less than 17 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center. That’s because the rich employ experts to exploit loopholes so they never pay the official rate of 40 percent.

In addition to generating essential funds for the federal government for more than a century, this tax prevents America from reverting into a kingdom dominated by royal dynasties whose pampered scions thrive by the merit of their grandfathers rather than by the sweat of their brows. This was the system Americans fought a revolution to escape.

But Republicans are voting to bring it back. Anything for a win.

Their scam also bestows on corporations the privilege of paying zero U.S. taxes on the profits of their foreign factories. So instead of the current 35 percent, or the new, low 20 percent rate that Republicans plan to award companies in their tax scam, corporations will pay nothing at all if they move manufacturing from Iowa to India or from Idaho to Mexico.

This will kill American manufacturing and American jobs. Factories will flee even faster to low-wage, high-pollution countries like China where Republicans will absolve them from paying any U.S. income taxes at all! Those Michigan and Ohio auto parts factories – gone. Those Pennsylvania and Illinois steel mills – gone. Those family-supporting jobs – shipped overseas by Republican tax policy.

Republicans are appeasing fat-cat CEOs and shareholders to get themselves a win on taxes. Family-supporting jobs be damned.

The fattest of those cats, the richest 1 percent, rake in 62 percent of the benefits of this tax con by 2027.  Many in the middle class will get tax cuts in the first few years too, but by 2027, their rates rise back up. At that time, this GOP tax fraud would stick 87 million families making less than $200,000 a year with tax increases.

But by then, by 2027, many of those Republicans will have left Congress to become overpaid lobbyists – the kind now demanding income redistribution from the pockets of the poor and middle class up and into the treasure chests of the wealthiest. The tax scam seems like a win for Republicans now, and secure job offers from lobby firms later.

The CBO has estimated that those tax breaks in the Senate GOP bill will dig a $1.44 trillion deficit over 10 years. This hole will be dredged by the party that spent 8 years while President Barack Obama was in office decrying anything that would increase the deficit by a penny. But policy consistency be damned. Anything for a win.

To keep the deficit “down” to $1.4 trillion, Republicans slash and burn programs vital to workers and the elderly like Medicare and the tax credit for student loans.  Democrats have estimated the tax scam will slash $470 billion from Medicare over 10 years. The CBO has estimated those cuts will start next year with $25 billion.

Worse though, is the real potential for Republicans to contend by year five or six, as their tax cuts for the rich and corporations gin up government debt, that programs workers cherish like Social Security and Medicaid must be gutted as well.

So what looks like a Republican win in 2017 could be a tragic loss to American workers by 2027.

Ok. The American people get it. Republicans have had a rough year. They are aching for a win. But doing the wrong thing just to do something is not a win. It’s a scam perpetrated on American workers.

Leo W Gerard: Republican Tax Plan — Make America Grieve Again

A giant sucking sound, louder than a freight train, noisier than a tornado, shriller than Ross Perot yelling, “I told you so,” blasted across the nation Thursday as Republicans in the U.S. House passed their tax plan.

It was the terrible sound of jobs swept out of this country. When Perot ran for president, he said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would siphon off American jobs. And he was right. It did.

PHOTO BY STEVE DIETZ, UNIONPIX.COM

But this is much, much bigger.

House Republicans approved a scam exempting corporations from all taxes on their foreign operations. Under the GOP proposal, corporations like Carrier and Rexnord can benefit from protections provided by American patents, courts and armed forces, while moving their factories from the United States to Mexico. Or to other low-wage, high-polluting countries like China. Or to countries that charge little or no corporate tax. Once there, instead of paying the new, super-low 20 percent corporate rate Republicans propose for U.S-based producers, the expat factories will pay no taxes to the United States. Nothing. Not a cent.

Rather than Making America Great Again, Congressional Republicans plan to Make America Grieve Again as even more family-supporting factory jobs get shipped offshore to take advantage of the new tax rate of zip.

The math behind that job transfer is simple. Continue manufacturing in the United States and pay a corporate income tax dramatically lowered from 35 to 20 percent. Or move to a ridiculously low-tax country like Switzerland, Montenegro or Paraguay, and pay a measly 9 percent to that nation and nothing to the United States.

With the proposed corporate tax gift from Republicans, CEOs could uproot factories in places like Illinois, Indiana and Western Pennsylvania and ship them to brand new facilities in Bermuda, Palau or Turks & Caicos, where the corporate tax rate is zero. The corporation would pay no taxes on profits to the country hosting the factory and nothing to the United States, which hosts the headquarters.

Republicans contend such corporations will bring those foreign profits back to the United States and invest here. Why would CEOs do that when any American plant they invest in would be billed taxes on profits while the same factory located in certain other countries would pay nothing?

Why would they do that when they didn’t before?

Right now, corporations are sitting on $2.6 trillion in overseas profits. They have not invested that money in U.S. research, factories or jobs because they don’t want to pay the current 35 percent tax rate that would be charged when those profits are returned to the country.

To lure that money back, Republicans propose to give corporations a tax holiday, cutting the rate to between 5 and 12 percent for repatriating the $2.6 billion. The GOP insists corporations will take advantage of that tax deal to bring those billions home and invest in American production. But they won’t. The proof is that they didn’t last time.

Congress gave corporations a tax holiday in 2004 during which CEOs could return foreign profits to the United States and pay a mere 5 percent tax on them in exchange for investment in U.S. research, factories and jobs.

CEOs brought back the money and grabbed that 5 percent rate, alright. But they didn’t use the repatriated cash to conduct research, build factories or create jobs. Just the opposite.

A study by the Democratic staff of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that the 15 corporations that benefited most from the tax holiday turned around and cut more than 20,000 jobs and diminished their pace of research spending.

Labeling the 2004 tax holiday a failed policy, the report cautions against repeating it, saying it cost the U.S. Treasury $3.3 billion in lost revenues over 10 years and led to U.S. corporations sending more funds offshore.

“There is no evidence that the previous repatriation tax giveaway put Americans to work, and substantial evidence that it instead grew executive paychecks, propped up stock prices, and drew more money and jobs offshore,” said former Michigan Senator Carl Levin, then-chairman of the subcommittee, when the report was released in 2011.

So the contention that corporations now would invest in U.S. research, factories and jobs because Republicans plan to give them another tax holiday is about as solid as smoke — the stuff emitted from American factories pre-NAFTA and now flowing from mills moved to Mexico. The same goes for the contention that corporations will invest in U.S. research, factories and jobs with completely untaxed foreign profits.

In fact, suspending taxes on foreign profits would create a perverse incentive for corporations to make it overseas instead of making it in America. But Republicans intend to do it anyway.

Republicans say they must cater to the tax demands of corporations because other countries – Germany and Ireland, for example – offer corporations low rates. And those same Republicans contend they must cease charging American corporations taxes on their foreign operations because other countries have stopped.

That describes a race to the bottom. Pretty soon, corporations won’t pay any taxes at all, anywhere to anyone. They’ll provide nothing toward the roads they use to transport their products, the school systems that educate their workers, the Army Corps of Engineers that protects factories from floods.

If countries don’t work together to stop corporations from playing one against the other, workers will get stuck with all of the costs. That’s what’s happening under the GOP tax scam. The tax changes were supposed to benefit middle-class workers. But they do not.

An analysis of the Senate tax plan, released this week by the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is the official nonpartisan review agency serving Congress, showed the scam would give large tax cuts to corporations and millionaires while raising the levies charged to families earning $10,000 to $75,000 – that’s low-income and middle-class families.

White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said this week, “The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan.” Of course they are. Those 1 percenters and their corporations get all the breaks.

To help pay for big fat tax cuts for millionaires and zeroed-out taxes for corporations, Republicans plan to slash programs crucial to workers – like Medicare and Medicaid – and vital deductions, like those for property taxes and student loan interest.

Just like NAFTA, this GOP tax scheme is a scam, a bait-and-switch ruse. Workers pay more and get less – fewer government services and far fewer job opportunities. This time, their jobs won’t just be going south of the border. They’ll be shipped anyplace in the world touting the lowest tax rates.

Leo W Gerard: NAFTA Negotiators Send Corporate Whiners Back to Swamp

Photo by Gerenme on Getty Images

Giant corporations, loyal to coin and faithless to country, staged a public display of blubbering in the run up to this week’s fourth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Whaa, whaaa, whaaaa, groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sniveled into the swamp from which they crawled to conduct their press conferences. President Trump isn’t doing what corporations want, they wailed.

The President’s trade priorities, which he repeatedly stated on the campaign trail, do not include groveling to the whims and whining of corporations or their toady, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. President Trump said he would create good, American jobs. To do that, he wants more stuff made in America and less stuff made in factories off-shored by greed-motivated American corporations.

“We’ve reached a critical moment,” Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue sobbed this week. “The Chamber has had no choice but to ring the alarm bells.”

He said it, by the way, from Mexico City, where the Chamber, which calls itself the U.S. Chamber, had gone to scheme with Mexican government officials to subvert the NAFTA negotiation goals of the U.S. government.

Chamber Vice President John G. Murphy, meanwhile, was carping from the place the President calls the swamp, “So we’re urging the administration to recalibrate its approach and stop and listen to the business community, the agriculture community, the people who actually engage in trade.”

That is the crux of it, right there. The president had failed to place corporate profits over American workers.

Really, what Murphy and Donohue were saying is that the President should ignore the hundreds of thousands of Americans who lost their jobs because of NAFTA and concentrate instead on the profits to be made by wealthy CEOs and shareholders. Those are the guys who uprooted American factories and transplanted them in Mexico, where corporations can more easily exploit both workers and the environment.

United Technologies (UT) is a good example. UT had two perfectly profitable factories in Indiana where American workers manufactured Carrier gas furnaces and electronic controls. UT decided, however, that it could make even more money if it moved the factories to Monterrey, Mexico.

After Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, handed UT $7 million of the state’s tax dollars, the corporation agreed to keep some of the Carrier jobs in the United States, but in the end, it moved all 700 electronic controls jobs to Mexico and 632 of the furnace jobs.

In Mexico, UT can pay its new workers a dime for every dollar in wages earned by its skilled American workers in Indiana. U.S. corporations like UT that transplant factories and kick their American workers to the curb pocket the difference in wages.

NAFTA, which encourages this kind of move, doesn’t benefit Mexican workers either. The poverty rate in Mexico is 52.3 percent, virtually the same as it was in 1994, when NAFTA took effect. Wages there rose just 2.3 percent. Economic development in Mexico has fallen behind that of most other Latin American countries.

But, whaa, whaaa, whaaaa, the Chamber of Commerce cries about the President’s intention to keep his campaign promise to build a trade wall to stop corporations from sneaking across the border.

Emily Davis, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, gave the Chamber a good smack upside the head after Donohue and Murphy told the President that he should stop listening to workers and do exactly what the Chamber and corporations tell him to do.

Here’s what Davis said: “The president has been clear that NAFTA has been a disaster for many Americans, and achieving his objectives requires substantial change. These changes, of course, will be opposed by entrenched Washington lobbyists and trade associations. We have always understood that draining the swamp would be controversial in Washington.”

The Wall Street Journal explained the problem for the likes of Donohue and Murphy. The newspaper quoted an outside trade adviser to the administration. He said that the administration wants to “create more uncertainty and reluctance for U.S. businesses to invest in Mexico. . . They want to change the decision making around outsourcing and the offshoring of investment.”

The U.S. negotiators, for example, want to weaken, or maybe even eliminate, the NAFTA-created Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. Corporations love this thing. It’s a secret court presided over by corporate lawyers where corporations can sue countries for passing laws that CEOs claim take a bite out of profits.

So, for example, a corporation could claim that a U.S. safety regulation prohibiting a cancer-causing chemical in plastic baby bottles diminishes expected future profits from its Mexican chemical factory. The corporate lawyers acting as judges in the secret NAFTA court can order the United States to compensate the corporation.  And, to top it off, the amount that the secret court can order taxpayers to hand over to corporations is unlimited.

The secret court reduces risk for corporations moving American factories to Mexico, where they might not have the same confidence that they would in American courts to protect their property rights.

Eliminating or curbing the secret court would reverse one of the NAFTA incentives for corporations to transfer manufacturing to Mexico. The administration wants to change several other aspects of NAFTA for the same result.

For example, it wants the government to be able to insist that more of what it buys be made in the United States. That would mean U.S. tax dollars would create more jobs in the United States. That discourages offshoring because the government is a super consumer.

The administration also wants a higher percentage of a product, such as a car, to be made in the United States, or at least in one of the three partner countries, for it to attain NAFTA duty-free status.  Right now, it’s 62.5 percent. The administration is talking about 85 percent, which would deter offshoring to Asian countries.

The administration is also demanding labor rights for Mexican workers. Enabling them to form real, worker-run labor unions would raise their wages, and, as a result, make transplanting U.S. factories in Mexico less profitable.

Murphy told the administration that it should do none of this. It should, he said, follow the administration’s own guidelines and “do no harm.”

Basically, big corporations and the Chamber want no change to NAFTA. They’re fine with all harm falling on U.S. workers’ shoulders ­ – 800,000 of whom lost their jobs because of NAFTA. And that doesn’t include the 1,600 lost at Rexnord and the two United Technologies factories in Indiana this year.

President Trump isn’t fine with that outcome, however. And that’s why his spokesperson at the Office of U.S. Trade Representative told the Chamber this week to waddle back down to the swamp and shut up.

Leo W Gerard: Unfair Trade, Uncertainty Killing American Aluminum and Steel

Kameen Thompson, president of the USW local union at ArcelorMittal’s Conshohocken mill

Kameen Thompson started his workday Sept. 15 thinking that his employer, ArcelorMittal in Conshohocken, Pa., the largest supplier of armored plate to the U.S. military, might hire some workers to reduce a recent spate of overtime.

Just hours later, though, he discovered the absolute opposite was true.

ArcelorMittal announced that, within a year, it would idle the mill that stretches half a mile along the Schuylkill River. Company officials broke the bad news to Kameen, president of the United Steelworkers (USW) local union at Conshohocken, and Ron Davis, the grievance chair, at a meeting where the two union officers had hoped to hear about hiring.

ArcelorMittal wouldn’t say when it would begin the layoffs or how many workers would lose their jobs or which mill departments would go dark. The worst part for everyone now is the uncertainty, Kameen told me last week.

“If ArcelorMittal said they would shut down on a date certain, everybody could move on to something else or prepare. Right now, we are in limbo. We have a lot of guys with a lot of time, but they’re still not old enough to retire. The only thing we can do is ride it out. But the uncertainty is very, very hard on them. It’s difficult not knowing who and what departments are affected and how long we are going to run,” Kameen said.

Uncertainty from Washington, D.C., is a major contributor to the idling of the plant. ArcelorMittal and every other aluminum and steel producer in America are in limbo as they wait for a decision on import restrictions that could preserve U.S. capacity to produce defense materials – like the light armored plate that’s Conshohocken’s specialty ­– and to build and repair crucial infrastructure, like roads, bridges and utilities.

Initially, the Trump administration promised a determination in June. But June came and went. As the months dragged on, imports surged. That threatens the viability of mills like Conshohocken. Then, just last week, administration officials said they would do nothing until after Congress passes tax legislation.That compounded uncertainty.

The Conshohocken mill may not survive the delay. Kameen, Ron and the 203 other workers there could lose their jobs because Congress dawdles or fails to act on taxes. America could lose its domestic capacity to quickly produce large quantities of high-quality light-gauge plate for armor.

After work at other, non-union jobs, Kameen began at Conshohocken at the age of 25. He finally had a position that provided good wages and benefits. “That gave me an opportunity to plan for a future and build a family,” he explained.

Ron, the mill’s training coordinator, is 45 and has worked at the plant for 22 years. “This was my first true job that I could sustain a family with,” Ron told me.

He has five children ranging in age from five to 26. He needs a good job with good benefits. He knows jobs like the one he has at the mill are rare, but he’s not giving in to gloominess. “I am just trying to stay positive,” he said. “That is all I can do right now.”

Photo is of Ron Davis, grievance chair for the USW local union at ArcelorMittal’s Conshohocken mill

Both Ron and Kameen are frustrated by the Trump administration’s failure to penalize the foreign producers whose illegal trade practices have killed steel and aluminum jobs, closed mills across the country and threatened America’s domestic capability to produce metals essential to construction of critical infrastructure and vital to the defense department to safeguard the country.

Since the Trump administration launched the national security probes into steel and aluminum imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act in April, imports have risen significantly. Steel imports are up 21 percent over last year. Countries like China, fearing impending penalties for predatory and illegal trade practices, dumped more than ever.

The administration has nine months to complete the Section 232 investigation. It could be January before the results are announced. Then the president has another three months to decide what to do. Instead of the two months the administration initially promised, the whole process could take a year.

A year could be too long for mills like Conshohocken.

“It doesn’t take that long to investigate this,” Kameen said. “We are losing jobs. They are dropping like flies. The administration needs to act now to prevent these unfair imports from killing more American jobs.”

Because of unfair and illegal imports since 2000, particularly from China, U.S. steel mills idled sections or closed, cutting the nation’s capacity to produce by 17 million tons a year and throwing 48,000 steelworkers out of jobs.

Now, there is only one surviving U.S. mill capable of producing grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES)required for electrical transmission.

The same decline occurred in aluminum, only it happened even faster. The number of U.S. smelters dropped from 14 in 2011 to five last year. That is the loss of thousands more good, family-supporting jobs. It happened because China expanded its overcapacity to produce cheap, state-subsidized aluminum, depressing the global price by 46 percent in just eight years.

Now, there is only one surviving U.S. smelter capable of producing the high-purity aluminum essential to fighter jets like the F-35 and other military vehicles.

While ArcelorMittal may contend that it can manufacture military-grade steel plate at its other U.S. mills, the loss of Conshohocken would mean a dangerous decline in U.S. capacity.

Capacity is crucial in emergencies. An example occurred in 2007 when U.S. military deaths were rising in Iraq and Afghanistan. In response, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered a 15-fold increase in production of mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. That meant the number produced each month had to rise from 82 to more than 1,100. The Conshohocken plant produced much of the steel needed to achieve the goal.

Without that mill, the nation’s ability to gear up in such an emergency is compromised.  Two weeks ago, 10 retired generals wrote President Trump warning: “America’s increasing reliance on imported steel and aluminum from potentially hostile or uncooperative foreign governments, or via uncertain supply routes, jeopardizes our national security.”

They also said of the Section 232 investigation, “Prompt action is necessary before it is too late.”

When Kameen started at the mill 11 years ago, he felt good about the work. Conshohocken was making a lot of armor for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that gave him the sense that he was doing something for his country.

Now, he’s concerned for his local union members, whose average age is 50.

As their president, Kameen, who is only 37, feels responsible to help each of them through the uncertainty and the difficulties ahead. “My members are looking at me for answers and leadership,” he told me. “So if I don’t stay strong and lead, then I’m the wrong man for the job.”

Every steelworker and aluminum worker in America is looking to President Trump for that kind of leadership. Their uncertainty could be relieved if the administration would announce the results of the Section 232 investigation now and act immediately to ensure the United States has the domestic ability to produce essential metals.

Working on Labor Day to Recover from Harvey

Watching helplessly as flood waters rose was not an option for Brandon Parker. This Texas refinery worker and member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union has a jacked-up Suburban and a friend with a boat. There was no way he was going to let family members, neighbors or strangers drown.

Like Brandon, many union members couldn’t sit still through the storm. One drove her high-riding pickup truck two hours to find baby formula for co-workers rescued from their roof with a newborn. Another used his pickup truck to rescue people whose cars got caught in fast-moving water.

These are among the many workers across Texas and across the United States whose sense of community drove them to respond to the crisis created by Hurricane Harvey.

Brandon’s most harrowing rescues occurred on Sunday, Aug. 27, when he joined the citizens armada, the flotilla of boats owned by civilians who drafted themselves to serve as first responders when the catastrophic size of the emergency overwhelmed professionals.

The crew on Brandon’s boat was all union. His longtime friend, Kenneth Yates, a member of Plumbers Local Union 68 in Houston, owned the Bay Stealth craft. Yates’ stepfather, Robert Young, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers, joined them on the expedition through engulfed Dickinson, Texas.

A home in Dickinson, Texas, on Aug. 27 as seen from Brandon Parker’s rescue boat.

The crew on Brandon’s boat was all union. His longtime friend, Kenneth Yates, a member of Plumbers Local Union 68 in Houston, owned the Bay Stealth craft. Yates’ stepfather, Robert Young, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers, joined them on the expedition through engulfed Dickinson, Texas.

They launched the boat into deep water on Interstate 45. Bands of storm clouds pelted them with rain, paused, then resumed. The flood water was about six feet deep, not quite over the front door of most homes they passed. The current was strong, making it hard to maneuver the boat.

Kenneth Yates and Robert Young on Yates’ Bay Stealth boat in Dickinson, Texas, on Aug. 27 as they set out to rescue people.

At one point, Brandon saw – just two inches below the water’s surface – an iron fence topped by arrow-shaped finials. He quickly shoved the boat away with an oar, preventing the metal points from puncturing the hull and sinking the craft. They were lucky. They saw rescue boats that were flipped over and one wrapped around a light pole. Ultimately, though, both the hull and propeller of Kenneth Yates’ boat were damaged from striking unseen underwater objects.

They picked up nine people. One family came from a second-story deck. They climbed down the deck’s steps and got into the boat. Another group was on the second story of an apartment building and descended its exterior staircase to the boat.

This was before evacuation was ordered, and Brandon was frightened for the people who chose to remain in their homes. He said he urged everyone he saw to leave while they could but many refused. “Because all the professional resources were being used, it might be hours before they could be rescued in an emergency,” Brandon told me last week.

When it got dark, Brandon, Kenneth and Robert went home. They didn’t have lights on the boat, so it wasn’t safe to continue.

Brandon wasn’t done though. That night, a family in his neighborhood needed to get out of their house after water had risen four feet inside. It was a young boy, a friend of Brandon’s 11-year-old son, and the boy’s uncle. Brandon drove as close as he could to the house, then got a guy in a boat to go in and bring them out to where the car was.

Brandon’s neighborhood in League City, Texas, on Aug. 29.

That is how Brandon started rescuing people – with his car, which would end up with damage to the steering system, differentials and wheel bearings from driving in high water. He first put his car into service Saturday night, Aug. 26. He was headed home from his brother-in-law’s house where he’d watched boxer Floyd Mayweather defeat Conor McGregor. Rain was pouring down and lightning flashing. He saw people walking along the swamped road, drenched.

Some had lost their cars in the rising water. Some had parked, afraid to drive further. Brandon picked up about a dozen in his high-riding, 1990 Suburban and drove them to their homes, most to the neighborhood where his brother-in-law lived.

By Sunday, Aug. 27, the roof of Brandon’s house in League City, Texas, was leaking, and he and his wife and three children had taken in flooded out in-laws. Still, he told his wife that he wanted to go out and help people. “She wasn’t too happy, but she understood that I needed to do that,” Brandon recounted. “I have been in situations where people have helped me. Why wouldn’t I go and help other people?”

That morning, he drove to a neighborhood in hard-hit Dickinson, where nearly every house was flooded. He found hurricane refugees walking through deep water carrying plastic garbage bags of belongings over their heads. This is dangerous because people can step in the wrong place and suddenly slip under water. That’s because there were deep ditches on both sides of the road and floods push manhole covers off.

He piled people into his Suburban and drove them to a bar that was still on dry ground. Other volunteers ferried them to shelters from there.

The 1990 Suburban Brandon Parker used to rescue people.

On Monday, Aug. 28, Brandon drove his truck through high water to get to a donation center in Galveston. He picked up cases of water, food, toiletries and other supplies. He distributed them in his neighborhood because many elderly residents had refused to leave their homes. “I went door to door giving out water and food. A lot of people turned me down. They said they didn’t want to take what others needed.”

The supplies were crucial because even when people with high vehicles like Brandon could get out, they found stores closed and gas stations out of fuel. Brandon continued checking on his neighbors and handing out provisions through Wednesday, when water started receding and he had to go to work at the LyondellBasell refinery in Houston.

Like Brandon, Felicia Weir of Santa Fe, Texas, is a USW refinery worker with a high-riding truck. Even after her home flooded, she drove for hours on Wednesday, backing up constantly to circumvent flood-closed roads, to get baby formula and clothes for a couple who had been plucked from their rooftop with an infant granddaughter and two other young grand kids.

Felicia Weir of Santa Fe, Texas, with supplies to distribute from her union hall.

Marcos Velez, a USW staff member from Pasadena, Texas, drove his pickup truck through flood waters to rescue a refinery worker whose car was inundated by three feet of fast moving water in Baytown, Texas, as he tried to drive to his job before dawn. Then Velez turned around and, despite blinding rain, rescued another dozen people whose cars were bobbing in the fast-rising water in that same neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Texas AFL-CIO set up a charitable organization, the Texas Workers Relief Fund to aid working families, and local unions from across the country began donating. The National Nurses United Registered Nurse Response Network, an organization of volunteer unionized nurses, deployed its first unit to Houston on Thursday. Three Texas USW local unions handed out food and water to first responders and the public.

These efforts won’t stop when the rain does. This Labor Day, workers from across the country will be volunteering. They’ll be helping victims of Hurricane Harvey recover. And they’ll continue donating their services for months.

Leo W Gerard: Don’t Dawdle on Economic and National Security

The future of the American steel and aluminum industries is not a matter for dithering.

Steel worker takes a sample from oven

Each mill and smelter that remains operating is too vital. Each is too crucial to the economic viability of a corporation, a community, and thousands of workers and their families. Each also is too essential to national security, which relies on American-produced metals for critical infrastructure, from bridge construction to the electrical grid, and for munitions, from fighter jets to bullet-proof vests.

There is no more time for waiting. International trade law must be enforced now. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump pledged his support to workers and these industries. And he followed through by launching within three months of taking office as president special investigations into the effects of steel and aluminum imports on national security. Such inquiries may take as long as a year to conclude, but the administration expedited the process. Until it didn’t. Now steel and aluminum corporations, their communities and their workers are being told to wait. It’s a delay that could kill more American mills and smelters.

The nation lost nine aluminum smelters over the past six years, leaving only five in the entire country, and most of them are now operating at reduced levels. Beginning in January 2015, steel companies laid off 14,000 workers as they closed mills and sections of mills. For example, Allegheny Technologies shuttered a plant that made grain oriented electrical steel in 2016, leaving only one U.S. company, AK Steel, now producing this component critical to electricity transmission.

As mills and smelters disappear, the military is further restricted in its ability to secure domestically produced essential metals in time of crisis.

The primary culprit in this scary scenario is overcapacity and overproduction in China, which overwhelms the world market with illegally subsidized, grossly underpriced aluminum and steel.

China has promised repeatedly to solve this problem. On Thursday it pledged again, this time contending it wanted to work globally to deal with the issue of aluminum overcapacity – a problem Beijing created. Over the past six years, using massive government subsidies, China quickly ramped up capacity to become the largest aluminum producer in the world.

China can’t be trusted on this because it never keeps its promises. It has never cut its steelmaking capacity after announcing again and again that it would. In negotiations last week, Trump cabinet members could not even get a specific commitment out of China to do it. There’s no evidence China will stop overproducing steel or aluminum now. Waiting is useless. And destructive to American manufacturing.

The American steel and aluminum industries have fought back, filing and winning dozens of trade cases against imports of specific products. But the resulting tariffs and other penalties imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) didn’t solve the problem. Instead of paying U.S. tariffs, China shipped its government-supported excess of these products to other countries, artificially suppressing world prices and warping what is supposed to be a free market.

Also, this traditional process for seeking relief from unfair trade takes too long. More than a year may elapse before companies and workers get a final decision. And that will be for just one product, like aluminum extrusions, aluminum foil, welded stainless steel pressure pipe or corrosion-resistant steel, to name a tiny number of cases from recent years.

That’s part of what made the special investigations into steel and aluminum imports so attractive. If the U.S. Commerce Department determined under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 that imports of steel and aluminum jeopardized national security, then the president could impose penalties broadly to ensure the country could meet its own needs. The effort might also spur allies to join the United States in finally pressuring China sufficiently to actually reduce capacity.

Although Section 232 allows for nine months of investigation, after which the President would have three months to determine a remedy, the administration promised quick action when it announced the inquiries in April. The steel report was to be completed by June 30, with a speedy decision by the president after that.

That suggested the administration understood this was urgent.

But June 30 came and went. Now there’s an official delay. The administration told the Wall Street Journal that the steel investigation is on hold until after health care reform, tax changes and infrastructure spending are accomplished.  “We don’t want to do it at this moment,” the president said Tuesday of the steel case.

That’s devastating. Especially because steel imports have jumped 22 percent since Jan. 1, placing additional pressure on the American industry.

The delay occurs as efforts are made by a new company to reopen at least one potline at an aluminum smelter in New Madrid, Mo., that the now-bankrupt Noranda company idled last year. Postponing the Section 232 decision makes for uncertainty for these investors.

It also occurs as a Chinese company is trying to buy Aleris, an Ohio-based manufacturer that supplies aluminum for use in vital infrastructure and military applications. That Asian firm, China Zhongwang, is accused of dodging tariffs and is under civil and criminal investigation for possible smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department.

Maybe the Aleris smelters would keep operating if China Zhongwang bought them, but at what risk to national security?

The delay occurs as companies that buy steel fear monger that tariffs or quotas would raise prices.

An expert, Stephen Koplan, chairman of the U.S. ITC under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says that’s hogwash. “Predictions of disaster were wrong 15 years ago when I chaired the ITC, and they are wrong again today,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper this week.

When President George W. Bush imposed tariffs and quotas on steel imports under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, there was no price shock afterward, according to a study by the nonpartisan U.S. ITC.  Here is what Koplan, who also served as an attorney at the Small Business Administration, wrote:

“Downstream industries were not devastated by higher steel prices. Nor was the U.S. economy thrown into depression. The U.S. steel industry, however, earned a much-needed relief as the result of action taken by the president that allowed it to restructure and reinvest for the long term. In other words, the Section 201 measures worked as intended.

“We are facing similar challenges again today. . .Now, however, U.S. national security is at great risk if firm action is not taken immediately. The U.S. primary aluminum industry is on the verge of disappearing entirely, and the U.S. steel industry is not far behind.”

AK Steel Corp. CEO Roger Newport agreed with Koplan’s assessment that this is not a time for dawdling, telling the Commerce Department in his testimony on the steel case:

“High-end electrical steel is an incredibly difficult product to manufacture, as it requires a significant amount of dedicated, capital equipment and a sophisticated, well-trained workforce. Therefore, if AK Steel were to exit the market, there would be no operational electrical steel manufacturing equipment in the United States, the specialized labor and related expertise in operations would be lost, and many of AK Steel’s talented operators and researchers would either relocate to other businesses, industries and/or foreign countries, or become unemployed.”

Workers’ and companies’ economic security is at risk. The nation’s security is at risk. Resolution of these cases should be speeded, not delayed.

Leo W Gerard: “Do No Harm” Still Hurts

Photo of locked gate at closed steel mill by Getty Images.

Promises were made.

And workers believed candidate Donald Trump when he pledged to stop corporations from exporting American factories. Workers cast votes based on Trump swearing he would end the trade cheating that kills American jobs.

This week, though, workers got bad news from Washington, D.C. President Trump proposed virtually eliminating funding for a Labor Department bureau that helps prevent U.S. workers from having to compete with forced and child labor overseas. In addition, the administration issued only vague objectives for renegotiating the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

When NAFTA has cost at least 900,000 Americans their jobs, vague is unacceptable. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his first rule in negotiations for a new NAFTA would be to “do no harm.” That’s not good enough. That’s the status quo, and promises were made. The first rule should be to “do substantial good.”

Substantial good would start with clear, firm goals for renegotiating NAFTA. That would include returning those 900,000 jobs to the United States. That would include restoring the jobs the United States continues to lose, like the 350 that disappeared this year when Rexnord closed its Indianapolis ball bearing factory and moved production to Mexico. And like the 632 jobs at Carrier in Indianapolis that will begin vanishing this week when the first layoff notices are issued because the heating and air conditioning manufacturer shifted some production to Mexico.

In Monterrey, where both Rexnord and Carrier moved jobs, the minimum wage is $3.90 a day. Not an hour. It’s $3.90 a day. There is no way for American workers to compete with that. What they were looking for from the NAFTA renegotiation goals is some help.

Instead, they got pabulum. Yes, there’s a whole section on labor, and it says the labor provisions should be in the main document, not in a side agreement. But the fuzzy language doesn’t provide much hope for workers like those who just lost their jobs at Carrier and Rexnord.

It says, for example, that NAFTA countries should have laws regarding minimum wage, hours of work and occupational health and safety. That’s great. But Mexico has a minimum wage. It’s one so low that, as former presidential candidate Ross Perot would say, it sucks American factories right across Rio Grande.

The NAFTA negotiation targets don’t say that the minimum wage should be a living wage or specify how it would be policed to prevent forced and child labor.

Within the U.S. Department of Labor, there’s a section called the Bureau of International Labor Affairs that monitors compliance with labor provisions in international trade agreements and pays for programs to reduce child and forced labor internationally. The intent is to prevent American manufacturing workers earning family-supporting wages from competing with third world children paid with bread and blankets.

The administration has, however, said it wants to gut that program, cutting its funding by 80 percent. In addition to workers, American food and clothing corporations have objected. Nate Herman, a senior vice president for the American Apparel and Footwear Association, told the Washington Post that without the bureau’s efforts, “you’re saying, basically, that it’s okay for forced labor and child labor to run rampant, which undercuts our own labor force.”

Without specific protections in NAFTA and without even the Bureau of International Labor Affairs programs, U.S. workers are subjected to a no-win competition with exploited foreign workers. The Americans end up unemployed, like those at Carrier and Rexnord. The foreign workers continue to be abused.

Promises were made to American workers. They need to be kept. Big league, not halfway.

For example, the solution to Carrier, owned by United Technologies, moving out of Indiana was a half measure.

United Technologies spared about 700 jobs at the Indianapolis Carrier plant only after Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of the state, handed the corporation $7 million. None of the 700 jobs at the other United Technologies plant in Indiana was saved. All of those went to Mexico.

That’s not what Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail. At a rally in Indianapolis last spring, he pledged: “Here’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to call me, and they are going to say, ‘Mr. President, Carrier has decided to stay in Indiana . . . One hundred percent. It’s not like we have an 80 percent chance of keeping them or a 95 percent. 100 percent.”

But then, it was President-elect Trump who called Carrier. And it wasn’t 100 percent. It wasn’t even 80 percent. And, to make matters worse, United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes said that the millions he’d promised to invest in the plant would be spent on automation, further reducing jobs.

This is, according to the Trump administration, Made in America Week. It began at the White House Monday with a showcase of products produced in every American state, from fire trucks to door hinges. But to really revive American manufacturing, the administration must keep its campaign promises. And that means strong language in a renegotiated NAFTA and strong enforcement of other international trade deals and trade laws.

“No harm” is not enough for the administration that promised to cure the injury that international trade inflicted on workers.

Leo W Gerard: Trump Offers Fool’s Gold to Fund Infrastructure

Image from USW / Getty

Donald Trump surrounds himself in gold. The signs on Trump buildings shimmer in it. His penthouse in New York is gilded in it.

He claims now to have found the alchemy to conjure $1 trillion in infrastructure gold. He plans to put up a mere $200 billion in federal funds and stir it together with $800 billion in private investment and state dollars.

That is fool’s gold. A falsely-funded infrastructure program is a massive broken promise. America needs real improvements to roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, water systems and railways. That requires a commitment of real tax dollars, not the relinquishment of America’s public assets to profit-seeking private Wall Street entities. Americans should not be charged twice for maintenance of the public good, once through tax breaks to investors and again in outrageous tolls and fees the investors charge.

On Wednesday, standing on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Trump reiterated the pledge he made repeatedly on the campaign trail to put $1 trillion into infrastructure. He said “restoring America” is a promise that Washington, D.C., has broken. “It has not been kept, but we are going to keep it,” he said.

“Taxpayers deserve the best results for their investment,” he said, “and I will be sure that is what they get.” But the plan to turn over public assets to private corporations for tax-supported investment is gold only for the 1 percent who can afford to invest.

The Wall Street Journal reported last fall that to raise the private funds, Trump planned to give massive tax breaks of 82 percent of equity to investors that help pay for infrastructure repair. For citizens, that’s a crappy deal – giving Wall Street control over public assets in addition to being forced to fork over the taxes that rich investors will not pay.

That financial alchemy creates poison, not gold.

In addition, there is no profit in many types of infrastructure that need repair, like schools and hospitals. A corporation can’t collect tolls from children entering their elementary school each morning.

Despite Trump’s promise in Cincinnati that he would take care of rural areas, there’s no profit in many crucial infrastructure projects in such regions. Investors won’t pay for a highway needed to connect two isolated towns in West Virginia.

And the profit in some projects is highly questionable. Several corporations that have bought or built toll roads have filed for bankruptcy. This includes highways in Texas, California, Indiana and Alabama.

In other cases, the profits reaped are outrageous. After Chicago sold its 36,000 parking meters to Morgan Stanley, the Wall Street bank doubled the parking rates and charged the city tens of millions annually for meters Chicago took out of service for street repairs, mass transit stops and safety. A city inspector general report on the deal says Chicago under-priced the meters by nearly $1 billion when former Mayor Richard M. Daley signed the 75-year contract in 2008. The bank is expected to make back its $1.15 billion investment by 2020, giving it 60 more years to rake in pure profit on the backs of Chicago taxpayers who paid to install the meters and who feed them daily.

That’s gold for Morgan Stanley, grief for taxpayers.

Another part of Trump’s financing plan is to shift infrastructure costs to states and towns. This also cheats too many citizens. Sure, some places high on the hog like Silicon Valley might be able to afford that. But too many will be left out.

That’s because large numbers of cities and states are facing fiscal crises. Chicago sold its parking meters to fill a budget shortfall. In Oklahoma, where there’s a $900 million budget gap, schools are so underfunded that 96 of the state’s 513 districts have reduced the school week to four days and another 44 may be forced to do that in the fall. The state has shuttered rural hospitals, overcrowded its prisons and limited state troopers to 100 miles of driving a day.

In Kansas, with a $1.1 billion budget deficit, the state Supreme Court just ordered the legislature to properly pay for its schools. The court said Kansas’ under-funding meant inadequate education in basic reading and math for students in one fourth of its public schools. The state shortchanged half of the state’s black students and a third of its Hispanic pupils.

Illinois hasn’t had a budget for two years. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times. It has accrued $14.5 billion in unpaid bills. As a result, more than 1,500 public university and community college workers have been laid off and untold numbers of social service agencies have closed or severely curtailed services.

Other states, including Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, face massive pension shortfalls after years of failing to properly pay into the funds.

These places aren’t going to be able to jump up and take on the federal government’s responsibility to invest in infrastructure.

Even the $200 billion that the Trump administration is saying the federal government will provide is in question. It’s in the budget Trump submitted to Congress, but also in that budget is $206 billion in cuts to existing infrastructure programs, including those conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Army Corps of Engineers. That’s the very Corps of Engineers that would pay for the river lock and dam projects that Trump complained Wednesday in Cincinnati were grossly underfunded, causing costly breakdowns.

That kind of budgeting is bad alchemy. That’s not $1 trillion in infrastructure gold.

Trump said Wednesday, “We will build because our people want to build and because we need them to build. We will build because our prosperity demands it. We will build because that is how we make America great again.”

That sounds wonderful. But to build, projects must be properly paid for. And so far, the Trump administration has offered only pyrite.

Leo W Gerard: Workers Want A Green Economy, Not A Black Environment

The BlueGreen Alliance

To justify withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, President Trump said during his press conference yesterday, “I was elected to represent the city of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

From terrible experience, Pittsburghers know about pollution.

Before Pittsburgh’s renaissance, the streetlights Downtown frequently glowed at noon to illuminate sidewalks through the darkness of smoke and soot belched from mills. White collar office workers changed grimy shirts midday. To the west 130 miles, the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned – several times.

Pollution sickened and killed. It triggered asthma and aggravated emphysema. In Donora, just south of Pittsburgh, an air inversion in 1948 trapped smog in the Monongahela River valley.  Poisonous steel mill and zinc plant emissions mixed with fog and formed a yellow earth-bound cloud so dense that driving was impossible. Within days, 20 people were dead. Within a month, another 50 of the town’s 14,000 residents succumbed.

Some viewed pollution as a blessing, a harbinger of jobs. Air that tasted of sulfur signified paychecks. For most, though, pollution was a curse. It meant scrubbing the grime off stoops daily. It meant children wheezing and gasping for air. It meant early death.

The preventable deaths are why my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), has fought against pollution for decades, long before scientists conclusively linked it to global climate change. That connection made combatting pollution even more urgent. It crystalized our obligation to save the planet for posterity. Signing the Paris Climate Accord last year committed the United States to preserving what we all share, the water and the air, for our children and their children. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement moves the United States, and the world, back in time to rivers so toxic they burn and air so noxious it poisons. Trump’s retreat makes America deadly again.

Don’t get me wrong. The USW supports job creation. But the union believes clean air pays; clear water provides work. Engineers design smokestack scrubbers, skilled mechanics construct them and still other workers install them. Additional workers install insulation and solar panels. Untold thousands labor to make the steel and other parts for wind turbine blades, towers and nacelles, fabricate the structures and erect them. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord diminishes these jobs and dispatches the innovators and manufacturers of clean technologies overseas where countries that continue to participate in the climate change agreement will nurture and grow them.

Eleven years ago, the USW joined with the Sierra Cub to form the BlueGreen Alliance because USW members believe Americans deserve both a clean environment and good jobs. The USW believes Americans must have both. Or, in the end, they will have neither.

The Alliance, which now includes more than a dozen unions and environmental groups, has collaborated with industry leaders to find solutions to climate change in ways that create high -quality jobs.

It’s an easy sell to many corporate leaders. Shortly after the election last fall, hundreds of companies and investors, including the likes of Nike and Starbucks, signed a letter asking Trump to abandon his campaign rhetoric about withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

In April, more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, including giants Google, BP and Shell, also wrote Trump urging against reneging on nation’s climate commitment. They said that because the agreement requires action by all countries, it reduces the risk of competitive imbalances for U.S. companies that comply with environmental regulations.

More recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Trump that disavowing the accord would injure U.S. business, the economy and the environment. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told Trump that if he turned his back on the accord, Musk would resign from two White House advisory boards.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, also urged Trump to keep the United States’ commitments under the 195-nation pact, rather than joining Syria as an outlier. Syria and Nicaragua are the only non-signatory countries, but Nicaragua declined to sign because its leaders felt the accord was not strong enough.

The streetlights never switch on at noon in Pittsburgh anymore. The Cuyahoga River now supports fish that live only in clean water. Donora’s sole reminder of those dark days in October of 1948 is a Smog Museum.

But the United States remains the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter. It has an obligation to lead the world in combating climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility.

Leo W Gerard: Speak Loudly And Carry A Big Aluminum Bat

During this very month last year, aluminum smelters across the United States were closing, one after another. It was as if they produced something useless, not a commodity crucial to everything from beverage cans to fighter jets.

In January of 2016, Alcoa closed its Wenatchee Works in Washington State, costing 428 workers their jobs, sending 428 families into panic, slashing tax revenue counted on by the town of Wenatchee and the school district and devastating local businesses that no longer saw customers from the region’s highest-paying manufacturer.

That same month, Alcoa announced it would permanently close its Warrick Operations in Evansville, Ind., then the largest smelter in the country, employing 600 workers, within three months.

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Worker at Alcoa’s Warrick smelter in Evansville, Ind., before it closed in 2016. Photo by Steven Dietz, Sharp Image Studios, Pittsburgh.

Then, Noranda Aluminum fell. It laid off more than half of the 850 workers at its New Madrid, Mo., smelter in January, filed for bankruptcy in February and closed in March. The smelter was a family-supporting employer in a low-income region, and when it stopped operating, the New Madrid County School District didn’t get tax payments it was expecting.

This devastation to workers, families, communities and corporations occurred even after Ormet had shuttered a smelter in Ohio in 2013, destroying 700 jobs and Century closed its Hawesville, Ky., smelter, killing 600 jobs, in August of 2015.

It all happened as demand for aluminum in the United States increased.

That doesn’t make sense until China’s role in this disaster is explained.

That role is the reason the Obama administration filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week. In this case, the president must ignore the old adage about speaking softly. To preserve a vital American manufacturing capability against predatory conduct by a foreign power, the administration must speak loudly and carry a big aluminum bat.

The bottom line is this: American corporations and American workers can compete with any counterpart in the world and win. But when the contest is with a country itself, defeat is virtually assured.

In the case of aluminum, U.S. companies and workers are up against the entire country of China. That is because China is providing its aluminum industry with cheap loans from state-controlled banks and artificially low prices for critical manufacturing components and materials such as electricity, coal and alumina.

By doing that, China is subsidizing its aluminum industry. And that is fine if China wants to use its revenues to support its aluminum manufacturing or sustain employment – as long as all of the aluminum is sold within China. When state-subsidized products are sold overseas, they distort free market pricing. And that’s why they’re banned.

China agreed not to subsidize exports in order to get access to the WTO. But it has routinely and unabashedly flouted the rules on products ranging from tires to paper to steel to aluminum that it dumps on the American market, resulting in closed U.S. factories, killed U.S. jobs and bleak U.S. communities.

2017-01-15-1484523553-9234624-Alumphoto3.JPG

Worker at Alcoa’s Warrick Operations in Evansville, Ind., before the smelter closed in 2016. Photo by Steven Dietz, Sharp Image Studios, Pittsburgh.

In 2000, China produced about 11 percent of the aluminum on the global market. That figure is now 50 percent. A big part of the reason is that China quadrupled its capacity to produce aluminum from 2007 to 2015, and increased its production by 154 percent.

When China threw all of that extra, cheap, state-subsidized aluminum on the global market, it depressed prices. In that eight-year period, the price sank approximately 46 percent.

To compete, American smelters tried cutting costs and getting better deals on electricity. But even as U.S. demand increased, U.S. production declined 37 percent. And capacity decreased 46 percent.

What capacity decrease means is closed plants. The number of smelters dropped from 14 in 2011 to five last year, with only one operating at full volume.

Many of these manufacturing workers, thrown out of their jobs by what is clearly unfair trade, saw President-elect Donald Trump as a champion. Donald Trump said he would hold China to account on trade. He promised he would impose massive tariffs on goods imported from China. He said he would confront Beijing on currency manipulation, a practice that makes Chinese goods artificially cheap.

Many of those manufacturing workers voted for Donald Trump. Monroe County, Ohio, is a good example. That was the home of the Ormet smelter. The workers, who belonged to my union, the United Steelworkers, and the company asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2012 and 2013 to intervene with the utility to get lower rates to help Ormet survive.

Kasich refused. The smelter closed. Monroe County’s unemployment rate now is the highest in Ohio at 9 percent, nearly twice the national rate.

Monroe County voters didn’t forget. Theirs was among the counties in Ohio that went for Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Though Trump didn’t win the Ohio primary, he got 35.9 percent in the crowded GOP field, and he took virtually all of the places in Ohio that, like Monroe, would say Kasich and other politicians turned their backs on them.

President-elect Trump carried 29 of Ohio’s Appalachian counties in the primary, those described as “geographically isolated and economically depressed.” These are counties that, like Monroe, lost family-supporting jobs in steel, manufacturing or mining. For the workers who haven’t left, the jobs that remain, in retail and fast food, don’t pay much, don’t provide benefits and aren’t secure.

When Donald Trump came to town talking tough about China, that sounded a hell of a lot better to those workers than their governor telling them he wouldn’t help with electrical rates – especially after they watched the governor in New York work a deal to save an Alcoa smelter and 600 jobs for 3 years in Massena.

And, of course, Donald Trump won Ohio in the General Election.

Workers across America, from Sebree, Ky., and Mt. Holly, S.C., where Century smelters are threatened to Wenatchee, Wash., where Alcoa has held out the possibility that the smelter could be restarted, were galvanized to support Donald Trump by his promises to confront China on its predatory trade practices.  If he fulfills those pledges, he will have the back of the blue-collar workers who had his.

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Worker at Alcoa’s Warrick smelter in Evansville, Ind., before it closed last year. Photo by Steven Dietz, Sharp Image Studios, Pittsburgh.

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