President Trump has 90 days to safeguard American-made steel.
It’s all on President Trump now.
The Commerce Department on Thursday evening announced it had officially submitted to President Trump its national security investigation into steel imports. Trump now has 90 days to decide whether to act to safeguard our defense industrial base and stand up for steelworkers.
Commerce technically submitted its “Section 232” report a few days before the statutory deadline of Jan. 15. But the Trump administration is more than six months past its own self-imposed promise to steelworkers that it would act before July 1, 2017 — and workers cannot wait for action much longer.
Whatever Trump decides to do will impact the lives of the 140,000 people employed by the steel industry, many of which who have been waiting diligently for a decision that could dictate their employment futures.
Tens of thousands of steelworkers have faced layoffs since the steel imports crisis began in 2015; three steel mills have closed their doors since the fall, one of them this week. That has left many workers anxious for action from the administration, including those at the U.S. Steel facility in Granite City, Ill., just outside of St. Louis.
That plant has seen a wave of layoffs in recent years directly tied to unfairly dumped imports, and many employees are hoping that the president will take comprehensive action.
“We are absolutely talking about the 232 investigations,” said Tom Ryan, a production worker and chairman of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1899 Grievance Committee. “The steelworkers here are paying attention because we’ve got the plant basically idled. U.S. Steel told us that trade rulings in this investigation, depending on what President Trump does with it, could spell starting our blast furnaces back up and getting our hot side going again. So, yeah, we are keeping a real strong eye on it.
“We are pretty confident we a going to get a good ruling,” Ryan added. “But what comes out of that is something we’ll have to wait and see what happens. If we get that favorable ruling, it’s then ‘now what are you going to do about it?’ The guys that work here, especially the laid-off guys, but even the guys that are working now know how important it can be for us. There is just a skeleton crew on the whole blast furnace side. They are keeping it maintained until we can fire up the blast furnaces again.”
Workers at the U.S. Steel Lone Star mill in Texas are a little less optimistic.
“There was buzz at first about this Section 232, but that got sidetracked,” said Durwin “Oodie” Royal, president of USW Local 4134 in Texas. “Down here, I believe a lot of the members are not even aware of the deadline. A lot of workers voted for Trump and they still believe that he is going to take care of them. It’s a false sense of hope.”
The Lone Star mill, like many steel facilities across the country, has suffered because of the ongoing steel imports crisis. It was once fully integrated, but today the plant is limited to making tubular goods and has been faced with many closures during the past 15 years. It currently employs approximately 300 USW members compared to 2,000 or more when it was running near capacity years ago.
“We’ve been down for so long a lot of our workers just want to work, pick up their check and go home,” Royal said. “We need a favorable ruling from the 232 investigations, but I’m not holding my breath that we will be back and running like we should be. We’re looking for a better year this year.”
Jim Johnston is a 36-year-old caster-run operator and president of USW Local 1219 at the Edgar Thomson Works mill in Braddock, Pa. The Edgar Thomson facility has not seen layoffs since 2008. Despite steady employment of the steelworkers at Edgar Thomson, Johnston’s USW members realize their bounty of work is coming on the backs of workers at other U.S. Steel facilities.
“They know the importance of why we need a good determination on Section 232 and what it is going to do for our company if we get a favorable ruling,” Johnston said. “Granite City, Fairfield or Lorain are the places that have really been struggling through all of this since. We get a lot of work here that would normally be going to these mills that have been idled or near complete shut downs.”
Calvin Croftcheck is the travelling chief safety inspector for U.S. Steel. He resides in the Mon Valley of Pennsylvania, where three U.S. Steel Mills continue to manufacture in what was once considered the heartland of the American steel industry.
Croftcheck said he is “not expecting much” from Trump’s decision.
“Look, too much time has gone by and with the geopolitics, I just don’t see it happening. He will distract with something to get the onus off what he is failing to do. That seems to be what he does best. His unpredictability is another thing that is a liability to him,” Croftcheck said.
“A lot of steelworkers voted for Donald Trump and these people are just so fanatic about Donald Trump they believe he’s going to do this and he’s going to do that and so far, he hasn’t done anything. They kind of dumbfound me,” Croftcheck added. “By not doing anything, Trump has created a worse situation as steel imports have increased because foreign countries have dumped their product into the United States at a faster rate to get ahead of any possible tariffs or sanctions. Imports, since the investigation began, are up well more than 20 percent, so he’s made the struggle much worse.”
But in Granite City, workers know that whatever Trump decides to do will directly effect their lives — and they are counting on him to keep his promise.
“Hopefully, you will be doing a story soon about us starting back up again, blast furnaces and all,” Ryan said.