Like something out of a Frank Capra movie, Northwest Indiana steelworkers headed to Washington, D.C., this week.
They lobbied Congress for a completion of the Section 232 investigation that could result in a greater crackdown on cheap steel imports.
United Steelworkers Local 1299 President Billy McCall and other steelworkers from across the country, including Gary Works and ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, went to Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday to warn that a continued flood of cheap steel imports could "wipe out American jobs, decimate communities, and threaten to put U.S. manufacturers out of business."
The administration launched a Section 232 investigation into whether record levels of steel imports jeopardized national security by weakening the American manufacturing base and potentially leaving the country dependent on foreign steelmakers during wars. The probe could result in more tariffs or quotas, and was supposed to have been completed this summer, until the president told the Wall Street Journal the steel industry would have to wait on other legislative priorities like taxes and health care.
"President Trump won industrial states last year by promising a new path on trade and said he'd look out for America's steelworkers," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. "But his delay in action on steel and aluminum is contributing to a rise in imports. These steelworkers are coming to Washington to say that a level playing field is needed now, without delay. The 232 investigations are key to restoring American jobs and security."
Marcelina Brown, a steelworker at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, said she visited Washington to ask Congress to get the report released and take action to cut down on illegal steel dumping.
"The report is going to show how much steel dumping is detrimental, how mills have closed and laid off people," she said. "Imports have increased by 21 percent this year, while they're delaying the release. The foreign steelmakers are dumping as much steel as they can until the report comes out. They're all trying to get it in under the wire."
The president campaigned on a platform of helping out the American steelworker, but the industry continues to suffer because of imports, Brown said. ArcelorMittal Sparrows Point, near Baltimore, is still shut down and the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City is still operating at half capacity with hundreds of workers still laid off.
"We can't compete with foreign steel because they get subsidies and we don't," she said. "They're able to lowball on cost. We need a remedy."
Brown said she's just asking the government to enforce existing trade laws.
"If the mills start closing and dwindling away, we'll have to rely on a foreign country for the steel that goes into tanks, planes and battleships," she said.
Brown has been meeting with as many senators and Congressional staffers as possible, but said many take an unwavering stance of support for free trade.
Much is at stake for Northwest Indiana, the heart of steelmaking country, she said.
"As long as the steel mills are running, the communities stay alive," Brown said. "The steel mill jobs pay well, enough to raise and support a family. If they go away, there's a trickle-down effect. People won't spend money at other businesses. Shops will close up. We'll have ghost towns."