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Steelworkers, steel industry hail Visclosky as 'titan' and 'one of the best'

In this 2015 file photo, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, left, is shown meeting with members of United Steelworkers Local Union 12775. The steel industry hailed him as a champion of their interests after he announced his retirement from Congress.

Steel industry and union leaders expressed sorrow that U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, would not run for reelection in 2020, and gratitude for his tireless advocacy for the steel industry over the past few decades.

They lauded the former Congressional Steel Caucus chairman as a champion of steel mills and steelworkers, describing him as a "titan" and "one of the best."

"Obviously, from the steelworkers' perspective, we were disappointed to hear he's leaving Congress," United Steelworkers District 7 Director Mike Millsap said. "He's been so important to the working people in Indiana. He's been very supportive on issues such as trade, tariffs, trade laws, and pushing to use American steel. He's done so much over his entire career for the working men and women in Indiana."

Steel Manufacturers Association President Philip Bell described Visclosky as "a stalwart support of the domestic steel industry."

"His strong backing of Buy America provisions and his acumen as an appropriator helped steel producers and their workers not only in Northwest Indiana, but around the country," Bell said. "His leadership and statesmanship will be missed.”

Visclosky was a friend to working families in Northwest Indiana and around the nation, and one of the greatest voices on Capitol Hill, USW International President Tom Conway said.

"Rep. Visclosky never forgot where he came from and never lost touch with his steel town roots," Conway said. "He has been a tenacious voice for fairness in the global steel trade, a staunch supporter of the rights of workers, and a champion of the forgotten families and manufacturing communities across the United States. Pete has also been a great friend to the lakeshore community and the preservation of the unique ecology of the region. We thank him for his service and wish him nothing but the best. His will be big shoes to fill."

Visclosky was appreciated by both labor and management, which famously don't always agree. ArcelorMittal General Manager Bill Steers described him as "the preeminent voice for the steel industry, its employees and their families for 35 years."

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"No matter what challenge the industry faced, we could always count on Congressman Visclosky to lead the fight for American steel," Steers said. "He has reached across party lines to work with presidents and congressional leaders on issues of importance to steel. But he has always remembered that no matter the issue, he spoke first and foremost for the people of Northwest Indiana. Next year, regrettably, he will step down. But his experience and strong voice for our industry and the people who depend on it cannot be replaced.”

American Iron and Steel Institute President and CEO Thomas Gibson heralded legislation Visclosky got passed to help steelworkers across the country, including recent laws toughening trade enforcement.

"He has led the fight for government action to curb unfair foreign trade practices, including successfully securing the passage and enactment of trade enforcement legislation which made improvements to our antidumping and countervailing duty laws for the first time in over 20 years," Gibson said. "For this work and his tireless dedication to our industry, AISI presented him with our Steel Champion Award in 2016. All of us in the North American steel industry are deeply grateful for Pete Visclosky’s leadership. We will miss him in Congress, and we wish him well.”

The United Steelworkers union has been actively working with Visclosky on a number of ongoing issues, including lobbying for the Butch Lewis Act to protect multi-employer health care plans, establishing new workplace violence prevention measures, and ensuring requirements that steel slabs be melted and poured in the United States as part of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, USW Local 6787 President Pete Trinidad said.

"When it comes to organized labor, he's a titan," he said. "He's a well-respected voice on our behalf. He was a champion for the steel industry, one of the most important. He was a good congressman, one of the best. He will be greatly missed."

Visclosky always took the time to listen to steelworkers, hear their concerns and address their needs, said Trinidad, who represents more than 3,300 steelworkers at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor. The congressman, for instance, fought to ensure tax dollars only paid for steel made in the United States to help protect the domestic industry, he said.

"He did his best to make sure the steel industry and manufacturing would have a level playing field," Trinidad said. "We had so many irons in the fire, we'll have to start a conversation quickly with potential replacements about ensuring that iron is still American-made. He's leaves big shoes to fill. We look forward to meeting candidates and talking to them to see who's going to back us and maintain the same level of representation. Visclosky did a phenomenal job. We're very glad he was our congressman."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.