Steelworkers across the country are reeling because of China’s unchecked steel overcapacity.
More than 1,500 people have been laid off in Granite City, Ill. In Fairfield, Ala., about 1,000 people are currently out of work. There also have been tens of thousands of additional layoffs in places like Colorado, South Carolina, Oregon, and Minnesota.
All told, 13,500 Americans have been given layoff notices as a direct result of the steel imports crisis. Plants have been shut down nationwide. And in communities that depend on steel, local businesses, community organizations and others are struggling to get by.
Six steelworkers shared how the steel imports crisis has effected them when they testified before the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce Department on Tuesday afternoon. What they made clear is that China’s massive industrial overcapacity isn’t just something to be debated among policymakers and economists — it is having a devastating impact on steel communities nationwide.
David Clark is on the maintenance team at United States Steel Fairfield Tubular Operations in Fairfield, Ala., which has seen its operations significantly reduced. More than 1,000 people have been given layoff notices. The entire community is reeling as an effect.
Local gas stations have ceased 24 hour operations. Walmart and other retailers have closed up shop, leading to a further loss of sales tax revenue.
“The city council continues to debate the closing of the police department and the suspension of other city services in order to survive,” Clark testified. “All we are asking for is an opportunity to go back to work and provide for our families and community. In order to do that, we need you to do everything in your power to make sure that our trade laws are enforced.”
Dan Pierce works at the U.S. Steel Keewatin Taconite operation in Keewatin, Minn. He’s been there 20 years as a diesel mechanic, helping to keep mobile equipment up-and-running. But in May 2015, he and 360 coworkers were laid-off and the facility went idle, a direct result of steel dumped into the U.S. market.
Times are tough, Pierce said.
“Being out of work has been very difficult for my family,” he said. “We have had to cut back on groceries and eating out and have put off planned home repairs. And we are not alone. When you multiple this by the 350 other workers from Keetac laid off, and folks throughout the Iron Range who are being laid off or seeing their hours reduced, local businesses feel the pain, too.”
Tim Davis, a crane operator at Cascade Steel Rolling Mills in McMinnville, Ore., said he and more than 75 coworkers are currently laid-off. But they’re not the only ones in McMinnville facing tough times. Another large employer, SP Fiber Technologies, permanently closed and laid-off 200 people.
And that’s not all.
“A close friend of mine owns Mikey’s Pizzeria and has told me that his business in the last quarter has declined 29% since the same quarter last year,” Davis testified. “If something doesn’t turn around, he will be forced to lay off workers. Other local businesses will follow, adding to the negative spiral of layoffs and reduced spending that is crippling McMinnville.”
Sam Pantello works as a maintenance mechanical technician at EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel in Pueblo, Colo. There have been more than 260 layoffs at the facility, and those still working have reduced their hours to prevent more layoffs.
“This facility has been a mainstay in this community for generations. It was founded in 1881 and has been churning out steel ever since,” Pantello said. “With hundreds laid off, and hundreds more bracing for reduced hours, I am afraid things will only get worse for Pueblo and the surrounding communities if we don’t act.”
Daniel Simmons, an employee at Granite City Works in Granite City, Ill., said about 1,500 of the plant’s 2,000 workers have been laid off, and those folks aren’t the only ones who have been effected.
“I can’t stop anywhere in town, or even in the surrounding communities, without being asked about when the Granite City Works will start back up,” Simmons testified. “Everyone from restaurants to grocery stores to appliance shops and retail stores are feeling the pain. Many suppliers to the steel mill are in serious trouble: Tube City, a scrapyard, has closed until further notice.”
James Sanderson knows what it’s like when facilities shut down for good. He worked at the ArcelorMittal mill in Georgetown, South Carolina, which permanently closed last year.
“Unfair trade has had an enormously corrosive effect on the nation’s manufacturers and workers,” said Sanderson, president of United Steelworkers Local 7898. “From personal experience, I can tell you that it has certainly hurt the steelworkers in Georgetown.”