Jim Johnston: Trump has all the 232 info he needs, “now he needs to act on it.”
The Commerce Department on Friday revealed the findings of its “Section 232” investigation into steel imports. Steelworkers and steel companies are now counting on Trump to act to defend good-paying jobs — and our national security — from foreign imports. In an occasional series, we catch up with steelworkers across the country to get their thoughts about the president’s impending decision.
Jim Johnston is a third-generation steelworker. He is a caster-run operator at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Steel Works in North Braddock, Pennsylvania.
At the age of 36, he is one of the youngest United Steelworker (USW) local union presidents. He represents the production and maintenance workers at Local 1219 at the Mon Valley steel mill.
Johnston has worked at the mill for 13 years and even though work is steady in the Mon Valley, Johnston fears for the mill’s future.
“Just because we have orders and we’re running and making steel and getting a paycheck every two weeks – which is great – but how long does that last when your company is not doing well as a whole,” said Johnston. “We need a favorable ruling on the 232 investigations not only for us but the company as a whole.”
Sitting on President Trump’s desk is a document with recommendations from the Commerce Department on a Section 232 investigation into whether China, Russia and a host of other countries are “dumping” their government-subsidized steel into the United States, threatening America’s national security and the domestic steelmaking industry. These foreign countries manufacture steel, drop it into the international market, and sell it for less than American steelmakers can produce the same products. That runs down prices. The American steel industry operates in an open market and cannot compete with foreign government subsidized steel.
Some of our members here don’t realize that thousands of other steelworkers around the country have lost their jobs and their homes. But I can tell you this, that a lot of our members have been strong supporters of President Trump and they have really recognized that this is something he promised and has taken too long to act on. Jim Johnston
One of the reasons the Edgar Thomson Works has been able to continue to operate without massive layoffs is because it has been able to pick up some of the work previously done at U.S. Steel facilities in Granite City, Illinois, Lorain, Ohio and Fairfield, Alabama. These facilities have seen massive layoffs and are running at a bare minimum with frequent shut downs.
“We wouldn’t have as much work if our other mills were up and running and making more steel,” he said. “A favorable 232 ruling will be good for our company as a whole and money can be put back into our plant to upgrade our facility. If our company is doing good, our plant is going to being doing better. They will be able to spend money on capital improvements.
“Having a good determination on 232 is really going to be crucial for us to say, ‘hey, we are going to be able to forecast for the next two or three years and say we are going to be able to invest this amount of money back into our facilities.’
Johnston overseas nearly 600 workers in USW Local 1219 which is about the same number of steelworkers employed at Edgar Thomson when he was hired in 2005. In the early 1980s, Edgar Thomson had a workforce of more than 2,000 steelworkers with three blast furnaces. Today, Edgar Thomson’s two working blast furnaces are the only ones remaining in operation in Pennsylvania.
Edgar Thomson Works makes steel slabs, some of which are shipped to the U.S. Steel mill in Granite City, Illinois, to provide work for that once-thriving mill. Edgar Thomson Works is the last fully integrated steel mill in Pennsylvania and its workers have not felt the devastating effects that other steelworkers have endured across the country.
“Some of our members here don’t realize that thousands of other steelworkers around the country have lost their jobs and their homes,” said Johnston. “But I can tell you this, that a lot of our members have been strong supporters of President Trump and they have really recognized that this is something he promised and has taken too long to act on. Even the people in our membership that are supporters of Trump realize that this is something that is very important to us and he needs to act on it.”
Working at Edgar Thomson has provided Johnston and his colleagues with a comfortable upper middle-class lifestyle. Johnston owns a home in the desirable Plum Boro section of Pittsburgh.
“I wouldn’t have been able to own a house if it wasn’t for the job I have, the wage I make and the benefits,” said the Pittsburgh native. “This job is not only important to me to maintain my house. When the middle class makes money they spend it, so losing these jobs is tough on communities. So hopefully Trump will get on board on give us something to keep our jobs and bring back jobs at other mills, too.
“I think the president has all the information he needs and now he needs to act on it. He’s had enough time talking and it is time he takes action.”