Headed to D.C., Steelworkers Want Trump to Keep His Promise — & Protect America’s National Security

By Jeffrey Bonior
Sep 18 2017 |
President Trump pledged to safeguard steel during a 2016 campaign stop in Monessen, Pa. He launched national security investigations into both steel and aluminum imports earlier this year, but has yet to release the results. Steel imports are now up more than 21 percent — and steelworkers say things might actually be worse than before. | Photo via Justin Merriman on Twitter

It’s past time for the president to act on steel and aluminum imports, workers say.

When steelworker Calvin Croftcheck came to Washington in June, it looked like the Trump administration was prepping to do something about unfair steel and aluminum imports.

Calvin Croftcheck

Croftcheck and several of his colleagues were in town for Commerce Department hearings on ongoing national security investigations into the imports, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he expected everything would be wrapped up by the end of the month.

It is now September, and the Trump administration still hasn’t unveiled the findings of the Section 232 investigations. And for steelworkers like Croftcheck, the frustration is mounting.

“We’re pretty much at a make or break point now,” Croftcheck said. “If we don’t get some relief pretty quickly, and if it’s not substantial relief, that’s not going to help us any.”

Croftcheck is headed back to Washington this week to join dozens of his fellow steelworkers to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and push for action on imports.

“By doing the grandstanding like this and not following through, he actually hurt us worse than if he would have done nothing." Calvin Croftcheck, steelworker

Croftcheck, who has 40 years of experience in the steel industry, is currently the chief safety inspector for U.S. Steel, overseeing 18,000 steelworkers at 12 locations throughout the country. He’s based in the Mon Valley of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where Trump once infamously told an audience: “It will be American steel that sends our skyscrapers soaring, soaring into the sky, beautiful sight, more beautiful with American steel. We are going to put American steel and aluminum back into the backbone of country.”

Workers there haven’t forgotten Trump’s pledge, Croftcheck said.

“He’s said a lot of things,” Croftcheck said. “He was here in Pittsburgh on a campaign stop, and he said he was going to bring back steel, and he said he was going to bring back coal, and he was going to bring back (legendary Penn St. football coach) Joe Paterno, and the crowd went wild. But, what, Joe Paterno’s been dead for five years.”

Since the investigations were announced in the spring, importers have dumped huge amounts of steel and aluminum into the U.S. market to get ahead of any potential action. In the first seven months of 2017, steel imports alone are up more than 21 percent.

“By doing the grandstanding like this and not following through, he actually hurt us worse than if he would have done nothing,” Croftcheck said.

"We really haven’t seen anything that has been done to help us. Promises are promises, but actions kind of say everything." Tom Duffy, steelworker

“It doesn’t help any of us in the Mon Valley,” Croftcheck added. “I mean, this guy has made promises he was going to take care of Pittsburgh, not Paris. The steelworkers here are desperately holding out hope. But the president is going to come up short with these guys unless he does something.”

Tom Duffy, a 49-year-old U.S. Steel safety inspector at the facilities in the Mon Valley and the Fairless Hills mill near Philadelphia, also is headed back to Washington this week. And Duffy, a Gulf War veteran, echoed Croftcheck’s remarks.

Tom Duffy

“People are frustrated right now,” Duffy said. “There is not enough being done for the steel industry. We are looking to see this big light of hope that Trump said was going to save the steel industry but we’re just not seeing action.

“He’s the president and he made a lot of promises and one of those big promises was that he was going to bring steel back. And we really haven’t seen anything that has been done to help us. Promises are promises, but actions kind of say everything. If we start to see something happen, then we can say, ‘Well, yeah, maybe there is more potential for progress with the steel industry.’ But right now, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.

“Where are you at Mr. President? Where are you at? What are you doing for the steel industry? He thinks fixing taxes is more important than taking care of the steel industry,” Duffy added. “We need to get those tax cuts for the rich because I guess they all are going to go hungry.”

Donald Jackson is a third-generation steelworker who has worked for the past five years at the Edgar Thomson Works Blast Furnace facility on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. After hearing Trump’s speech and attending the Section 232 hearings in June, he was confident there would be an American steelmaking resurgence.

“Out of this president, I went from being optimistic that this mill that I work at, U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant, would be busier than we’ve ever been since its heyday to basically thinking what just happened,” Jackson said. “I am thinking not only where is the big action from the big talker, but where’s the big talk? The big talk has gone away. It’s almost like the president’s thought process is, well if I stop talking about it, they’ll forget about it and I’m off the hook. There’s 13,000 of us at U.S. Steel that are not going to forget about it. And that’s just U.S. Steel. That doesn’t include ArcelorMittal and the rest of them.

“I didn’t have a very big issue with him becoming president. I pride myself on the way I was raised. Being open minded,” Jackson added. “So, that’s why I said give President Trump a chance. A chance that he’s entitled to. But to me and my union brothers and sisters, he’s blowing that chance.”

Another steelworker who made the trip from the Mon Valley to the Section 232 hearings in Washington, is Don Furko, a maintenance planner at the Clairton Works Coke plant and a trustee at United Steelworkers Local 1557.

“The big thing is nothing seems to be getting done right now,” Furko added. “Healthcare and infrastructure. Infrastructure week was completely destroyed. It was infrastructure hour.

“My opinion is, I think Trump said what he needed to get the votes. He promised the blue-collar workers a lot of things about bringing back the coal mines and ramping up the steel industry. People thought he was talking to us in Pittsburgh. People thought O.K, he’s appealing to us, saying he is going to bring back the steel industry. But I don’t think there was a lot of sincerity behind it. I think he said what he needed to say in order to get the votes. I haven’t seen anything to contradict that.

“I’ve got co-workers that voted for him that say you have to give the guy a chance and I’ve also got co-workers that say, ‘hey man, I’m starting to regret what I did,’” Furko said.

“It’s easy to promise something,” Furko added. “Coming through is where somebody shows what they are really made of.”

As for the influx of imported steel and product from other foreign countries, Furko, who lives in the Plum Boro section of Pittsburgh, sees no end in sight.

“They just go and stamp whatever standard is supposed to be on the pipe and it’s not. It’s like putting a Mercedes Benz symbol on a KIA,” he explained. “It’s false and not right to do that. China will send it to Vietnam or whatever other country they want to use as a shell. It’s all a shell game. That’s the type of underhanded tricks they pull and they’ve been doing it for a long time now — and they’ll keep doing it until something happens.”

Whatever that something is, it is now in the hands of President Trump and his administration. By statue, the Commerce Department has 270 days since the launch of the investigation to present its findings — meaning it could be until January 2018 before the administration unveils its report.