How Section 232 Trade Action Brought Optimism to this Steel Mill Near Pittsburgh

By Jeffrey Bonior
Jul 26 2021 |

United Steelworkers Local 1219 President Mike Evanovich explains how the tariffs on steel imports led to new jobs and investments at the Edgar Thompson Works facility.

In the 22 years that Mike Evanovich has worked at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thompson Works near Pittsburgh, he has never felt as optimistic about the steel mill’s future as he does today.

The reason for Evanovich’s enthusiasm? The Section 232 steel tariffs, which went into effect in 2018. The tariff trade action has allowed the mill to produce steel the way it once did before a major decline in the 1980s.

“Production here has increased since the tariffs went into effect,” said Evanovich. “We have been breaking records here monthly. We break a record for steel output, they set another one and we break that one again.

“I think President Biden should make it even harder for these other countries to bring their steel in here. His claim to fame is Made in America, Buy America, so he should make it even harder for them to bring their steel into this country. I would like to see the 232s stay where they are, but he could always make it harder.”

Evanovich represents nearly 600 USW members at the mill, which is back to running three shifts, 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. Steel production at the mill had dropped significantly before the Section 232 tariffs helped level the playing field between America’s steelmakers and foreign competition that dumped cheap steel into the U.S. market.

Evanovich’s confidence comes on the heels of a disappointing announcement in April by U.S. Steel that it was canceling its planned $1 billion upgrade to the historic Mon Valley plant. But since being elected president of United Steelworkers Local 1219 in May, Evanovich has kept a positive outlook buoyed by the flourishing business at the mill, which is located in Braddock, Pa., about 8 miles from the Steel City.

“It’s no doubt the 232 tariffs are a major part of what’s keeping this mill running,” said Mike Evanovich. Photo courtesy Mike Evanovich

The Edgar Thompson Works continuous caster and two blast furnaces are used to manufacture the bulk of the mill’s steel for appliances like stainless steel refrigerators, ovens and other household necessities. The mill also produces replacement automobile parts for Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and other vehicle manufacturers.

“The biggest things with the tariffs that I’ve seen in the mill is that they are restaffing mills, so we are getting a higher number of employees and they are putting money back into the mills,” Evanovich said. “That is big. Instead of us running the blast furnaces into the ground and then fixing them when they break, they are doing a lot of preventative maintenance work.

“When I first got hired here, they would rebrick the furnaces and then run them until they failed again. Now, every other year they are pulling a furnace offline and treating the inside to preserve what’s in there. This preventative maintenance is all because of the 232 tariffs.

“They are looking more to running as much as they can. They will take a monthlong outage and fix, this, this, this and this and then we will be good for a 17- or 18-month campaign to run and we are breaking records every month that we run.”

Evanovich also stresses the importance of the high-quality product that results when steel is melted and poured in America and what the consequences would be if the Section 232 tariffs were lifted.

“Without these tariffs these other countries like China would dump steel all throughout this country and we would be back to when we saw plants slowing down enough to try and get their steel sold off,” he said. “Once the tariffs are lifted the fair pricing is out of the game. They can sell it at whatever they want because they are not paying a tariff to get it in here.

“The tariffs make it a fair game for all. I would always like to see something better. I am a firm believer in if it can be made where you live, why would you buy from somewhere else?

“To me it’s more peace of mind when somebody purchases steel from us or one of our American competitors. You know it was made in a high-quality shop where the steel is held to a higher standard. The process is much more monitored here that it is in any other country.

“Stuff that we would not use because it didn’t meet our standards is even higher quality than what is coming in from these other countries. Safety definitely plays into that. Why would you buy an inferior product knowing the standards our steel is held to to produce it here? It’s pricing. But with the 232 tariffs it’s fair pricing.”

Evanovich is proud of the steelworkers at the Mon Valley plant. He knows they are higher paid than foreign workers and that America’s steelworkers take pride and care in what they are making.

Evanovich was 20 years old and fresh out of high school and trade school when he got hired in to work at the blast furnace in the mill. He worked 16 years on the blast furnaces and feels fortunate for the comfortable life he and his family lead because of favorable financial opportunities that come with hard work at the mill.

He is married with four children. He has 19-year-old twin daughters and 8- and 6-year-old sons.

“The mill has allotted me a great life,” Evanovich said. “My work here is putting my twins through college; it’s bought me a house that is only 8-years-old, and we take vacations. We do a lot of things, and the mill has given me a great life.”

Despite the loss of the $1 billion upgrade to Mon Valley Works, Evanovich is bullish on the future of the mill if the Section 232 tariffs remain in place.

“We all wanted them (the tariffs), we all wanted them to go into effect,” he said. “I know how important they were to us. And because of those tariffs, this mill has come roaring back to life.

“The joy of me is I worked here when the tariffs weren’t in place, and we had no manpower and I’ve worked now while they are in place, and we are hiring like crazy.

“These guys are working their asses off to do it but hats off to them. It’s the guys that I represent that are doing it. It’s the gentlemen in there working their 12-hour shifts and just hustling.

“I always say, ‘when you work in one of these places, you’re never going to be rich but you’re never going to be poor, either.’ You are always going to be comfortable as long as the mill is running. It’s no doubt the 232 tariffs are a major part of what’s keeping this mill running.”