Steelworkers Aim to Level the Playing Field for U.S. Aluminum Industry

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Apr 18 2016 |
A scene inside the Alcoa aluminum smelter in Wenatchee, Washington. That facility idled in January, leading to 420 layoffs, according to Voice of America. | Photo courtesy Alcoa

Nine out of 14 U.S. aluminum smelters have shut down since 2011 due to unfair trade.

The United Steelworkers (USW) made a major move on Monday to fight back against what President Leo Gerard characterized as the decimation of America’s aluminum industry.

The union filed a petition under Section 201 of U.S. trade law with the International Trade Commission (ITC) asking that the government take swift action to stop a flood of primary unwrought aluminum imports into the U.S. market. If the ITC finds these aluminum imports have caused harm, steep tariffs will be issued as a way to level the playing field for American workers.

As Gerard explained on a conference call today with reporters, the USW didn’t make the decision to file the case lightly.

The entire U.S. aluminum industry could permanently shut down within a matter of months primarily because of China, which heavily subsidizes its aluminum and exports it to the United States to sell at rock-bottom prices. “China’s business plan is to dump overcapacity in our markets,” Gerard said.

More than 6,600 American jobs have been lost and nine of out 14 aluminum smelters have closed since 2011, Gerard noted. Two of the remaining smelters are operating at 50 percent capacity, and others could shut down by the end of summer.

Aluminum isn’t the only industry impacted by China’s out of control overcapacity problem, of course. Other major industries — including steel, which was the subject of several big hearings in Washington, D.C. last week — are facing tough times because of China’s dumping, Gerard said.

“China is doing this on almost every commodity there is. Right now we're focused on aluminum, and part of the reason we’re focusing on aluminum is because nine out of 14 smelters have been driven out of business,” he said. “You can’t have a domestic economy if you don’t have aluminum, you don’t have steel, you don’t have tire and rubber, you don’t have the basic commodities.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed his support of the Section 201 case, telling reporters that “without immediate economic relief, our country is in danger of losing thousands of good-paying American jobs.”

“I believe our workers and businesses can compete with anybody when there’s a level playing field,” Wyden said. “But you can’t win if you don’t stand up for your rights. That’s what this case is about.”

The ITC is now required to make a preliminary decision within 60 days. If the decision is affirmative, the president has another 30 days to decide on providing provisional relief.