Boone explains how Section 232 helped revive steel mills across the country, along with the businesses and communities that surround them.
Dan Boone has worked for 49 years at the Cleveland Works steel mill, located on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. He has seen the peaks and valleys of steelmaking, whether it be the 1980s lull in American steelmaking or the global steel overcapacity crisis that led to tens of thousands of layoffs and dozens of plant closures in the 2010s.
Throughout his career, Boone has always viewed the prosperity of the American steel industry as cyclical. Some good times, some bad times. But he has reason to believe that after he is long retired from his career-long steelmaking job, American steel producers will continue to thrive.
His reasoning is the Section 232 steel tariffs that were implemented in March 2018.
Boone believes the application of the 25% tariffs on imported steel gave the United States a much-need tool to combat the dumping of cheap foreign steel into the market from countries like China, Russia, Vietnam, Brazil, and even the European Union.
Since the Section 232 tariffs went into effect, the American steel business has rebounded. Steel mills that were on the verge of collapse just a few years ago have rallied to restart production, recall laid-off workers, and hire new workers for well-paying United Steelworkers (USW) jobs. Steel communities are also feeling the positive impacts.
“People are benefitting from the 232s that have nothing to do directly with the steel industry,” Boone said. “It’s those peripheral jobs. They are not connected with us, but they work for a company that supplies us or hauls our product and things like that.
“The tariffs have been absolutely good for us, and not only for us, but for every job in the steel mill, where there are three to five peripheral jobs that are supported by us, too, whether its truck drivers, suppliers, shipping. All of that is tied into us.
“Even the local restaurants, some of which went out of business in 2001 when the mill shut down. All of that and us working supports the tax bases for all of the surrounding cities and we go out and spend that money and other people benefit, too.”
Not that Cleveland Cliffs employees aren’t seeing the benefits. The company just paid out profit sharing for its employees because of the recovery in steel prices, Boone noted. Orders are up at the plant in Cleveland and across all of the Cleveland Cliffs facilities right now, he added.
But while things are looking up for American steelmakers and workers, the global steel overcapacity crisis remains unresolved, as foreign governments like China continue to use heavy subsidies and state-owned enterprises to create too much product, which is dumped onto the market at prices far below their fair value. The Economic Policy Institute warned earlier this year that “jobs, national security, and the steel industry itself are at risk if Section 232 measures are discontinued or weakened” without first resolving these longstanding issues.
“We can’t compete with steel from China when they get government subsidies,” Boone said. “If they took off the 232 tariffs, we would be headed down the same path that we did in 1991 and the decades after that. In my opinion, dumping would just start up again without the tariffs, and it’s going to drive prices of steel down and we’ll have a race to the bottom.”
Boone continued: “Countries like China were making steel and selling it here in the U.S. for less than we could even make it, and the quality was inferior. The Chinese government is propping up its steel industry and subsidizing their steel companies, which is totally illegal in the United States. They were just dumping it here and their quality is not like ours.
“I don’t think we’d be in the position we are in currently without those tariffs.”
“We Make the Best Steel”
Boone began working at the Cleveland mill in 1972 right after he graduated high school. Boone has weathered ownership changes that included Republic Steel, ISG, Mittal, ArcelorMittal and now Cleveland Cliffs, which purchased the historic facility in 2020.
Boone is proud of his long career as a steelworker and the financial benefits and job security it has given him and his family. He is a married father of two adult sons and is grateful for the lifestyle his steel mill work has afforded him.
“We enjoy a very nice middle-class standard of living that allows us to enjoy other activities that we may not otherwise have been able to enjoy if I had a job that didn’t carry the wages and benefits that we have,” Boone said. “We have a very nice standard of living, and I have the Steelworkers to thank for that.”
Boone’s steel mill career has certainly been a long and winding road, as he has worked in almost every department at the Cleveland Works mill. In February 1972 he was hired into Cleveland’s most productive mill as a laborer. In subsequent years, he worked as an electrician, a crane operator, maintenance at the blast furnaces, in the coke plant and production in almost every other department.
When he was first hired at Cleveland Works, there were about 12,000 people working at the 1,000-acre facility. Today there are approximately 1,860 employees at the mill, 1,520 of whom are hourly workers.
“People don’t realize how far the roots for the 232s go,” he said. “It helps more than steelworkers. It’s one of those things where the words ‘trickle down’ actually works for me. It’s not like the Reagan trickle down economics where nothing really trickled down. People don’t even realize that they are benefitting from something like these 232 tariffs.”
Boone has been actively involved in the USW and became vice president of USW Local 979 in 2006. He then served two three-year terms as Local 979 president, and earlier this year was appointed contract coordinator for the Cleveland USW.
Boone’s valuable experience at the mill has given him an insight to the importance of being a Steelworker that can get overlooked by those who don’t realize the wide-ranging effect Steelworkers have on their communities.
“I would like to see these tariffs expanded beyond steel. There is a lot of things that we don’t make here in the U.S. anymore that we could. Go buy a Huffy bicycle,” Boone said. “There should be a lot of things like that, too. Buy American with American-made steel. With the 232s, just knowing there is a little bit of security that helps make a decision for people to make a major purchase a little easier.”
Boone is especially proud of the advanced high-strength steel that is manufactured at Cleveland Cliffs’ main facility that has easy access to the Port of Cleveland and Great Lakes shipping transport. Its two blast furnaces and continuous caster produce more than 3 million tons of raw steel annually that is used in the automotive industry, appliances, construction and a wide variety of other steel-based products.
“A lot of our advanced high-strength steel is going into making automotive frames,” Boone said. “My Ford F-150 has high-strength steel in the frame. Things are good right now. Our larger customers are the automotive industry.
“Right now, our advanced high-strength steel that we make in Cleveland, well, we are one of the leaders of advanced high-strength steel in the world, not just at Cleveland Cliffs. It is some of the best steel in the world.”
That is not only a positive for Ohio residents but for people in steelmaking cities across America. The Section 232 tariffs have allowed America’s steel companies to not only hire more workers into good-paying USW jobs but have spurred massive financial investment into our countries aging steel mills. This financial security has also allowed the American steel industry to invest in cleaner, environmentally friendly manufacturing.
“I think the thing a lot of people miss with all of this is the tie-in with global warming,” Boone added. “In our plant alone there has been billions of dollars put into the environmental aspect of how we make steel.
“We have clarifiers. We take water out of the river and put it back and it is twice as clean as when it came out. The American steel producers have put billions of dollars into its mills to make the environment better, and meanwhile in China they don’t give a damn. We make the best steel, and we make it responsibly as far as the environment is concerned.”
But that all would be at risk if Section 232 is revoked before the larger steel crisis is resolved.
“Without a doubt, the 232s have helped slow down the amount of imports,” Boone said. “Look at the steel companies that have shut down in the last 20 years. Companies have restarted production and new companies have opened and things have been going great for the industry since the 232 tariffs.
“A big catchphrase for me, and I would say for the Steelworkers, is: ‘We believe in fair trade, not free trade.’ On a fair basis, we believe we can compete with anybody in the world.”