Steelworkers Urge New York Legislators to Make Buy American Law Permanent

By Brian Lombardozzi
Mar 13 2020 |
United Steelworkers (USW) District 4 members meet with New York Sen. Diane Savino, the sponsor of the original New York Buy American Act. | Photos by Brian Lombardozzi

The New York Buy American law is set to expire in April 2020.

I joined more than 100 Steelworkers from United Steelworkers (USW) District 4 in Albany, N.Y. this week to call on state lawmakers to ensure that the state’s budget preserves the New York Buy American Act.

Back in December 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation to require all structural steel and iron used in state and road bridge construction projects with contracts worth more than $1 million to be Made in America.

New York has reaped the benefits since then. Several of the state’s biggest infrastructure projects have used American-made structural iron and steel, including 110,000 tons of steel to help build the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, 11,500 tons of steel for the Kew Gardens Interchange, and 6,850 tons of steel for the first two phases of the Kosciusko Bridge.

But the 2017 law is scheduled to expire in April 2020. Cuomo wants keep it on the books, and USW District 4 members met with dozens of their state legislators to let them know the governor is not the only one.

Buy American just makes sense. It ensures taxpayer money is reinvested right back into local communities, supporting good-paying jobs and the economy, rather than being sent overseas to places like China or Russia.

As Cuomo himself has said: “Making the Buy American Act permanent will not only help ensure the safest, best quality steel and iron are being used in our infrastructure projects, it will also create even more jobs for New Yorkers and support our growing 21st century economy.”

As New York continues to grow in population and build additional infrastructure – other Cuomo proposals include plans to build high-speed rail, for example – making Buy American permanent is good policy.

“No state in the country is building like New York,” Cuomo said in his recent State of the State address. “Our nation-leading, $150 billion infrastructure program is literally changing the face of the Empire State – and we have no intention of slowing down.”

For many of the members, it was their first time coming to the state capitol to have their voices heard. Along with visiting with lawmakers, the steelworkers took part in the first-ever District 4 Rapid Response Conference.

The Conference kicked off on Tuesday with District Director Del Vitale setting the tone by reminding his members that “rapid response is about education communication and action. We’ve been working to grow our program, but we need your help. You play an important role in legislation in our district and that’s what this conference is about.”

USW International Secretary Treasurer John Shinn, who served as District 4 Director up until July 2019, was also on hand to rally those in attendance.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for you and all your hard work. The work we do matters because of the legislation protection that you fight for,” he said. “Thank you for the role you play in our union. Our job as a union is to make sure our members understand the issues that impact their ability to provide for their families.”

Several members of the Cuomo administration were also stopped by to thank the members for their efforts to make the New York Buy American Act permanent.

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli explained the importance of making the New York Buy American Act permanent, and let the attendees know he was no stranger to union workers.

“I saw first-hand how the union movement made a difference for my family growing up,” DiNapoli said. “Now, the ones who disparage the unions usually came from a union family. To me, you are the men and women doing today what unions did for my family.”

New York’s Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul also stopped by to thank the members of District 4 supporting the governor’s initiative, and let them know that to her this issue was personal.

“As immigrants, my family started in the steel mill,” Hochul said. “Because of the gift of the union, Steelworkers, my family lived the ‘American Dream.’ Everything unions fight for is why my family didn’t have to worry for three generations.”

Roberta Reardon, commissioner of the New York Department of Labor, was also on hand to let the members know that they play an important role in making sure working families voices are heard.

“The thing that really matters for us is member to member communication. I can’t tell you how crucial your voice is in setting the stage for working families,” she said.