Unbelievable: Chinese Steel is Being Used in Multiple New York Infrastructure Projects

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Mar 21 2017 |
LaGuardia Airport. | Photo by Geoff Stearns

Daily News report shows need for state legislators to pass a key Buy American proposal.

Dozens of steelworkers are visiting New York lawmakers in Albany this week in support of bipartisan legislation to strengthen the state’s Buy American preferences.

Turns out, their visit couldn’t have been better timed.

The New York Daily News reported on Monday night that several major infrastructure projects in New York state are using foreign steel — including from China — at a time when tens of thousands of American steelworkers are coping with layoffs.

The project list is enough to make your head spin.

Chinese steel is being used to build roadway bridges at LaGuardia Airport, while steel fabricated in Canada is being used for the Terminal B building. A contractor working on a Holland Tunnel Pier purchased steel from China, along with Turkey and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Chinese steel is also being used in the rebuilding of the Hudson River aqueduct.

Then there’s the already reported Verrazano bridge project, in which $235 million worth of steel work was outsourced to China.

As Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul told reporter Ginger Adams Otis, the decision to use foreign steel comes at a cost:

“There are thousands of unemployed factory workers anxious to get back to work making steel here in America. America’s steel makers are capable and waiting. It is unacceptable that major public infrastructure projects in New York are providing jobs overseas.”

That’s also the message that around 60 steelworkers from New York are sharing with New York legislators. On Tuesday, they lobbied lawmakers to ask them to support Buy American language included in this year’s state budget proposal.

This bipartisan legislation aims to ensure that New York tax dollars spent on infrastructure is reinvested in America’s economy rather than being offshored to places like China, creating good-paying jobs and supporting local businesses.

There’s bipartisan support for Buy American in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a proposal during his State of the State address earlier this year, while Democratic Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Republican State Sen. Joseph Robach have offered up their own proposal.

But Buy American opponents have been fighting back, trying to carve out loopholes to allow cheap foreign steel to be used in taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects. It's especially infuriating considering that China is driving the global steel imports crisis by producing too much steel (which is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government) and then dumping it at rock-bottom prices into the U.S. market.

American workers are therefore forced to compete against foreign countries for projects using American tax dollars.

“We have the most highly skilled workers in the world as well as the infrastructure to do these types of jobs right here in New York,” Mario Cilento, head of the New York AFL-CIO, told the Daily News. “We should be maximizing our tax dollars to create good union manufacturing jobs and strengthening local economies.”

It isn’t just steel that is impacted, we’ll note. Shane Chiappone, a miner at American Rock Salt near Rochester, wrote to AAM supporters in New York asking them to add their name to the Buy American effort.

American Rock Salt is the largest producing salt mine in the country, and all of the salt it sells comes from the United States. But after it lost a contract to provide a year’s worth of de-icing to Erie County to a company from Canada, American Rock Salt was forced to layoff 12 employees.

“Now you and I have the chance to stand up for those miners,” Chiappone wrote. “It’s really just commonsense. Whenever possible, spending like this should be used to support local jobs and invest right back into the local economy.”

There’s another factor to keep in mind, too: The quality of the work.

California officials learned the hard way what happens when you outsource infrastructure work after they decided to use Chinese-made steel to build the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The project suffered problem after problem. It went $3.9 billion over budget and finished 12 years behind schedule.

But New York actually provides the case study for what happens when a project abides by Buy American guidelines. The new Tappan Zee Bridge project, which is still underway, is a model project — it’s on-time, on-budget and created thousands of American jobs.

New York already knows Buy American makes sense. We hope state legislators approve the language — and in the meantime, we hope you’ll raise your voice in support.