A Middle Class Job in Pennsylvania, Provided by Steel

Jeffrey Bonior

Jeffrey Bonior Researcher/Writer, AAM

The Commerce Department on Friday revealed the findings of its “Section 232” investigation into steel imports. Steelworkers and steel companies are now counting on Trump to act to defend good-paying jobs — and our national security — from foreign imports. In an occasional series, we catch up with steelworkers across the country to get their thoughts about the president’s impending decision.

Jim Johnston is a third-generation steelworker. He is a caster-run operator at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Steel Works in North Braddock, Pennsylvania.

At the age of 36, he is one of the youngest United Steelworker (USW) local union presidents. He represents the production and maintenance workers at Local 1219 at the Mon Valley steel mill.

Johnston has worked at the mill for 13 years and even though work is steady in the Mon Valley, Johnston fears for the mill’s future.

“Just because we have orders and we’re running and making steel and getting a paycheck every two weeks -  which is great - but how long does that last when your company is not doing well as a whole,” said Johnston. “We need a favorable ruling on the 232 investigations not only for us but the company as a whole.”

Sitting on President Trump’s desk is a document with recommendations from the Commerce Department on a Section 232 investigation into whether China, Russia and a host of other countries are “dumping” their government-subsidized steel into the United States, threatening America’s national security and the domestic steelmaking industry. These foreign countries manufacture steel, drop it into the international market, and sell it for less than American steelmakers can produce the same products. That runs down prices. The American steel industry operates in an open market and cannot compete with foreign government subsidized steel.

Some of our members here don’t realize that thousands of other steelworkers around the country have lost their jobs and their homes. But I can tell you this, that a lot of our members have been strong supporters of President Trump and they have really recognized that this is something he promised and has taken too long to act on. Jim Johnston

One of the reasons the Edgar Thomson Works has been able to continue to operate without massive layoffs is because it has been able to pick up some of the work previously done at U.S. Steel facilities in Granite City, Illinois, Lorain, Ohio and Fairfield, Alabama. These facilities have seen massive layoffs and are running at a bare minimum with frequent shut downs.

“We wouldn’t have as much work if our other mills were up and running and making more steel,” he said. “A favorable 232 ruling will be good for our company as a whole and money can be put back into our plant to upgrade our facility. If our company is doing good, our plant is going to being doing better. They will be able to spend money on capital improvements.

 

 

“Having a good determination on 232 is really going to be crucial for us to say, ‘hey, we are going to be able to forecast for the next two or three years and say we are going to be able to invest this amount of money back into our facilities.’

Johnston overseas nearly 600 workers in USW Local 1219 which is about the same number of steelworkers employed at Edgar Thomson when he was hired in 2005. In the early 1980s, Edgar Thomson had a workforce of more than 2,000 steelworkers with three blast furnaces. Today, Edgar Thomson’s two working blast furnaces are the only ones remaining in operation in Pennsylvania.

Edgar Thomson Works makes steel slabs, some of which are shipped to the U.S. Steel mill in Granite City, Illinois, to provide work for that once-thriving mill. Edgar Thomson Works is the last fully integrated steel mill in Pennsylvania and its workers have not felt the devastating effects that other steelworkers have endured across the country.

“Some of our members here don’t realize that thousands of other steelworkers around the country have lost their jobs and their homes,” said Johnston. “But I can tell you this, that a lot of our members have been strong supporters of President Trump and they have really recognized that this is something he promised and has taken too long to act on. Even the people in our membership that are supporters of Trump realize that this is something that is very important to us and he needs to act on it.”

Working at Edgar Thomson has provided Johnston and his colleagues with a comfortable upper middle-class lifestyle. Johnston owns a home in the desirable Plum Boro section of Pittsburgh.

“I wouldn’t have been able to own a house if it wasn’t for the job I have, the wage I make and the benefits,” said the Pittsburgh native. “This job is not only important to me to maintain my house. When the middle class makes money they spend it, so losing these jobs is tough on communities. So hopefully Trump will get on board on give us something to keep our jobs and bring back jobs at other mills, too.

“I think the president has all the information he needs and now he needs to act on it. He’s had enough time talking and it is time he takes action.”

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Reposted from AAM

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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