Never Fear, the Free Traders Are Here…Again

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

Shuttered plants, shattered lives, broken dreams.  Over the past forty years, this could be the descriptive assessment of millions of American factory workers’ existences.  And while some have fared worse than others, America’s steel and aluminum workers have certainly seen their share of depressingly hard times, resulting in vastly dwindling numbers.

On the campaign trail and during his first tumultuous, scandal-filled year in office, President Donald Trump promised to do something about the inequities on steel trade, especially with China, who has used end around tactics to funnel steel products through other trading nations such as Vietnam and also artificially lowered the price per ton of steel, allowing the dumping of cheap, substandard steel and aluminum onto America’s shores.

Initiating a Section 232 Investigation into the national security threat of losing such vital industries, Trump and his team are finally ready to take action with a possible 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% slap on imported aluminum products.

After inactively broaching the severity of imports to the sector with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for many months past their promised target date, the only hope is that the president didn’t take too long in relieving the pain of 17% increases in steel imports, plant closings or layoffs during this time period.

Although the tariffs would be seen as a bold move to protect American jobs and possibly revive American manufacturing, free trade advocates from both parties have reared their ugly heads again this week, followed by the shrill, wraith-like howls from business channel squawkers which predicated the normal, fearmongering plunge on Wall Street when there seems to be any good news for the American factory worker.

Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, a free trade advocate, bemoaned the tariffs as “protectionism” and “weakness.  You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one.”

Democrat Claire McCaskill, a Fast Track and TPP supporter to a fault, warned of negative consequences, but Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, praised Trump for finally making a move, albeit late in the game.

It’s quite amazing that for decades, America’s shores could be flooded with poorly made landfill fodder every year, and this was supposedly a boon for consumers, instead of continuing to make quality products here while paying workers a good, family sustaining, competitive wage.

Wall Street and their friends occupying the glass and steel towers of slick, offshoring corporations and their ever burgeoning lobby groups, with endless amounts of cash have force fed the American public into believing that every free trade agreement would create a plethora of good-paying jobs, save the environment and protect labor laws in every nation joining these pacts; something no FTA has managed to accomplish.  It is time to say no more to the lies from free trade’s crafters or their advocates on either side of the aisle.

We need to produce goods here, build up our tax revenues by creating more jobs and utilize the cash flow for much needed infrastructure projects.  We must also hold the Trump Administration accountable for devising a much better plan for said projects and force them to include Buy American provisions, which would create a boom in job growth, especially for America’s once vaunted steel industry.

The time is now to stand up for our workers and manufacturing’s future by backing the long awaited results of the 232 Investigation.  Don’t let this golden opportunity pass us by.

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You can contact Richard on Twitter @stlwrkr4889.

Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder