Iron Range makes stand against foreign steel dumping

VIRGINIA, Minn. (AP) — A sharp increase in steel imports is threatening jobs in the steel communities along northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.
More than 200 Iron Range residents gathered at a “stand up for steel” rally on Saturday called on President Clinton to act before the glut of low-priced, sometimes illegal imports forces hundreds of layoffs.
“We want to be players in the global economy” — not dupes or victims of it, said U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, the son of a miner. He introduced a resolution last week calling for Clinton and Commerce Secretary William Daley to act within 10 days. He said he has received assurance that the administration will address the issue within 120 to 140 days.
Many Iron Rangers say that’s not soon enough.
“Our estimated earnings for the third quarter are way down from last year, and if this continues to hurt our profits in the fourth quarter, it’s going to be difficult,” said Steve Elmquist, assistant general manager of Hibbing Taconite.
The import of steel from nations such as Russia, South Korea, Japan and Brazil in the first seven months of 1998 was up 44 percent from the previous year, said Nancy Gravatt, spokeswoman for the American Iron and Steel Institute in Washington, D.C. The 4 million tons of steel imported in July was a monthly record; if imports continued at that pace, foreign steel would account for 50 percent of all of the steel used in the United States.
The glut already has forced hundreds of layoffs in other parts of the country and has shut down at least one production line and some of the furnaces in Minnesota taconite plants. Oberstar said that unless something is done to limit imports soon, the Iron Range could face hundreds of layoffs by winter.
The rally was backed by local legislators and state political figures who included Oberstar, U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and gubernatorial candidate Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III.
The companies and unions in Minnesota’s taconite industry have been cooperating to lessen the impact of foreign competition. USX Corp. recently delayed a proposal to lay off 133 employees at one plant, for example, in return for cuts in overtime for union employees.
Those protesting the steel glut said they approve of free trade — if it’s fair. The cost of foreign steel has dropped from $350 to $195 per ton in the past year — that’s about $130 less per ton than it costs to make domestically. Some nations illegally are offering steel below cost, and U.S. consumers are buying it, said Gravatt, who has called for enforcement of existing laws.
“We are kind of an environment of anxiety and insecurity once again,” said Barry Trach, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 4108. “We have to help other countries out, but not at the expense of working Americans. We don’t need any more casualties in the Range.”