PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Job security for steelworkers in the Mon Valley has been an issue for decades but just this week, the chairman of US Steel announced layoffs and predicted more layoffs so a trade agreement now being debated in Washington takes on high priority.
“We’re expecting a child, my wife and I and we just recently purchased a home,” said steelworker Jim Johnston, “so there’s a lot of people like myself that are just starting families and if we lose our jobs you know it’s not going to be easy to support our families.”
Johnston hears rumblings about more layoffs and about a proposed trade deal involving Pacific Rim countries and Europe and wonders about his future and that of his co-workers.
He’s about to fill the shoes of one-time Braddock union leader Don Thomas at USW Local 1219.
The workforce is about one-tenth of what it was in the 1980s, but some of the issues Thomas raised haven’t gone away.
Democrats and Republicans are debating terms of a trade deal which some companies see as opening the door to new markets, but which the United Steelworkers Union and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania see as following a pattern set by the North American Free Trade agreement: a net loss of local manufacturing jobs.
“After NAFTA, when you look at the time period from 1993 to 2002, 525,094 workers were certified as displaced by the Department of Labor Statistics,” said Casey at a news conference in front of the Edgar Thomson plant in Braddock.
“So we have to wonder if the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement were in effect, which is three times larger than NAFTA, should we not have the same concerns about worker dislocation or job loss? I would argue that the answer to that question is yes,” Casey said.
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard agrees. He thinks current laws are difficult to enforce when other countries undercut steel prices or manipulate currency.
“Instead of negotiating more stupid trade agreements that are going to cost us more trade deficits, do more wealth transfer, we ought to spend more time with the house and senate fixing the trade laws we’ve got now so that people don’t have to lose their jobs in order to win a trade case from a country that’s cheating,” he said.
A vote on this proposed trade agreement is expected in the next few weeks.