Steel Mills

Cliffs, USW address unfair trade, USS/Nippon deal

Written by Laura Miller

A press conference at a Cleveland-Cliffs mill in Ohio touched upon several topics, including the unfair trade practices of Mexico and China and Nippon Steel’s proposed acquisition of U.S. Steel.

Cliff’s Chairman, President, and CEO, Lourenco Goncalves, hosted US Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and United Steelworkers (USW) leaders at the steelmaker’s Cleveland Works on Wednesday.

USW International President David McCall thanked Brown for his leadership on fair trade and US industrial policy, as USW District 1 Director Donnie Blatt noted that the union has “never had a better friend in the United States Senate than Senator Brown.”

Goncalves touted Brown’s leadership as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and stressed the need to keep him as Ohio’s senior senator.

Note that Brown’s seat, which he has held since 2007, is up for election in November. Republican Bernie Moreno is his chief opponent.

Unfair trade

A focus of the press conference was the claimed unfair trade practices of Mexico and China.

Goncalves again encouraged Mexico’s removal from the USMCA free trade agreement, which he says “has only benefits for Mexico and nobody else.”

Brown said Mexico is breaking the rules, noting that US steel imports from its neighbor to the south are at “unsustainable levels” with no signs of slowing down.

“This year alone corrosion-resistant steel imports from Mexico are on track to increase to three times over the historic average,” he said, pointing out that the product could be made “right here on this line” at the Cleveland mill.

He also accused China of transshipping its steel through Mexico to avoid paying US tariffs.

Brown said he sent another letter to the Biden administration this week “raising the alarm about this increase in Chinese steel, pushing them to act immediately—not tomorrow—to stop China from routing steel imports through Mexico.”

Nippon/USS deal addressed

When asked if Cliffs is still interested in USS, Goncalves said his position is well known and has not changed. “To be honest,” he said, “it’s irrelevant at this point. Everybody knows my position.” He said he’s now waiting for presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump to follow through on their words.

McCall reiterated that the proposed deal between Nippon Steel and U.S. Steel violates the successorship language in the USW’s collective bargaining agreements.

He called the two companies’ promises to make no layoffs or shutdowns “meaningless” and “a big PR campaign.”

He also noted that “there are real issues around critical infrastructure supply and around national defense” that CFUIS is still reviewing.

Brown highlighted the importance of worker representation in business deals and pointed out that it was absent from the beginning of the USS/Nippon deal. He said it was a bad sign when the first time Nippon executives met with him, “They did not mention the word ‘union’ or the word ‘workers.’”

Earlier in the week, Brown joined two US senators from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Jr. (D) and John Fetterman (D), in penning a letter calling attention to the threat the Nippon/USS deal poses.

“Nippon Steel’s well-documented record of dumping steel products in the US presents a clear conflict with our ability to continue to defend our domestic steel industry,” said the letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

“Given the clear and present threats that a Nippon Steel acquisition poses to American workers and a critical industry, we believe executive action to block this deal is urgent,” the letter concluded.

Cliffs-USW partnership

Goncalves commented that he and McCall “have been doing things together that will change the face of this industry.”

“This partnership between company and labor that Cleveland-Cliffs and the USW have, I know it’s kind of unique,” he said.

Noting that he’s been in the industry for 44 years, Goncalves said McCall is “the most reliable, the most trustworthy partner” he’s ever had.

It’s the “beginning of a wave of change” when everybody – labor, companies, and investors – can make money together, he said.

Laura Miller

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