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Steelworkers plan Iron Range rally to support U.S. sanctions against steel imports

Hundreds of unionized steelworkers from Minnesota taconite plants will join their industry bosses Monday morning in an Iron Range rally to support U.S. government sanctions against foreign steel imports.

The rally at the Miners Memorial Building in Virginia is aimed at stirring support for U.S. sanctions against foreign-made steel, especially pipe for the burgeoning U.S. oil and gas industries, which critics say is being sold below cost.

Rally organizers say that “dumping” of below-cost, foreign-made steel, especially from South Korea, is strangling the domestic steel industry, which is supplied in large part by Minnesota-mined taconite iron ore.

At least one mill in Ohio that makes steel pipe already has laid off 108 workers. Other mills in Pennsylvania and Texas say they may have to cut back.

Three of Minnesota’s seven working mining operations supply mills that make steel pipe, said John Rebrovich, assistant to the director of District 11 of the United Steelworkers of America.

“The last time this happened, in 2000, when the Asian recession hit, they dumped their steel here, and we lost three iron ore companies in one shot,” he said.

Rebrovich was referring to the bankruptcy of LTV Steel, Eveleth Taconite and National Steel.

National and Eveleth eventually reopened under new ownership and new names, although smaller than before. But LTV closed permanently. The Minnesota ore suppliers shut down because U.S. steel mills shut down.

“We could see the same thing happen again. If our government lets South Korea get away with it with tubular steel, they’ll come in with every steel product they have, and our guys are out of work,” said Rebrovich, who also serves as co-chairman of the Iron Ore Alliance of union and company officials.

The “Save Our Steel” rally comes in advance of a decision expected in July by the U.S. Commerce Department on whether South Korean steel pipe is being sold at unfairly low, below-cost prices and whether those sales are harming the domestic steel industry.

The rally is a joint effort by the United Steelworkers, Alliance for American Manufacturing, the Iron Ore Alliance of Steelworkers and U.S. Steel. Gov. Mark Dayton will speak at the rally, which begins at 10 a.m.

Supporters of strong government sanctions against steel dumping say it’s ironic that the U.S. is moving toward oil independence but moving much of that new domestic oil in foreign-made pipes.

“South Korea doesn’t have any oil or gas, so why are they making all this pipe?” Rebrovich noted.

The Steelworkers and manufacturers are formally asking the Commerce Department to impose tariffs on nine countries that produce “oil country tubular goods.” Imports of that pipe doubled from 850,000 tons in 2010 to 1.8 million tons by 2012 as foreign steelmakers rushed to cash in on the oil and gas industry boom in the United States.

South Korea sent about 1.2 million tons of that steel pipe to the U.S. last year, the largest amount of any of the nine nations critics say were illegally dumping below-cost steel into the U.S. last year.

The News Tribune last month reported on a study that showed about 500,000 U.S. jobs are threatened by below-cost, foreign-made steel, often subsidized by governments or made in government-owned mills. That includes about 5,000 taconite industry workers in Minnesota who supply the taconite iron ore for most of the big U.S. blast furnace mills, as well as another 5,000 spinoff and related jobs in the state.

Rally supporters say existing laws call for tariffs and sanctions when foreign imports are deemed to be unfair. Now, they want the government to uphold those laws. In July 2013, domestic steel producers filed a trade case that is pending at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

A decision is expected next month.

Monday’s rally, and similar events held this month in steel towns across the U.S., is aimed at making sure Commerce Department officials understand what’s at stake, said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, who will be a speaker at the rally.

“Will our government sit idly by? Or will we enforce our trade laws to ensure that countries are not allowed to cheat their way into the U.S. market?” Paul said in a statement. Oil industry “pipe is a growing market that can benefit the U.S.  But that will only happen if American workers aren’t undercut by our inability to enforce our own trade rules.”