U.S. Steel, Steelworkers Seeking Import Enforcement

Tubes of steel at the Port of Tampa in Florida.

Photograph by Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Tubes of steel at the Port of Tampa in Florida.

Labor bosses and corporate titans usually spend their time as adversaries trying to undo the other’s agenda.

Not so with United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and United States Steel Corp. Chief Executive Officer Mario Longhi, who came to Washington today to press for penalties on Korean steel imports.

“Why the hell should it be the Steelworkers union and U.S. Steel that have to go ask our government to enforce the law?” Gerard asked today in a joint interview with Longhi in the Capitol . “The damn government ought to enforce the law,” Gerard said.

The two men have joined forces in recent months to lobby the Obama administration to impose duties on imports of Korean steel products, which they say are clobbering the U.S. industry.

Today they were on Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats and reporters to get out their message.

“We are not asking for any favors,” Longhi said. “We just want the law to be respected, applied in full. This is not a time for compromise.”

U.S. Steel earlier this month idled two plants, employing a combined 260 workers, in Texas and Pennsylvania, citing foreign competition. According to Longhi and Gerard, the real culprit is Korea, which they say sells steel piping used for oil and natural gas production in the U.S. below cost, an illegal trade practice known as dumping.

So far, the Commerce Department has disagreed. In a preliminary finding in February, the agency determined Korea wasn’t dumping its products in the U.S. market, though it said eight other nations were. The U.S. last year imported $818 million worth of the goods from Korea, an increase of about 20 percent from 2011, according to the agency.

Commerce is set to issue its final determination in early July. In the meantime, U.S. Steel and the Steelworkers union, which said they believe the agency’s calculations were flawed, are ramping up their lobbying efforts to increase the likelihood of penalty tariffs.

“It would be great to hear the White House very clearly state that this is an important situation, that the efforts of the government are being put in full,” Longhi said.

Donald Cameron, an attorney with Morris, Manning & Martin LLP in Washington, who is representing Korean producers declined to comment.

In May, 57 senators led by Ohioans Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican wrote to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to say they were concerned about the agency’s finding that Korea hadn’t dumped the steel pipes into the U.S. market. The agency makes its determination after an independent investigation, prompted by the U.S. industry.

In its preliminary finding in February, the Commerce Department set duties on similar steel imports from India, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam.

The U.S. International Trade Commission, which is also studying the case, determined in a preliminary finding last August that there is a reasonable indication that the U.S. steel industry was harmed by the imports. The agency plans to issue a final finding in August.

Longhi said the Obama administration is putting forth an effort to enforce trade laws. “The question is, is that enough?”

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