Local steelworkers who are about to be laid off are lobbying Congress to reconsider a bill that would give trade authority to the executive branch.
The United Steelworkers union believes trade promotion authority, also known as “fast track,” should be intertwined with trade negotiations and include oversight from Congress. However, the union claims the Obama Administration has authored the bill behind closed doors and it essentially hurts trade and domestic industries such as steel.
This debate comes as U.S. Steel plans to temporarily idle its plant in Granite City sometime around May 28 and will lay off 2,080 steelworkers. The Pittsburgh-based company claims it is forced to make this move as historically high levels of cheaper imported steel have flooded the U.S. market.
Since last year, the steelworkers union has protested the U.S. government’s enforcement of trade laws as foreign steel that has been imported into the United States has been sold below market value, making it difficult for domestic steel mills to compete in the global market.
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Dave Dowling, Director of District 7 and Sub District 2 of the United Steelworkers in Granite City, said recent administrations have supported fast track because this has enhanced their power in the executive branch to achieve trade deals. Dowling said President Obama favors fast track trade negotiations because they are not subject to filibuster and they can only be voted up or down.
“With that process in place, it’s just easier for the executive branch to assert its will with Congress,” Dowling said. “Each branch seeks more power, constantly. It’s just part of the process that has been going on for a couple of centuries or more. What we’re asking our representatives in Congress to do is to not hand over their constitutional responsibility to the executive branch.
“They should be involved in the process of approving these treaties,” Dowling continued. “They need to be involved with the time taken and needed to read and understand these bills and put forward proposed changes because there are provisions in these bills that will hurt their constituents and the jobs of their constituents back home.”
Local steelworkers have contacted and have been in discussion with Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., about their concerns and plan to publicly lobby against fast track Monday morning outside the representative’s office in downtown Belleville, located at 23 Public Square.
A spokesman from Bost’s office said that the Congressman has met with the union three times about this issue.
“Mike has worked closely with U.S. Steel and our local steelworkers to find solutions that will open up new markets to U.S. products without putting American jobs at risk from unfair and illegal foreign trade practices,” said Bost’s communications director, Jim Forbes. “We all share the same goal of making sure our trade laws are effective and that this temporary idling of local steel jobs is as short as possible.
“The company and the union have made it clear that the status quo on trade enforcement is causing great harm to the industry, and I share their frustration that the Obama Administration isn’t doing more to make trade remedy enforcement a priority,” Forbes added.
Dowling said the congressman is not expected to be at his Belleville office on Monday because of a prior commitment, but the union still plans to show up to publicize this issue.
“We’re getting the word out, but it’s not intended to be a mass rally or demonstration,” he said. “It is a means by which we will continue to publicize and try to educate the public about the significance of the fast track vote, and we also want to lobby Congressman Bost.”
He added, “We are not there to protest the congressman on this issue, because he has not taken a public position on the fast track bill, but we are there to lobby him. We have talked to him, and I have said to him that we are not there to poke a stick in your eye. We’re asking you to do the right thing as a representative.”
A vote is expected within the next two weeks.
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 618-239-2526.