- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002


Thousands of workers in the ailing U.S. steel industry massed yesterday outside the White House to demand President Bush impose 40 percent tariffs on steel imports.

Pressure is building on Mr. Bush ahead of his scheduled announcement Wednesday on whether he will bow to the steel industry's demands for the tariff to shield it from damaging imports.

About 5,000 union members, families and other industry supporters, brought in on hundreds of buses, rallied in the Ellipse.

Demonstrators waved banners bearing slogans such as "Forty percent or bust," and "You don't have to blow up a blast furnace to destroy a steel mill, illegal foreign imports are doing the job."

Josh Sawyer, who traveled from Ohio with his children to the United Steelworkers of America rally, evoked the patriotism that has emerged after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"When we rebuild those [trade] towers, we want to make sure it will be with American steel," he said.

Steel industry bosses joined the protesters' ranks.

"We want a 40 percent tariff to save our steel industry and put a stop for good to unfair foreign imports," Robert Miller, the chief executive of bankrupt Bethlehem Steel, told the rally.

Mr. Bush is considering the action under Section 201 of the 1974 trade law, which lets the president impose punitive tariffs on imports that have been found to have caused injury to the domestic industry.

In December, the quasi-judicial International Trade Commission recommended that Mr. Bush impose 20 percent tariffs on certain types of carbon and alloy flat steel imports. Some members recommended duties of up to 40 percent on certain products.

Other industries that use steel contend, however, that such tariffs would be harmful overall for the U.S. economy. Major trading partners also have protested the use of such measures to stem imports.

A senior member of the Bush administration, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a 40 percent tariff on imported steel products may be unnecessary for the industry.

He hinted, however, that some level of tariffs may be imposed. "You have to be willing at some level to … bat for American workers," the official said, without elaborating.

The United Steelworkers of America said protesters came in 330 buses from 16 major steel-producing states to the rally.

"Illegal foreign trade is largely responsible for driving 31 American steel companies into bankruptcy, causing 16 of them to shut down, and wiping out more than 46,000 jobs," the union said in a statement.

"A new report shows that more than 325,000 American jobs are at risk without immediate action to provide import relief to help end the American steel crisis."

USX-US Steel has said it may merge with Bethlehem Steel Corp. and other U.S. steel makers in a bid to consolidate the U.S. steel industry amid a global production glut.

But USX-US Steel said the proposed consolidation hinges on several conditions.

The key condition is its proposal for the federal government to pick up the "legacy costs" health and pension payments of the retired workers at the companies.

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