Steel dumping lambasted at Sparrows Point rally Workers pledge to battle the threat from overseas

Basic materials

October 30, 1998|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

For Ron Fritze of Perry Hall, the issue of illegally dumped foreign steel is hitting home -- literally.

Fritze, a refrigeration technician and member of the United Steelworkers union at Bethlehem Steel Co.'s Sparrows Point Division, has seen all the media stories, union handouts and company reports on the impact that foreign steel, allegedly being sold at below-market prices, is having on the U.S. steel market. But a rally yesterday really heightened his awareness.

"If they start flooding the market and start driving prices down, it could have a real effect" on wages and maybe even U.S. jobs, he said.

Fritze, who came to work at Sparrows Point 2 1/2 years ago, bought a house less than a year ago. He and his wife have a 17-month-old daughter, Emma, and another child on the way.

Yesterday, Fritze was among hundreds of steel workers who gathered at Sparrows Point in a "Stand Up for Steel" rally that was a mixture of union solidarity, political campaigning, patriotic revival and Chautauqua convocation.

In the shadows of the Sparrows Point blower building, with an ear-piercing roar of air periodically reminding the audience of its presence, steel workers listened to pre-election promises of support from local, state and federal legislators, sang patriotic songs and vowed to do all they could to stamp out the flood of cheap steel coming from Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil and China. That flood is said to be gobbling up market share from U.S. steel companies, hurting their earnings, causing cutbacks in hours worked by steel workers.

Many fear that layoffs loom.

The foreign sellers are saying " 'Hey, man, we'll sell you for 75 cents what the other guy is charging you a dollar for,' " said Gerald McLyman, a 35-year Beth Steel veteran. "Who do you think [customers] are going to buy from?"

Bethlehem has banded with other U.S. steel companies and the United Steelworkers union to ask the Clinton administration to stop the flood of low-cost steel which they claim is being "dumped" -- sold for below-market prices. Dumping is considered a violation of international trade laws.

Stopping the alleged dumping could involve punitive tariffs -- which would jack up the price of foreign steel -- or import quotas, which would limit how much steel could come into this market.

No action has been taken, despite lobbying by such Maryland political heavyweights as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who has met with President Clinton and other top administration officials.

Imports in July were 43.5 percent higher than in July 1997, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. Experts say the economic turmoil in Asia, Russia and Latin America has shut down those domestic markets, prompting companies there to try and export their way out of trouble by dumping the steel in the United States for whatever prices they can get.

Foreign steel is stacked up at almost every major U.S. port, much of it without buyers lined up. Sales would give these foreign companies badly needed hard currency.

Pub Date: 10/30/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.