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Steelworkers optimistic that McKeesport layoffs won't last

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 5:02 a.m.

A spokesman for the United Steelworkers expressed optimism that Friday's announced layoff of most workers at U.S. Steel's McKeesport Tubular Operations will be short-lived.

“U.S. Steel and the USW have both closely monitored the situation in this market on a week-to-week basis in attempts to stretch out these layoffs as long as possible while the market recovered,” union spokesman Wayne Ranick said.

On Friday, 142 hourly employees were laid off, leaving behind 95 employees at the former Camp-Hill Corp. facility that was returned to U.S. Steel in April 2011.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Courtney A. Boone blamed what she called an adjustment of production on “business conditions including the negative effect of the high level of tubular imports.”

The union sees imports as a factor.

“We have also followed closely the level of unfairly traded imports into the market as well, and we are investigating that impact and all the steps we may take to defend against those imports,” Ranick said. “Those imports, coupled with the current softness in the tubular markets, have created this current condition.”

The USW official expressed hope “that the orders we had expected move into the order books quickly and for recalls to work to take place.”

Ranick said the union is “in continual contact with U.S. Steel on this situation at all locations across the tubular divisions.”

The McKeesport layoffs aren't prompting panic button pushing elsewhere, either.

“Not too many people know there is a pipe mill down there,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

He said other centers of the energy industry, such as Houston and Dallas, have come to realize there would be times when energy prices rise and fall, affecting jobs.

“For us it is important not to tie everything into energy,” Fitzgerald said.

The county executive said diversification has been a blessing in a region that decades ago was tied into heavy manufacturing.

“There are other jobs in other industries and in other endeavors that are growing where they are hiring people,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald criticized the export of subsidized steel pipe to the United States from China and other countries.

“We need to make sure that (the United States trade representative) is cracking down on some of these countries,” he said.

On Nov. 1 the Congressional Steel Caucus called on the U.S. Department of Commerce to enforce a 2010 trade ruling that bans China from dumping pipe used in oil and gas drilling onto the American market.

“China continues to violate long-standing trade agreements, resulting in a devastating loss of American jobs that puts our manufacturing sector at risk,” said the caucus chairman, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Subsidies range from 11 to 31 percent.

The International Trade Commission applied duties accordingly, the steel caucus said, but Chinese mills shifted their production to intermediate countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand where minor modifications were made to help the Chinese evade the duties.

Fitzgerald noted that U.S. Steel's announcement coincided with release of a Brookings Institution report that included good news for the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

“We are one of only three regions in the country that have recovered fully from the great (2007-09) recession,” Fitzgerald said. The others are Dallas and Knoxville.

The Washington-based think tank said it had analyzed gross domestic product per capita and employment changes in the 300 largest metropolitan economies worldwide.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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