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Steelworkers rally against steel dumping: Clarion call for US sanctions against South Korean steel pipe

FNS Photo by Bob King Hundreds of miners from the Iron Range participated in the Steelworkers rally at the Miners Memorial Building in Virginia, Minn., on Monday morning to protest the dumping of foreign steel in the U.S. market.

VIRGINIA, Minn. — Richard Eklund has been retired for 20 years, but he still drove over from Gilbert Monday morning to show his support for Iron Range Steelworkers still on the job.

Once a steelworker, always a steelworker, said Eklund, who retired in 1994 after 37 years with LTV Steel Mining Co.

“I wanted to show some support. I don’t want to see what happened to LTV happen again,” said Eklund.

LTV filed for bankruptcy and permanently closed in 2001, a time when low-cost Asian steel flooded the U.S. market, undercutting U.S.-made steel and forcing several domestic steel mills and three Minnesota mines into bankruptcy.

Eklund and his wife, Jeanette, were among nearly 2,000 Iron Rangers who rallied under a warm summer sun outside the Miners Memorial Building here as part of the Save Our Steel movement — a national call for the U.S. government to impose sanctions on foreign steel that’s once again taking an increasingly larger share of the U.S. market.

The U.S. Commerce Department is expected to rule on possible sanctions in July, and union workers, industry officials and Minnesota politicians are trying to ramp up the pressure until then.

It’s the same problem as in the early 2000’s, rally supporters say. Much of the focus this time is on South Korean steel pipe headed for the growing U.S. oil and gas industry.

Imports of that pipe doubled from 850,000 tons in 2010 to 1.8 million tons by 2012 as foreign steelmakers rushed to cash in on the oil and gas industry boom in the United States. South Korea sent about 1.2 million tons of that steel pipe to the U.S. last year, the largest amount of any of the nine nations critics say were illegally dumping below-cost steel into the U.S.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said there is “overwhelming evidence that this steel pipe is being dumped in a manner intended to circumvent international trade law.”

Iron Ranges at the rally understood the ramifications international trade decisions have on the local economy.

“I lived it when the Chinese were dumping steel into the U.S. a few years ago and it’s not something we want to go through on the Iron Range again,” said Christine Dixon, of Virginia. Dixon is an operations coordinator in the crushing department at U.S. Steel’s Minntac operations in Mountain Iron.

Like hundreds of other steelworkers, Dixon showed up at the rally in a well-dirtied work jacket and a scuffed-up hard hat. Many waved signs that said “Save Our Steel Jobs” and chanted “Mine it here, make it here!” between speakers.

“Our government needs to know how this affects the people here. We need them to hear this so they do something and save American jobs,” Dixon said.

That call was echoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, a pro-union DFLer in friendly country on the Range. Dayton said the federal government needs to take swift, decisive action against imports that are subsidized by foreign governments.

“It’s essential that our government stand up for the American worker,” Dayton said.

State Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said the increase in imported steel pipe already has spurred layoffs at some U.S. steel mills, even at a time that demand for the pipe is increasing. When steel mills start to close in eastern states, he said, it’s not long until the ripple effect hits Minnesota taconite iron ore mining operations that supply U.S. steel mills with their raw material.

“When the steel industry gets a hiccup, the Iron Range gets the flu,” Tomassoni said.

State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the U.S. iron ore and steel industries can compete with anyone in the world “but we need a level playing field to compete on,” Bakk said, calling on President Barack Obama to “sit down with the Department of Commerce and put tariffs on South Korean steel.”

U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, both Minnesota Democrats, sent letters of support that were read aloud at the rally, saying they have signed letters requesting the Commerce Department rule against South Korea. U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, also sent a letter of support.

“We can’t rebuild American’s economy and infrastructure with foreign steel,” Nolan said in a statement read at the rally.

Iron Rangers aren’t ones to back down when someone knocks them down, said John Rebrovich, assistant to the director of United Steelworkers District 11.

“We stand up and fight back. We don’t take that,” Rebrovich told the cheering crowd. “Especially if the other guys are cheating.”