AKRONSometimes, the United Steelworkers (USW) union seems as if it is on an island.
The USW has petitioned the International Trade Commission (ITC) three times since June 2014 to levy antidumping and/or countervailing duties against imports of passenger, truck/bus and off-the-road tires from Asia-Pacific countries, notably China.
USW International Secretary Treasurer Stan Johnson didn't mince his words when discussing the issuehow China and other countries in the region are negatively impacting the U.S. economy.
It's phenomenally frustrating to watch this, not to just watch it in the tire industry, Mr. Johnson said. I knew a lot of the people in those tire plants. I knew the leadership and a lot of the membership, and it is so frustrating to watch this kind of thing happen.
To watch those good jobs that were supporting the community whither away and know that at times it seems nobody (cares) but us.
The union's most recent petitions, made in conjunction with Titan International Inc., still are pending investigation. The ITC voted 6-0 that there was reasonable indication of material injury against the U.S. OTR tire industry because of imports of mounted and unmounted OTR tires from India and Sri Lanka, but it decided not to investigate China in this ruling.
In March, the commission voted 4-2 to continue antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of TBR tires imported from China.
The USW's first petition, made independently in June 2014, resulted in the commission ruling 3-3 that the U.S. tire industry was suffering material injury because of passenger and light truck tire imports from China. A split vote constitutes an affirmative finding.
Already those duties have had an impact. In April the China Rubber Industry Association (CRIA) said Chinese tire exports fell by 4 percent in volume and 16 percent in value during 2015. The association attributed both decreases to the antidumping duties imposed by ITC.
We saw the benefits immediately, Mr. Johnson recently told Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.
Our jobs are much more stable. The profitability of the companies will be better certainly from the North American operations. There is no doubt that the tariffs have been beneficial and will continue to be beneficial.
David Boone, president of Local 752, which represents workers at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s Tex-arkana, Ark., tire plant, said the company has been investing in the facility as a result of antidumping tariffs.
We're up around 420 molds and rising. They're telling us they need every tire we can get them, he said, adding that before the duties, Cooper was taking days out of production in the 2008 time frame.
I don't ever want to go through that again, Mr. Boone said. I'm grateful for the Steelworkers for what they're doing for us in that area. They're able to keep this plant running.
David Hayes, president of USW Local 12, which represents workers at Goodyear's Gadsden, Ala., facility, said the ruling has no doubt helped the plant. He estimates the firm has hired close to 300 since the duties went into effect.
Mr. Johnson stressed that the USW's practice of petitioning the ITC isn't a union issueit's an industrywide problem.
We don't just protect our members; we protect everyone working in the industry, he said. We protect the supervision, the salary personnel that work in the industry. We protect every individual working in the industry, be they union or non-union.
It is not exclusively beneficial to our memberswe're working on behalf of all workers and their families. And it's the right thing to do. We don't want to see the industry decimated. I don't want to see the non-union plants close. We want to see the industry grow.
While the USW is pleased with the antidumping ruling, Mr. Johnson said the process of bringing trade cases before the ITC should be modified.
We're pleased with the decision, certainly, he said. We're not at all pleased with the process that we have to show significant injury before we can be successful in pursuing a trade case. A significant part in our history of the tire industry has been plants closing. So if you have to lose facilities and thousands of good-paying, community-supported jobs, the process is flawed.
A process should be allowed to be in place that once you prove that there is subsidizing or dumping, you shouldn't have to prove injury. The end result is going to be there.
The question is, are you going to do something proactively enough to change the dynamic and change the direction, or are you going to wait until you've changed the dynamic, changed the direction, thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of jobs in many cases before you can even bring a case forward? The process is intrinsically flawed and does not work to the benefit of workers, period.
Part of the problem, according to Mr. Johnson, is that more companies fear retaliation from China and no negative ramifications from the U.S. government.
He said the union wouldn't need to bring dumping or subsidization casesand it certainly wouldn't be successful in those casesif China operated as the U.S. did.
If we were to do the same thing in the U.S., we'd have a robust economy again, he said. Start manipulating currency, cheating on all the trade deals, we could build a robust economy again. But instead we go down the path of TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).
Trade agreements are another sticking point for the union. To sum up its position: they don't work. And they cause more harm to U.S. manufacturing than good. Mr. Johnson said agreements such as NAFTA have played a major role in diminishing the output of American manufacturing companies and has reduced the middle class significantly to its current state of near non-existence.
NAFTA in my opinion still takes jobs away from us, said Hugh Bowen, president of USW Local 286, which represents Conti-Tech A.G.'s Lincoln, Neb., belting plant. The government just keeps OK'ing and OK'ing these trade agreements, and it just doesn't do us in the U.S. any good. We can't compete because we're not on a level playing field anymore.
Mr. Johnson cited the Canadian tire industry, which today has only a handful of tire manufacturing plants.
How do we create wealth for this country if all we're going to do is be a distribution network for foreign manufacturers? he asked.
If someone is producing tires in China, and they set up a small company to distribute Chinese tires, how do we create wealth from that?
People are happy to buy the cheap Chinese tires because they don't have good middle class jobs. Kind of the Catch 22. Let's put jobs back, let's invest in manufacturing, let's invest in infrastructure, let's rebuild the middle class, and if we do all of those things, people will have the money to buy U.S.-made product.
Mr. Johnson has similar feelings on the pending TPP trade agreement, which includes 12 countries in the North American and Asia-Pacific regions.
It's another one of the same failed trade agreements but for the fact that it's worse, Mr. Johnson claimed. It's going to change domestically produced content for automotive substantially. It's going to allow the ability for cars made in the U.S. to have 45 percent domestic content and still be considered to be made here. Oddly enough, China can sell them to Vietnam, and Vietnam can sell it here.
This report originally appeared in Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.