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MN Steelworkers to Biden: Keep Domestic Market Strong


Tuesday, January 25, 2022   

The future of tariffs on imported steel is uncertain, and steelworkers in Minnesota hope policies they feel have helped provide economic stability for their industry are not unraveling.

The Biden administration has been holding talks with foreign leaders on how to proceed with tariffs established by the Trump administration in 2018.

Larry Cuffe, mayor of the city of Virginia, said local taconite mines are producing at high levels right now, which he calls a major improvement from when foreign competitors were flooding the market with steel.

"We went through some really lean times, where people were laid off from their jobs, and they'd lost their homes, they lost their vehicles and their property," Cuffe recounted.

He credits Section 232 tariffs for the surrounding communities being in better shape.

Labor leaders and local officials noted the industry provides more than 10,000 direct jobs in Minnesota, along with nearly 60,000 jobs for suppliers and other fields boosted by steel production. Skeptics of higher tariffs worry about the impact on supply chains, and say they do not address overproduction in countries like China.

A 2021 report from the Economic Policy Institute cited the positive impact tariffs have had on domestic production.

Jamie Winger, president of the United Steelworkers Local 6860, said it is great to see companies investing in their facilities again, but Minnesotans are mindful things can change very quickly.

"What money is up here, everybody hangs on tight to it, 'cause we don't know what's going to happen next," Winger acknowledged.

At the same time, he said through their wages, local workers play an important role in supporting area businesses.

Cuffe added mining companies are taxed based on production, so when there is less output, local governments do not receive as much in reimbursements.

"It puts a really significant burden on our ability to provide core services within the city," Cuffe explained.

For those who cite the environmental impact of mining, he countered domestic producers comply with tougher regulations than many foreign producers. Cuffe pointed to the review process for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine, which is opposed by conservation and tribal groups.

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