USW Confirms NY State Meeting on Buy America Infrastructure


united steelworkers (select to view enlarged photo)

NEW YORK--Sept. 24, 2013: Top leaders of the United Steelworkers (USW) confirmed being joined by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and steel bridge fabricators in a meeting this past week led by the New York governor's office, plus public authority transportation officials to consider ways to support sourcing American-made steel and domestic construction products in upcoming infrastructure projects.

USW International President Leo W. Gerard and the chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) had earlier exchanged letters on the issue of offshore steel used in the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. "We were at wits end with the contract awarded earlier this year to state-owned China steel and their fabricators for upper deck replacement of the Verrazano Bridge that bypassed American workers," Gerard said.

"So we welcomed a face-to-face agenda on what to do about it."

USW leaders in the meeting were Tom Conway, international vice president from Pittsburgh; and John Shinn, director of USW District 4 in New York, who also represents the union membership in New Jersey and the New England states. Participating for NY State were MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast, State Deputy Secretary Karen Rae, and NY-NJ Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye. Senior officers of the Washington-based AAM made presentations.

USW Vice President Conway said, "Meeting with MTA and the Port Authority was a good start, but actions speak louder than words. We'll need to see better results in the future when MTA makes sourcing decisions on major infrastructure projects."

Shinn of USW District 4 added: "We had a productive meeting with the top decision makers from the governor's office and both the MTA and Port Authority. We came away encouraged by their willingness to share information and their offer to meet on a regular basis."

The USW regional director, who served with the governor's 'New York State 2100 Commission' on infrastructure, emphasized there were challenges ahead. "Supporting a domestic supply chain of American workers that are not dependent on offshore labor or materials for bridge projects needed by the two agencies in the northeast corridor may require changes in the procurement process."

According to the USW, the NY officials responded to criticism of the Verrazano Bridge contract with China steel by expressing interest in reevaluating and strengthening the Buy America steel preference used by MTA, which has not changed since its adoption in 1983. There was also broad agreement that the unreasonable agency cost waiver – currently available when domestic steel is six percent more expensive – needs to be increased.

"This would be an important step in leveling the playing field for the U.S. industry and workers in their competition with foreign state-owned enterprises that benefit from generous government subsidies," Conway said. "We intend to hold them to their word that real reforms will be made both to their internal practices and with respect to state-level laws. Their public support for such reforms will be necessary to ensure that no more bridges or public works are outsourced."

In mid-July, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged the MTA: "If we continue to source to Chinese companies based entirely on bid pricing, they will always win – with the level of government support and overproduction, it's impossible to beat their prices. This is causing a global race to the bottom on steel prices, a budding environmental catastrophe and the threatening of steel production not just in the U.S., but worldwide."

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento and USW Director Shinn wrote to state legislators and affiliate unions, "It is beyond disappointing that a New York State public authority would undermine our economy and jobs by offshoring our major infrastructure needs, which should be American made, to China.

"Our state has lost nearly half its manufacturing capacity in the past twenty years. The consequences have been job loss, decreased economic opportunity and competitiveness. Irresponsible actions by public agencies like the MTA will only make things worse."

In the coming weeks and months, AAM will be convening meetings in Washington, DC, and in New York with the goal of supporting a more proactive approach to infrastructure projects involving American workers and manufacturers

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