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Unionists to get extended jobless benefits when McKeesport steel plant idles | TribLIVE.com
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Unionists to get extended jobless benefits when McKeesport steel plant idles

John D. Oravecz
| Saturday, June 28, 2014 12:01 a.m

Union workers at U.S. Steel Corp.’s McKeesport Tubular Operations may be able to extend their unemployment compensation by 26 weeks and would have quick access to jobs at the company’s Mon Valley Works plants, union leaders said on Friday.

The union held meetings to update workers on developments since the company announced on June 2 that it will idle the plant in early August, blaming competition from cheap imports into the United States.

United Steelworkers Local 5852 President Mark A. Fronczek said the 176 workers affected by the shutdown are eligible for special assistance under a federal program that the company applied for when it had layoffs at the plant in 2012.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance program includes allowances that give workers in training another 26 weeks of unemployment compensation when they exhaust 26 weeks of traditional jobless pay. Workers are eligible to apply until January for help in paying for training or job relocation.

Congress formed the program with the Trade Act of 1974 for workers at companies that cut production or shut down because of foreign imports. Employees who are being laid off in the latest action are eligible because the 2012 approval is good for two years.

“We also negotiated a new transfer clause in our local contract to allow workers to take jobs in the Mon Valley Works,” Fronczek said. “With the high amount of foreign steel being dumped, we don’t look for too many jobs to open up.”

U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works includes the Edgar Thomson steel, Clairton coke and Irvin finishing plants.

In Washington, CEO Mario Longhi told the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday that South Korean companies are targeting the U.S. market because they do not sell oil and gas tubing products at home.

“Over 98 percent of what is produced in South Korea is exported directly to the U.S.,” he said.

Last year, U.S. Steel and other domestic producers filed an anti-dumping action with the Department of Commerce to halt unfair trading and dumping of so-called oil country tubular goods into the American market. Imports rose from 840,313 tons in 2010 to 1.76 million tons in 2013.

South Korea alone shipped 894,300 tons to the United States in 2013.

A preliminary decision by the Commerce Department in February imposed high duties on India and small levies on other nations that are mostly smaller producers. It did not impose anti-dumping duties on South Korea, the largest exporter among nine nations targeted. It will issue a final decision by July 10.

Longhi said that in advance of that decision, South Korean companies exported to the United States nearly 214,000 tons of oil and gas pipe in May, an increase from the monthly average of 27,000 tons in the previous 12 months.

“They are trying to dump as much product as they can before the final ruling,” he said.

“They say even if that judgment goes our way, it will take months, if not years, to recover because so much of it has already come in,” Fronczek said. “We can’t even produce it for what (South Korea) is selling it.”

The McKeesport plant and another in Bellville, Texas, will close indefinitely in early August, affecting 260 workers, the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker said. Closing the “loss-making” operations will reduce its pipe-making plants to eight.

Fronczek said U.S. Steel has not set a firm date for the McKeesport shutdown.

U.S. Steel is cutting costs under an initiative called the Carnegie Way, which it has said will yield $290 million in benefits this year. The steelmaker has about 5,000 employees in Pittsburgh and 37,000 worldwide.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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