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Steelworkers Seek Clinton’s Help

January 21, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Steelworkers rallied in the capital Wednesday in hopes of persuading the Clinton administration to get tougher on cheap steel imports.

A few thousand mill workers and supporters, blaring horns and carrying ``Stand Up For Steel″ signs, closed Pennsylvania Avenue’s westbound lanes for an hour with a march from the Capitol to the White House.

Their chief complaint: Imports are coming in at prices so low that domestic producers cannot compete and have had to lay off at least 10,000 steelworkers. The industry wants an administration review that could lead to quotas and broad tariffs on foreign steel.

``I have four children at home. Unemployment doesn’t make it for me,″ said Dan Stewart of Weirton, W.Va., a 22-year employee at Weirton Steel Corp., which recently laid off 858 workers. The company’s management and workers helped organize Wednesday’s rally.

President Clinton was in Buffalo, N.Y., at the time, to promote initiatives he outlined in his Tuesday night State of the Union address. But Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and a union leader were able to hold an unscheduled meeting with a top White House aide.

At a rally outside the Capitol, members of Congress, steel executives and union leaders blamed Clinton for focusing too much on the world economy.

As Joe Vojvodich, a retired Weirton steelworker from Richmond, Ohio, walked pass the Treasury building, he shouted: ``Wake up. Wake up. Your job could be next.″ Marchers carried ``Dump Rubin, Not Steel″ signs.

Some administration figures, led by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, believe that increasing U.S. trade barriers would send the wrong message as the United States tries to help other countries recover from the Asian financial crisis.

Clinton offered $300 million in tax breaks for the steel industry this month, a gesture that many producers denounced because it would first require them to post losses.

White House spokesman Barry Toiv said administration officials ``fully understand the concerns of the workers and the industry″ and are considering several other relief options.

``Clinton has the power to stop this if he wants to,″ said William Ferrelli, 47, a 27-year mill veteran from Burgettstown, Pa. ``I don’t think this will change his mind, but at least it will open his eyes and let him know we’re not going to forget.″

At a news conference, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said the United States would waste no time filing a case against Japan’s rising steel imports if they are not decisively lower in December’s yet-unannounced trade figures.

Clinton pledged during his State of the Union address that ``America will respond″ if the import surge from Japan is not reversed.

Lawmakers from steel-producing states offered several legislative remedies Wednesday, including a quota bill that Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., termed the ``nuclear bomb″ of trade legislation.

Rockefeller and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., also proposed a program of import permits and monitoring and to make it easier to prove injury in trade disputes.

``This surge of imports in steel has been devastating and unfair,″ said Specter, chairman of the Senate Steel Caucus.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned at a House hearing that quotas and other remedies ``will create retaliation and undercut our whole trading system.″

He said he was ``very chagrined″ about the plight of the domestic steel industry but believed that offering ``very generous basic support for the workers″ was a more favorable alternative.