Weirton’s last steel mill to close in April

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cleveland cliffs
One of the entrances to Cleveland Cliffs in Weirton, West Virginia on Jan. 4, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

WEIRTON, W.Va. — Cleveland Cliffs announced on Feb. 15 that its Weirton tinplate production facility will be idled indefinitely in April. The decision came after the International Trade Commission rejected a proposal to set tariffs on foreign steel imports.

Steelworkers have been pushing the government to set tariffs on steel imports for decades after many mills in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania closed.

Now, Weirton Steel — one of the last remaining mills in the region — will join the others, closing its door for the foreseeable future and layoffing roughly 900 employees. 

“No one expected this verdict,” said Mark Glyptis, president of United Steel Workers Local 2911. “It borders on jeopardizing the safety and viability of our country.” 

What will happen with Weirton?

In January 2023, Cleveland Cliffs and the United Steelworkers filed antidumping and countervailing duty petitions to the Department of Commerce for unfairly traded tin and chromium products. 

The petitions were meant to offset the value of dumped and subsidized products, making it easier for domestic industries like Cleveland Cliffs to compete with foreign steel companies. 

One year later on Jan. 5, the Department of Commerce announced its findings that verified Cleveland Cliff’s concerns about steel dumping and subsidies by foreign countries. The department also announced duties on Canada, China, South Korea and Germany. 

Despite this, on Feb. 6, the four members of the International Trade Commission unanimously rejected these tariffs saying the imports do not sufficiently harm the U.S. steel industry or Weirton. The commission also voted to stop another duty investigation looking into tin products from South Korea. 

After the decision came out, Glyptis said Weirton’s tinplate facility lost all of its customers and had no orders after April. Instead, the customers choose to go with the cheaper foreign options. As a result, Cleveland Cliffs announced they would be closing Weirton’s doors for good. 

The company said the 900 employees will be given the opportunity to relocate to another Cleveland Cliffs facility or will receive severance packages. 

Mark Glyptis
Mark Glyptis sitting at his desk at the United Steelworkers 2911 office in Weirton, West Virginia on Oct. 17, 2023. (Liz Partsch photo)

Reaction

The decision not only affects Weirton’s community and culture but will pose a national security threat to the country as a whole, Glyptis said.

“It changes the entire town, but then it spreads out to a much larger group,” said Glyptis. “(The decision) is not fair to Weirton, its employees, to their families, to the city, valley, state or to the country.” 

Glyptis said the Steelworkers Union is currently gathering support to appeal the decision, even though ITC rulings have rarely been successfully repealed. 

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin railed against the ITC for its decision, saying it “(turned) a blind eye to nearly 1,000 hard-working employees right here in West Virginia in favor of illegally dumped and subsidized imports.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said the decision by the ITC was unwise and irresponsible and called upon Congress and President Biden to “reign in this commission and not idly stand by while American workers and communities suffer.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown also commented on the closure, noting the impact it would have on Ohioans as many steelworkers from Ohio come to Weirton: “This ruling makes it impossible for Ohio’s tin mill industry and other domestic manufacturers to compete with unfair, illegally dumped steel from countries like China.” 

Meanwhile, the Consumers Brand Association, a U.S.-based wide trade association for manufacturers of consumer packaged goods, praised the ITC’s ruling calling it “a true victory for U.S. consumers and manufacturers.” 

If the Cleveland Cliff tariffs were implemented, nearly 40,000 manufacturing jobs would be at risk and consumer prices for canned goods would rise up to 30%, said the CBA.

History

For Weirton steelworkers, the decision signifies a lost war, one they have been fighting since the late 70s.’ But the root of the problem began much earlier. 

After World War II, many foreign countries, like Japan and Germany, started rebuilding their manufacturing sectors using newer technology that required less labor and energy. Multiple recessions in the late 70s and early 80s’ also led to U.S. companies cutting jobs and production. 

In 1950, Weirton Steel produced half of the world’s steel, but by the 1970s, Weirton Steel was making less than 20% of the world’s raw steel. Around the same time, U.S. manufacturers started buying foreign steel because of the cheaper cost compared to American steel. 

China, specifically, has increased its steel production by 12-fold in the past 25 years and is now the global leader in steel production — making 55% of the world’s steel in 2023. Many groups, like steelworker unions, blame the U.S. steel industry’s issues on the cheap price of Chinese steel.

China can sell steel for cheaper because of government-provided subsidies given to companies and lax environmental regulations. Additionally, the decreased value of the Chinese currency, the yuan, has made Chinese imports more appealing to manufacturers.

As a result, China has a surplus of steel at home; and in recent years, they have been accused of flooding the global market with steel and selling it at an extremely low price, undercutting other top steel-production countries.

Tariffs

In the 80s, steelworkers’ unions started calling on the government to enforce tariffs on foreign steel coming from China and South Korea. 

In March 2018, President Donald Trump imposed a 25% tariff on foreign-made steel and a 10% tariff on foreign aluminum to revitalize the U.S. steel industry. The tariffs brought back some jobs in the steel industry, however, the tariff negatively impacted other U.S. manufacturing sectors that rely on steel like the U.S. automobile industry.

A study released in December 2019 by the Federal Reserve Board estimated that a total of 75,000 jobs had been lost in the U.S. manufacturing industry since the start of the tariff. 

The International Trade Commission noted the COVID-19 recession in 2020 may have also exacerbated the tariff’s effect on the US economy. 

Changes in the tariff have since occurred — with Canada, Mexico and the EU now exempt — but there is still a 25% tariff on Chinese imports of steel, and U.S. companies have increasingly bought less steel from China. 

Domestic steel companies are still struggling, though. In December, U.S. Steel, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, announced it would sell the company to Japan-based company Nippon Steel. And now, Clevelands Cliff is closing its Weirton facility. 

The closure of the Cleveland Cliffs tinplate facility will significantly affect Weirton economically. Weirton’s tinplate facility is one of the largest taxpayers in Hancock County, and roughly half of those taxes go to the board of education. Hancock County school superintendent Dan Enrich said there will be a net loss of $1 million to the school system. 

The closure marks the end of 114 years of steel production in Weirton.

(Reporter Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 800-837-3419.)

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