STEEL INDUSTRY Union chief warns of dire future

Despite tariffs, leaders say steel industry faces dismal future, leaders say.
WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) -- Steel companies are consolidating and workers are learning to do more with less, but the U.S. industry still faces a potentially devastating "perfect storm," says the leader of the United Steelworkers of America.
Union President Leo Gerard called on the U.S. government to strengthen its commitment to fair trade and keep fighting the World Trade Organization's attempt to repeal tariffs. Without serious bipartisan commitment, both the steel industry and the manufacturers who depend on it are doomed, he said Thursday night.
"There's a real possibility that the next generation will not be making steel. They'll be finishing slabs shipped in from elsewhere in the world," said Gerard, who joined regional industry leaders for the start of a two-day conference at Wheeling Jesuit University.
"In this world economy, you can't rebuild the World Trade Center with U.S. steel, and I think that's criminal," he said.
Steel being used in the expansion of the Wheeling federal building comes from South Africa, said James Bradley, CEO of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.
The steel industry helped create the middle class, but now America can't afford the jobs to sustain it, Bradley said. Some three dozen companies have filed for bankruptcy since imported steel began flooding the U.S. market in late 1997, and many have shut down permanently.
Domestic producers are now competing with countries that have been able to skip the decades-long evolution toward efficiency by buying technology developed in the United States, Bradley said.
"They have the technology. They have the infrastructure. What they do not have is the middle class: Their labor cost is $1 an hour," Bradley said. "That's pretty tough competition."
Last month, the World Trade Organization ruled that tariffs President Bush imposed on some kinds of imported steel last March are a violation of global trade policies.