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Steelworkers tout American-made measure

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During an annual legislative conference on Tuesday morning, representatives from a steelworkers union touted legislation that would promote American-made products.

Randy Moore, West Virginia sub-district director of the United Steelworkers of America, supported the amendment, which has been introduced in both houses of the Legislature. The bill would require West Virginia government purchases and contracts to concentrate on using American-made products. 

Any "contract for construction or a purchase of supplies, material, equipment and any other articles or things" will require that a "substantial portion of the total bid amount shall be American made," the House of Delegates bill states.

Pat Maroney, a lawyer who has represented the USW and the state AFL-CIO for many years, criticized "free trade agreements," such as the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

"Since NAFTA was passed, one million jobs have been lost, most of them related to the steel industry. Other trade agreements with countries like China have also taken a great deal of jobs out of our country.

"We once had clothing manufacturers in West Virginia. That has all gone to China. We need tariffs," Maroney said.

Without tariffs, it is almost impossible for well-paid American workers to compete with workers in poor countries who are paid 25 cents an hour for their labor with few, if any, other benefits, Maroney argued.

Moore distributed a leaflet from the Alliance for American Manufacturing -- a coalition of the USW and several major steel companies, including U.S. Steel -- showing West Virginia had only 49,000 manufacturing jobs in 2013, after losing 28,400 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2012.

Maroney praised labor unions for their central role in passing the National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and Black Lung laws. Unions were also critical to passing laws that created Social Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, unemployment benefits and the minimum wage.

West Virginia's "Buy America" legislation in the House was introduced by Delegates Daniel Poling, D-Wood; Phillip Diserio, D-Brooke; Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia; David A. Walker, D-Clay; Meshea L. Poore, D-Kanawha; Adam Young, D-Nicholas; and Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia.

The similar Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio; Jack Yost, D-Brooke; Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; Daniel J. Hall, D-Wyoming; Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall; Majority Leader John R. Unger, D-Berkeley; and Ronald F. Miller, D-Greenbrier.   

Maroney also said, "Health care is the biggest obstacle we have in negotiating contracts today. We need a single-payer health-care system. ...

"Under Medicare and Medicaid, three percent of all expenses go to administrative costs. Under private health care, up to 30 percent go to administrative costs."

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, running as a Democrat for the open U.S. Senate seat created by the retirement of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also spoke. Tennant is running against incumbent Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

"I won't shut the door on the people of West Virginia and I won't shut down our government when I don't get my way," Tennant said. She also criticized Capito for voting against legislation to increase the minimum wage, for legislation that would have privatized Social Security and for legislation that cut student Pell Grants and allowed banks to raise rates on student loans.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., was invited to speak at Tuesday's meeting, but had returned to Washington, D.C. because Congress is in session.

In a letter read by Moore, Rahall stated he is pressing the U.S. International Trade Commission to "protect our domestic manufacturers, especially in the steel and hard wood industries, from illegally subsidized imports."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164


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