Hollowed Out Heartland: 900 American Workers at West Virginia Plant Laid Off After Feds Refuse Tariffs on China

<> on May 19, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

After a federal agency refused to allow the Department of Commerce to impose tariffs on cheap imported tin from Canada, China, Germany, and South Korea, about 900 American workers are set to lose their jobs at a plant in Weirton, West Virginia.

On February 15, Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. executives announced they will be idling the company’s tin production plant in Weirton in April, leaving about 900 Americans out of work in the small city of fewer than 20,000 residents.

The massive layoff comes after the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) — made up of four commissioners: Republican David Johanson, Democrat Rhonda Schmidtlein, Democrat Jason Kearns, and Democrat Amy Karpel — refused to allow the Commerce Department to impose tariffs on unfairly subsidized and cheap imported tin products from Canada, China, Germany, and South Korea.

“We worked very closely with our partners at the United Steelworkers (USW) on this solution to save Weirton, and together fought tirelessly for its survival,” Cleveland-Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in a statement:

In what was our final effort to maintain tinplate production here in America, we proved that we are forced to operate on an uneven playing field, and that the deck was stacked in favor of the importers. Despite the Department of Commerce finding evidence of dumping and subsidization from respondent countries, the ITC shockingly ruled against imposition of tariffs, keeping the uneven playing field in place and making it impossible for us to viably produce tinplate. We have been upfront and open with union leadership throughout this process and our partnership with the USW remains unbreakable. [Emphasis added]

To the tin can makers and consumer groups who irrationally fought against American jobs and a domestic-based food supply chain, this outcome is due to your own greed. We disproved all the arguments leveled against the domestic industry and workers. Furthermore, Weirton recently concluded a successful run of Drawn & Ironed material that tested perfectly with zero defects. This test proves that Weirton and its workers are able to manufacture all the products the market demands. The ITC’s decision is a travesty for America, middle-class jobs, and our critical food supply chains. This bad outcome requires better and stronger trade laws. We will continue to work tirelessly with our Congressional champions who fought with us in this case to improve the trade laws so that the American industry and our workers are not left behind. [Emphasis added]

In January 2023, Cleveland-Cliffs executives and the USW asked federal regulators to investigate cheap tin products being dumped in the U.S. market.

Last month, the Commerce Department found “that imports of tin mill products from Canada, China, Germany, and the Republic of Korea are being unfairly priced, i.e., dumped, into the U.S. market, and imports of tin mill products from China are also being subsidized.”

To protect American workers and the nation’s tin production, the Commerce Department proposed tariffs on tin imports from Canada, China, Germany, and South Korea. The ITC, though, refuted the findings and said no such tariffs are necessary to protect American jobs.

USW Local 2911 President Mark Glyptis told Fox Business Network the ITC’s refusal to allow tariffs on cheap, subsidized tin imports to save American workers’ jobs is, among other things, “un-American.”

“This is a total travesty. It’s totally un-American to me. It’s one of the most un-American decisions that has ever been made that’s going to jeopardize the food industry in this country. It’s going to be a national security issue,” Glyptis said:

I’m going to do anything I could possibly do to overturn this decision. It’s a wrong decision by our government. They’re supposed to be looking after America and its people, not foreigners. [Emphasis added]

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have both denounced the ITC’s decision, which is leading to the plant’s closure.

Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), who represents the residents of Weirton, also called out the ITC as a “globalist, Democrat-led” agency that has “sided with the cheap foreign competitors” rather than American workers.

“… as a result, another American plant was closed,” Mooney said.

Indeed, free trade policies have cost West Virginia countless jobs in manufacturing and supporting industries as American companies are unable to compete with cheap imports. Other companies use free trade as a means to cut their costs by outsourcing to low-wage foreign countries and having their products imported to the U.S. with often minuscule tariffs.

One former steel town in West Virginia lost 94 percent of its steel jobs because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), backed by Republicans and Democrats at the time, with nearly 10,000 workers in the town being displaced from the steel industry.

A November 2022 report from the ITC admitted that free trade has a crippling impact on American communities, like those in West Virginia, where jobs disappear making way for addiction, poverty, and despair.

John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Email him at jbinder@breitbart.com. Follow him on Twitter here.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.