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Rockefeller thinks tariffs will be lifted { December 3 2003 }

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Trade Act May Protect Tariffs

WEIRTON - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller visited Weirton Tuesday, making two announcements that could have a substantial impact on the domestic steel industry, its workers and retirees.

One of them could prompt the Independent Steelworkers Union to file a lawsuit over the unlawful termination of the tariff program, if President Bush does as predicted and lifts the tariffs.
Meanwhile, Independent Steelworkers President Mark Glyptis has promised that an early end to the tariff program will guarantee a loss for George W. Bush in West Virginia in the 2004 presidential election.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said during a news conference at the Independent Steelworkers Union Hall in Weirton Tuesday afternoon that he had just been informed that President Bush may not have the legal authority to terminate the Section 201 tariff program.

He also announced he has introduced legislation in the Senate that would give employees and retirees expanded rights when the companies they work for enter bankruptcy.

"It appears fairly clear that under the 1974 Trade Act the (President Bush) cannot lift a tariff if the domestic industry has made adequate efforts to make a positive adjustment to import competition, which I think everyone would agree the American steel industry has done," Rockefeller said.

Section 204(b)(1)(A) of the Fair Trade Act of 1974 allows for modification, reduction or termination of Section 201 tariffs by the president based on reports from the U.S. International Trade Commission only if one of the following conditions exist:

The domestic industry has not made adequate efforts to make a positive adjustment to import competition.

The effectiveness of the action ... has been impaired by changed economic circumstances.

Rockefeller noted that the second condition does not apply in this case.

"If somebody can bring this suit, if this has merit, then this would be helpful," he said, acknowledging that he himself had been made aware of this information only hours earlier and was unsure of the legal merits of a potential case.

Glyptis said he has consulted his Washington trade attorney concerning the matter and confirmed that a case would have legal merit should the president terminate the tariff program.

"There are some concerns overall as to whether you could be successful," Glyptis said, explaining that while the statute provides two criteria for the president to consider in his decision, the overriding factor seems to be the threat of retaliation by the European Union.

"You're not going to find that in the code," Glyptis said, adding the law doesn't address the possibility of retaliation by other nations. "I intend to look into it further to see what merit there might be."

Other problems with a potential lawsuit could be found in establishing a jurisdiction for the case and finding a federal judge willing to reverse an order by a sitting president - not to mention the expense.

"I intend to talk with our colleagues with the United Steelworkers of America," Glyptis said, adding the USWA has additional legal resources, as well as greater financial resources than the ISU, should a decision be made to move forward with legal action against the president.

Rockefeller also announced that he has introduced the Bankruptcy Fairness Act in the Senate, which he said is designed to provide protection for employees and retirees of companies that file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

He noted that this legislation will not benefit steelworkers in the Ohio Valley.

"It's too late for them," Rockefeller said, but added he wants to help those that follow.

"Bankers get first treatment, and workers get last treatment or no treatment," Rockefeller said of current bankruptcy law, explaining his legislation would allow workers to file a claim for cash payment equal to the value of the health insurance they would have received for an 18-month period after the bankruptcy filing.

"They would be treated like a creditor on health care," Rockefeller said.

He said the bill also would raise the limit on employee claims against other types of compensation owed by employers from $4,650 to $15,000.

The senator briefly addressed the issue of steel tariffs and the current state of steelmaking in the Ohio Valley, noting that some of his views are not shared by others.

"I wish as much as I did four years ago, if these two companies had merged, we would not be where we are today," Rockefeller said, noting Weirton Steel has significant challenges remaining if it is to emerge from bankruptcy by Dec. 31.

"Getting a Byrd Loan doesn't solve all the problems," he said. "Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done? I don't know. We're going to do everything we can to get it done."

Rockefeller was not optimistic concerning the president's decision on steel tariffs.

"I think the decision is made," Rockefeller said. "I think he will lift the tariffs."

Glyptis disagreed.

"I personally think he is going to keep the tariffs," he said. "He may modify them."

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