The chairman of U.S. Steel Corps. said today that the nation's largest steel maker is preparing antidumping complaints against all European steel producers and Japan.
David M. Roderick, speaking to a luncheon meeting of reporters, said that the administration's two-year old trigger price program -- which in effect set minimum prices for imported steel -- is not keeping underpriced foreign steel out of the U.S. market and American producers and workers are being hurt.
Roderick said no complaints would be filed at the Treasury Department, which administers both the antidumping laws as well as the trigger price program, until after Jan. 1 when the new trade law goes into effect.
He also continued to hold out that if the trigger price program is "altered" -- read that to mean if trigger prices are raised substantially -- that U.S. Steel might not file the complaints.
Antidumping complaints are expensive and laborious to pursue, even under the streamlined trade law, because not only must the industry prove that steel is being sold in the U.S. at prices lower than it is being sold in the home country, the industry must also prove that workers and companies are being injured by the dumping.
Roderick admitted the company would take a risk if it files the antidumping suits because the government long has said that it cannot administer both the trigger price system and cope with a vast array of complex antidumping suits in steel.
If the trigger price program were junked, there could be a flood of steel imports into the United States while the dumping petitions go through administrative channels and hearings.
Last week U.S. Steel announced that it would close 15 money losing operations and lay off permanently about 13,000 steel workers. But those layoffs are apparently unrelated to the long-standing steel industry complaints that foreign producers sell their steel in the U.S. at a lower price than they sell it in their home markets.
In part because of the trigger price system, foreign imports of steel are lower than they were in 1978, but the steel industry, and U.S. Steel in particular, are getting nervous because steel demand has slumped in recent weeks and a prolonged recession could damage seriously the industry's profitablility which is in the lower range achieved by most American industries to begin with.
In other developments:
The company's top labor negotiator, Bruce Johnston, said that massive layoffs last week "have to have some sobering effect on steel workers," who will negotiate a new three-year agreement early next year.
Roderick said U.S. Steel is dissatisfied with the high cost of the no-strike, experimental negotiating agreement between the United Steel Workers and the industry and has not decided whether it wants to renew the no-strike pact next year.
Roderick said U.S. Steel and China still are discussing the company's development of an iron ore mine in China, but that it would be some time -- probably more than a year -- before any project gets off the ground.
Johnston said that leaders of the steel workers understand the profitability problems the industry faces and "find the facts compelling," but said union leaders have difficulty convincing the union membership that they must lower their wage demands.
Last month, steel workers at several U.S. Steel Bridge divisions, told by the company they might face permanent layoff unless they agreed to no wage increases, rejected such a proposal overwhelmingly.
Roderick said the six-year-old experimental agreement, which guarantees no national steel strike in return for heavy wage guarantees before bargaining even begins, may be an "insurance premium that is not worth the payoff" to steel companies. The no-strike agreement was reached in order to ward off the flood of imports that always hit the United States in the months preceding expiration of national steel contracts.
Johnston said that while the experimental agreement is "now perceived by the (steel workers) membership as attracitve . . . whether it is attractive for us is a much, much closer question."