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Sale of US Steel kicks up a political storm, but Pittsburgh isn't Steeltown USA anymore

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Sale of US Steel kicks up a political storm, but Pittsburgh isn't Steeltown USA anymore


PITTSBURGH — Generations of Pittsburgh residents have worked at steel mills, rooted for the Steelers or ridden the rollercoaster at Kennywood amusement park, giving them a bird’s eye view of the massive Edgar Thomson Works, the region’s last blast furnace.

Now, Steeltown USA’s most storied steel company, U.S. Steel, is on the cusp of being bought by Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel Corp. in a deal that’s kicking up an election year political maelstrom across America’s industrial heartland.

The sale comes during a tide of renewed political support for rebuilding America’s manufacturing sector and in the middle of a presidential campaign in which the politically dynamic Pittsburgh region is a destination for President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and their surrogates.

The deal follows a long stretch of protectionist U.S. tariffs that analysts say has helped reinvigorate domestic steel. And it is eliciting complicated feelings in a region where steel is largely a thing of the past after people, particularly those 50 or older, watched mills shut down and their Rust Belt towns wither.

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“The fear is that these jobs went away once, and the fear is that these jobs could go away again,” said Mike Mikus, a Pittsburgh-based Democratic campaign consultant whose grandfather lost his steel mill job 40 years ago.

U.S. Steel is no longer a major steelmaker in an industry dominated by the Chinese. But its workers still carry political heft in what some see as a larger symbolic fight to save what’s left of manufacturing in the United States.

With the United Steelworkers against the deal, Biden — a Democrat who has made his support for organized labor explicit and has won the union’s endorsement — has all but vowed to block U.S. Steel’s sale, saying in an April rally with steelworkers in Pittsburgh that the company “should remain totally American.”

Trump, a Republican who as president opposed union organizing efforts but describes himself as pro-worker, has said he would block it “instantaneously.”

Biden’s White House has indicated the secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States will review the transaction for national security concerns. The committee can recommend that the president block a transaction, and federal law gives the president that power.

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In the meantime, the Department of Justice is reviewing it for antitrust compliance, and the steelworkers union has filed a grievance over it.

In a rare flurry of bipartisan unity, the sale has drawn opposition from Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio and from Republican Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, on both economic and national security grounds.

Nippon Steel has scheduled the deal to close later this year.

Once the world’s largest corporation, U.S. Steel was the world’s 27th-largest steelmaker in 2023, according to World Steel Association figures. It reported just under $900 million in net income on $16 billion in sales last year.

The deal includes all of U.S. Steel’s ore mining, coking, steelmaking and processing plants around the country, including the Edgar Thomson Works, which looms over the Monongahela River just south of Pittsburgh and still churns out steel slabs 150 years after it was built. U.S. Steel employs 3,000 people at its four major Pennsylvania plants, including the Edgar Thomson and the nation’s largest coke-making plant in nearby Clairton.

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Nippon Steel — the world’s fourth-largest steelmaker in 2023, according to association figures — and U.S. Steel are now in the midst of a broad public relations effort to promote the sale.

Their ads are on social media, TV screens and billboards, as the companies promise to protect jobs, move Nippon Steel’s U.S. headquarters to Pittsburgh from Houston and invest in the badly aging Pittsburgh-area plants to make them cleaner and more efficient.

Flyers landing in Pittsburgh-area mailboxes tout the “future of American steel” and urge residents to contact their elected officials to support the companies’ “partnership.”

And, they say, “U.S. Steel remains U.S. Steel.”

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is a changed place.

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It is no longer a destination for new steel investment. Gone are the 20 or so miles (32 kilometers) of contiguous iron and steel mills from downtown Pittsburgh and up the Monongahela River that helped the U.S. industrialize and wage wars.

Now, Pittsburgh is seen as an “eds and meds” city in which universities and hospitals are the major employers.

Allegheny County, which surrounds Pittsburgh, just began growing again, after decades of population decline. Some city neighborhoods have emerged from a long period of struggle and are thriving, and a younger generation is attracted to the city’s growing high-tech industry.

Younger residents or transplants don’t necessarily want steelworkers to lose jobs, but they care about the environment, too. Local elections are increasingly elevating insurgent progressives who take a dim view of fossil fuels and heavy industries — such as U.S. Steel’s plants — that use them.

Edith Abeyta, an artist and California transplant who lives near Edgar Thomson Works, keeps an air monitor at her house to check daily for air quality.

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For her, Edgar Thomson Works is a massive eyesore and a health threat.

“Not every place you go smells like rotten eggs or burning metal or you see big plumes of red smoke or black smoke or flares that are burning all night long,” Abeyta said. “Not everybody lives with that.”

Steelworkers have changed too.

The union still endorses Democrats, but rank-and-file blue-collar union members, like the steelworkers, are no longer viewed as a bedrock of the Democratic Party’s coalition, in part because of shrinking union numbers but also because there were defections to Republicans. In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to win Rust Belt states Michigan and Pennsylvania since 1988.

Christopher Briem, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, estimated there are 5,000 steel mill jobs in the region, a tiny percentage of the number of mill jobs when steelmaking there was at its peak. He puts the region’s competitive steelmaking peak in the 1920s, before technological advances rendered the region’s metallurgical coal unnecessary for steelmaking and gave rise to electric arc furnaces that don’t require coal.

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And while Pittsburgh has recovered from the collapse of steel, some smaller neighboring towns haven’t.

“And that’s what got people so concerned, is the fact that we’ve been through this before and it changed the region and it devastated people’s lives,” said August Carlino, president and chief executive officer of the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation, based in Homestead.

Tony Buba, a filmmaker who lives near the Edgar Thomson plant and whose father worked for 44 years at a steel mill, sees a misplaced nostalgia around Pittsburgh’s steel industry.

Mill jobs were dangerous work that didn’t pay decent wages until shortly before steel’s collapse in the early 1980s, he said. “Sirens would go off when someone got hurt, and mother would start praying,” he said.

Regardless of who owns them, Buba expects that Pittsburgh’s steel plants will be gone in 30 or 40 years — and that political support will be fleeting.

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“It’ll be interesting to see after the election,” Buba said, “how many people are opposed to the sale.”

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Follow Marc Levy at twitter.com/timelywriter.

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

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Pittsburg, PA

Goats cleaning up vegetation along Natrona Riverfront

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Goats cleaning up vegetation along Natrona Riverfront


Goats cleaning up vegetation along Natrona Riverfront – CBS Pittsburgh

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This week, a dozen hungry goats and a donkey are tasked with managing the landscape along the Natrona Riverfront in Harrison Township; KDKA-TV’s Alexandra Todd reports.

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PFF Denies Bias Against Steelers LB

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PFF Denies Bias Against Steelers LB


PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase and Pro Football Focus (PFF) are squarely in opposite camps. Most NFL fans are critical of PFF for their selective use of statistics and “advanced” measurements of players, but Steelers Nation has another bone to pick. Most Pittsburgh fans feel PFF is bias against the Steelers, especially when it comes to ranking the premier defensive players in the game.

Over the past few seasons, Steelers’ star linebacker T.J. Watt has consistently been ranked below Cleveland Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett. It’s one of the most exciting individual rivalries. Playing in the same division, Garrett and Watt have been the two of the most dominant defenders in the league since they both entered the NFL.

But according to PFF, Myles Garrett continues to be the better player. They released their rankings of the best players in the NFL entering the 2024 season and ranked Watt 14th compared to Garrett who was second. Watt also was below Dallas Cowboys star rusher Micah Parsons.

Unsurprisingly, the list received criticism, especially from Steelers’ fans. Writer Sam Monson, who authored the best players list, heard the backlash and recently defended his choices on PFF’s youtube channel.

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“It’s going to be interesting when the NFL releases their top 100,” he said. “They tweeted out a bunch of ballots of players having voted. I didn’t see a single one that had T.J. Watt above Myles Garrett, and that’s one of the things about last season that Steelers fans that are upset that we have this vendetta against T.J. Watt have not found an answer to yet.”

The only problem is that Steelers fans do have answer: on the field performance. The only year Garrett has outpaced Watt in sacks was during 2022, when Watt was limited to just 10 games due to injury. Similarly, 2020 was the last time Garrett forced more fumbles than Watt. Watt has more passes deflected, interceptions, and quarterback pressures on a year-to-year comparison and overall than Garrett. Really, when you look at the two side by side on paper, T.J. Watt is the far better and more productive defender.

The two rushers are also tied in the hardware battle. Neither has secured a Super Bowl championship, but both have Defensive Player of the Year award under their belts. Garrett won his first this past season and Watt won his following a 22.5 sack season in 2021. Even Monson had to admit that Watt’s game is consistent and terrifying.

“There may not be a better playmaker on the defensive side of the ball,” he said.

Yet, PFF and much of the league continue to place Watt below Garrett and disrespect his game. Heading into 2024, they have him ranked as the fourth best defensive player in the NFL. Not that Watt needs the extra motivation, but PFF continues to give him and the Steelers reason to continue proving them and the rest of the league wrong.

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Pennsylvania's Supreme Court will weigh in on Pittsburgh's 'jock tax'

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Pennsylvania's Supreme Court will weigh in on Pittsburgh's 'jock tax'


Pennsylvania’s highest court will weigh in on the legality of Pittsburgh’s tax on out-of-town athletes and performers. In an order issued Monday, the state Supreme Court said it would hear arguments about whether lower courts misinterpreted a constitutional requirement that taxes be levied uniformly.

An appeals court this winter upheld a Common Pleas Judge’s ruling that struck down the city’s Non-Resident Sports Facility Usage Fee — the so-called “jock tax.” The tax is a 3% levy on the income earned by out-of-town athletes and performers when they use city-owned venues. The city appealed that ruling in February.

Pittsburgh officials say the tax evens the playing field between visiting players and home-team athletes: Those who live within the city pay taxes of 3% of their earnings to the city and its school district.

The city’s appeal argues that judges failed to properly apply earlier precedents to the matter. And on Monday, the state Supreme Court said it would hear the city’s appeal on that basis, while rejecting other arguments the city made.

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Mayor Ed Gainey issued a statement Tuesday that said he was “pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear our case. … We believe that this tax is constitutional and will continue to collect it as we prepare to present our arguments to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.”

Common Pleas Court Judge Christine Ward had previously issued an injunction to halt collection of the tax, but the city has argued that it can collect the tax while its appeal is pending.

Lawyers who spoke privately with WESA said they were puzzled by that claim, but Stephen Kidder, a lawyer for the athletes, did not contest it Tuesday night.

“We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that both the Commonwealth Court and the Court of Common Pleas correctly decided this issue,” he said.

Monday’s court order initially caused some confusion, with some media outlets, and one local official, interpreting the order as a blanket refusal to take up the issue.

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City Controller Rachael Heisler has voiced concern about city finances and the fate of the “jock tax,” and on Tuesday afternoon posted a statement on social media that the city needed to be “honest” about its fiscal situation. But later in the day, she said that the post had relied “in part on news reports” and that she “was not correct relaying inaccurate reports about the complete dismissal of the appeal.”

Still, Heisler argued the city should prepare for a future without the tax: “I remain concerned about whether the city can continue to rely on revenue” from the jock tax, she said.

Gainey said Tuesday his administration is “doing all that we can to ensure the financial strength and security of our city.”

The city’s five-year financial plan estimates that the tax will bring in an average of $4.6 million per year. That’s a small sum in the context of an overall operating budget that runs well over half a billion dollars annually. But the impact could snowball if the city loses its legal battle: Those who’ve paid the tax would be eligible for refunds, and would have a three-year window to file a claim.

The uncertainty surrounding the jock tax is just one financial headache facing the city. Plunging property reassessments, especially among commercial properties Downtown, and the end of federal COVID aid also mean lean years ahead, and potentially a hotly debated budget season this fall.

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