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Biden vows to shield US steel industry by blocking Japanese merger and seeking new Chinese tariffs

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Biden vows to shield US steel industry by blocking Japanese merger and seeking new Chinese tariffs
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News

Biden vows to shield US steel industry by blocking Japanese merger and seeking new Chinese tariffs

2024-04-18 09:55 Last Updated At:10:00

PITTSBURGH (AP) — President Joe Biden suggested to cheering, unionized steelworkers on Wednesday that his administration would thwart the acquisition of U.S. Steel by a Japanese company, and he called for a tripling of tariffs on Chinese steel, seeking to use trade policy to win over working-class votes in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

The Democratic president’s pitch comes as Donald Trump, his likely Republican opponent, tries to chart a path back to the White House with tough-on-China rhetoric and steep tariff proposals of his own.

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President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

PITTSBURGH (AP) — President Joe Biden suggested to cheering, unionized steelworkers on Wednesday that his administration would thwart the acquisition of U.S. Steel by a Japanese company, and he called for a tripling of tariffs on Chinese steel, seeking to use trade policy to win over working-class votes in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden walks into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden walks into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden meets with steelworkers at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden meets with steelworkers at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

President Joe Biden steps out from behind a curtain before greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden steps out from behind a curtain before greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden, center, poses a group photo during his visit to United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden, center, poses a group photo during his visit to United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden reaches to touch the name of his uncle Ambrose J. Finnegan, Jr., on a wall at a Scranton war memorial, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. His uncle died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden reaches to touch the name of his uncle Ambrose J. Finnegan, Jr., on a wall at a Scranton war memorial, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. His uncle died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks with reporters as he departs on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks with reporters as he departs on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets local police officers as he arrives to depart Pennsylvania on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets local police officers as he arrives to depart Pennsylvania on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden arrives at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden arrives at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden waves as he arrives to depart on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden waves as he arrives to depart on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets visitors as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets visitors as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

During a visit to the Pittsburgh headquarters of United Steelworkers, Biden said U.S. Steel “has been an iconic American company for more than a century and it should remain totally American.”

Administration officials are reviewing the proposed acquisition of U.S. Steel by Japan’s Nippon Steel, and Biden said last month he would oppose the deal, saying it was “vital for it to remain an American steel company that is domestically owned and operated.”

But in front of a union audience, he went much further in pledging he may block it.

“American-owned, American-operated by American union steelworkers — the best in the world — and that’s going to happen, I promise you,” he said.

In another step that his administration argues can protect domestic steelworkers, Biden also announced that he will push for higher tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, aiming to insulate American producers from a flood of cheap imports.

Biden's push on steel reflects the intersection of international trade policy with his reelection effort, although the White House insisted they were more about shielding American manufacturing from unfair trade practices overseas than firing up a union audience.

The current tariff rate is 7.5% for both steel and aluminum but could climb to 25% under Biden's proposal. The president said he was asking his trade representative to seek the increase, and separate tariffs of 10% on aluminum and 25% on steel would also remain in place.

The U.S. imported roughly $6.1 billion in steel products in the 12 months ending in February 2023, but just 3% of those imports came from China, according to Census Bureau figures. Citing existing trade barriers, the American Iron and Steel Institute said China last year accounted for even less — just 2.1% of U.S. steel imports — making it America’s seventh-biggest source of foreign steel.

However, a senior administration official said there are concerns about China ramping up exports, making the higher tariff levels necessary as a preventative measure.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said the “U.S. is making the same mistake again and again” by seeking increased tariffs. In a statement, he also dismissed levies already in place as “the embodiment of unilateralism and protectionism of the U.S.”

Biden insisted that getting tougher on China was sound policy, including when it comes to preventing the exportation of advanced technologies that could “undermine our national security.”

He said he delivered a similar message to Chinese President Xi Jinping during previous conversations, telling him, “You’ll use them for all the wrong reasons, so you’re not going to get those advanced computer chips.”

Biden criticized Trump for failing to take such steps, saying that “for all his tough talk on China, it never occurred to my predecessor to do any of that.”

The administration also promised to pursue investigations against countries and importers that try to saturate existing markets with Chinese steel, and said it was working with Mexico to ensure that Chinese companies cannot circumvent the tariffs by shipping steel there for subsequent export to the United States.

“The president understands we must invest in American manufacturing. But we also have to protect those investments and those workers from unfair exports associated with China’s industrial overcapacity,” said White House national economic adviser Lael Brainard.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai also announced Wednesday that her office, acting on a petition from five national labor unions, was investigating China for “targeting the maritime, logistics and shipbuilding sectors for dominance.”

China's Commerce Ministry responded hours later that the “U.S. petition is full of false accusations.”

It ”misinterprets normal trade and investment activities as damaging to U.S. national security and corporate interests," the ministry said in a statement. “And blames China for the U.S.'s own industrial issues, lacking factual basis and running counter to common sense in economics.”

China produces about half of the world’s steel and is making far more than its domestic market needs. It sells steel on the world market for less than half what U.S.-produced steel costs, senior Biden administration officials said.

The first step to the higher tariffs is the completion of a review of Chinese trade practices. Once Biden gives the official authorization, there will be a public notice and a comment period that could take weeks.

Biden is on a three-day Pennsylvania swing that began in his childhood hometown of Scranton on Tuesday and will include a visit to Philadelphia on Thursday. After ignoring the first two days of Trump’s hush money trial in New York, Biden made a veiled reference to it on Wednesday, joking that his predecessor is “busy right now.”

Biden's announcement on steel tariffs was cheered by U.S. steelmakers. Kevin Dempsey, president of the American Iron and Steel Institute, accused China of disrupting “world markets both by subsidizing the production of steel and other products, and by dumping those products in the U.S. and other markets.”

To coincide with the announcement, Biden’s campaign released a 60-second ad that will air on Pennsylvania television for the next five days. It features a steelworker, who is also a small-town mayor, praising the president’s economic policies.

Higher tariffs can carry major economic risks. Steel and aluminum could become more expensive, possibly increasing the costs of cars, construction materials and other key goods for U.S. consumers. Also, inflation has already been a drag on Biden's political fortunes, and his turn toward protectionism echoes Trump's playbook.

The former president, who has said he would never allow the acquisition of U.S. Steel by a foreign company to go through, imposed broader tariffs on Chinese goods during his administration and has threatened to increase levies on Chinese goods unless they trade on his preferred terms as he campaigns for another term.

An outside analysis by the consultancy Oxford Economics has suggested that putting in place the tariffs Trump has proposed could hurt the overall U.S. economy.

Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden walks into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden walks into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden meets with steelworkers at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden meets with steelworkers at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

President Joe Biden is greeted after walking into a Sheetz after stopping enroute to Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

President Joe Biden steps out from behind a curtain before greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden steps out from behind a curtain before greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden, center, poses a group photo during his visit to United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden, center, poses a group photo during his visit to United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden reaches to touch the name of his uncle Ambrose J. Finnegan, Jr., on a wall at a Scranton war memorial, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. His uncle died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden reaches to touch the name of his uncle Ambrose J. Finnegan, Jr., on a wall at a Scranton war memorial, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. His uncle died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks with reporters as he departs on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks with reporters as he departs on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets patrons at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets local police officers as he arrives to depart Pennsylvania on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets local police officers as he arrives to depart Pennsylvania on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden arrives at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden arrives at Zummo's Cafe, Wednesday morning, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, right. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden waves as he arrives to depart on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden waves as he arrives to depart on Air Force One at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., with Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the memorial wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024, and touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets visitors as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets visitors as he visits the War Memorial in Scranton, Pa., Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII, is listed on the wall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Scranton, Pa. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Next Article

Workers at Georgia school bus maker Blue Bird approve their first union contract

2024-05-25 00:36 Last Updated At:00:40

FORT VALLEY, Ga. (AP) — A year after they voted to unionize, workers at a Georgia school bus manufacturer have approved their first contract.

The United Steelworkers union and Blue Bird Corp. said union members at Blue Bird's assembly plants and warehouse in Fort Valley have voted to approve a three-year contract between the company and the union.

The union said the contract will provide all 1,500 covered workers with at least a 12% raise, with some of the lowest-paid workers getting raises of more than 40%. The union says the company will contribute to a retirement plan for workers, share profits, and improve health and safety.

The negotiations had been closely watched by President Joe Biden's administration, in part because Blue Bird has gotten $40 million in federal aid to build electric school buses.

Biden released a statement Thursday saying acting Labor Secretary Julie Su had helped bring the negotiations to a successful agreement. Contract talks after a first union vote are often difficult.

“Congratulations to members of the United Steelworkers and to Blue Bird for proving once again that meeting our clean energy goals is an opportunity to create good-paying union jobs for American workers,” Biden said.

Blue Bird is one of three major school bus manufacturers in the United States, along with Thomas Built Buses, a subsidiary of Daimler Truck AG, and IC Bus, a unit of Navistar International.

Blue Bird had urged employees to reject unionization last year, but CEO Phil Horlock said in a statement Friday that contract talks had been “very collaborative” and that the company is “looking forward to a strong partnership with our USW team members.” The company said higher pay, benefits and opportunities for career development will help Blue Bird attract workers.

“We reached an agreement which provides positive outcomes for all parties involved and will continue to drive our One Team, high-performance culture,” Horlock said. “We are confident that the agreement will further bolster Blue Bird’s position as an employer of choice in the region."

Blue Bird is a publicly held company based in Macon. With about 2,000 employees overall, it has long been the largest private employer in Peach County.

The vote for the USW was a notable win for organized labor in the traditionally unfriendly Deep South.

“Federal investments like these must come with a seat at the table for workers,” United Steelworkers District 9 Director Dan Flippo said in a statement. “Our union has a long history in the South fighting for better wages and working conditions in a variety of industries, but for too long, corporations and their political cronies have tried to characterize the South as a place where they could run away from unions, cut corners and pay workers less."

The share of workers who are unionized nationwide has been falling for decades, dipping to 10% last year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And private sector workers are much less likely to be union members, with only 6% paying dues.

Organized labor is an even smaller sliver of Georgia workers, with only 4.4% of workers being union members. The state's business leaders have long been hostile to unions, with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp this year pushing through a law that would bar companies taking state incentives from recognizing unions without a formal secret-ballot election.

FILE -- An all-electric school bus sits on display in front of the Blue Bird Corp. factory in Fort Valley, Ga., on Feb. 8, 2023. The company and the United Steelworkers union said on Thursday, May, 23, 2024 that workers had approved an initial three-year contract after voting to unionize in May 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE via AP, file)

FILE -- An all-electric school bus sits on display in front of the Blue Bird Corp. factory in Fort Valley, Ga., on Feb. 8, 2023. The company and the United Steelworkers union said on Thursday, May, 23, 2024 that workers had approved an initial three-year contract after voting to unionize in May 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE via AP, file)

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