FARRELL – NLMK Pennsylvania has laid off up to 100 workers on a weekly basis, with an additional 35 salaried positions permanently eliminated, which a top company official blames on tariffs enacted last year by President Donald J. Trump.
“On any given week we have anywhere between 80 to 100 production people on layoff,’’ said Bob Miller, NLMK Pennsylvania’s president. “The number depends on our production orders. And unfortunately our volume is down right now.’’
Further, Miller said the company had to slash 35 salaried posts, including 17 jobs that had been open but will now go unfilled.
“I told people this is what would happen if the tariffs remained,’’ Miller said.
On March 8, 2018, President Donald Trump put a 25 percent tariff on steel imports from a number of countries, including Russia. NLMK Pennsylvania is owned by Novolipetsk Steel, abbreviated as NLMK. The parent company is one of Russia’s leading steelmakers.
Under its business model, the Farrell plant has relied on its parent company for most of its material. The steel arrives at the Farrell steel plant as slabs, which are rolled into coils that are sold to manufacturers for a variety of items such as cars and appliances.
Miller has said there aren’t enough slabs produced in the U.S., so the company is forced to pay the tariffs and also buy from foreign markets — including Canada, Mexico and Brazil — not affected by the tariffs.
But even those alternatives might not provide safe harbor for NLMK. Trump announced Monday on Twitter that he planned to restore tariffs on steel manufactured in Brazil and Argentina. The president said those nations have allowed their currency to decrease in value.
In April, the U.S. Department of Commerce rejected almost all of NLMK’s requests for exemptions from the federal government’s tariffs. At the time, Miller said the company had paid $160 million in tariffs. He didn’t immediately have the latest total on Monday.
NLMK employs 600 people at the Farrell steel plant and another 150 workers at its Sharon Coating operation.
Representatives of United Steelworkers Local 1016-03 in Farrell didn’t immediately return a phone call Monday. The USW represents 430 production and maintenance workers at the Farrell plant.
Farrell city Manager Michael Ceci said Monday the city hasn’t seen any immediate financial repercussions yet.
The city collects a 1 percent non-resident tax from NLMK workers who don’t live in Farrell. That percentage is down from 1.8 percent the city collected when it was under the state’s Act 47 distressed community status, said Ceci.
“By reducing it to 1 percent it allowed us to exit from Act 47 in February,’’ he said. “We no longer have that safety net.’’
He said it was worrisome that NLMK was laying off employees.
“Even one person who has been laid off is detrimental not just to us but the entire area.’’
Miller was more blunt.
“This is very frustrating,’’ he said. “The government is really hurting the little guy.’’
There is little the company can do to change the situation, Miller said.
“We’ve adjusted our business and we’ll keep fighting for what is right,’’ he said.