Trump's proposed tariff on steel and aluminum threatens to impact 40K Hamilton jobs

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced hefty new tariffs for imports of steel and aluminum. Hamilton is a large producer of steel and people are worried what the tariff could do to the city's industry.

Trump proposes a 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum

On Thursday U.S. President Donald Trump announced hefty new tariffs for imports of steel and aluminum. Hamilton is a large producer of steel and people are worried what the tariff could do to the city's industry. (John Rieti/CBC)

U.S. president Donald Trump's announcement this week to tack heavy tariffs on steel and aluminum threatens to impact as many as 40,000 Hamilton jobs, says the head of Steeltown's business community.

Keanin Loomis, president and CEO of Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, says the tariff announced Thursday — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — is cause for concern.

It could have an impact on about 10,000 direct steel production jobs and 30,000 other jobs as that could be made more insecure as a result of what he calls "a multiplier effect," he said.

"Ultimately there are up to about I think 40,000 jobs or so that could be impacted in Hamilton by this announcement," said Loomis.

The 40,000 jobs in the Hamilton area come not only from two of the biggest companies — ArcelorMittal Dofasco and Stelco — but also a host of smaller companies, he says. "The smaller guys don't really have a voice."

Gary Howe, president of United Steelworkers Local 1005, cautions that it will have to be determined whether or not Canada is included in the sanctions. But Howe says with businesses between the two countries are closely intertwined, so there will be issues.

"If any tariffs go on, it's going to be huge problems for the employers that we represent," said Howe. "We're trying to assess right now whether we're going to be included or not and focus on what lobbying efforts are being done."

When former president George W. Bush imposed a steel tariff in 2002m Canada got an exemption. Canadians are appealing to the U.S. once again for the exemption.

"We're hopefully that there will be a Canadian exemption because whatever tariffs that are slapped onto Canadian steel are going to have a huge impact on consumer prices in the U.S," said Loomis.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger mirrored that sentiment on CBC's Power and Politics Thursday.

"If there's a change, the pricing for consumers could go up, and it certainly would affect employment here in Hamilton in terms of steel making," said Eisenberger.

'I'd like to think saner minds will prevail,' says Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger. 4:48

The Hamilton mayor expressed what he hopes the Canadian government will do.

"I want them to continue to work on helping the United States, and President Trump to understand the trade balance that we've got going here," said Eisenberger. "I'd like to think saner minds will prevail."

Putting uncertainty on local businesses

Dean Patterson and his wife, Sonya Mainprize, own a small company in Grimsby Ont., called Rozza Welding and Steel Fabrication. They fabricate a lot of steel structures.

Patterson says that his business would be impacted.

"If the tariff puts the prices of steel up, the prices of jobs go up. Our job costs cost more to do. So if the job costs get too high then us little companies will be just kicked right out," said Patterson.

This announcement also comes as Hamilton Specialty Bar is trying to avoid imminent closure after they announced financial issues in January.

The company filed papers Jan. 8 to enter a receivership, where a third party takes the reins, assuming control of the company while it's in court-supervised bankruptcy protection or restructuring.

Feb. 28 was the extended sale deadline for Hamilton Specialty Bar to find another buyer. The extension came after the first deadline in February.

No formal bids have been made, but there has been a motion to liquidate the company.

That motion will be heard in court on March 14, says Mickey Mercanti, president of United Steel United Steelworkers Local 4752. The company has between now and then to make a last-ditch effort.

"They've left the door open for us for two weeks now. If we have a buyer with a valid offer within the two weeks, then we can carry on, so that's our job to do right now," said Mercanti.

If the company isn't saved, 200 unionized workers and about 50 salaried workers, 400 retired workers and their families, bringing the total of more than 1,000 people in Hamilton could feel the impact of the closure.

"We're optimistic that we're going to find a buyer," said Mercanti.

When asked if he thinks the announcement of the tariff could scare off potential buyers, Mercanti said, "I don't think it's actually a concern for us."

Canadian exemption

Premier Kathleen Wynne weighed in Thursday after Trump's announcement. She said any tariff measures that include steel or aluminum from Ontario could have serious negative impacts on workers and businesses on both sides of the border.

"I am very concerned by President Trump's announcement today that the U.S. government will introduce tariffs next week on steel and aluminum imports," said Wynne.

Any suggestion that Ontario-made steel or aluminum constitutes a "national security threat" to the U.S. is false, Wynne said. "Canada and the U.S. are key allies and partners, and are integral to each other's national security."

Canada has been closely watching the developments in the U.S., because it is the No. 1 seller of both steel and aluminum to the world's largest economy.

It is also one of the top importers of U.S. steel for its auto and defence sectors.

The United States imported 26.9 million tonnes of steel in 2017, and more than four million, or 16 per cent of it, came from Canada.

About the Author

Laura Clementson is a journalist with CBC News. She can be reached at laura.clementson@cbc.ca. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraClementson.

With files from Kelly Bennett