TRADE ISSUES No job is safe, says company president
A congressman would love all legislators to hear the Summitville Tile story.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
BOARDMAN -- David Johnson issued an ominous warning to the 100 people at a town hall meeting on free trade.
"Every job you all have is in jeopardy," he said Tuesday.
Johnson knows something about economic jeopardy. As president of Summitville Tile in Columbiana County, he has watched employment fall from 650 in the mid-1980s to 250 today.
The company struggled as tile imports surged from making up 40 percent of the domestic market to 80 percent.
The competition that has caused the decline of Summitville is anything but fair, he said. Tile from this country that is exported to China, for example, carries tariffs of between 42 percent and 62 percent, he said. Chinese tile imported to this country has tariffs of 11 percent, he said.
He is hopeful that Summitville can survive the rise in imports and save the company's remaining jobs.
The company has supplied roofing tile to the White House and ceramic tile for the Washington, D.C., subway system and McDonald's and Burger King restaurants around the world. Last week, Summitville filed for bankruptcy protection.
"We think we can save 250 jobs, but it's going to be a struggle -- a damn, tough struggle," he said.
He told the people at the union hall of Operating Engineers Local 66 union hall on McClurg Road that much of America, not just Summitville, is in danger.
"There are global things happening today that are threatening our way of life," he said.
U.S. Rep Ted Strickland of Lisbon, D-6th, organized the meeting as a way for people to learn about trade issues and to get energized for taking political action. It also was a chance for him to hear ideas from Johnson, other panel members and the public.
Johnson is a Republican and was an election delegate for President Bush, but Strickland said his company's story illustrates how legislators of both parties were wrong to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement 10 years ago and other international agreements since.
"I think if I could take David around to every legislator and have him tell what you heard tonight, we could change some minds," Strickland said.
Johnson said he didn't have the answers for helping American industries, but he thinks the country should be reviewing its trade laws and adopting tax policies that would encourage investment in domestic companies.
Johnson's message was echoed by another panelist, a staunch Democrat. Many different jobs, from call center workers to high-level engineers, are being eliminated as American-based companies set up facilities overseas, said Bob Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council in Washington.
"If you think you're safe, you're not," he said.
Manufacturing jobs alone have declined from 18.9 million in April 1998 to 14.5 million now, he said.
Baugh suggested that this country should insist that other countries raise environmental and workers' rights standards, that the government spend $300 billion over 10 years on improving U.S. manufacturing, and that all trade deals be frozen until this country's trade deficit is eliminated.
The federal government is too closely aligned with the interests of big business, said the third panelist, John Russo, coordinator of the labor studies program at Youngstown State University.
Two-thirds of this country's trade deficit with China comes from subsidiaries of American-based companies, he said. Small businesses and working people are being hurt by current trade policies, Russo added.