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U.S. Sens. Casey and Fetterman blast planned sale of U.S. Steel

U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, Pa.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, Pa., on Dec. 18, 2023, the day the storied American company announced plans to be acquired by Japan-based Nippon Steel.

The proposed sale of U.S. Steel to Japan-based Nippon Steel Corporation has gladdened the hearts of shareholders, and its pledge to keep U.S. operations headquartered in Pittsburgh may have reassured some civic leaders afraid for the future of Downtown. But the prospect of a foreign company acquiring a storied industrial titan has been met with dismay from elected officials inside and outside Pittsburgh.

"It's absolutely outrageous that U.S. Steel has agreed to sell themselves to a foreign company," U.S. Senator John Fetterman said in a Monday-afternoon statement. Fetterman famously lives across the street from the company's Edgar Thomson Works, and has long aligned himself with the company's workforce. "Steel is always about security — both our national security and the economic security of our steel communities." He pledged to "us[e] my platform and my position to block this foreign sale."

"The United States' marquee steel company should remain under American ownership," said fellow Democratic Senator Bob Casey. "I'm concerned about what this means for the Steelworkers and the good union jobs that have supported Pennsylvania families for generations."

US Steel's Mon Valley Works — which includes the Edgar Thomson and Irvin plants as well as a coke-making facility in Clairton — lie within the district of Congressional Rep. Summer Lee. Lee, who in the past has sharply criticized the environmental record of the company and others in heavy industry was largely silent on Monday. But on mid-day Tuesday issued a statement of her own, saying the community had been "blindsided" by the news.

Unions and community members "must be centered" in the acquisition, Lee said, "yet workers were not even informed" and "those who hae spent decades fighting for clean air and ater have no assurances that this change will not worsen the health of our children"

The acquisition's impact on southwestern Pennsylvania — an area whose industrial base was decimated in the 1980s by factors that included the rise of Japanese steelmaking — was unclear Monday. But there was evident wariness of foreign ownership of the company, which was formed from Andrew Carnegie's steel empire in 1901. The fact that shareholders stood to benefit handsomely from the deal may, if anything, have deepened those suspicions.

Western Pennsylvania Congressman Chris Deluzio, for one, noted that local workers had been victimized in the search for "cheap labor and fatter profits," and said the Nippon deal felt like "deja vu all over again.

“This deal sounds an awful lot like a betrayal: of my community, of Steelworker jobs, and of American industrial leadership," he added.

Deluzio and Lee joined both Senators in signing a letter addressed to Nippon that sought "further clarity on the proposal and its potential impacts to Pennsylvania’s industrial base and workers." It asked a number of questions about the expected impact of the purchase on the region and asked "What commitments, if any, can Nippon Steel make about its intention to preserve or expand operations and employment in Pennsylvania should it successfully acquire U.S. Steel?"

Concern echoed outside Pennsylvania as well. Indiana Congressman Frank Mrvan, whose district includes the location of U.S. Steel's Gary Works, said he was "abjectly disappointed that a foreign entity ... is exploiting American workers and members of organized labor to benefit the executives of U.S. Steel."

Mrvan, who also serves as vice chairman of The Congressional Steel Caucus, said that as domestic steel appears "poised for robust growth ... we must not allow foreign ownership of U.S. Steel to jeopardize the strength of our economy [and] national security."

Both President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, have emphasized the importance of domestic manufacturing, and national security concerns have been invoked to justify stepped-up protection of domestic steel producers from overseas imports Whether such concerns could derail a sale remains to be seen. The federal Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States can review the national-security impact of transactions involving foreign interests. Concerns about the impact on supply chains are among the factors that the review process considers.

Then again, this would not be the first time that a Japanese firm purchased a controlling interest in a historic Pittsburgh brand: Toshiba controlled the nuclear-power operations of Westinghouse for more than a decade, though the relationship did not end happily.

Updated: December 19, 2023 at 3:09 PM EST
This story was updated at 3:09 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2023, to include statements from Summer Lee and a letter sent by federal legislators to Nippon Steel.
Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.