CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During an annual legislative conference on Tuesday morning, representatives from a steelworkers union touted legislation that would promote American-made products.
Randy Moore, West Virginia sub-district director of the United Steelworkers of America, supported the amendment, which has been introduced in both houses of the Legislature. The bill would require West Virginia government purchases and contracts to concentrate on using American-made products.
Any "contract for construction or a purchase of supplies, material, equipment and any other articles or things" will require that a "substantial portion of the total bid amount shall be American made," the House of Delegates bill states.
Pat Maroney, a lawyer who has represented the USW and the state AFL-CIO for many years, criticized "free trade agreements," such as the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
"Since NAFTA was passed, one million jobs have been lost, most of them related to the steel industry. Other trade agreements with countries like China have also taken a great deal of jobs out of our country.
"We once had clothing manufacturers in West Virginia. That has all gone to China. We need tariffs," Maroney said.
Without tariffs, it is almost impossible for well-paid American workers to compete with workers in poor countries who are paid 25 cents an hour for their labor with few, if any, other benefits, Maroney argued.
Moore distributed a leaflet from the Alliance for American Manufacturing -- a coalition of the USW and several major steel companies, including U.S. Steel -- showing West Virginia had only 49,000 manufacturing jobs in 2013, after losing 28,400 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2012.
Maroney praised labor unions for their central role in passing the National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and Black Lung laws. Unions were also critical to passing laws that created Social Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, unemployment benefits and the minimum wage.