By Michael Hill
You can count the number of steel workers left at MRP in South Plainfield on all your fingers and toes.
“It’s terrible. We have gone from 320 employees two and a half years ago to 15 now,” said MRP President David Floyd. “We’ve lost a number of bridges. Buildings have slowed down, bridge bids have come and gone. Some of it has gone overseas.”
Overseas companies with less expensive steel — such as from China and Italy — used to shore up the rusting Bayonne Bridge.
Good ol’ American steel used to get the job done here and at the GWB and thousands of other projects that had the steel industry in America bustling for decades.
But, now, a trend of governments in Spain, Italy and China paying to build and run steel plants to make less expensive steel and outbidding U.S. companies for billion-dollar projects in New Jersey and elsewhere.
“I can compete with any company in the world, but I can’t compete a government,” Floyd said.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney — an ironworker by trade — says the solution is requiring the Port Authority to use steel from U.S. companies.
“When you look at cost here of the job loss, the loss in taxes, the more stressful social programs, it’s cheaper to buy products here than it is overseas,” said Sweeney.
Government contracts typically require the project goes to the lowest bidder. Supporters of the bill say even if U.S. bids are slightly higher than a foreign competitor’s, the American company should get the project because it would put Americans to work.
“I believe the benefits to the state and to the country as a whole far exceed any extra cost that might be put on the projects,” Floyd said.
But, Seton Hall professor Jason Yin says if Sweeney’s bill becomes law in New Jersey and New York, it could spark a trade war.
“Than maybe in the other area and so we have to calculate well how to avoid this kind of retaliation,” said Yin.
One Kean University economics professor had a whole different take, Dr. William Kempey says referring to the headlines, if a unit of China’s army can break into our largest corporation and steal our trade secrets, then the laws of trade no longer hold by America.