Buy American resolutions pass Ramsey County, St. Paul City Council

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The St. Paul City Council and the Ramsey County Board have passed labor-backed resolutions calling for use of American-manufactured steel in public-works projects funded by economic stimulus dollars. Similar resolutions are in the works in Minneapolis and Hennepin County.

Buy-American resolutions on the local level, according to Dave Hallas, recording secretary of United Steelworkers Local 7263, reinforce similar provisions written into the stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in February.

“The whole idea behind these (local) resolutions nationwide is to make sure people are educated about the buy-American provisions in the stimulus package,” Hallas said. “We also want to make sure it’s something that is enforceable.”

The resolutions, which passed unanimously in both Ramsey County and St. Paul, ensure projects receiving “any stimulus dollars will use American manufacturing and Americans to do the services.”

There is an important distinction, though, between locally sourced steel and locally manufactured steel. In Minnesota, Hallas said, public-works projects often use steel from a handful of local companies that are “downstream operations,” meaning they process the steel here, but buy it from someplace else.

“They don’t actually make the steel, they just cut it, shape it and put coating on it,” Hallas said. “That steel could be coming from Brazil or from China, and they would have no idea.

“At the same time, the people in local government are saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’re buying local.’ They just don’t realize the difference.”

To use foreign-sourced steel on a stimulus project, Hallas said, local governments will need a waiver – and proof that buying American would increase their costs more than 25 percent. Language in the St. Paul resolution commits council members to publishing such waiver requests, giving companies and workers an opportunity “to step in and find an American company,” Hallas said.

Language in the Ramsey County resolution, meanwhile, eyes the looming construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line connecting downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis, encouraging the Metropolitan Council to “use local suppliers, small businesses and job seekers wherever possible.”

Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said she authored the resolution at the Ramsey County Board because “in the difficult economic times we’re having right now, I felt it was important to raise awareness of wherever and whenever possible buying American and, specifically, buying Minnesotan or from Ramsey County.”

Indeed, South St. Paul’s Gerdau Ameristeel, a Steelworkers Local 7263 plant, could provide much of the rebar necessary to construct stops along the Central Corridor line.
Hallas, who works at Gerdau, said the rail could come from Steelworkers plants in Denver or Pittsburgh – but only if the Met Council signs on to buying American.

“That’s the next step,” Hallas said. “The Met Council is the one that is going to be actually saying, ‘OK, you get the contract, go buy it and get it done.’”

Reinhardt said commissioners sent a letter to the Met Council along with their resolution. She said she hopes buying American is as easy a sell to that body as it was with other commissioners – and with the public.

“Everybody supported it right away,” Reinhardt said. “I’ve had a lot of comments from people saying it makes sense. Whether you’re in business here in Ramsey County or you’re employed here, if your property taxes can come right back into our economy, it’s good for everybody.

“Central Corridor is almost a billion-dollar project. Just think what that would mean to the economy here.”

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.stpaulunions.org

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