The tire and rubber industry has a proud history in Ohio from Akron to Findlay, and beyond. For over one hundred years, generations of Ohio workers have manufactured the tires that drive America. As I see firsthand when I tour Ohio tire factories, these businesses play a major role in our communities, with sons and daughters often following their parents and grandparents into the tire business, earning good-paying, middle class livelihoods along the way.
Ohio tire workers and the companies they work for are more productive every year and can compete successfully in the global market if there is a level playing field. Unfortunately, some of our foreign competitors have broken our trade laws in an effort to game the system and flood the US market with low cost imports that are not fairly traded. For instance, it appears that some of the $2.6 billion worth of Chinese tires that were imported into the United States last year were imported with the benefit of over three dozen Chinese subsidy programs that are not legal under U.S. or international standards.
Further, it appears that many of these tires were also sold below market value, the definition of dumping, which also violates our trade laws and hurts American workers. As Ohioans have seen previously, these practices can lead to jobs being lost for tire workers, like at Denman Tire in Warren, and Cooper Tire in Findlay.
Last year, I attended the 100th anniversary party for Cooper Tire where we talked about some of the challenges facing the company, including from low cost imports. Earlier this year, we continued the conversations as I sat down and with workers, represented by USW Local 207L. These workers are not afraid to compete with imports from China, or any other country as long as there’s a level playing field. They know that because of their hard work, ingenuity, and determination, American workers can compete if everyone plays by the rules.
I jumped into this trade enforcement case to protect the hundreds of Ohio workers whose jobs were threatened by these illegal Chinese imports. I repeatedly raised concerns with the Obama administration and the International Trade Commission, the body that makes the decision.
At the same time, I worked hand in hand with Senator Sherrod Brown and Ohio manufacturers to pass key legislation called the Leveling the Playing Field Act, which the president recently signed into law. Our bipartisan bill allows American workers – like these tire manufacturers – to get the relief they need when foreign competitors cheat trade rules. Specifically, our measure makes it easier for American companies to prove they have been harmed by illegal imports by changing the “material injury standard” and speeding up relief.
It may sound complicated, but it is pretty simple: we believe companies and workers should be able to get help from our government before foreign competitors drive them out of business and send them to the unemployment line. Although our Leveling the Playing Field legislation is brand new, it is making a difference, including in the tire case.
After months of effort, American tire workers finally won their trade case on July 15th, and will now receive the relief they deserve from illegally subsidized and undersold Chinese imports. That’s a big deal to Ohio families who depend on these middle-class jobs. And, I am told that some provisions in our Level the Playing Field Act, specifically helped these workers win their case.
I am proud to stand with the hundreds of tire workers throughout Ohio and I will continue to fight for their right to get a fair shot.
Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator and guest columnist.