WASHINGTON – Alyssa Pascarell, 8, does not know what it means to “Stand up for Steel,” but she chanted the slogan anyway.
Armed with a handmade poster that read, “President Bush please save my daddy and pappy’s jobs,” Pascarell was one of thousands of steel workers and their supporters who rallied Thursday on the Ellipse, demanding a 40 percent tariff on the cheap foreign steel that they say is threatening their livelihood.
President Bush has until March 6 to act on the International Trade Commission’s recommendation that a tariff be imposed. The president initiated the ITC investigation and has promised to give the issue serious consideration.
“You took the right first step. Now take it all the way,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., at the rally Thursday.
“Forty percent or nothing,” she said, drawing cheers from a crowd that United Steelworkers officials estimated at 30,000.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, were also at the rally, which brought steelworkers and their supporters from near and far.
Alyssa arrived at noon with her grandfather Gary Pascarell, an ironworker at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant at Sparrows Point in Baltimore. Bethlehem, the nation’s second-largest integrated steel producer, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Steel workers claim that cheap foreign steel is largely responsible for driving 30 American steel companies into bankruptcy since 1997, causing 15 of those companies to shut down and wiping out more than 46,000 jobs.
The Sparrows Point plant employs 3,500 workers, down from 30,000 in 1957. Workers from five union locals at the plant, along with their wives and children, filled 20 buses bound for the Washington rally Thursday.
“I took off from work to support my husband,” said Pat Lawson, a data entry clerk for Crown Optical in Baltimore. She and her 13-year-old daughter Rebecca boarded a bus at the union hall in Dundalk 11 a.m.
Rebecca, a seventh-grader at Gen. Stricker Middle School, missed classes to support her dad, Jack, a crew chief and ironworker at Sparrows Point.
“It’s for a good cause,” Mrs. Lawson said of Rebecca’s day away from school. “She is learning a valuable lesson.”
Others came from as far away as Indiana. Juan Acosta left Gary, Ind., early yesterday with his wife, Laura, and son Michael, 7, arriving on the Ellipse a little after 2:30 p.m.
Acosta, who was fired in December after LTV Corp. declared bankruptcy, said he hopes the president imposes the tariff given the current economic hardship that he and many other steelworkers are facing.
“With the little bit of unemployment that I get, it’s difficult to make ends meet,” Acosta said.
His wife noted that airlines asked for a handout after Sept.11, and they got it.
“We deserve as must help as any other corporation or business,” she said. “We are the backbone of this country.”