LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
About 300 jobs will be coming back to the Granite City Works plant in Granite City, Ill. U.S. Steel made that announcement this past week. That's on top of the 500 new jobs U.S. Steel announced in March. The company pointed to the Trump administration's controversial tariffs on imported steel as one of the reasons. Dan Simmons is the president of the steelworkers union in Granite City, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
DAN SIMMONS: Well, thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to take you back a little bit to understand the context of what happened in your town. I understand the last few years have been really tough for your members. U.S. Steel laid off hundreds of workers in 2015. What did that mean for the people there?
SIMMONS: It was devastating. When you take their livelihood away, there's nothing out there. And what jobs are there that these guys were able to, you know, pick up, they weren't making nothing what they were making with us. And you watch the - not only these members and their families erode, you see this town erode, the community. It's like a big sucking sound, so to speak.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what has the community's reaction been to this most recent announcement?
SIMMONS: Well, it's just the opposite (laughter) the total opposite. You see smiles on everybody's faces when I go into stores. Not only are we adding so many jobs at the mill, but it's all the mom-and-pop shops, all the suppliers, all the vendors, all the people that are connected to this. So it's - jubilant is probably the word. These people are ecstatic.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So one of the big criticisms of these tariffs that Trump has imposed that have benefited the steel industry is that other parts of the U.S. economy may suffer and that steel costs will go up and ripple through the economy. What is your response to that?
SIMMONS: Well, as far as the downstream industries that was squealing that it's going to negatively impact now their business, what I say to them - they've been profiting for too long off of illegal imports at our cost. They were getting cheap, dump steel. So, you know, I don't have much sympathy for those downstreams that were leeching off these illegal imports at the cost of our jobs in the steel industry.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mexico announced retaliatory tariffs targeting U.S. pork producers, apple growers. What do you say to people in those industries who are now affected because other countries are basically saying, you know, we're not going to take this lying down?
SIMMONS: Clearly, we don't want to see anybody negatively impacted or harmed by what we were fighting and struggling for. I always tease that it's kind of like that cartoon character - on one side, we're pulling on a vegetable and on the other end of the world they're pulling the other way. That seems to be what the threat is, the counter threat. And it's a big poker game we're playing. And I hope it's just a poker game and we don't get caught up into a deep back-and-forth, tit for tat on trade. But I do feel like we are one of the biggest links in the chain of trade. So some of these threats I do feel are veiled threats, that they're just words that they won't be able to live without these products. I don't feel that it'll be a real threat.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just more widely, I mean, I imagine that President Trump's pretty popular right now in your town.
SIMMONS: Well, there's a lot of things we are at odds with him with because we've been a pretty strong Democrat supporter in this area and this plant. And him acting on this trade issue the way he did, there are a lot of people that are probably supporting of that. Now, I guess the proof's in the pudding. We'll see how this all lines up. We'll see where this ends up between now and the next election cycle for him.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dan Simmons, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1899 in Granite City, Ill., thank you so much.
SIMMONS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.