Nucor’s anti-China talk aimed at profit

Nucor Corp. is an awesome company, and we are fortunate to have it in Decatur. But geez, I wish its corporate officials would quit whining.

“We can compete in innovation, on costs and productivity, but we cannot compete with governments,” Chief Executive Officer Dan DiMicco said last week. “Law enforcement is the job of the government, and we have to have a government that works with us and not against us.”

A year ago, it sponsored a massive rally in Decatur — one of several throughout the nation — designed entirely to pressure Congress to raise trade barriers on Chinese steel.

“Given a level playing field, do you fear competition with China?” yelled John Ferriola, chief operating officer of steelmaking operations at Nucor, at the Decatur rally.

“No,” the crowd yelled back.

Neither Nucor nor China, however, seeks a level playing field. They want it to tilt, provided it tilts toward their owners. Nucor has discovered that while quality steel improves profits, politics does, too.

Nucor constantly pushes for a dam to prevent the flood of steel from China. China subsidizes its steel companies, Nucor complains. It has lax environmental laws. It pays its workers too little. It lacks the safety laws that increase costs for U.S. steelmakers.

There is a measure of truth to everything Nucor says, but China could say similar things.

Nucor has enjoyed tax abatements from local government. That’s a subsidy.

Nucor will be a major beneficiary of the federal stimulus package that focuses on infrastructure. Another subsidy.

Every federal effort to make commercial paper available to domestic industry has, directly or indirectly, benefited Nucor. A subsidy.

Nucor benefits from subsidies to automakers and Boeing. It benefited from U.S. law that permitted it to buy a bankrupt Trico at low cost.

Indeed, even as it gripes at China and other steel exporters, Nucor has instituted a major push for the federal government to use stimulus dollars solely for U.S.-made steel.

A “Buy American” provision made it into the stimulus plan.

Highlighting the contradictions is the German-owned ThyssenKrupp plant in Mobile. Is that un-American steel, despite the fact it will be one of the largest employers in Alabama?

Nucor, for all its patriotism, is not just a U.S. company. It also has operations in Trinidad and Canada.

In the midst of all this is the painful truth. Nucor’s aggressive lobby has one goal: to be able to charge domestic customers more for its steel.

But what about workers at companies who buy from Nucor, or pay more for steel because of Nucor’s protectionist efforts? General Electric, Delphi, Independence Tube, United Launch Alliance. Or consumers who pay more for their cars or their buildings?

Nucor is a good company. It treats its employees well; it goes to great lengths to avoid layoffs despite lousy economic times; and it values employee safety.

When Nucor rattles on about China and Turkey, though, we need to evaluate the rhetoric carefully. Like every other company, its goal is increasing profit.

Contact Eric Fleischauer at his blog, http://www.mile304.com, or at eric@decaturdaily.com.

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