About 1,000 workers at the Goodyear-Dunlop tire plant in the Town of Tonawanda got good news this weekend from the Obama administration as the president slapped tariffs on imported Chinese tires.
Upon hearing of the move, which the White House announced late Friday night, supporters of organized labor said it might indicate that President Obama will take a tougher stance than his predecessors on unfair trade practices.
"This was the first big test of whether President Obama was going to side with the interest of big corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or with workers, and I am happy to say that he came down on the right side," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport.
Obama ordered an increase in duties on passenger and light-truck tires from China for three years "to remedy a market disruption caused by a surge in tire imports," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
"The president decided to remedy the clear disruption to the U.S. tire industry based on the facts and the law in this case," Gibbs added.
Western New York lawmakers, who had pressed Obama to impose the duties to protect jobs at the Town of Tonawanda plant, were thrilled with the decision.
The case for the tariffs was a clear one, said Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Over the last four years, she noted, tire imports from China have increased by more than 200 percent in volume and close to 300 percent in value, disrupting the market for domestic tire manufacturers.
"President Obama's decision will help to fairly enforce our trade agreements and provide relief for our workers," Gillibrand said.
Obama made his decision after the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended a 55 percent tariff in the first year, 45 percent in the second year and 35 percent in the third year.
The president opted for smaller tariffs of 35 percent the first year, 30 percent in the second and 25 percent in the third, but that did little to placate the Chinese government.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a statement saying Obama had "compromised to the political pressure of the U.S. domestic trade protectionism."
And Chen Deming, the Chinese trade minister, vaguely threatened retaliation.
"The Chinese government will continue to uphold the legitimate interests of China's domestic industry and has the right to take corresponding measures," Deming said.
In a two-page statement, the Chinese government claimed that the nation's tire exports to the U.S. increased only 2.2 percent from 2007 to 2008 -- and that they actually fell 16 percent in the first half of this year.
The Tire Industry Association, which opposed the proposed tariffs, also criticized the Obama decision. Roy Littlefield, the group's executive vice president, said it would do little to save American jobs.
But the United Steelworkers of America, which brought the case to the Trade Commission, disagreed.
"This is an important day for all American workers -- especially the thousands of tire industry workers whose jobs were on the line as a result of a huge surge in Chinese tire imports that began in 2004," said Leo W. Gerard, union president.
The union originally sought quotas but said it was happy with the tariffs -- in part because they showed that Obama meant it when he said he would protect American workers from predatory trading practices.
"For far too long, workers across this country have been victimized by bad trade policies and government inaction," Gerard said. "Today, President Obama made clear that he will enforce America's trade laws and stand with American workers."
Obama's decision was based on the Trade Commission's July recommendation that he take action under the Trade Act of 1974 because Chinese tires were being dumped into the U.S. in quantities that disrupted, or could disrupt, the market.
News wire services contributed to this report.