Trump's tariffs met with relief and uncertainty in Pennsylvania steel country

WHEATLAND, Pa. -- President Trump is expected to formalize his plan for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum by the end of the week. Those opposed to the idea say it might spark a trade war that could hurt American companies and relations with U.S. allies. But Mr. Trump says he is fulfilling one of his core campaign promises -- to bring steel jobs back.

In Wheatland, Pennsylvania, Barry Zekelman took us through one of his 15 steel plants in the U.S. He's expecting his pipe-making business to pick up pace if the 25 percent tariff on foreign steel imports becomes reality. To Zekelman, it's about more than just the steel industry.

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Some businesses are expecting an uptick when President Trump formally announces tariffs on aluminum and steel

CBS News

"Steel is the backbone and we can be the backbone again,"  said Zekelman. "What we could do is employ a lot more people, we could do a lot more for our communities, we could be proud to walk through these plants that are sitting idle right now," he said.

Zekelman, the CEO of Zekelman Industries, is so fired up about the president's trade plan, he has pledged to give a $1,000 bonus to each of his 2,000-plus workers every year the tariff stands. 

That's a welcome surprise for machine operator Karen Yanak.

"I truly believe that we are going to get a lot of the domestic business back," Yanak said.

Zekelman says more production coming off the floor means more opportunities for workers to earn overtime and bonuses on top of their paychecks. According to Zekelman, right now the average salary is $75,000.

But some workers like Nikki Jaggers are more cautious.

"It gave me hope for us, but what about the other industries," she said.

She's not the only one. Five hours away in Allentown, roofing-parts manufacturer George Atiyeh is nervous, saying he fears a "slow-down in work and orders" because of price increases.

With fewer than a dozen employees, low-priced steel boosts his company's bottom line. The beginning of 2018 has been his best on record. Sales at American Architectural Metal Manufacturing are up 20 percent. He says tariffs would force him to pass on higher prices to his customers.

"Every day, for a small business, we fight for our lives," Atiyeh said. "This is just one more thing that's going to have make us go out there and fight."

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.