By Anya Tikka
WHITE LAKE New York Senator Charles E. Schumer visited Neversink Glass in White Lake on Friday to assure one of the largest employers in Sullivan County that he meant business.
Schumer had just introduced a bi-partisan bill in the Senate to pressure China to get in line with the rest of the world regarding its unfair trading practices and deliberately manipulated undervalued currency.
“China has been playing by a different set of rules,” said Senator Schumer at the factory, continuing, “China wrongly thinks we’re Uncle Sap, not Uncle Sam. But any time we get tough, they back off.… The time to act is now.”
Neversink Glass CEO & President Aubrey J. Steele said it’s getting more and more difficult for his company to compete in the face of what he called an unfair advantage.
“There used to be about five sub-contractors bidding for a job and now it’s 15 to 20,” Steele said. “We’re seeing an increased presence of Chinese companies at trade shows. It used to be one to two booths. Now it’s the biggest foreign presence.”
Steele further explained that some of the increased competition can be put down to the general economic climate, but “The Chinese keep their currency artificially low to keep their products cheaper.”
Schumer’s bill introduces tough new legislation to bring the undervalued currency back to its proper level.
Schumer said Chinese companies are bidding for the jobs Neversink Glass also competes for while paying their workers only a few dollars an hour. ”It’s like giving the Chinese company a 30 percent automatic discount every time,” continued Schumer, “and China doesn’t let companies come there and compete.… If we level the playing field, American companies like Neversink can win.”
Recent estimates by the Economic Policy Institute note that the Mid-Hudson region lost about 14,800 jobs from 2001-2008 due to the growing trade deficit with China.
Steele took over the running of the family business from his dad in 2003. The company employs between 25 to 40 people depending on the season, mostly out in the field.
Steele took the high-end glass and aluminum products Neversink offers into New York City, and has bid and completed an impressive array of buildings with two- to three-story curtain glass fronts, such as the SUNY Purchase Library, Kinsey Stadium at West Point, New York Botanical Gardens Visitor Center, and flagship storefronts including Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, and Nokia.
Schumer said both the Bush and Obama administration have not done what they’re supposed to do, vowing to rush the legislation through the Senate. If the bill passes, Schumer said American companies could go to the Commerce Department and ask for assistance if they have been outbid by a Chinese company unfairly. The bill will also ask for increasingly tougher measures against the Chinese government regarding its currency manipulation if it does not comply.
Steele said the company is supporting Schumer’s initiative and hoping for a speedy passage of the bill.
Also present at the press conference was Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Mike Oates, who remarked that in “these tough economic times we have to take care of our own.… We ask for a level playing field. If it’s fair, we can win.”
Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce President Terri Ward added that she is working with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council that has until November 14 to put together a five-year strategic plan to help small businesses in the Hudson Valley area.
“We’re telling China, the gig is up,” concluded Senator Schumer, adding “The time to ask China nicely is over.”