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Striking ATI Steelworkers Hold the Line for Premium-Free Health Insurance

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General President Peter Knowlton to Retire (but Stay Active in the Union) |  UE

Across the country, steelworkers at nine plants of Allegheny Technologies, Inc. have been on strike for the last 11 weeks.

They want raises; to stop contracting out; to secure full funding of their retirement benefits; and to beat back management’s efforts to introduce health insurance premiums and a second tier of coverage for younger workers.

The Steelworkers union (USW) accuses ATI of unfair labor practices including bad faith bargaining, and of holding retiree benefits hostage for contract concessions.

ATI, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, makes steel used in aerospace and defense, oil and gas, chemical processes, and electrical energy generation.

Five years ago ATI locked workers out for seven months, demanding major concessions on wages, pensions, and health insurance. Workers fought off the bulk of those demands, though the company was able to shed future liability for the pension by replacing it with a 401(k) for anyone hired after 2015—a huge cost shift to workers that makes a decent retirement at age 65 unlikely for new hires.

There were 2,200 workers at 12 unionized sites back then. There are 1,300 at nine sites this time around.

Most of the shops are in areas still reeling from the deindustrialization of the ’80s and ’90s. Five are in western Pennsylvania: Canton Township, Brackenridge, Latrobe, Natrona Heights, and Vandergrift. The others are in Louisville, Ohio; Lockport, New York; East Hartford, Connecticut; and New Bedford, Massachusetts, where 60 members are on strike.

MANUFACTURING DESCENT

One of only a few remaining union manufacturers in southeast Massachusetts, ATI has long been seen as a place to earn decent pay and a respectable retirement.

As a young organizer with the United Electrical Workers (UE) in the ’80s and early ’90s I spent many mornings and afternoons leafleting at the ATI plant in New Bedford—then called Rodney Metals, before it was eventually bought out by ATI—and other shops in the area, encouraging workers to organize. (I like to think we helped lay the groundwork for the USW’s eventual success in the mid-’90s.)

Back then there were thousands and thousands of decently paid union workers in manufacturing, and those union shops drove the area rates and standards. The spillover effect was real. Non-union employers like Rodney Metals were “forced” to pay similar rates and conditions in order to compete for workers.

Those days are gone. Like many places throughout the country, southeast Massachusetts lost thousands of manufacturing jobs—union and nonunion—during the Reagan era of greed, union-busting, and moving jobs to lower-wage, nonunion locations (sometimes overseas, but not always). UE lost close to 2,000 members in southeast Massachusetts in less than a decade.

Some of the more innovative and militant strategies to fight plant closings were developed from the struggles of these workers to defend and preserve manufacturing jobs in hard-hit industrial New England.

Now, with the pension replaced by a 401(k) and after seven years of wage freezes, working at ATI—or in manufacturing generally—is not such a great deal anymore. Factory work in the area is now pretty much all nonunion, and most places pay less and provide fewer benefits than they did 20 years ago.

Plus, anyone who has worked in a factory knows the toll the work takes on your body and soul. The camaraderie can be great, but the brutal pace of work in an unhealthy environment is unrelenting. Your body slowly unravels and falls apart.

FLUSH WITH CASH

Now ATI is demanding to gut the benefits of present and future workers even further, which will further erode the living standards of the area. To sell its offers, the company points to wage increases and lump sum payments—but, as the union has pointed out, these are all based on savings generated from other concessionary proposals.

Meanwhile, the company has almost “a billion dollars in liquidity and more than half a billion dollars in the cash drawer,” according to a strike bulletin from the union. The three top executives made $22 million last year in salaries and an additional $17 million in bonuses.

The average hourly rate for production workers is only in the mid-$20s per hour, with the lowest-paying job around $22. Lots of maintenance work has been subcontracted, especially since the last contract. Presently to contract out work the company simply has to notify the union and engage in a discussion; if it doesn’t, the company pays a penalty to a local charity.

These “notification” requirements have done little to stop the company from decimating the maintenance department. But even this weak arrangement isn’t enough for ATI. It wants no accountability or discussion with the union about keeping maintenance work in-house, and it continues to propose eliminating arbitration over even the minimal requirement to give notice.

A PREMIUM ON HEALTH INSURANCE

This strike is in large measure over health insurance. In a sea of non-union workplaces with unaffordable health plans, ATI workers are striking to keep their plan affordable to members.

Presently the company pays the entire health insurance premium—workers were able to stave off ATI’s efforts to force them to pay premiums during the 2015-16 lockout. Workers have an upfront deductible that is 10 percent of first-dollar coverage up to $300 for an individual and $600 for a family per year. If you go outside the network, it is double those figures.

ATI now wants workers to pay 5 percent of the premium and increase the deductible to $500 for an individual and $1,000 for a family. What the company is really after, however, are the new hires: the company wants them to pay 10 percent of their premiums. It’s the typical and divisive two-tier system that unions know all too well.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which researches and publishes national health insurance data and conducts annual surveys on employer-provided health insurance, says that in 1999 the average annual premium was $2,196 for single plans and $5,791 for family plans. Twenty years later those figures have skyrocketed by 240 percent and 269 percent, respectively, to $7,470 for individuals and $21,342 for families.

Employers still contribute the majority of that, but workers now pay an average of $5,588 in premiums alone for family coverage (up from $1,543 in 1999), not to mention the increased share of other medical costs they bear. Wages over that same period have increased, on average, only 77 percent.

A BENCHMARK FOR ALL

Up until the 1980s, when the health insurance industry and employers began imposing premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and other schemes to gobble up more of our paychecks, fully employer-paid health insurance was not uncommon at all.

Those union workplaces that have been able to maintain that standard help all of us—not just their members. They set a benchmark for the wages and benefits that other employers in the same industry or geographic area need to provide to stay “competitive.” They influence what workers and the local community expect a job to offer.

When a benefit is allowed to erode over time, so does the standard. Seeing these workers at ATI fighting to defend premium-free health insurance, something most unions have lost, is inspiring.

“I am proud of my fellow brothers and sisters on the line,” said Bedford ATI worker John Camarao, the grievance chair for USW Local 1357. “Members are in a great hardship right now entering the third month of the strike, but what we’re fighting for is not only for our future but for the future of new hires and our retirees’ benefits.

“Their demands are meant to divide us, but instead they have united us, and our resolve is to see this to the end.”

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on June 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Peter Knowlton is the retired general president of the United Electrical Workers (UE).


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Rebuilding U.S. Manufacturing Is the Only Path to an Economic Renaissance

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Brad Greve knew it was just a matter of time before the computer chip shortage disrupting the auto industry had a ripple effect on aluminum manufacturing in Iowa.

Greve and his colleagues at Arconic Davenport Works—members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 105—supply the Ford F-150 pickup and other vehicles.

Automakers forced to cut production because of the semiconductor crunch scaled back the amount of aluminum they take from the facility, just as Greve expected, posing another potential setback to a plant already fighting to rebound from the COVID-19 recession.

America cannot afford to jeopardize major industries for want of parts.

The nation’s prosperity depends on ensuring the ready availability of all of the raw materials and components that go into the products essential for crises and daily life.

That will mean ramping up domestic production of the semiconductors—now made largely overseas—that serve as the “brains” of automobiles, computers, cell phones, communications networks, appliances and life-saving medical equipment.

But it will also require building out supply chains in other industries. For example, America needs to produce titanium sponge for warplanes and satellites, pharmaceutical ingredients for medicines and the bearings that keep elevators and other machinery running.

The failure of just one link in a supply chain—as the semiconductor shortage shows—has the potential to paralyze huge swaths of the economy. That’s why it’s crucial not only to source components on U.S. soil but also to incorporate redundancy into supply lines so that an industry can survive the loss of a single supplier.

“It’s that ripple effect,” said Greve, president of Local 105, recalling the time when a fire at a die-cast parts supplier disrupted production of the F-150. “If you shut down a car manufacturer—or they can’t get one part—you can affect a whole lot of jobs around the country.”

COVID-19 interrupted computer chip production even as demand for televisions, home computers and other goods soared among consumers locked down in their homes. Now, neither U.S. automakers nor manufacturers of other goods can obtain adequate amounts of the semiconductors they need.

Because of the shortage, carmakers cut shifts and laid off workers. The production cuts come when the nation needs the boost from auto sales—and other items containing semiconductors—to climb out of the recession.

Although the decreased aluminum shipments haven’t resulted in layoffs at Davenport, the automotive supply-chain meltdown couldn’t have come at a worse time. When the pandemic curbed air travel last year, airplane manufacturers cut back on the aluminum they get from Arconic.

“Automotive is what kept us going,” Greve said.

America was once a leader in computer chip manufacturing. But as with many other industries in recent decades, the U.S. frittered away the upper hand while other countries boosted production.

The nation’s share of chip manufacturing capacity fell from 37 percent to 12 percent over the past 30 years. And although demand for chips continues to grow, the U.S. stands to gain only a fraction of the additional capacity currently in the pipeline.

That leaves the country overly reliant on foreign suppliers who can encounter their own production shortfalls, as happened during the pandemic, or who can cut off shipments for political or economic reasons at any time.

“If you’re going to war with somebody, they’re not going to sell you anything,” Greve said, noting dependence on overseas supplies threatens the nation’s ability not only to make cars and other consumer goods but also to obtain the chips needed for defense and intelligence purposes.

Although the current crisis centers on semiconductors, neglect of the nation’s manufacturing base decimated America’s capacity to produce parts and components for many other industries.

“It affects everybody,” Libbi Urban, vice president of USW Local 9231, said of hollowed-out supply chains that threaten jobs and access to goods. Because of the semiconductor shortage, automakers now take less of the galvanized steel she and her coworkers make at Cleveland-Cliffs’ New Carlisle, Indiana, Works.

Shortages of medical and safety equipment during the pandemic revealed how much manufacturing power the nation let slip away.

But it wasn’t only the finished products, like face masks, America found itself ill-equipped to produce. Makers of hand sanitizer and cleaning products struggled to obtain adequate supplies of the hand pumps and spray triggers made overseas.

“How much time and money are being lost waiting on overseas companies to get products and supplies to the U.S.?” Urban asked.

President Joe Biden took the first step toward rebuilding manufacturing power with an executive order in February requiring immediate reviews of supply chains for the semiconductor, pharmaceutical, electric-battery and rare earth minerals industries as well as longer-term reviews of other sectors.

But after identifying weaknesses, America needs to implement a strategy for restoring supply lines and ensuring long-term resiliency.

That will include direct investment in U.S. manufacturing facilities, such as the $37 billion Biden proposed to ramp up chip production.

It involves strategically using tax incentives to encourage employers to expand operations and invest in new technology. And it means building strong markets for U.S. products, partly through policies that encourage federal contractors and other companies to buy domestic goods.

Besides cutting shifts, Greve noted, automakers have been trying to weather the semiconductor shortage by allocating chips to their most popular models or leaving vehicles partially completed until chips arrive.

GM even eliminated an important feature, an advanced fuel management system, in some models just to save chips and get vehicles to market.

“We shouldn’t have that happen in this country,” Greve said. “If we don’t make the supplies here, then we have no control.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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Why America’s Future Depends on Rebuilding Our Factories

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Brian Banks and his colleagues at Nipro Glass log 60- or 70-hour weeks right now in a grueling race to produce the glass tubing and vials essential to distributing millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Banks, a maintenance mechanic for nearly three decades, often feared over the years that the Millville, New Jersey, complex would close like so many other glass-making facilities around the country. If it had, America would struggle all the more to turn the corner on a pandemic that’s already claimed 282,000 U.S. lives.

COVID-19 laid bare the decades-long decline of manufacturing that left the nation straining to produce the face masksventilatorsglass vials and other items needed to contain the coronavirus. Now, with vaccines nearly ready for distribution, America has an opportunity to defeat the virus and revive a manufacturing base crucial for protecting the country from future crises.

Of all the responsibilities that President-elect Joe Biden faces upon taking office on January 20, none demands more attention—and requires greater urgency—than ramping up production capacity and rebuilding broken supply chains to keep America safe.

Biden’s Build Back Better campaign will make commonsense investments in U.S. manufacturing that put millions to work and ensure a reliable, high-quality supply of critical goods, like the Nipro vials that are used to store not only COVID-19 vaccine but also the other drugs needed to treat hospitalized patients.

“It’s comforting for us to know that what we’re doing is contributing to something major,” explained Banks, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 219M, which represents the 200 or so dedicated workers keeping Nipro’s two Millville plants operating around-the-clock.

“There used to be lots of different places where we could get this glass. They’ve left. If we didn’t have this plant, where would we get it from?” asked Banks, who saw his own local shrink by thousands of members as several local glass facilities closed in recent decades.

In the urgent scramble to build stockpiles of vaccine that can be swiftly released for distribution once federal regulators give approval, multiple drugmakers approached Nipro for help.

The company added production capacity to help meet the flood of orders and relied on workers to put in extra shifts. However, as Banks noted, the nation could have more easily addressed the surging demand if it still had the large number of producers it did in years past and marshaled those collective resources to ramp up glass production.

“The product is still being made, just not in the U.S. It could have stayed here,” said Banks, who already wonders whether Nipro will embrace America’s long-term need for manufacturing and maintain its recently added capacity once the pandemic ends.

Although there are no quick fixes, Build Back Better will not only arrest the long erosion of the manufacturing base but restore America’s power to produce critical goods of all kinds.

Because while the pandemic exposed the nation’s struggle to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizerpharmaceutical ingredients and even the super-cold freezers needed to keep COVID-19 vaccines viable during transport, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.

Over the past 30 years, as greedy corporations closed thousands of U.S. factories and offshored millions of jobs to exploit cheaper labor and lax environmental laws in other countries, America also gave away the capacity to produce appliancestirescarsball bearings and many other items.

Not even the pandemic, which highlighted the nation’s urgent need for more manufacturing muscle, slowed the corporate quest for ever-higher profits. In September, FreightCar America announced it will close its Alabama factory, eliminate 500 jobs and move operations to Mexico by the end of the year. And Mondel?z, a company that previously shifted American jobs to Mexico, just threatened to close two of its five remaining U.S. Nabisco bakeries.

America needs thousands of other manufactured products every bit as much as it needs PPE. It relies on trucks, boxes and containers to move commerce every day, textiles to refurnish homes devastated by hurricanes and steel, aluminum and other materials for military vehicles.

Biden understands that rebuilding the manufacturing base is a top priority that transcends politics. He will require government agencies and contractors to spend taxpayer dollars on U.S.-made materials, products and labor, ensuring America invests in itself.

“You’ve got to be able to produce things to survive,” observed Libbi Urban, vice president of USW Local 9231, noting that America’s dependence on foreign suppliers puts the nation at grave risk.

Foreign countries can experience their own production problems, jack up prices during emergencies, deliver inferior products or simply cut off supplies any time they want, noted Urban, who represents workers at two ArcelorMittal steel facilities in New Carlisle, Indiana.

“Do you want to rely on steel from China if you want to make battleships, tanks or aircraft carriers? Do you think they’re going to sell you good-quality steel?” said Urban, who chairs her local’s Women of Steel program. “If you go to war with somebody, you can’t rely on them to make your ships or your tanks.”

Even as they put in wearying amounts of overtime, Banks and his colleagues have to maintain constant vigilance and observe numerous safety precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19.

With millions of lives riding on their work, Banks said, they cannot risk a spate of infections that could disrupt production.

Banks hopes America remembers the risks essential workers continue to make. But what he really wants is for the nation to learn from its failures and commit to a full-scale revitalization of manufacturing to keep his members employed—and America safe—long after the threat of COVID-19 is over.

“We’re happy to be doing this,” he said. “But we are also worried. At some point, when this pandemic ends, are we still going to thrive?”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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Why Rebuilding America’s Manufacturing Muscle Is Essential

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As Goodyear began phasing out a tire plant in Alabama and shifting operations to a cheaper facility in Mexico a few years ago, Jeremy Hughes worried about the loss of his livelihood and the impact on his hometown.

Hughes also worried about the future of America. Sooner or later, he realized, the decline of U.S. manufacturing would put the entire nation at risk.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, that day has come.

Failed U.S. trade policies incentivized corporations to offshore family-sustaining manufacturing jobs, like the one Hughes lost, and left America dangerously dependent on other countries for consumer goods, industrial products and even the medical supplies critically needed to fight COVID-19.

America imports much of the personal protective equipment (PPE), including masksgowns and gloves, used by health care workers.

When the pandemic struck, America lacked the production capacity to meet the surging demand for PPE. It couldn’t import sufficient quantities from China, a major global supplier, either.

The loss of Goodyear jobs in Gadsden, Alabama, and China’s control of PPE supplies are two symptoms of America’s other pandemic—manufacturing decay.

Right now, the U.S.—once the world’s most powerful manufacturer—cannot produce on its own soil the items it most needs.

It has no vision for the future of manufacturing, no plan for leveraging the nation’s industrial capacity in emergencies.

If America fails to rebuild its manufacturing base, it will be just as vulnerable in the next crisis, whether that is a disease, war or natural disaster.

“We have to start buying American-made products. I can’t stress that enough,” said Hughes, the treasurer of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12L. “The union has been preaching this for years.”

For decades, the USW and other labor unions warned that America’s economy and security depended on a strong manufacturing sector.

In the early 1990s, unions vehemently opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), arguing that greedy corporations would relocate U.S. manufacturing operations to Mexico so they could exploit cheap labor, the lack of worker protections and lax environmental regulation.

That’s exactly what happened. NAFTA cost the U.S. 1 million jobs.

And it left America a frail version of its once-mighty self.

Manufacturers of carsheavy equipment partstextiles, clothing, rubber products, furniturevalvesbearingsbrake calipers and appliances, among many other items, moved operations from the U.S. to Mexico under NAFTA.

But America still needs all of those items, just as it does PPE for health care workers. It needs refrigerators for food safety; tires, like the ones Hughes made at Goodyear, to keep cars and pickups on the road; oil pumps to keep heavy equipment operating; and valves and bearings to ensure all kinds of machines, including military equipment, remain in working condition.

If America cannot make these products, it must buy them from other countries. That kind of feeble dependence threatens the nation’s safety and security.

And it isn’t just the cars, tires and refrigerators themselves. America needs everything that goes into producing them—the factories, equipment and skilled workers, all of which can be pressed into service during a national emergency.

Manufacturing capacity is raw strength. It made America a superpower. But American policymakers let U.S. manufacturing muscle turn to flab.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they also allowed China and other countries to dump unfairly traded steelpaperglasstires and other goods into U.S. markets, undercutting the dwindling number of manufacturers that remained here.

China subsidizes its manufacturers with cash, materials and land, then lets them flood global markets. This cheating killed U.S. companies and cost 3.7 million American jobs over the past two decades.

Today, China monopolizes the production and distribution of many consumer products, like toys and electronics, as well as supplies of ventilators, PPE, medicines and other critical items. Last year, the U.S. ran an Advanced Technology Products trade deficit with China of more than $100 billion.

Decades of industrial decline left America unprepared for the pandemic. COVID-19 simply caught America flat-footed.

“We don’t have stockpiles of protective equipment,” observed Valery Robinson, president of USW Local 7600, which represents nurses, phlebotomists and other workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California.

In the mad scramble to conserve supplies, she said, the health system shut down nonessential facilities. Workers offered to find and bring in their own PPE.

The nation not only lacked the capacity to manufacture these essential items, but U.S. leaders had no clear strategy for marshaling scarce resources, ramping up production and putting industry on a war footing.

Unions demanded that the Trump administration invoke the Defense Production Act, a 1950s law that enables the federal government to direct American factories to produce goods essential to the nation’s security.

Trump dithered. So manufacturers, many of them relying on the dedication and skills of USW members, began making masks, hand sanitizer and other products on their own.

That’s a starting point for rebuilding America’s manufacturing strength.

But ad hoc efforts to battle the pandemic must evolve into a comprehensive strategy for bringing back an essential economic sector.

That means including “Buy American” provisions in government contracts that incentivize corporations to make products here instead of chasing the cheap deal overseas.

It means investing in domestic manufacturing opportunities. The government took a step in the right direction on May 19 by awarding a $354 million contract to a Virginia drugmaker for production of generic medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients now made in China, India and other foreign countries.

To ensure the lessons of the pandemic remain at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness, Congress must establish a domestic manufacturing commission to plan, oversee and report on production growth.

Never again can America flounder in a crisis or ask front-line workers to battle a pandemic without basic supplies.

It might cost a little more to make that equipment domestically.

“But at the end of the day,” Robinson said, “it’s right here.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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The Plan Behind a Chicago Project to Lift Up Working People

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Manufacturing jobs have been on a steady decline for several years because of trade deals, technological advancements and economic recessions. Despite this, manufacturing remains one of the most important sectors of the U.S. economy, employing more than 12 million workers, or about 9% of the total U.S. employment.

American cities continue to spend billions each year to buy major equipment, such as buses and railcars for public transportation systems. This spending has the potential to support tens of thousands of good manufacturing jobs. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, there will be 533,000 good middle-skill manufacturing jobs available over the next decade.

Jobs to Move America is working with labor, business, community and governmental groups around the country to ensure money spent on building transportation infrastructure is also used to promote equity and bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. The organization also is advocating for workforce development and training programs that prepare working people for high-skilled careers that will help them succeed in the 21st-century economy.

Jobs to Move America and community partners recently managed to ensure a project in Chicago will create good jobs and long-term economic opportunities for the community. JMA worked with the Chicago Federation of Labor, the city of Chicago and the Chicago Transit Authority for four years to ensure that the U.S. Employment Plan was included as part of the CTA’s latest $1.3 billion project, which will supply up to 846 new railcars and replace about half of the CTA’s current fleet. The employment plan is a toolbox of policy resources transit agencies can include as part of their request for proposals to encourage bus and rail manufacturers to train and create good high-skilled U.S. jobs in communities that need it most.

The company that won the contract, CRRC Sifang America committed to building a new $100 million unionized facility on Chicago’s South Side, the first in 36 years. The company will spend $7.2 million to train 300 factory and construction workers. Additionally, CRRC has signed on to a community benefits agreement guaranteeing support for South Side residents and is part of a workforce-labor-business consortium that received a $4 million Department of Labor grant to develop an apprenticeship and training program, and a pipeline into manufacturing jobs in Chicago.

The work of JMA with labor and community partners leveraged a robust manufacturing jobs program that will strengthen the middle class, stimulate increased investment in new domestic manufacturing facilities, and create opportunities for low-income communities. Most importantly, the Chicago work has set a precedent for the rest of the country, lifting up standards and creating a model for how communities and business can and should work together.

The idea behind JMA’s work is simple. There is a need to reframe the discussion about good jobs and economic prosperity away from a “cheapest is best” approach to a broader discussion about the economic impact of using taxpayer dollars to create good jobs, especially for those historically excluded from the manufacturing sector, like women and people of color.

Take, for instance, Kristian Mendoza in the Los Angeles area, a veteran who was struggling to find a good-paying job after his service. He was forced to commute to a job an hour-and-a-half each way from his home. The job paid so little he could barely afford the gas to get there and did not have the resources to take care of his two young children.

Because of the work of the JMA coalition in Los Angeles, a U.S. Employment Plan was implemented in a project of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Part of the agreement is a community-labor partnership with Kinkisharyo, the company that won that bid. The company committed to hiring and exploring skills training for disadvantaged U.S. workers. To date, the company has exceeded its commitments, employing some 400 workers, most of whom are people of color in a unionized factory.

Mendoza is one of the 400. After struggling for years, he has been able to move out of his family’s home and into a place close to the Kinkisharyo factory.

The JMA team is now working on multiple projects across the country, monitoring the industry for upcoming opportunities to maximize public transportation dollars and ensure there are more success stories like Mendoza’s.

This blog was originally posted on aflcio.org on April 12, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Alaa Milbes is the Senior Communications Specialist for Jobs to Move America. Prior to joining JMA, Alaa served as Oxfam’s Media Officer in Jordan for the Syria crisis response on a short-term assignment, where she worked on a number of media strategies and campaigns meant to raise awareness about Syrian refugees. Alaa also did communications work for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, covering 5 regional offices in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the occupied Palestinian territory.

 


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ANOTHER Walmart Made in America Infographic Needed Some Work, So We Fixed It

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elizabeth brotherton_bunchWe’re calling Walmart out on its misleading public relations push.

Welp, they’re at it again!

Walmart kicks off its annual U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Arkansas on Tuesday, highlighting “progress” in its 10-year commitment to purchase $250 billion in American-made goods. For the second year in a row, the retail giant has unveiled a handy infographic touting the progress its made thus far.

And just like last year, we decided to take their infographic and add some much needed context. See, when you start to dig just a little bit, you find that Walmart’s committment is pretty misleading.

Looking for more details on our data? Click here.

Want more? We’ve included last year’s blog post and infographic below.


From 2014: The web filter at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) caught a big ol’ piece of chaff this week, in the form of a release from Walmart. America’s largest retailer has announced plans to purchase $250 billion worth of American-made goods over the next decade. It decided to share the good news of its sudden economic patriotism via an infographic, which is heavy on the fancy font but light on context.

So AAM took a stab at filling that context in, via an infographic of its own. Sure, Walmart is spending a big chunk of change on American-made products. But the company regularly moves gigantic gobs of money around, so is it spending any more on America than usual? And where are the rest of the goods on its shelves coming from? Does Walmart deserve a round of applause (that it started itself) for cozying up to the Made in America movement? See below:

Want to dig a little deeper into Walmart data? Read our fact sheet here.

 

This blog was originally posted on American Manufacturing on July 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

 

About the Author: The author’s name is Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch. As Digital Media Director, Beth helps spread the word about smart public policies that guide the creation of American manufacturing jobs. In this role, she is tasked with helping grow AAM’s social media presence, implementing online advocacy campaigns and overseeing communications with an active online community of supporters. Prior to joining AAM, Beth was charged with content development, branding and promotion at the nonprofit organization Netcentric Campaigns. She created and edited content such as action alerts, campaign emails, newsletters, guest articles and social media for many Netcentric projects. Beth worked on behalf of multiple clients, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, American Heart Association and Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. Beth began her career as a reporter, which included a nearly six year stint at the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. She authored the popular gossip column “Heard on the Hill” and covered key players in the Capitol Hill community, such as the Architect of the Capitol and Capitol Police. Her work also has appeared in publications including the Orange County Register, Press-Enterprise, TakePart, MomsRising and Almanac of the Unelected. A Golden State native, Beth holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and journalism from the University of Southern California. She lives in Alexandria, Va., with her husband and rescue dog. You can follow Beth on Twitter at @ebrotherton.


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What Do Packers and Steelers Have in Common?

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Image: James ParksWhat do the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers have in common–besides playing in the Super Bowl Sunday? Both teams are named after the major manufacturing industry in their towns. Both cities were built on manufacturing and enjoy a loyal following built on the middle-class, blue-collar jobs supported by these industries. The Packers’ middle-class fans are also the team’s owners–the only team not owned by a super-rich person.

This is not the first Super Bowl with both teams hailing from proud working class communities.  The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has launched the first-ever Super Bowl Manufacturing Index, which shows how many people were employed in manufacturing at the time of each working class Super Bowl. The index shows that in 1967 when the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, there were 17.9 million manufacturing jobs. This Sunday, there are only 11.7 million.

The players know the importance of manufacturing to their fans. At a recent AAM town hall meeting in Green Bay, Packer players A.J. Hawk and Mason Crosby spoke out about the value of manufacturing jobs (see video).

Scott Paul, AAM’s executive director, says:

As we celebrate this year’s Super Bowl, let’s not forget the men and women who have made these team great–their blue-collar fan base.  We can keep these communities strong by supporting a strong American manufacturing base and its highly skilled workers.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on February 4, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks – My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.


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What’s Green, White and Blue? American Jobs

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Leo GerardRed, as in furiously red, defined the day last fall when a consortium of companies announced it wanted $450 million in U.S. stimulus money to build a wind farm in Texas, creating 2,000 jobs in China and 300 in America.

Now, nine months later, things have cooled down and turned around. In a deal with the United Steelworkers (USW), two Chinese companies have agreed to build as much of the wind turbines as possible in America, using American-made steel, and creating perhaps 1,000 American jobs.

The deal is a result of white collar Chinese executives negotiating with blue collar union officers to create green collar jobs in the U.S. The agreement defies stereotypes about unions as constantly combative, excessively expensive and environmentally challenged. The USW has a track record of engaging with enlightened CEOs for mutual benefit.  It has a long green history. And it has worked to return off-shored jobs to the U.S.

The USW, like the Democrats in the House and Senate with their Make It in America program, is devoted to preserving and creating family-supporting, prosperity-generating manufacturing jobs in America. And if they’re green, all the better.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross has first-hand experience negotiating with unions, including the USW, to sustain U.S. manufacturing. He describes it positively. Here he is on PBS’ Charlie Rose on Aug. 2:

“I have found the leaders of big industrial unions, the steelworkers, the auto workers, they understand dynamics of industry at least as well as the senior management of the companies.”

Ross talked to Rose about dealing with the USW during the time when he was buying  LTV Steel:

“We worked out a contract that took 32 job classifications down to five, changed work rules to make it more flexible and most important of all, we put in a blue collar bonus system. . .We became the most efficient steel company in America. We were making steel with less than one man hour per ton. The Chinese at the time were using six man hours per ton. We were actually exporting some steel to China.”

Ross accomplished that while paying among the highest wages for manufacturing workers in America.

The USW approached the Chinese companies that planned the $1.5 billion Texas wind farm, A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd. and Shenyang Power Group, the same way it did Ross. The meetings occurred with the help of U.S. Renewable Energy Group, a private equity firm that facilitates international financing and investment in renewable energy projects. Jinxiang Lu, chairman and chief executive of Shenyang Power, said talking to the union enabled him to see its “vision for win-win relationships between manufacturers and workers.”

For the USW, this deal means the Chinese firms will initially buy approximately 50,000 tons of steel manufactured in unionized American mills to fabricate towers and rebar for the 615 megawatt wind farm in Texas, will employ Americans at a wind turbine assembly plant to be built in Nevada, and will employ more American workers in green jobs at plants constructing the blades, towers and thousands of other wind turbine parts.

For the Chinese companies, the USW, the largest manufacturing union in America, will use its long list of industry contacts to help construct an American supply chain essential to amass the approximately 8,000 components in a wind turbine. The idea is to collaboratively create a solid manufacturing, assembly, component sourcing, and distribution system so that this team – the Chinese companies, U.S. Renewable Energy Group and the USW — will build many more wind farms after the first in Texas.

Additional wind farms mean more renewable energy freeing the U.S. from reliance on foreign oil. As U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, says, there’s no point in replacing imported foreign oil with imported wind turbines. For energy and economic independence, green manufacturing capacity and green jobs must be in the U.S.

This deal does that. And there’s nothing unusual about foreign companies employing Americans. Many Americans, including USW members, already work in factories owned by many different foreign national companies, including German, Russian, Japanese, Mexican, and Brazilian, with names like Bridgestone-Firestone, Arcelor-Mittal, Rio Tinto, Grupo Mexico, Svenska Cellulosa AB (SCA) and Severstal.

In at least one other case, action by the USW forced the hand of a Chinese company to move jobs to the U.S. Tianjin Pipe, the world’s largest manufacturer of steel pipe, said it could not export profitably to the United States if tariffs rose above 20 percent. This was after the USW and seven steel manufacturers filed a petition with U.S. trade agencies in April of 2009 accusing China of illegally dumping and subsidizing the type of pipe used in the oil and gas industry. The union won that case this past April, and the U.S. Commerce Department imposed import duties ranging from 30 to 100 percent to give the domestic industry relief from the unfair trade practices. To continue selling in the U.S., Tianjin Pipe had no choice but to build an American pipe mill. Construction is expected to begin in Texas this fall on the $1 billion plant to employ 600 by 2010.

Although the USW is cooperating with A-Power and Shenyang Power, it will not back off its trade cases involving exported Chinese steel, pipe, tires, paper and other manufactured products. The stakes for U.S. jobs are just too high.

Back in 1990, when green was not as trendy, the USW recognized that the environment would be among the most important issues of the era and issued the report, “Our Children’s World.”  Since then, it has steadily promoted green — became a founding member of the BlueGreen Alliance and Apollo Alliance, which promote renewable energy and renewable energy jobs.

Good, green American manufacturing jobs. Establishing American energy independence. It is win-win. And it’s getting a green light now.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.


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U.S. Politicians Deny the Obvious Injury; U.S. Manufacturing Bleeds

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Leo GerardIn the film, “Monte Python and the Holy Grail,” King Arthur severs both of the Black Knight’s arms during a sword fight, but the Black Knight attempts to battle on.

The king admonishes him: “You’ve got no arms left.”

The knight refutes that: “Yes I have.”

“Look,” at the obvious, the king tells him.

“Just a flesh wound,” retorts the knight, who clearly is suffering a state of denial.

Similarly, in the trade clash between China and America, the Asian giant has gravely wounded the United States. China knows it. U.S. voters of all political stripes know it. But too many American politicians, like the Black Knight, are in denial.

Their deliberate blindness, and resulting inaction, has enabled China to continue devaluing its currency, the Renminbi, against the dollar, a practice that makes its exports artificially cheap in U.S. markets and U.S. exports to China wrongfully overpriced. China announced just before the G-20 summit in Toronto that it would allow the value of the Renminbi to float up on world markets – and then permitted the currency that is undervalued by as much as 40 percent against the dollar to rise an underwhelming one half of one percent.

Political inaction also has facilitated China’s flouting of international trade rules forbidding government subsidies to manufacturers. The Chinese subsidies result in falsely low-priced Chinese goods flooding U.S. markets and submerging U.S. manufacturers.

Main Street Americans see the obvious. They said so in a poll conducted late in April by The Mellman Group for the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). The likely voters – who identified themselves as Republican, Democrat, Tea Party and Independent – said Washington must focus on manufacturing because it is crucial to America’s economic strength. Large majorities said the U.S. should strengthen domestic manufacturing and develop a national manufacturing policy.

Unfortunately, too many politicians who loll in the rarefied world of Washington, D.C. — so far from Main Street, so very far from an actual factory — don’t see it. So they’ve failed to solve the problems.

A report issued this week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) details the trade difficulties encountered by one American industry – paper manufacturers. Its struggles mirror those that have maimed many other U.S. manufacturers, including pipe mills and tire plants.

The report, “No Paper Tiger: Subsidies to China’s Paper Industry from 2002-09,” notes that in 2008, China overtook the United States to become the world’s largest producer of paper and paper products. This score by China is the solid evidence for the gut feeling Americans expressed in the Mellman poll for AAM. A significant majority told the pollsters they believed the U.S. had lost to China the position of world’s strongest economy.

Americans didn’t need a report to spell out for them what their families and neighborhoods had suffered over the past decade. They’d experienced the closing of more than 10 percent of U.S. manufacturing plants in their communities from 2001 to 2009 – a loss of 42,404 factories. In the paper industry alone, 159,000 of their relatives and neighbors lost their jobs as paper mills closed or cut production during the seven-year period covered by the “No Paper Tiger” study.

A woman from Los Angeles told the Mellman pollsters that this relentless loss of manufacturing capability enfeebles America: “When you consume more than you produce, you become dependent, and we are consuming more from other countries than producing our own. . .truly we have become weak and in order to strengthen the economy, I think we need to produce more.”

The U.S. will, however, continue to produce less, the “No Paper Tiger” report makes clear, if Washington doesn’t act against predators violating international regulations. The report explains that China’s government granted at least $33 billion in subsidies to paper manufacturers to accomplish the country’s rapid rise to global leader in paper production.

In its central government-controlled economy, China gives paper companies money and breaks, much of which is improper under international trade regulations. For example, some paper companies get “loans” that they don’t have to repay. The government provides tax breaks, artificially low-priced electricity and underpriced raw materials. This explains how Chinese paper companies increased capacity by an average of 26 percent every year since 2004 even as prices for paper fell internationally and costs for raw materials for paper production in China rose steeply.

China’s rule-violating subsidies and deliberate currency devaluation explain the low price of Chinese paper. Labor costs don’t account for it. That’s because labor is such a tiny percentage of the price of paper – in both the U.S. and China. In China, it’s 4 percent of production cost; in the U.S. it’s 8 percent.

By contrast, Chinese paper manufacturers confront expensive problems that the American industry does not. In China, obtaining raw materials for paper making is complicated and costly because the country has among the smallest forestry resources in the world per capita. In addition, the “No Paper Tiger” report says, the Chinese industry is relatively inefficient. In the U.S., the paper industry is highly efficient and has easy access to abundant natural resources.

The U.S., a market economy, simply does not routinely prop up manufacturers the way China does.

The “No Paper Tiger” report says that if nothing changes, U.S. paper manufacturers will continue to lose money, close mills and bleed jobs. The U.S. could be reduced to serving as nothing more than the supplier of raw materials for Chinese paper production, as if America were an undeveloped third world country incapable of manufacturing on its own.

China’s subsidization of its paper manufacturers isn’t unique. It supports many of its industries. Chinese government intervention in the market accounts for a significant portion of the manufacturing loss in America. That loss diminishes American security.

America is losing her arms. Denying it doesn’t help.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.


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The Lesson of Pittsburgh for G-20: Manufacturing Matters

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The revival of Pittsburgh, site of the G-20 summit this week, can provide valuable lessons for the world’s leaders. Among them: Manufacturing matters and poor trade policies hurt everyone.

Pittsburgh, G-20 and the New Economy: Lessons to Learn, Choices to Make,” a report released today by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), makes clear that the renaissance of Pittsburgh after the collapse of the steel industry was cut short because of the lack of a national industrial policy and the nation’s trade policies.

During a telephone news conference, CAF Co-Director Robert Borosage said some manufacturing jobs in Pittsburgh were replaced by high-end jobs in education or medicine.

But many were replaced by jobs in hotels and food services—jobs that never paid as well and proved even more vulnerable in the recent downturn. Some manufacturing jobs were never replaced at all. That helps explain why the city’s population is declining, especially among youth, who seek opportunity elsewhere.

That idea was echoed by more than 400 people who marched through the streets of Pittsburgh on Sept. 20 calling for an economic recovery that includes jobs for the unemployed.

The march set out from a local church where some 25 people slept overnight in tents to symbolize the poverty that lies behind the glitz of the renewed downtown Pittsburgh.

During the news conference today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said trade policies were at the core of the steel industry decline. He praised President Obama’s recent decision to provide relief to the domestic consumer tire industry in response to surging tire exports from China.

Obama’s action was significant, Brown said, because it is the first time a president has really enforced trade rules. He said he hopes it leads to even more complaints as U.S. industries see that their government cares about fair trade.

Brown added that the country “cannot tolerate” trade policies that spawn low wages and allow illegal trade subsidies in China and other countries to decimate our economy.

Economist Jeff Madrick of the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, said the nation’s manufacturing sector has been the victim of deliberate neglect by policymakers. It is clear, he said, that union manufacturing jobs pay better wages and have more benefits than service jobs.

The G-20 summit is a perfect time for U.S. officials to take a hard look at what has happened to workers over the past decades. For example, the median wage for males is less today than it was in the 1970s when you take inflation into account. And workers’ wages have not kept up with productivity for 25 years.

We need new policies to stimulate manufacturing. This [decline] has gone on too long.

The report specifically proposes an industrial policy that promotes manufacturing. Eric Lotke, author of the report, writes:

We need to dispel the notion that America has moved beyond the production of goods. From cars to computers to refrigerators, a country needs things. If we don’t make those things here, then someone else gets our money.

The report also says the experience with the steel industry in Pittsburgh should spawn new trade policies that reflect the truce functioning of the market. It cites Obama’s decision in the tire case as a first step in this new direction.

Read the CAF report here.

Lotke also says the G-20 summit provides an opportunity to examine American patterns of production and consumption. Even when the economy was growing, America ran a combined trade deficit and interest payments of more than $700 billion every year, he said.

We borrowed $2 billion every day to cover the difference. That might have worked well for the countries we bought and borrowed from—but it worked less well for America. It was never sustainable anyway.

As the G-20 leaders plan a recovery from the global downturn, they should not assume that the United States will remain the world’s consumer—spending more than we earn and paying for it with personal and national debt. The G-20 must chart the process by which the global economy that emerges from the crisis is more balanced, and less dependent on U.S. consumption. Growth must be sustainable in Pittsburgh as well as Beijing.

One avenue to create more manufacturing jobs is through the green revolution. Tomorrow, the Alliance for Climate Protection’s Repower America campaign, the USW and the Blue Green Alliance will conclude their Clean Energy Jobs Tour with a rally in Pittsburgh.

The Jobs Tour, a monthlong campaign with more than 50 events in 22 states, is highlighting how a transition to a clean-energy economy will create jobs while reducing harmful carbon pollution and breaking our dependence on foreign oil.

Says David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance:

We can create millions of jobs building the clean energy economy—whether it’s manufacturing the parts for windmills, building hybrid car batteries or weatherizing homes to make them more efficient. By transitioning to a clean-energy economy, we can revitalize America’s manufacturing sector and boost our economy for the long run by creating jobs here at home.

“Building a clean energy economy can revitalize American manufacturing, but only if we commit to using domestically produced components,” said USW President Leo Gerard.

In confronting the challenges of recession, global warming and energy independence, we have an opportunity to transform our economy and create good jobs that truly are Made in America.

About the Author James Parks: had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on September 22, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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