Since 2012, National Manufacturing Day is observed on the first Friday in October to boost interest in manufacturing jobs. American companies pushed for the day because they said it was too difficult to attract workers. Matching skills and interest to jobs is important, but the real reason to have a national day on manufacturing is to focus on creating more manufacturing jobs. These are the jobs that created a middle-class who supported their families with good wages and benefits — even without a college degree.
That we have this day at all shows how dire the manufacturing situation in the U.S. has become. We’ve lost over five million manufacturing jobs since 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some were lost to efficiency, but many went offshore when manufacturers decided it was more profitable to pursue cheaper labor in countries with fewer regulations. After 20 years of racing to the bottom, some U.S. manufacturers now realize the need to reinvest in and acknowledge the role American manufacturing has played in building this country, the middle-class and our communities.
And what kind of jobs do we want brought back? First, the manufacturer won’t get a free pass just because their label says “Made in the USA.” If a company is bad to workers, the environment and the community, should we be rewarding it by purchasing its products?
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor found workers in California making clothes for retailers like Forever 21 and TJ Maxx were paid as little as $4 an hour. Fuyao, one of China’s largest automotive glass companies, moved their production to the U.S. to save on labor costs, but then promptly created unsafe working conditions by refusing to provide its workers with breathing equipment, even as they begged for them. To this day, Fuyao fights the workers’ quest for a safe workplace at every turn. Wisconsin is using $3 billion in taxpayer money to lure Foxconn to open a plant there. Reports show that it will take 25 years or more before taxpayers will see a return on this investment.
This is why we are partnering with Labor411 to launch BuildBuyUSA. We need to push our leaders to create a real industrial policy that builds the middle-class and urges consumers to think about the hidden costs of low-priced imported goods. It’s about our future and the big picture of bringing back the well-paying and sustainable manufacturing jobs that supported all of us for generations.
Promoters of National Manufacturing Day say that “today’s manufacturing is not your grandfather’s manufacturing.” That may be true, but there is nothing like wanting future manufacturing jobs to provide the same opportunities that our grandparents had.
This is my last year as UAW president and what I want between now and the next National Manufacturing Day are fewer companies who show no respect for worker rights, yet tout the “Made in the USA” label. I want to see more advanced factories building materials for the tech-heavy products of the future. And I want all advocates for the Made in America agenda to acknowledge that it is labor unions who made these jobs worth fighting for.
Dennis Williams is president of the UAW.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.