Opinion: Keep future jobs here, now

Gary Jones

It’s a game-changing time for the UAW. It’s a time when we need to secure the future of automotive manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

Shawn Swafort attaches a motor to the chassis in the motor-set area of final assembly at Flint Assembly, Tuesday, February 5, 2019. The media takes a tour of final assembly, the body shop and the paint shop.

As we enter our 2019 Special Bargaining Convention, with the challenges of an industry in transition, we are also on the precipice of new innovations in automobile technology that our UAW brothers and sisters are poised to embrace and ready to support. The surge of the electronic-autonomous vehicle industry has the potential to offer enormous growth and job advancements for our members as well as new avenues of expansion for associated businesses and our communities.

It’s an exciting time, and UAW members are already a part of it. But the key is that we must work to ensure that the manufacturing jobs which emerge from this forward- thinking innovation stay in the U.S.

We need to ensure that we build it here so we can buy it here.

Auto companies are developing vehicles that park themselves, energize themselves, drive themselves, and have engineering advancements making them the best and safest vehicles on the market.

Technology is allowing U.S. auto manufacturers to offer consumers solid, quality, high-tech choices in the vehicles they drive. And UAW members are building them -- but will they continue to build them?

As debate in Washington D.C. centers on more balanced trade and tariff’s amid increased production in Mexico, China and elsewhere, we know that keeping those new technologies and manufacturing jobs in the U.S. won’t be easy. But it’s a struggle which must be won. Failing to do so could result in a damaging blow felt for generations to come.

All Detroit-3 companies are each making large investments and developing partnerships in the race toward electronic and autonomous vehicles. They are investing heavily in tomorrow’s future vehicles.

But will production of that new technology remain in the U.S.? Or by building these cars elsewhere -- will it not only be current jobs shifted across our borders, but future technologies and job opportunities shifted to low-wage foreign countries?

Our nation's biggest challenge is retaining the jobs that come along with the technologies we invest in. Auto companies need to understand that the investments we as a nation make in the R&D of new technology are meant to create U.S. jobs, not to outsource our investment in future job opportunities.

As we have seen post-NAFTA, much of American manufacturing work has moved outside U.S. and Canadian borders. Will the same thing happen when automotive manufacturers step up electronic and autonomous vehicle production? Will future jobs and battery components go to other countries while the product returns -- expecting Americans to buy it?

Solid business plans need to take into account the impact on the economies they sell in. Taking advantage of low-wage foreign workers from already profitable companies is a slippery slope. Outsourcing jobs of the future can be outright dangerous to our nation’s future economy.

In times like these, the UAW, our families and our communities all need to work to ensure that the future of manufacturing, and our jobs, stay in the U.S.

Gary Jones is president of UAW International Union.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.