Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘manufacturing jobs’

Replacing Factories With Jails: Just 44% of Milwaukee’s Black Men in Workforce

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Roger BybeeCity has lost three-fourths of its manufacturing jobs since 1960s

MILWAUKEE—Wisconsin’s economic problems are only deepening the political crisis for Gov. Scott Walker, already the target of a massive recall campaign that gathered 1.1 signatures from Wisconsinites.

Despite Walker’s pledge to preside over the creation of 250,000 jobs by 2015, Wisconsin has lost jobs for the past six months as the rest of the country has added them, and job losses have totaled more than 35,000 since he signed his highly controversial state budget last June.

But there is a more specific economic (and social) crisis facing Milwaukee: Just 44.7 percent of African-American males are still part of the workforce, reflecting the long-term decimation and relocation of the city’s industrial based and the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

Even for African-American males in their prime working years (25 to 54), only 52 percent were in the workforce. “That took me aback,” stated Marc Levine, author of the new study illuminating the appalling level of joblessness in the city’s black community.

“The most striking finding was the extent to which black employment rate has declined across all the heavily-industrialized cities of the Northeast and Midwest, like Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo,” said Levine, director emeritus of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center on Urban Development.

These cities have been hit by three waves of industrial shifts, first to the suburban ring, then to “the right-to-work states of the anti-union South,” and finally offshoring to low-wage, repressive nations like China and Mexico, said Levine.

With 54 percent of Milwaukee’s black workers employed in manufacturing in 1970, “The unraveling of manufacturing affected blacks here more than in other cities,” Levine noted. “All of the old industrial cities have been hit across the board, but Milwaukee with its especially large industrial base was really affected.”

As the study documents,

No metro area has witnessed more precipitous erosion in the labor market for black males over the past 40 years than has Milwaukee. The 2010 data, however, revealed a new nadir for black male employment in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee has lost a three-fourths of its manufacturing jobs since the 1960s, representing a giant canyon of destroyed opportunities. In the city long called “the Machine Tool Capital of the World” in recognition of its highly-skilled industrial workforce, only about 26,000 manufacturing jobs remain.

The loss of these jobs has been accompanied by a substantial drop in family incomes in the city. Milwaukee’s median household income, adjusted for inflation, plummeted
a stunning 21.9 percent since 1999, according to new U.S. Census data. That’s well over twice the national average of 8.9 percent.

But along with the impact of de-industrialization and de-unionization affecting the entire working class, African Americans in Milwaukee have faced “hyper-segregated conditions, with 88 percent of the blacks in the metro area concentrated in the central city, said Levine. With many lacking cars and public transportation to the suburbs—where almost all employment increases have occurred—the inner city economy has radically changed over the past four decades.

“In the new economy of the inner city, there are only 4,800 blacks employed in production now,” a small fraction of a once-huge African-American industrial working class, said Levine. “At the same time, every year we have about 5,000 African-American males entering the prison system. … We’ve seen the twin phenomena of the loss of factory jobs and a poorly-conceived war on drugs. As a result, almost 50 percent of Milwaukee’s black males are in jail, in prison, on probation, on parole, somewhere in the system.”

Milwaukee’s corporate leaders and media have continued to promote job training as the central solution to both high unemployment in the central city and a shortage of skilled workers:

The new chairman of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s biggest and most vocal business lobby, … vowed to tackle an issue that’s infuriated plant managers for years: a chronic inability to fill manufacturing jobs for lack of qualified or willing candidates.

Todd Teske, president and chief executive of Wauwatosa-based Briggs & Stratton Corp., said he would make the skills mismatch his top priority during the two-year rotating chairmanship of the 101-year old business group….

Industrial jobs are the core of Wisconsin’s middle class, Teske said: “But those jobs are threatened by a number of factors including a shortage of skilled industrial workers to fill existing and expected job vacancies.”

But for Levine, the training strategy championed by Teske and WMC is bound for failure. “It represents the tried and true approach for those who won’t face up to the fact that the private sector isn’t filling the need for jobs, but don’t want to challenge the private sector or their investment decisions.”

Briggs, for example, has moved thousands of jobs to Mexico and China.

“It’s not a skills shortage, it’s a shortage of private-sector job creation,” Levine says.

With Corporate America clearly opting out of domestic job creation—2.9 million jobs were eliminated in the United States since 2000, while 2.4 million were created offshore—local, state, and federal officials could confront the jobs crisis with a strategy that directly creates jobs, boosts consumer demand, and repairs America’s deteriorating infrastructure.

“We need Keynesian measures to build consumer demand, said Levine. “We need direct government involvement to rebuild the infrastructure, renovate our transportation systems, and update our communications system. All of these will also build broader consumer demand.”

The absence of jobs and income so acutely afflicting blacks in Milwaukee—and Americans of all colors across the nation—will not be cured by wishful thinking about the “insourcing” of jobs hailed by President Obama in recent speeches.

“Insourcing is a very, very minor trend,” Levine, pointing out that Milwaukee’s Master Lock (also see here ), although much celebrated (sometimes incorrectly) has only brought back a small share of the jobs it sent to Mexico. Still, the vastly-downsized United Auto Workers Local 469 is grateful for the addition of about 100 jobs over the last year;  a minimum of 800 Master Lock jobs had been shipped off to Mexico and China.

The depth of suffering in Milwaukee’s African-American community and elsewhere caused by the jobs shortage demands urgent action, not hope that “the private sector” to step forward. But when President Obama has talked about the need for job creation in recent months, he has stressed the need for private-sector” involvement.

Meanwhile, indifferent CEOs of major corporations sit on unprecedented trillions in reserves, and continue exporting jobs south of the border and overseas.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on February 1, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. Bybee edited The Racine Labor weekly newspaper for 14 years in his hometown of Racine, Wis., where his grandfathers and father were socialist and labor activists. His website can be found here, and his e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

What’s Green, White and Blue? American Jobs

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

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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