(Buffalo, NY) The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and the United Steelworkers cosponsored a town-hall meeting on the evening of April 8, 2013 at Asbury Hall in the converted church on Delaware Avenue known as “Babeville”. Labor unions, manufacturers, government, education, and a policy research institute all were represented, some taking part in panel discussions.
An opening prayer of invocation in the converted sanctuary – with stain glass windows still intact, lent an almost religious quality to the event attended by over 100 local citizens and union workers. The venue is very unique architecturally, with beautiful arches supporting high above in the hall.
Coming after what AAM executive director Scott Paul characterized as the worst decade (2000-9) in US manufacturing’s history – when the sector shed over 1000 jobs every day on average, recovery from the recession of 2008-9 has brought with it hundreds of thousands of new manufacturing jobs. Labor and industry representatives claim that this shift to “on-shore” production by manufacturers is driven by quality concerns about production overseas, and that on-shoring is a phenomenon that is here to stay.
The sudden shift of manufacturing to the US is apparently catching educators here unprepared. After decades of primarily focusing on preparing youth for employment in service-providing industries, it seems to panel participants here at the town-hall meeting that more emphasis on acquiring trade skills is required from local schools, colleges, and universities.
Any employment growth within industrial sectors like manufacturing, that exhibits both high union membership and what a policy researcher from Cornell University in one panel described as a living wage, is a welcome development to working families. Labor has a keen interest in seeing their elected government officials focus on policies and programs to grow these kinds of jobs, rather than low-skilled and low-paying jobs like those in retail and tourism. In today’s culture of data-driven decision making, labor depends on policy research institutes to quantify how a government policy affects living standards of workers and their families.
Politicians elected locally were of two minds generally about remedying economic and manufacturing shortcomings here at the town-hall meeting. Legislators offered scathing criticism of government policy and called for large investment in infrastructure by both the NYS and federal governments, among other proposals. Members of executive branches were more nuanced, focusing on skills gaps between job openings and job seekers as cause of sustained high unemployment, or even suggesting that there is a job in manufacturing for anyone who (really) wants one. AAM executive director Scott Paul politely suggested to the audience that voters should hold politicians accountable.
Union workers in attendance here are very boisterous about the new on-shoring phenomenon. One could almost detect a returning swagger in their steps, coming after decades of depressing mass layoffs and plant closures.