In addition to a nation’s commitment to create a strong manufacturing base through its industrial policy, another important way to grow well-paying jobs is through strong, independent trade unions. Through collective bargaining, workers gain the power to negotiate improvements with their employers that not only benefits the workers but entire communities. And the improvements they win are not just to wages and benefits: more and more, unions are negotiating the return of sustaining, well-paying jobs to the United States as a key part of their contracts.
In 2015, UAW workers negotiated with over $20 billion in investments from their automaker employers: $9 Billion at Ford, $8.3 Billion at General Motors and $3.4 Billion at FCA. The commitment to build new and next generation vehicles, engines, transmissions and other parts in the U.S. translates into thousands of new good manufacturing jobs at auto plants. The investment also generates thousands of new jobs at suppliers, other supporting businesses and in local communities because of automotive manufacturing’s high jobs multiplier.
And the fruits of those contracts are already beginning to show. In the last year, Ford spent over $2 billion to get plants ready for new vehicles and components in Michigan; and $900 million at a truck plant in Kentucky. GM announced plans to spend $1 billion in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee FCA is spending $1 billion to upgrade plants to build Jeeps in Michigan and Ohio.
And this strategy isn’t limited to car factories. The Steelworkers (USW) won future investment in union plants in their recent contracts with Goodyear and ArcelorMittal. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) contract with AT&T West included a commitment to move 3,000 mostly offshored jobs back into union facilities.
Bringing back jobs is only the first step. The sustaining jobs in advanced manufacturing require a skilled workforce. According to the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, todays workers often come up short in computer skills, problem-solving skills, basic technical training and math skills. Unions are often the ones coming up with solutions to this problem as well. Unions negotiate apprenticeship programs training skilled trades workers like tool and die makers, electricians, carpenters and others that are needed to thrive in the 21st century economy.
Today there are 288,000 American workers at 1,200 factories building advanced technology components that improve fuel economy and reduce pollution in the U.S. automotive industry. That’s just the automotive industry. There are 900,000 workers in the computer and electronic product manufacturing industry. Many of these workers are union members who head to the bargaining table every few years to grow their ranks. By fighting for more investment in their worksites, they are building the middle class and creating opportunities for thousands of others. Unions, working side-by-side with schools, government and forward-looking corporations under the umbrella of a smart industrial policy will build the strong manufacturing base for future generations.