The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is meeting up in Pittsburgh this week for it's biannual convention. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a confederation of labor unions, so there are all kinds of folks here. There are steel workers, fire fighters, nurses, teachers, home health aids, truck drivers, even college professors.
Pennsylvania state president, Richard Bloomingdale, says the only people who aren't at the event are labor bosses, because "there aren't any bosses, there are only elected officials." That's one of the things the delegates are in Pittsburgh to do this week, elect their officers and approve or reject several dozen resolutions and a few constitutional amendments. It's the democratic nature of labor unions that Bloomingdale emphasizes when he speaks about collective bargaining.
The event -- like all conferences -- attracts exhibitors and vendors as well. Many of those folks are private entrepreneurs. People like Bill Birtle who owns All Union Signs in Harrisburg and is proud of his employees who come to work everyday and earn not only a paycheck, "but health insurance and a decent retirement."
Other exhibitors come to work the crowd. Many hope to make the delegates more aware of the political world outside their job or their union. Alliance for American Manufacturing's (AAM) steel worker liaison, Ike Gittlen, is packing a big message. Gittlen wants the delegates to go home to their locals and agitate at a grassroots level to get Congress to make China "stop cheating."
Gittlen explains -- with the help of research provided in the tome "Remaking America" -- 63,300 U.S. factories have been shuttered since 2001. Since that time the investment in foreign products has exceeded sales abroad by $7.08 trillion. That's $22,556 per American and an average of $90,224 for a family of four that's left the U.S. economy.
Gittlen's acknowledges the theory that the U.S. can survive on a service economy but he's not buying it. Gittlen says that China is manufacturing and China is in much better financial shape than the U.S. with greater growth and lower unemployment.
Gittlen says that repairing the U.S. economy requires the, "revitalizing of manufacturing." And Gittlen isn't alone in that thinking. "Rebuilding America" cites "A survey conducted in 2012 by Republican and Democratic pollsters, 89 percent of voters said they favor a strategy for supporting U.S. manufacturers." Gittlen explained, "The one thing everyone agrees on -- Tea Partiers agree with liberals -- is manufacturing. All people want a couple of things. They want good jobs and manufacturing can provide good jobs. They want to live in a first world nation with decent trade policies."
Gittlen and his field team at the convention want the union delegates to go home and pressure politicians -- especially during the primaries -- to get right about reshoring American manufacturing and enforcing existing trade agreements. Gittlen says the difference between foreign manufacturing and American-made that makes the imported goods cheaper isn't so much the difference in the price of labor as it is the massive subsidies and currency manipulation practiced abroad, especially in China.
When it comes to Chinese currency manipulation it appears that Congress agrees. Year after year hundreds of congresspersons co-sponsor legislation to bring China into line -- the Senate has even approved the legislation -- but the bills are never allowed out of committee for a vote in the House.
Because of this, not only is there an unfair lower price placed on Chinese goods -- says Gittlen -- but they are often manufactured in a manner that would be illegal in the U.S. Gittlen advocates for a level playing field for domestic manufacturers. He says that they shouldn't have to compete with factories that can kill their workers or destroy the environment.
AAM warns that if manufacturing stays gone from the U.S. that the high tech jobs will follow. AAM field organizer, Mark Musho, explained, "Research and Development will go where production is. MIT did a study saying that sooner or later R&D has to be near manufacturing. The scientists have to be able to walk onto the factory floor."
AAM doesn't just warn that private industry will suffer from all this off-shoring of manufacturing but national security is at risk as well. In AAM's publication Remaking American Security, author Brigadier General John Adams details what he sees as "supply chain vulnerabilities" as everything from smart bombs to rubber gloves are made overseas by folks who may not remain enamored of U.S. interests.
For the first time in America, the number of people out of work exceeds the number of people working in manufacturing, and that means that AAM's message is being heard loud and clear by the AFL-CIO delegates this week and AAM hopes that message will go straight from the Pittsburgh convention to their congressional representatives back home.