Labor unions formed in the United States during the 1870s. Close to 150 years later, the Democratic Party has been credited as the political party that champions their cause.
But for Alan Hughes, Arkansas AFL-CIO President, much of the blame for recent union-based job loss now rests with one of the Democrats’ most respected leaders.
“President (Bill) Clinton started this mess. He did NAFTA and pushed that on us, and since then, every trade agreement that has come up has not protected workers in the U.S.,” Hughes said.
“And why haven’t Congressmen and Senators straightened out some of these trade agreements for the good of union and non-union workers? We’ve tried to get them to,” Hughes said, adding that “Congress has been on the wrong side of making sure our trade agreements benefit our workers,” and that “labor has been going for years trying to get things corrected.”
Now with the Bring Jobs Home Act (S. 2884/H.R. 5542), Hughes is encouraged there is finally legislation “with some teeth to it.”
Hughes has invited the media and political candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., to attend a press conference supporting the legislation at the United Steelworkers Hall in Fort Smith at 10 a.m. Saturday (July 7).
Ross will not attend. Womack, Boozman, and others, have not confirmed.
Ross said he was “committed to American manufacturing and helping to keep and create more jobs here at home,” but that he was “still reviewing this legislation,” noting that he is working on “a legislative effort in Congress called 'Make it America,' where we focus on making more products in America, stop the shipping of our jobs overseas and start creating more private-sector jobs here at home.”
The Members of Congress are “invited to speak in support of the legislation,” which seeks to give tax incentives for companies that return employment to the United States, while removing tax breaks that enable corporations to move jobs “across the border and overseas,” Hughes said.
“We (AFL-CIO) thought Fort Smith would be the perfect place to hold the press conference with Whirlpool closing and Rheem cutting back. People are looking at this now because the price of labor is going up in other countries, and this is a chance to help our economy, so that we’re all winners.”
Hughes was asked about Fort Smith residents, in particular ex-Whirlpool employees, who feel the union let them down.
“Those are people disappointed all the way around, but they’ve got to understand, this is because the company took advantage of a situation to manipulate the system and make more profit on the product,” Hughes explained. “But who’s going to buy that stuff if we don’t have jobs over here? We can’t all flip hamburgers. I understand the argument that ‘we got to make it cheaper and lower the cost,’ but I have not seen the price of iceboxes or freezers get any cheaper, have you? The prices cost the same, but the companies just pocket the extra money. Meanwhile, there is less being bought, and our economy is going to shit in a hand basket.”
But if companies are growing spoiled to larger profits and to the mobility that comes with moving operations to countries, where they will enjoy less overall costs, how do you “sell” them on the United States again?
“First, we’ve got to find a better way to get the public more on board. A lot of people don’t realize something till it happens, and for years, the politicians kept saying, ‘It’s gonna get better, it’s gonna turn around.’ But it hasn’t. Giving more tax breaks and incentives for companies to come back, while closing the rewards for companies taking advantage of the system, is a start.”
Hughes continued: “Take Whirlpool: the equipment is still in there. If there’s a chance for something to be passed, and give a better tax break to bring those jobs back, we want to take it. We’ve got to have American jobs to help keep this economy going, and we believe the Senate and the House versions of these bills do that,” Hughes said.