Robots On Everyone’s Mind At the Fourth Democratic Debate

Matthew McMullan

Matthew McMullan Communications Manager, Alliance for American Manufacturing

Another hours-long primary debate is in the books. There were 12 candidates on stage last night! For another three hours! Not a great format for TV!

That said: One of these people could be in the White House in a little over a year from now, so we should probably pay a little attention, even if we're still months away from voting. So let’s boil it down. What did we notice in last night's debate?  

Elizabeth Warren on trade vs. automation 

Moderator: “Senator Warren, you wrote that blaming job loss on automation is, quote, ‘a good story, except it's not really true.’ So should workers here in Ohio not be worried about losing their jobs to automation?”

Warren: “So the data show that we have had a lot of problems with losing jobs, but the principal reason has been bad trade policy. The principal reason has been a bunch of corporations, giant multinational corporations who've been calling the shots on trade, giant multinational corporations that have no loyalty to America. They have no loyalty to American workers. They have no loyalty to American consumers. They have no loyalty to American communities. They are loyal only to their own bottom line.”

“I have a plan to fix that, and it's accountable capitalism. It says, you want to have one of the giant corporations in America? Then, by golly, 40 percent of your board of directors should be elected by your employees.”

Insta-Analysis: That is indeed Sen. Warren’s plan. Requiring 40 percent of all corporate boards to worker-elected is not the only part of it, but it’s a real big part. You can read about the rest here.

Is she right, though, that trade’s a bigger job-loss culprit than automation? It depends on which jobs you’re talking about. Manufacturing jobs have definitely been lost as we’ve run up trade deficits with China over the years. There’s a plausible argument to be made that import competition killed off factory employment in the United States.  

The automation argument, meanwhile, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny so well. It doesn’t account for the explosion of manufacturing job loss starting in 2001 after decades of steady employment in the sector. Productivity growth didn’t explode in 2001 too; it actually slowed down a bit! And even that measurement of our productivity growth rate is a little overblown. As we put it a few months ago: It’s not robots. It’s China.   

Beto O’Rourke on the USMCA (AKA NAFTA 2.0)

“(We must make) sure that if we trade with Mexico, Mexican workers are allowed to join unions, which they are effectively unable to do today. Not only is that bad for the Mexican worker, it puts the American worker at a competitive disadvantage.”

Insta-Analysis: As part of the trade deal to which it has agreed with the United States and Canada, the Mexican government passed a labor reform law this year that should make it easier for workers to form independent unions. “The new law is aimed at ending the practice of ‘protection unions,’” reported the Wall Street Journal, “in which labor leaders close to management ratify contracts without consent from the workers.”

That was a big step toward winning the approval of Congressional Democrats for the deal, which will be needed if it's gonna get passed anytime soon. But there are other issues that American labor advocates have raised about the USMCA. The AFL-CIO, for instance, has opposed the deal’s proposed dispute settlement framework, and also wants to include a measure that “blocks products from crossing the border if they are from companies accused of violating the agreement.”

Bernie Sanders on a federal jobs guarantee

Moderator: “Senator Sanders, you say your federal jobs guarantee is part of the answer to the threat from automation, but tens of millions of Americans could end up losing their jobs. Are you promising that you will have a job for every single one of those Americans?”

Bernie Sanders: “Damn right we will. And I'll tell you why: If you look at what goes on in America today, we have an infrastructure, which is collapsing, we could put 15 million people to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our water systems, our wastewater plants, airports, et cetera.”

Insta-Analysis: We think a massive infrastructure bill is an enormously good idea, and so does everybody else. But for argument’s sake, let’s say a President Bernie Sanders passes a huge infrastructure bill as part of some sort of Green New Deal program. If that infrastructure bill is done up right – and that means with Buy America requirements – it could potentially create even more jobs, because Buy America rules generate demand in American industries and induces an economic multiplier effect in American communities. For example, workers at an iron foundry in Wisconsin, buoyed by a federally backed contract for more manhole covers, are more likely to eat in local restaurants, shop in local clothing stores, and buy more movie tickets in local theaters. Buy America rules are smart public policy, and we love 'em. 

Julian Castro on Ohio losing jobs

“As I mentioned earlier, here in Ohio, in the latest job data, Ohio is losing jobs under Donald Trump. He has broken his promises to Ohio and the industrial Midwest. I would invest in infrastructure to put people back to work. I would invest in a Green New Deal to unleash millions of new jobs in a clean energy economy.”

Insta-Analysis: This is technically true! The unemployment rate in Ohio is higher this month than it was last month … but it’s still about a percentage point lower than it was a year ago.

And ... Andrew Yang on what helped President Trump win Ohio in the 2016 election

“Why did Donald Trump win your state by eight points? Because we got rid of 300,000 manufacturing jobs in your towns, and we’re not stopping there.”

Insta-Analysis: Indeed, Ohio has lost approximately 300,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001. Yang, though, attributes that loss to the inevitable march of automation, which is where he and AAM will have to agree to disagree. Automation will inevitably wipe out some jobs, yeah, but the jobs we've lost were chiefly lost to offshoring and import competition.

But did this loss of manufacturing jobs help Trump win Ohio, as Yang suggested? Well, Trump would tell you it did. After all, this is the guy who went to Youngstown on the campaign trail and said “don’t sell your house; the jobs are coming back.” So, yes, this did help Trump win Ohio. He spoke right to it. 

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Reposted from AAM

There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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