In the early-21st century U.S. economy, no worker is safe from workplace closing. Manufacturing employers ship production overseas, to the South, or to nonunion plants, where they can pay a fraction of the wages and benefits of union shops. Many tasks can now be performed electronically from outside the U.S., including completing tax returns, reading medical scan results, and customer service calls. Entire occupations are being replaced by automation, ranging from retail checkout, to warehouse worker, to even journalists. Federal, state, and local policies which reward workplace closings and layoffs are a national disgrace.
U.S. “free trade” policies, like NAFTA, encourage the flight of capital and export of jobs. These policies have contributed to high unemployment, reduced opportunities for young people, and budget deficits at all levels of government, which in turn cause job losses for public-sector workers. As we predicted, the Trump Administration's renegotiation of NAFTA has not and will not reverse decades of job loss. UE insists decisions regarding trade and employment are too important to be left exclusively to big business and their paid-for politicians. Our union demands sweeping legislative solutions, including controls on capital investment and credit, and severe penalties to give companies a strong disincentive to destroy our jobs.
Since the last convention, several UE-represented workplaces have either closed or announced their intention to close, including NGK-Locke (Local 120), Aetna Bearing (Local 151), O.P. Schumann (Local 155), Kraco (Local 1021), and Graham Packaging (Local 1421). This continued obliteration of well-paid manufacturing jobs means an entire industry has seen its employment standards collapse.
As a union, we know even when our jobs cannot be saved, the fight is still worth it. Sometimes a workplace is saved in unexpected ways. The members of UE Local 1187 at Load King in South Dakota can attest that even when the plant has closed and the union members have lost their jobs, continuing to fight can ultimately pay off and restore what appeared to be lost forever. But even when it doesn’t, the fight puts the workers in a better position to win a superior severance package.
UE has been a leader in developing innovative approaches to fighting closings and saving jobs through eminent domain campaigns, workplace sit-ins, building broad alliances, political action, alternative forms of ownership, and other means. While we have not found a surefire formula, we must continue to struggle and explore new solutions. No boss should be allowed to fire or lay off workers without a struggle.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 76th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands when a plant-closing is threatened, the union be given an opportunity to locate new investors to keep the workplace open or to establish a worker-owned cooperative;
- Demands the renegotiation of international “free-trade” agreements to make them fair-trade agreements, and encourages the union at all levels to participate in actions to prevent additional “free-trade” agreements;
- Demands Congress fully fund and expand the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) and develop programs to ensure that all affected workers are placed in stable, household-sustaining jobs;
- Demands Congress require companies pay severance and health benefits to laid-off workers, make payments to affected communities and states to offset lost tax revenues and the cost of retraining displaced workers, and repay any tax breaks and financial incentives;
- Demands that states and localities be prohibited from offering any incentives, including tax breaks, to lure corporate facilities from one location to another;
- Encourages all locals faced with a closing to analyze the circumstances of the shutdown, and to quickly pursue whatever strategy is necessary to keep the workplace operating, including local government seizure of private-sector workplaces through eminent domain, and compelling the employer to sell the enterprise at a fair market price to people who will keep the workplace operating;
- Demands prosecution of corporate leaders whose unjust actions result in the loss of workers’ pay and benefits, such as the successful prosecution of the former owner of Wisconsin Die Casting and the felony charges that led to the conviction and incarceration of the former owner of Republic Windows and Doors;
- Encourages locals to enlist support from the local community and government to pressure employers to keep members employed;
- Pledges full support of the union at all levels to any UE members fighting off job loss;
- Supports the creation of state and local unemployed councils to support unemployed workers’ basic needs and to fight for their rights.