With the Indiana primaries looming just as Carrier prepares to move 1,400 jobs to Mexico, the plight of America’s manufacturing workers is again in the spotlight.
We are getting a lot of hot air from some presidential candidates. They’re promising to rewrite free-trade agreements and force runaway manufacturers to come back home. Donald Trump, for example, has suggested imposing massive tariffs on their products.
That’s the kind of demagoguery that excites the crowds in states like Indiana, where thousands of manufacturing jobs have vanished in recent years.
But you and I know it’s nonsense.
Global free trade is here to stay. American shoppers would never accept the high prices that would result from such clumsy policies as the imposition of punitive import duties.
Trump and other candidates are also scapegoating past administrations for the creation of NAFTA and similar trade pacts. But that’s clearly counter-productive. The candidates should spend their time developing policies to deal with the world as it is, not as they would wish it to be.
For example, it’s all very well for Bernie Sanders to blame Hillary Clinton for supporting past trade agreements and to declare a Sanders administration would “demand” that corporations keep their production facilities in America. But I haven’t heard him spell out any realistic job creating solutions – except for his proposal to spend a trillion dollars on rebuilding America’s crumbling roads and bridges.
I think Hillary Clinton is proposing more practical policies.
In addition to addressing America’s all-too-obvious infrastructure neglect, she offers concrete plans to develop new industries. She envisages burgeoning green energy development and other high-tech, high-skill industries that would fill the void created by fleeing factories.
And in addition to offering federal dollars to states that provide free college tuition (one of Bernie’s most popular promises), Hillary would build on President Obama’s just-announced $100 million program for free community college courses. These programs would not only connect students with existing jobs but also retrain laid-off workers for new jobs.
She would also provide tax incentives to keep industry from leaving America and end existing tax breaks for employers who leave.
Still, I think even Hillary’s proposals could go farther.
While there are existing laws (and union agreements) to protect workers who are being laid off – adequate notice, severance pay and so on – I think more action is needed along those lines. And I don’t see that kind of legislation among any candidate’s current proposals.
Employers who abandon American workers – especially longtime employees – should have to compensate them for their investment in helping to build the company.
It’s not enough to provide a fair wage and the benefits employees usually get from union agreements. There should be a profit-sharing “dividend” paid to workers who get laid off. That “dividend” should fairly reflect the worker’s investment of labor and skill over the years.
If I were running for office, I would propose legislation providing “investment” payouts to all workers – not just factory employees but white-collar workers and professionals, too – who are idled through corporate relocation or outsourcing. This would not only soften the blow to the workers but also act as a deterrent to employers thinking of abandoning them.
If any of the candidates proposes this kind of legislation, I haven’t read about it. And it’s certainly something Hillary might want to consider. She is the only candidate with the intellect and experience to pilot such legislation through Congress.