CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At their annual legislative conference on Thursday morning, West Virginia AFL-CIO leaders asked union members to urge their friends to join "Working America," an AFL-CIO affiliate with offices in Charleston.Teresa Ball, a retired assistant director for Working America, said the group was created so union members can sign up their friends and family members to join an organization, even when they are represented by a union.Working America, based in Washington, D.C., already has 3 million members, she said. Its purpose, according to the group, is to help expand the AFL-CIO."We fight for issues such as protecting workers' rights, attacks against health care for all, good jobs, education and retirement security," according to a leaflet handed out by Ball, who expressed frustration at state legislative inaction."Why doesn't our legislation even come to a vote on some of these issues?" she asked. "They think we don't have enough power. We need to build strong communities."Jessica Ice, from the West Virginia University Institute for Labor Studies and Research, spoke about her research on protecting American jobs."A 2011 survey showed 90 percent of the American people favor American manufacturing," she said.The United States still has the world's largest manufacturing economy, producing 21 percent of all the world's manufactured products. China was second, with 15 percent, while Japan was third, with 12 percent."U.S. manufacturing plants produce $1.6 trillion in value every year -- almost 12 percent of the GDP [gross domestic product]," she said. "Today, 18.6 million people have manufacturing jobs, which is 9 percent of the workforce, while 6.5 million more workers have jobs that directly support manufacturing jobs," Ice said.
Manufacturing jobs also pay more."The average manufacturing job, including wages and benefits, pays $74,447 today, which is $11,000 more than $63,000 in average wages and benefits earned by non-manufacturing workers."Today, the U.S. spends two-thirds of all the money in the world devoted to research and development to improve products and invent new ones.Trade relations with other countries will continue to pose serious problems."Between November 2010 and November 2011, we had $8.9 billion in trade deficits," Ice said. "Over the past decade, 50,000 manufacturing facilities closed, costing one-fifth of all manufacturing jobs."Back in the 1960s, 90 percent of all manufactured products bought in the U.S. were made in the U.S. Today, less than 50 percent are made in the U.S."
But there is some hope for the immediate future."The U.S. Labor Department told us they expect to see a rise in manufacturing jobs this year for the first time since 1978," Ice said. "And we still have 151 manufacturing companies in West Virginia."Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com