Efforts by those who never want to hear someone say, "Bye-bye American manufacturing," converged coincidentally to make June Buy American month.
First, at the forceful urging of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), the Smithsonian on June 8 opened an all-American-made gift shop in the National Museum of American History. Three days later, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced legislation requiring federal agencies to buy only 100 percent American-made flags.
Then, at the Netroots Nation 2011 conference in Minneapolis, Minn, this week, the AFL-CIO will serve American union-made beer, including Schell's, brewed in Minnesota by members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW). The Alliance for American Manufacturing will host at Netroots an American-made fashion show at which it will serve USW-member made Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bars. And the BlueGreen Alliance is distributing to Netroots attendees mercury-free, USW-made, energy-efficient, non-curly cue Oshram Sylvania halogen light bulbs.
All these events occurring before mid-June are significant in an era of stubborn 9.1 percent unemployment, a time when 14 million unemployed Americans are searching for jobs. It's significant because buying American-made products is buying American jobs. And buying American union-made products is buying good, middle class American jobs.
Eight million American manufacturing workers have lost their jobs over the past 30 years as multi-national corporations off-shored factories. But America still manufactures and the prices of American-manufactured goods, including those made by union workers, are competitive with foreign-made products.
Choosing an American-made product, or North American-made to include my home country of Canada where hundreds of thousands of USW members live and work, means supporting North American workers and the North American work ethic. It means buying products manufactured by willing adults in reasonable conditions, not by children laboring Dickensian hours in dangerous factories. It means reasonable assurance that the manufacturer abided by environmental laws prohibiting the poisoning of the air, ground and water by toxic substances like mercury and lead.
The Smithsonian experience provides the perfect example of how buying American-made products purchases American jobs.
Late last year, Sanders went to the history museum shop to buy Christmas gifts and discovered the presidential busts there were made in China. He was incensed that an American taxpayer-supported history museum was selling American history memorabilia not made in America. He complained.
While the Smithsonian reviewed the situation, CBS news determined exactly how policies like the museum's injure the American economy. CBS reporters found a Connecticut woman who had to lay off three workers when the museum stopped selling her hand-crafted, American-made jewelry and replaced them with foreign-made substitutes. Before the change, Merrie Buchsbaum's "Americana Collection" was among the museum shop's best sellers. Apparently tourists did not find the prices for her America-made souvenirs to be excessive.
When the museum cut her off, Buchsbaum's sales declined 20 percent, forcing her to furlough her entire staff. Three jobs is the difference between buying American and buying foreign for just one small supplier of one small gift shop.
The Smithsonian changed its policy, converting the gift shop to an all-American operation with 300 American-made souvenirs. Now it's called the American History Price of Freedom gift shop.
That price of freedom, the Smithsonian said, is higher in some cases when the souvenir is American-made. For example, the custom, hand-crafted American-made mugs it now sells cost $20 instead of the average $12 price for a foreign-made mug in other museum shops. But Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who is preparing legislation tying the sale of American-made souvenirs to future federal funding for the museums, believes Americans will pay a buck or two more "to have their lapel American flag pin say 'Made in the U.S.A.'"
American products don't always cost more, however, even when they're union-made. ABC news investigative reporters discovered that when they removed foreign-made goods from a Dallas family's home earlier this year and replaced them with American-made products.
In addition, included in the price of North American-made products is the cost of protecting the environment and treating workers with dignity. It's the price of morality. The United States and Canada, for example, forbid child labor and institutionalized the 40-hour work week. Both countries enforce environmental protection laws forbidding the devastating pollution countenanced by China and some Third World nations.
For example, the New York Times this week revealed that millions of Chinese children suffer from brain and nerve-damaging lead poisoning from unregulated, polluting factories, many of which produce batteries or smelt metal. The Times reported that the Chinese government in some cases conspired with the polluting companies to cover up the problem, denied testing to nearby sick residents and withheld tests results.
The lead poisoning raises the question of what China is doing about even-more-dangerous mercury, which is used by Chinese companies to make those twisty, energy-efficient light bulbs.
In America, Steelworkers are fabricating energy-efficient Sylvania halogen bulbs that look exactly like traditional light bulbs and contain absolutely no mercury. That's American innovation, American compliance with moral environmental rules and American union labor creating a superior product.
Who knew, though? All anyone hears anymore is that American manufacturing is dead. American doesn't make anything anymore. That is just not true. Here are some USW-made, terrific North American products:
Wendell August Forge pewter gifts
Breyers Ice Cream
Cascades paper towels and tissue
Viva and Bounty paper towels
Depend undergarments and Poise pads
Charmin and Angel Soft bath tissue
Puffs facial tissue
Georgia-Pacific Dixie Cups and plates
Leader Paper Products envelopes and business cards
All-Clad metal cookware
Regal Ware cookware
Speed Queen washers and dryers
Alberto Culver hair care products
Carrier home heating systems
Enderes forged hand tools
Ideal Roofing steel shingles
Blanco Canada kitchen sinks
Nestle Purina cat litter
Distinctive Design furniture
Star Bedding, Sealy, Spring Air, Springwall, King Koil and Simmons mattresses
Anchor Hocking glass tableware
General Storage containers
World Kitchen Pyrex glassware
A.O. Smith residential water tanks
Gentek Building Products including windows, doors and vinyl siding
American Standard bathroom fixtures
Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil
Fabri-Kal plastic ware
Speakman shower heads
3M O-cell-O sponges
Crown Metal Packaging for food and beverages
Federal White Cement
Shade-O-Matic and Eclipse venetian blinds, shutters and window covers
Valspar pigment for Valspar paints
Lavelle Industries rubber and plastic plumbing components
Harley-Davidson motorcycle parts and accessories
PFERD Milwaukee Brush metal brushes
Alto-Shaam, Inc. ovens and warmers
Shur-Line paint rollers
Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone, BFGoodrich, Titan and Yokohama tires.
The tires require caution. Many of those companies have foreign factories that export tires to North America. So the buyer must look for these codes to get American made tires: BE and BF for BFGoodrich, YE, 4D and E3 for Bridgestone/Firestone, UP and UT for Cooper, MD, MJ, MC, and MK for Goodyear and CC for Yokohama. These letters follow the letters DOT on each tire's code.
In the case of the other products listed, some also operate foreign factories, so it's always good to look for the "Made in America" label.
Buy American. Buy American jobs.