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A Suggestion for Industry: Outsourcing, Unions, Recalls, Made-in-Where? November 11, 2007

Posted by emsgeiss in Business Issues, Nablopomo, parenting & family, politics, Uncategorized.
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A child of the ’70s, I vividly remember the “Look for the Union Label” commercials. Members of the various unions sang a portion of the Union Song, with the culminating scene a shot of the entire group of representatives from each union, united in song. In other words, we were instructed, encouraged and compelled not only to buy American, but to specifically support Union-made products.

Fast forward almost 40 years and many of us parents are not exactly looking for the Union label, but we’re avoiding the “made-in-China” label. Sadly the made-in-America and Union labels have become a rarity thanks to overseas outsourcing.

More than 3 million manufacturing jobs that have disappeared since 1998, which the Economic Policy Institute estimates 59 percent–or 1.78 million-have been lost due to the explosion in the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit over the period, according to a report by the AFL-CIO.

Not only has overseas outsourcing (so that manufacturers can get cheap labor and then plead ignorance when they learn that the companies they’ve hired have also outsourced to other companies with substandard policies) lost American jobs, the practice now has major safety and public health implications, as the recent recalls of Matel’s lead-tainted toys (three recalls in fact for Matel), Especially-for-Baby bibs, crayons sold at Toys ‘R Us, and other products show. Let’s not forget last week’s recall of Aqua Dots for containing the chemical in the date-rape drug GHB and Thursday’s recall of 175,000 Curious George plush dolls. One begins to wonder, “what’s next?”

Companies outsource so that their overhead is lower, in other words they get cheap labor, and in turn can sell us the products at low, low prices. But we’re finding that there are additional prices to pay for discounted products.

Other parents that I’ve spoken to, both in real life and on-line would gladly pay a bit more for products made in America that we know adhere to safety standards not only for the products but for the workers who actually make them. So what’s industry to do, to regain our confidence and trust, and not look at a product to see if it says “made-in-China” and decide to put it back on the shelf? While “Government seals of safety could soon become regular fixtures on imported foods at risk for contamination, such as farmed fish, and on toys and other consumer products,” as stated in a Nov. 7, 2007 USA Today report this may not be enough. I have a hypothetical solution. I will preface it by stating that I have not actually done any significant research about costs or time and that (as the blog is called) this hypothetical solution is Musing from the Mitten.

Theory 1:
Living in the Mitten, I am keenly aware of the number of auto plants scheduled to close in the coming months because of cuts that the Big Three have made for various reasons. Once these plants are closed, the workers sent home and the machines shut down, the buildings will lay fallow, doomed to cobwebs and rust. Unless that is, they can be employed for another use.

Theory 2:
Being a member of my city’s Master Plan Steering Committee, I’ve learned a thing or two about building codes and zoning, so I know that the areas where these soon-to-be fallow plants are already in areas that are zoned industrial and that the buildings themselves have the kinds of foundations and infrastructure to support the machinery used in a factory.

Postulate 1:
If there are going to be unused factory buildings, then they could theoretically be retrofit to handle the machinery and other equipment from industry A (vehicles) to industry B (toys) for example.

Postulate 2: By utilizing the already existing real estate on American soil, new (factory) buidings would not need to be built, and Americans (specifically those already unemployed thanks to job cuts and plant closings) could be retrained and employed.

This hypothetical solution would reduce the unemployment rate, keep American companies employing American workers, allow our products to be made with the safety standards that we expect, and avoid the potential blight in communities that would otherwise end up housing fallow factory buildings.

It’s a solution that I think industry should look seriously examine and consider. It might cost some money to employ the idea, but in turn, the companies would not be loosing money from the unsold products that consumers leave on the shelves as we become savvier and more concerned about how safe the products are that we may introduce into our homes. As a Michigander, it would be nice to see the unemployment rate in the Mitten drop and the Michgan economy stimulated.

Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into Target (or where ever) and buy a product and know that you’re not only buying one that’s safe, but buying also stimulating the economy becuase you’re supporting American companies that actually employ American workers on American soil?

Just some food for thought.



1. Steve Rosenbaum - November 11, 2007

Question: How many manufacturing jobs were lost to improved technology and productivity? If you go into most, non-auto plants to day you will see two or three people running the entire plant.

Any way here are some interesting stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are 140 million jobs in the U.S., 90% of those jobs are location fixed. You couldn’t move them if you wanted to. Here’s just a few from the list, Dentist, most construction jobs, most transportation jobs, most agriculture jobs, nurses, plumbers, etc.

One of the things that attracts business to India and China is that they have a lot of well-educated people. For example, 20% of India is well educated. That means at least a college degree. That’s more than 200 million people. China is about the same. If we got everyone a college degree including small children it’s less than 300 million.

We’re also caught in a generational time bomb. We’ve got a 77 million baby boomers being replaced by 55 million gen xers. This has created and will create a huge problem. It’s just basic math. One of the hardest hit industries is the railroad industry. The will loose 50% of their management within 4 years. They currently have thousands of job openings that they can’t fill.

2. emsgeiss - November 11, 2007

Thanks Steve for your comments.

I wonder though, how many of the educated population in China and India are working in the factories? And even with an academically educated workforce, that doesn’t necessarily make them employable. I have 2 degrees. I support higher ed, and believe that everyone should have and strive for the opportunity, but I also know people with higher degrees who can’t think their way out of a paper bag and I know people without higher academic degrees who are rawly brilliant and can handle day-to-day workplace challenges.

My original point was that we already have a part of the population that’s either already been displaced or will soon be out of jobs, for which (in my admittedly unscientific, musing estimation) could possibly benefit from the return of some manufacturing to the U.S.

Regarding location-fixed industries, I wasn’t talking about location-fixed industries per se, and for some of those industries/professions that you mentioned, I know of people who have moved to take a construction job, plumbing job, teaching job etc. so they aren’t location-fixed (at least by how I’m understanding your use of the term).

There are also a lot of industries facing a generation gap…the energy industry is one, for example, so is the nursing field as another example. Yes, it is basic math…the number of jobs vs. the number of workers available. And speaking of basic math, if we apply a conservation of constancy theorem to the issue, then we should possibly be able to retrain some of the displaced (but not elligible for retirement) for some of the similar industries that need workers. No?

3. Steve Rosenbaum - November 11, 2007

Here’s the point about location fixed. If you’re sink plugs up, you’re not going to send it to China. You’re going to call a local plumber. If you need you’re teeth cleaned, you’re not going to fly to India to see a dentist. If produce needs to go from LA to China you can’t put it on a train in Bejing. We expect teachers to show up at school and work with students. While you can do some broadcast remotely, noone can take that 8 hours a day every day.

And as for China, what they’re doing is graduating engineers instead of lawyers. Although they are setting up a new legal system throughout China which is a very big deal. Funny thing is that they need to hire Americans to show them how to do that.

4. emsgeiss - November 11, 2007

Thanks for the clarification(s). 🙂

5. virtual assistant staff - November 16, 2007

Nice article.., you shown have important outsourcing is.. two thumps up.. Check out our site.. 8)

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