Buy American jobs

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 RahallNick RahallWest Virginia is no longer Clinton country Solution needed: Rail congestion is stifling economic growth Lobbying World MORE (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:

Jacobson hats

Cutco Cutlery

Kellogg's Pop-Tarts

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

Cenveo envelopes

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

Channellock tools

Ideal Roofing steel shingles

Blanco Canada kitchen sinks

Nestle Purina cat litter

Distinctive Design furniture

Barrymore 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.

Leo W. Gerard is the United Steel Workers International President.