Labor and management develop some chemistry

Sparks are flying between the chemical industry and organized construction labor — two groups which, by working together, could have a major impact on economic growth and job creation in our country.
The good news is that these sparks aren’t the result of labor discord. Rather, they’re signs of a partnership being forged between industry and labor — one that’s all too rare in today’s hyper-partisan political and economic environment.
{mosads}The two groups are working together to grow the U.S. chemical sector — and create more secure, well-paying middle-class jobs in the process. The partnership could emerge as a model for reviving other American industries and ending the years of economic stagnation that so many workers have endured through a slow, anemic recovery from the Great Recession.
Federal officials say that the U.S. economy began its recovery nearly seven years ago, in June 2009. For millions of American workers, that finding rings hollow. The percentage of people participating in the labor force has hovered below 63 percent for nearly two years. That’s well below pre-recession levels.
Upwards of 50 percent of American workers have endured a decade of “depressed employment.” After taking inflation into account, the middle class has seen its income drop more than 7 percent over the last decade and a half.
Fortunately, there are several bright spots in our economy that can help to arrest this decline — and deliver the middle-class recovery our country has been waiting for.
Take the chemical industry. This $800 billion sector already supports nearly 6 million American jobs, both directly and throughout the supply chain. Chemical firms serve as the foundation of the manufacturing sector — creating the building blocks for 96 percent of domestic manufactured goods.
Thanks to the shale-energy boom, American Chemistry is growing. Natural gas and natural gas liquids from shale formations are supplying chemical firms with abundant, affordable energy and the raw materials needed to create chemical products that are integral to countless finished products. America’s chemical industry has swiftly transitioned from the world’s high-cost producer to among the lowest-cost producers today. Because of this competitive advantage, so far $164 billion in new chemical industry investment is completed, planned or underway in the United States.
That investment is creating jobs — especially for middle-class Americans.
New chemical facilities and capacity expansions are generating jobs for skilled craft construction professionals, as well as process engineers, and project managers. All told, chemical companies are expected to either directly or indirectly create 465,000 new jobs by 2023, thanks to the shale boom.
That’s especially good news for highly skilled blue-collar workers. Over the next three years, Houston’s petrochemical and construction industries alone will need 60,000 skilled craft professionals. Those who fill these jobs can expect double or triple the minimum wage.
But the chemical industry can’t fill the tens of thousands of construction jobs it’s creating on its own. That’s where organized labor comes in.
Skilled craft construction openings will account for almost 40 percent of all job growth in the coming years. Businesses need workers to fill those positions. And construction unions have decades of experience recruiting and training people for careers in the skilled trades — including women, communities of color, and military veterans — at no cost to taxpayers.
Indeed, North America’s Building Trades Unions, along with their contractor partners, operate 1,600 privately funded, cutting-edge apprenticeship training centers nationwide. It is an investment that exceeds $1 billion per year.
So, an industry-labor partnership makes perfect sense to keep this economic momentum going.
That’s the main inspiration for the Chemical Industry Labor-Management Committee. The alliance is chaired by the American Chemistry Council, an industry group representing the country’s leading chemistry companies, and North America’s Building Trades Unions, a group of 14 building and construction trade unions.
The new partnership will advocate for policies that spur the kinds of industry investment and innovation that allow companies to create well-paid, middle-class jobs.  For the partnership to succeed, it won’t be necessary to agree on every issue.  This partnership is based on frank and open exchange in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and a strongly shared commitment to investment and job creation in America.
Such objectives are worthwhile in their own right. But more broadly, the committee’s strategy for achieving these goals — a true partnership between industry and labor — could offer a new model for labor relations in the United States. It’s an approach that recognizes the enormous benefits that can be created for working Americans when unlikely political partners decide to collaborate.

Dooley is the President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council and McGarvey is President of North America’s Building Trades Unions


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