Tag Archives: manufacturing

Americans prefer cheap to ‘US-made’

The vast majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “U.S.-made,’ even if it means those cheaper items are made abroad, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

While presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are vowing to bring back millions of American jobs lost to China and other foreign competitors, public sentiment reflects core challenges confronting the U.S. economy. Incomes have barely improved, forcing many households to look for the most convenient bargains instead of goods made in America. Employers now seek workers with college degrees, leaving those with only a high school degree who once would have held assembly lines jobs in the lurch. And some Americans who work at companies with clients worldwide see themselves as part of a global market.

Nearly three in four say they would like to buy U.S.-made goods,  but those items are often too costly or difficult to find, according to the survey released April 14. A mere 9 percent say they only buy American.

Asked about a real world example of choosing between $50 pants made in another country or an $85 pair that are U.S.-made — one retailer sells two such pairs made with the same fabric and design — 67 percent say they’d buy the cheaper pair. Only 30 percent would pony up for the more expensive U.S.-made one. People in higher earning households earning more than $100,000 a year are no less likely than lower-income Americans to say they’d go for the lower price.

“Low prices are a positive for U.S. consumers — it stretches budgets and allows people to save for their retirements, if they’re wise, with dollars that would otherwise be spent on day-to-day living,” said Sonya Grob, 57, a middle school secretary from Norman, Oklahoma who described herself as a “liberal Democrat.”

But Trump and Sanders have galvanized many voters by attacking recent trade deals.

From their perspective, layoffs and shuttered factories have erased the benefits to the economy from reduced consumer prices.

“We’re getting ripped off on trade by everyone,” said Trump, the Republican front-runner, at a speech in Albany, New York. “Jobs are going down the drain, folks.”

The real estate mogul and reality television star has threatened to shred the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. He has also threatened to slap sharp tariffs on China in hopes of erasing the overall $540 billion trade deficit.

Economists doubt that Trump could deliver on his promises to create the first trade surplus since 1975. Many see the backlash against trade as frustration with a broader economy coping with sluggish income gains.

“The reaction to trade is less about trade and more about the decline in people’s ability to achieve the American Dream,” said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s a lot easier to blame the foreigner than other forces that are affecting stagnant wage growth like technology.”

But Trump’s message appeals to Merry Post, 58, of Paris, Texas where the empty factories are daily reminders of what was lost. Sixty-eight percent of people with a favorable opinion of Trump said that free trade agreements decreased the number of jobs available to Americans.

“In our area down here in Texas, there used to be sewing factories and a lot of cotton gins,” Post said. “I’ve watched them all shut down as things went to China, Mexico and the Philippines. All my friends had to take early retirements or walk away.”

Sanders, the Vermont senator battling for the Democratic nomination, has pledged to end the exodus of jobs overseas.

“I will stop it by renegotiating all of the trade agreements that we have,” Sanders told the New York Daily News editorial board earlier this month, saying that the wages paid to foreign workers and environmental standards would be part of any deal he would strike.

Still, voters are divided as to whether free trade agreements hurt job creation and incomes.

Americans are slightly more likely to say free trade agreements are positive for the economy overall than negative, 33 percent to 27 percent. But 37 percent say the deals make no difference. Republicans (35 percent) are more likely than Democrats (22 percent) to say free trade agreements are bad for the economy.

On jobs, 46 percent say the agreements decrease jobs for American workers, while 11 percent say they improve employment opportunities and 40 percent that they make no difference. Pessimism was especially pronounced among the 18 percent of respondents with a family member or friend whose job was offshored. Sixty-four percent of this group said free trade had decreased the availability of jobs.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31–April 4, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.


Utilities aim to cut Wisconsin’s program for energy efficiency

A utility-backed bill to cut funding for Wisconsin’s energy-efficiency program is short-sighted and would hurt customers in the long run, the program’s supporters contend.

Wisconsin’s electric utilities back the bill, which would cut funding for the Focus on Energy program by $7 million at a time when electricity costs in Wisconsin have risen above the national average.

But utilities and state regulators maintain that the proposed cut would return money to ratepayers. The bill passed the state GOP-led Assembly last month and the Republican-controlled Senate is scheduled to take it up on March 15.

The program’s supporters cite its savings, pointing out that the program has delivered $3 of savings to customers for every $1 spent.

“It’s very short-sighted to vote on a bill that’s going to reduce Focus on Energy’s program budget by $7.2 million,” said Theresa Lehman, director of sustainable services at Miron Construction. “Our clients use that money every year.”

Lehman said at a time when capital spending budgets are tight, the program offers incentives that help customers cut their costs by allowing them to afford the upfront expenses of switching to more efficient LED lighting.

St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton is saving $30,000 a year by upgrading the lighting in its corridors, Lehman said. Another client, Lake Mills Elementary School, received $100,000 in incentives from the program and is now saving $85,000 every year on its energy costs, she said.

Wisconsin utilities and manufacturing groups, however, say that the program effectively charges some utilities twice, which is unfair to them.

Investor-owned utilities are paying into the program based on a percentage of sales. Then municipal utilities, which buy power from investor-owned utilities, are paying into the program separately, at a rate of $8 per meter. Currently, the program is funded based on 1.2 percent of investor-owned utilities’ total sales.

The proposed change would collect program funding by retail rather than total utility electric sales, so investor utilities aren’t paying for both their customers’ and municipal customers’ contributions to Focus on Energy.

“Our concern is the formula and getting rid of the double charge,” We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said. Total funding for the program would increase over time as utility power sales rise, he said.

Madison-based Alliant Energy and Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, parent of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service, are backing the bill. All three of the utilities estimate they would see savings of about $2 million a year.


Chlorine bleach plants threaten 63 million people in U.S.

Eighty-six facilities in the United States continue to use huge quantities of chlorine gas in their manufacturing process and endanger more than 63 million people living in nearby areas.

Earlier this week, Greenpeace released a new report on the hazards posed by chlorine bleach plants across the United States.

“In spite of the evident risks and availability of safer alternatives, our latest report on the industry shows that some chlorine bleach manufacturers continue to use chlorine gas, putting almost one in every five Americans in danger of a potential release from a substance so toxic it has been used as a chemical weapon in the past” said Rick Hind, legislative director at Greenpeace.

The environmental group said the hazard goes beyond the use of the chlorine gas in the manufacturing process, as chlorine bleach manufacturers frequently ship and receive their supply in 90-ton rail cars vulnerable to accidents and acts of sabotage.

“Every day, rail cars crisscross the country delivering hundreds of tons of chlorine gas and endangering the communities through which they travel. Just one of such rail car can put much of an entire city in danger” Hind said.

Caterpillar eliminating 200 jobs in northern Wisconsin

Caterpillar’s restructuring plans include eliminating more than 200 jobs in northern Wisconsin.

The heavy equipment manufacturer will shut down its forest products plant in the Price County village of Prentice, as well as four other plants in the U.S. and China.

Caterpillar says it will move the work done by 220 employees in Prentice facilities in Georgia and Texas by the end of the year. The company also says it’s negotiating with a possible buyer for the Prentice plant, but provided no other details.

Overall Caterpillar plans to reduce its workforce by 670 employees. U.S. facilities in Illinois, Georgia and New Mexico are also affected.

Hundreds of union members picket at Kohler

Hundreds of union members and their supporters picketed at the gates of the Kohler Co. on Nov. 16 in the first strike at the Wisconsin manufacturer in more than 30 years.

Workers waved signs, cheered at honking cars and in one location clogged an intersection, which at one point backed up traffic for more than a mile on a two-lane country road into town.

“We’re sorry it had to come to this, but we’re standing for what we believe in,” said John Matenaer, who said he has been with the company 30 years.

Workers want higher pay, lower health care costs and an end to a two-tier wage scale that they say unfairly limits many employees with less seniority to about $13 an hour regardless of the type of work they do.

“We’re all one, all united,” said Bob Durfee, who said he has 24 years with Kohler. “We should all have the same pay, pretty much across the board.”

Kohler – which makes kitchen and bath fixtures, small engines and generators, and runs golf and resort destinations – released a statement on its website, saying the company was “very disappointed that our final offer was not accepted by our associates and is concerned that Union officials may have misrepresented what could be achieved in a strike.”

Kohler had called for three raises of 50 cents an hour each year – about 2 percent a year – for most of its workforce. The offer raised health care costs but included a $1,200 bonus that the company said could cover the increase.

Workers, however, say they haven’t had a raise since 2009 and that the proposed pay increases would actually amount to about 8 cents an hour by the end of the three-year contract.

“It’s a billion-dollar company haggling over pennies,” said Joel Mork, who said he has worked for Kohler for 15 years.

Union employees say those in the lower tier wouldn’t earn a living wage or have a legitimate opportunity for advancement, despite working side by side with workers who make significantly more.

Dave Ertel, a bargaining committee member who said he has been with the company 24 years, said union members have been preparing for months for the eventuality of a drawn-out strike.

“We knew this was the way it was going to go,” he said.

The company employs 32,000 people worldwide and has annual revenue approaching $6 billion, according to its website.

Picketing began early on Nov. 16 after workers marched from the union hall to the company gates. United Auto Workers Local 833 has said 94 percent of voting members rejected Kohler’s latest offer, triggering the first strike at the company since 1983. About 1,800 workers attended Sunday’s membership meeting.

Dean Zettler, who has been with the company 22 years, said they will be out there “until it’s done.”

“It’s not up to us; it’s up to them,” Zettler said.

Food industry CEOs call for ‘sound’ deal on climate change

The CEOs of several major food and beverage companies are calling on world leaders to push for a meaningful agreement at the United Nation’s conference on climate change later this year in Paris.

The 10 companies — including cereal maker General Mills and candy maker Mars Inc. — ran an open letter as a full-page ad in the Financial Times and Washington Post this week. They say they will “re-energize” their own efforts to make their supply chains more sustainable as well.

“We are asking you to embrace the opportunity presented to you in Paris, and to come back with a sound agreement, properly financed, that can affect real change,” the open letter reads.

The effort was organized by the environmental nonprofit Ceres, which is inviting other food and beverage companies to join in the commitment.

None of the companies involved would say their own practices are perfect, according to Anne Kelly, who directs Ceres’ climate policy program, but they’ve demonstrated a commitment to changing.

Others signing the letter are the CEOs of Unilever, Dannon, Ben & Jerry’s, Kellogg, Nestle USA, New Belgium Brewing, Stonyfield Farms and Clif Bar.