By Nicholas Varchaver
March 26, 2017

Good Morning.

Manufacturing, and the loss of such jobs in the U.S., has rarely been more top of mind than it is today. BloombergBusinessWeek examines one of America’s seeming recent successes—and uncovers a very dark side. The article is entitled “Inside Alabama’s Auto Jobs Boom: Cheap Wages, Little Training, Crushed Limbs: The South’s manufacturing renaissance comes with a heavy price.” Focused on auto-parts manufacturers, the article is classic muckraking in the best sense of that phrase. It’s filled with meticulous reporting and searing images of horrific industrial accidents, mangled bodies, and even deaths. But it also has a deeper point, and it’s a reminder that what’s needed isn’t just manufacturing jobs, but good manufacturing jobs:

Alabama has been trying on the nickname “New Detroit.” Its burgeoning auto parts industry employs 26,000 workers, who last year earned $1.3 billion in wages. Georgia and Mississippi have similar, though smaller, auto parts sectors. This factory growth, after the long, painful demise of the region’s textile industry, would seem to be just the kind of manufacturing renaissance President Donald Trump and his supporters are looking for.

Except that it also epitomizes the global economy’s race to the bottom. Parts suppliers in the American South compete for low-margin orders against suppliers in Mexico and Asia. They promise delivery schedules they can’t possibly meet and face ruinous penalties if they fall short. Employees work ungodly hours, six or seven days a week, for months on end. Pay is low, turnover is high, training is scant, and safety is an afterthought, usually after someone is badly hurt. Many of the same woes that typify work conditions at contract manufacturers across Asia now bedevil parts plants in the South.

“The supply chain isn’t going just to Bangladesh. It’s going to Alabama and Georgia,” says David Michaels, who ran OSHA for the last seven years of the Obama administration. Safety at the Southern car factories themselves is generally good, he says. The situation is much worse at parts suppliers, where workers earn about 70¢ for every dollar earned by auto parts workers in Michigan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Many plants in the North are unionized; only a few are in the South.)


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