Politicians and voters alike often talk about manufacturing jobs as good jobs. Jobs America needs more of. Jobs our politics and policies should focus on bringing back. But the reality is, manufacturing jobs aren’t automatically good jobs. In fact, they can be grueling and dangerous. What made manufacturing jobs good jobs in recent American history is that they were heavily unionized—an advance won at great cost through decades of struggle. Without unions, manufacturing jobs can and will go back to being terrible jobs—and you don’t have to look very hard for evidence of that.
Take Bloomberg’s March 2017 story on auto parts manufacturing in Alabama, filled with stories of death and amputation on the job, and this set of statistics:
In 2014, OSHA’s Atlanta office, after detecting a high number of safety violations at the region’s parts suppliers, launched a crackdown. The agency cited one year, 2010, when workers in Alabama parts plants had a 50 percent higher rate of illness and injury than the U.S. auto parts industry as a whole. That gap has narrowed, but the incidence of traumatic injuries in Alabama’s auto parts plants remains 9 percent higher than in Michigan’s and 8 percent higher than in Ohio’s. In 2015 the chances of losing a finger or limb in an Alabama parts factory was double the amputation risk nationally for the industry, 65 percent higher than in Michigan and 33 percent above the rate in Ohio.
Hmmm. What, besides the traumatic injury and amputation rates, is different between Alabama and Ohio or Michigan factories?
Moran noted that six of the eight people on his team have been out on medical leave at one time. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration statistics, since 2012 the plant has been cited for 40 different safety violations, compiling $143,835 in fines (about $6,000 of which are still being contested). By comparison, in its last five years of operation, NUMMI [which operated in the space Tesla now has] incurred only 17 violations, with $48,755 in fines, while pumping out far more vehicles. Tesla’s fines resulted from numerous accidents and investigations, including explosions, burns, and a 2016 case where a contract worker fell three stories from the plant roof. (Tesla CEO Elon Musk has claimed that Tesla’s injury rate was under half of the national average, and that Moran’s assertion was erroneous.)
NUMMI was union. Tesla is not.