Convention Resolution | Manufacturing

Resolution 31: Preserving Middle-Class Jobs: Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing

The aerospace and defense industry plays a vital role in the American economy as the leading net manufacturing exporter. Our global leadership depends on the millions of well-paid, highly unionized workers spread nationwide across the industrial supply chain. As one of the few core manufacturing sectors left not fully ravaged by pro-corporate trade deals, neoliberal globalization and the short-term interests of Wall Street, it is of the utmost importance to preserve and expand the industry so it remains a reliable source of middle-class, union jobs.

Despite its strategic importance, lax regulators have allowed wealthy executives and financial profiteers to consolidate and monopolize the industry, squeezing the public and weakening worker bargaining power. Unfair, shortsighted trade deals have incentivized this same class to offshore jobs, leaving our supply chains vulnerable to a shock like COVID-19. In the pursuit of profit at all costs, American industrial stalwarts have willingly handed over our technology and expertise to foreign competitors like China through tech transfer deals. Untold thousands of good jobs have been lost as corporations exploit the working class abroad and depress labor standards around the world. At the same time, American workers languish as proper investment in the training of future aerospace workers lags behind demand.

The labor movement must respond to these challenges through empowered workplace and political organizing. We have the power to demand a better deal for American workers through aggressive executive action from President Biden and legislative relief from Congress. And we can secure the livelihood of current and future union workers at the bargaining table by mobilizing our members’ collective strength. Therefore, we call to:

Develop a Comprehensive Aerospace Manufacturing Strategy and Enhance Supply Chain Security 

A robust and secure aerospace industry supply chain is essential to U.S. national defense and economic security. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the supply chain disruptions that followed have shown that robust domestic supply chains, especially in industries such as aerospace, are key to our national security and prosperity. We can no longer rely on foreign production for key strategic components, especially as domestic manufacturers are increasingly monopolized by monolithic corporations who care more about profit than building a sustainable industry.

Congress must work to enact a comprehensive manufacturing policy to dramatically strengthen the domestic aerospace and defense supply chain. A strategic comprehensive aerospace manufacturing policy is sorely needed to strengthen our national security, crack down on corporate monopolies, bolster the U.S. economy and create thousands of high-skilled jobs.

Stronger Buy American Requirements to Support Domestic Union Workers Through Federal Contracting

We call on President Biden to rewrite federal procurement policy, which currently falls far short of its potential to support a strong domestic aerospace manufacturing industry and the high-quality jobs that come with it. 

Currently, “Buy American” requirements are far too weak. Lawmakers neglect to properly consider the impact of defense procurement policy on America’s defense industrial base and the U.S. economy as a whole. Effective legislation is needed to increase U.S. content requirements for government aerospace and defense procurement, and eliminate loopholes that undermine these requirements. 

Additionally, simply buying “American” is not enough if we want our tax dollars to support middle-class jobs. Instead, our procurement policy should systematically favor union-made products. Federal contracts should prioritize workplaces with collective bargaining agreements, using the massive scale of federal spending to promote union organizing.

Strengthen Rules of Origin 

Aerospace rules of origin provisions in our trade agreements must be strengthened. These rules determine the percentage of a product and its components that must be sourced from inside the United States to enter the United States duty free. Stronger rules of origin will incentivize the sourcing of aerospace goods and materials from the United States. Closing loopholes, often used to undermine the rules of origin and reduce domestic content, is a priority. Strengthening these rules will level the playing field for American workers.

Ban Foreign Tech Transfer Deals, Before It Is Too Late

Before granting U.S. aerospace companies access to foreign markets, a growing number of trading partners insist the company produce a portion of the product in their country. These arrangements, called “offsets,” are detrimental to national industry for several reasons. First, they reduce jobs and economic activity in the United States as a portion of the production is moved overseas. Second, these offsets allow for the free transfer of technology and manufacturing processes to our trading partners. Aerospace technology and know-how is the main reason the United States has a distinct advantage over all other nations in the aerospace industry. The United States should aim to protect that advantage, not give it away for free in the name of short-sighted profit. The executive branch should use its authority to prevent critical national security industries from sharing trade secrets funded by public investment, while Congress must step in to ban these short-sighted deals in the first place. 

Strengthen a Fully Functioning Ex-Im Bank

The Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) is one of the few U.S. institutions that supports U.S. exports and jobs; it deserves to be fully funded to carry out its mission. It provides vital loan guarantees for the sale of U.S. goods and services to international markets. 

American aerospace jobs depend upon a fully functioning Ex-Im Bank to provide vital financing for the export of U.S.-made products. International competitors support their companies through comprehensive industrial policies and robust export financing agencies. China has three export credit agencies that dwarf what the U.S. Ex-Im Bank provides. To keep pace with these competitors, it is imperative the United States supports the Ex-Im bank, and allows the bank to expand its portfolio of projects, increase U.S. exports, create additional U.S. jobs and drive economic growth. 

Limit Unfair Interstate Competition, or “Domestic Offshoring”

It has become increasingly common for companies to pit workers against workers by threatening to close longstanding worksites and move production to other parts of the country in search of cheaper labor and more generous tax incentives. Plant closures are extremely inefficient and wreak havoc on workers, families and communities. The quality of jobs usually suffers as unionized workplaces are shuttered and reopened at lower pay rates and without similar health or retirement benefits in anti-union states, a type of “domestic offshoring.” They are also extremely detrimental to state and local budgets, as tax revenues decrease and public safety nets are stretched to the brink. To alleviate this problem, we must end the zero-sum game of so-called “economic development” subsidies that pit states against one another to attract the latest corporate headquarters or manufacturing plant. States stealing jobs from each other and disrupting communities does not help the national economy. Instead, it leads to a corporate race to the bottom as businesses make inflated promises about future job creation in an attempt to fleece the best deal out of often struggling, deindustrialized municipal and state governments. Congress must step in and end this futile fleecing of state and local coffers.

Continued Investment in American Aerospace and Defense Dominance

When developing federal budget and procurement priorities, legislators must continue their investment in aerospace defense. Robust aerospace defense spending ensures men and women in uniform have the most advanced and efficient tools at their disposal to promote our national security and stability across the globe. Additionally, a commitment to investment in aerospace defense creates high-quality jobs, stokes scientific and technological innovation, bolsters domestic supply chains and strengthens the nation’s economic health overall. Short-sighted policies—sequestration, across-the-board spending cuts and other policies that put downward pressure on federal defense spending—are ill-conceived policies and an inefficient way to curb government spending.

Secure Additional Funding for FAA Inspectors

It is imperative the federal budget has adequate funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Deep cuts in funding and the headcount of FAA inspectors have plagued the nation for many years. This has led to lower staffing levels at the FAA and higher reliance on companies to self-regulate the enforcement of FAA requirements in the manufacturing process, using Organization Designation Authorizations (ODAs).

The FAA must have the proper resources and funding to ensure aircraft are certified and delivered to customers without any delay due to limited FAA inspectors. If FAA staffing is too low, it could severely hamper the manufacturing process.

Additional funding and/or investments in FAA staff must include:

  • Additional FAA inspectors.
  • Training and workforce development.
  • Rebalancing of ODAs to ensure proper FAA oversight.

Maintain Safe Aircraft Maintenance Standards 

In the United States, FAA employees must undergo rigorous screenings. Employees train for months or even years before inspecting and repairing aircraft. This is not true for foreign repair stations. 

To ensure equally high standards when airline maintenance is outsourced to other countries, legislation is needed to close the significant regulatory loopholes that could lead to casualties from an aircraft inadequately inspected or repaired. 

Fully Fund Registered Apprenticeships and Skill Enhancement Programs

The aerospace industry maintains a highly skilled workforce. Training and registered apprenticeship programs are essential to fill the skill gap left from retiring workers and technological advances. We call on the federal government to fund union-led training and apprenticeship programs in the aerospace industry. 

The Service Contract and Walsh-Healey Public Contract Acts must be amended to mandate worker training and registered apprenticeships for all eligible contracts. This legislation preferably will include a mandated commitment to on-the-job training and registered apprenticeship opportunities, calculated as a percentage of the employer’s overall workforce under the government contract. 

Emphasize the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP)

We call on aerospace and defense manufacturers to enter into the tri-party FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) with labor. 

ASAP works to enhance aviation safety through the prevention of accidents and incidents. It encourages voluntary reporting of safety issues and other events that come to the attention of employees and internal watchdogs. ASAPs must:

  • Protect the flying public by allowing members and all employees to bring safety issues directly to the FAA.
  • Give the FAA more oversight into manufacturers’ activities.
  • Protect manufacturers from fines if they self-report issues to the FAA.