Families across Maine recently came together to celebrate our nation’s birthday and honor everything that makes America great. But during this celebratory time I couldn’t help but think of the challenges that we face as a state and a nation. These days, it’s hard to drive through towns and not notice shuttered houses and businesses, casualties of layoffs and jobs moved overseas.
I work at the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport. This year over 200 of my brothers and sisters there were laid off. Some were able to come back after a few months. Others have lost their jobs for good.
We are not alone. Stories of paper mills and plants shutting down are becoming more and more common. Eastern Fine Paper closed for good in Brewer. The Millinocket mill has shut its doors. The Old Town mill and East Millinocket mill both had to shut down for months last year, throwing hundreds of Mainers out of work.
These layoffs are just a small part of the economic pain sweeping our country. We have lost more manufacturing jobs over the last decade than during the Great Depression. Over 50,000 manufacturing facilities have closed, costing us 6 million manufacturing jobs. It’s a troubling sign of our nation’s diminishing industrial and innovative strength.
Nowhere is that clearer than in Maine. Between 2000 and 2010, we saw 20,700 manufacturing jobs disappear — 9,545 of those jobs to China alone.
It does not have to be like this. But we cannot solve our economic problems without addressing our outsourcing crisis. Our mills are shedding jobs because of increased competition from abroad. Yet many laws actually help our foreign competitors instead of the workers in Verso Paper.
Did you know that outsourcers can claim a tax credit for their moving expenses? Or that corporations can defer paying any taxes at all when they move overseas? We are giving tax breaks for companies that offshore jobs while Mainers struggle to find work and businesses attempt to compete with cheap foreign manufacturers.
What does that mean for us as a nation? We have become a nation that ships our factories overseas, and then wonders why our people are unemployed.
We make agreements with foreign companies that harm our workers — and then do nothing to heal the damage.
If we want to get our economy back on track, we must stop rewarding the companies who outsource our jobs. And we have to ensure that our trade with other countries creates American jobs, instead of forcing companies to lay off their workers, like mine did.
This week I went to Bangor to speak with U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud about the need to address our broken economic policies. To drive home our point, we delivered a gift basket of goods that are still made in Maine, including Chinet plates made in Waterville by members of the United Steelworkers Local 449 and magazines made on paper manufactured in Bucksport, by my own USW Local 261 and by USW Local 1188.
We asked our delegation to support the Bring Jobs Home Act. This bill cuts the tax deduction for moving expenses while rewarding businesses that bring good jobs back to the United States with a tax credit. By supporting the Bring Jobs Home Act (S. 2884), and its companion bill in the House (H.R. 5542), our leaders can take a good first step toward stopping offshoring and making the economy work for working people.
Michaud has been a champion of fair trade and of keeping jobs in Maine. He leads the fair-trade caucus in Congress and has sponsored legislation to fix the North American Free Trade Agreement and other failed policies that have cost us jobs.
More and more we hear that our country is at a crossroads. Our choices amount to a single question: What is our vision? Do we want an economy that invests in working families, or one that multiplies profits for overseas CEOs?
If we really want to honor our country’s birthday, we must ask our elected officials to help rebuild America by supporting the Bring Jobs Home Act and other efforts to create jobs.
Nothing is more American than creating an economy that works for everyone.
Tammy Marston is the political coordinator for United Steelworkers for the state of Maine.