Cook also educated listeners - and producers...
Alcoa is the largest private sector employer in the North Country. On March 31, the Alcoa Board of directors will vote on a modernization project for its East Plant. According to Alcoa, the approved $600 million would go to constructing a new potline, and upgrading technology at the facility.
Flanked by local business developers and executives, Gillibrand made her case for why it’s time to boost New York’s manufacturing sector.
“One of the things that New York is known for is our manufacturing, it’s what really powered us through the twentieth century. But in this century, our manufacturers are among the hardest hit of industry groups, because of bad trade deals, because of misguided policies, policies that promote shipping jobs overseas, all of those have resulted in losing a lot of manufacturing jobs in our state.”
Gillibrand said that in the past seven years, New York lost more than 123,000 jobs. She estimated 3,470 of them were lost here in the North Country, with one third of them in St. Lawrence County alone.
And beyond the jobs that have been lost, the senator talked about the hundreds of thousands of positions all around the country that stay empty because there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill them. She said that’s “something we can fix.”
Gillibrand’s bill invites states to compete for low-interest loans that could be spent on expanding or building new facilities and create jobs. It also sets up job training programs at local universities and colleges that could help close the skills gap. Gillibrand emphasized that priority will go to plans that do partner private investment with state or local manufacturers.
“You will never find harder workers than you find in New York; you will never find more entrepreneurs and a greater innovative spirit than you’ll find right here in New York.”
A small group of plant employees filled the back of the room. David LeClair Jr. was one of them. He’s the president of United Steel Workers Local 458, and represents the workers at the Alcoa East Plant, also known as the former Reynolds Metals company.
“I couldn’t ask for a better announcement to be made here in my own smelter, the home of local 458 the steel workers…good paying jobs, high paying jobs, the ones that the union’s fighting for that we’re trying to keep around here, that’s what we’re looking at.”
LeClair estimated Alcoa employs 850 hourly workers, and around 375 salaried workers. He said that he and his fellow workers at the plant get labeled high-cost labor, which makes for a constant struggle within an international corporation like Alcoa that can use low-cost labor at its other plants abroad.
“We have the capability, we have the workforce, it’s right here in New York state. We’ve had ‘em all along, there’s a long history of it. Let’s bring ‘em back and build this state to what it used to be.”