How has this happened?
- America's manufacturing industrieshistorically the
route to secure middle-class life for unskilled and semi-skilled
workershave lost jobs. Globalization has encouraged
employers to move production from the United States to low-wage
countries. Meanwhile, U.S. jobs in many sectors have been
outsourced and shifted to lower wage, nonunion workforces.
For unskilled workers, most job growth has been in the low-wage
- In the 1980s and early 1990s, unemployment was high and
the labor market featured a surplus of skilled workers.
In their quest for fatter quarterly profit reports, employers
dismantled job training programs, destroying entryways to
jobs and career paths. Even today, when companies in certain
industries acknowledge a severe shortage of skilled workers,
employer training budgets continue to shrinkand corporations
invest most of their shrunken training budgets in their
most educated and highly paid workers.
- Many secure, full-time jobs have been replaced with temporary,
contingent and part-time positionsoften employing
the same workers who once held full-time jobs. Today, the
largest employer in America is a temporary service, Manpower,
In short, too many employers have chosen to take a "low
road" path through our increasingly global economy. They
have decided to build their strategies for profit-making around
low wages, few benefits, no job security and a polarized and
The low road, of course, is a flawed strategy. What we have
now is an economy that depends on high levels of education
and skills but doesn't provide them, that values family self-sufficiency
but eliminates family-supporting benefits, that thrives on
the creation of good jobs but rewards companies that move
good jobs awayand that holds down wages so that too
many workers can't even afford to buy the products they make.
While the low road may make a handful of people rich in the
short term, it is not a lasting path to prosperity.
Nowhere is it written that this low road is the only path
through the new economy. There is a choice. There is another
way to meet the challenges of the 21st centuryand that's
to take the high road.On the high road, we invest in workers
by providing education and training and opportunities for
advancement. And we provide those opportunities to everyone,
so no one is left behind.
On the high road, companies compete not by paying the lowest
possible wages, but by offering the highest quality and value
On the high road, workers have a voice in decisions about
their jobs, and communities have a voice in decisions about
their economic development.
On the high road, there are plenty of jobs to go aroundnot
low-wage, dead-end jobs, but meaningful work with career ladders
and rewards for good work and initiative.
The high road, in other words, takes us to a high-skill,
high-wage economy. And that is precisely where we need to
How do we get America on the high road? The answer, I believe,
lies in partnershipspartnerships between unions and
employers, between industry groups and community groups, between
workers and academic and political leaders, between foundations
and government agencies and schools and colleges.
These are partnerships that unite stakeholders around a mission
to boost their regional economies. They think big and act
bold. They develop strategic plansplans to preserve
good jobs by rescuing and modernizing ailing industries, plans
to convert low-wage jobs into high-paying family-sustaining
jobs and plans to generate a steady supply of highly skilled
workers to fill them. And then they rally the resources and
expertise to execute those plans.
do we get
America on the
answer, I believe, lies in partnershipspartnerships
between unions and employers, between industry groups
and community groups, between workers and academic and
political leaders, between foundations and government
agencies and schools and colleges.
Of course, these partnerships can only succeed if unions
play a major role. History shows, after all, that unions are
most often the defining difference between a good job and
a poor job. Union membership has proven to be the most effective
way for workers to have a voice in their workplaces and in
their future. And unions are uniquely positioned to be the
catalyststhe ones that bring all of a community's players
together around mutual job creation and job training goals,
and that provide firsthand knowledge of what's happening to
the job market and ideas about how to fix it.
Some may say that taking responsibility for how the economy
works and getting involved in industry and business strategies
go far beyond the traditional notion of what unions do. But
in today's world, it's no longer possible to confine our role
to that of collective bargaining or grievance handling. It's
simply not enough to react to downsizing and layoffs with
objections and protests. If workers are to have a voice in
the new economy, unions must help create good jobs and develop
the skills needed for those jobsas well as making sure
those jobs pay well.
But we also know we can't forge the high road without partners.
If we get to the promised high-wage, high-skill economy, it
will be because all of uscommunity groups and foundations,
elected leaders and government agencies, businesses, vocational
and technical schools and higher education institutionshelped
lead the way.
It will take all of us working together to raise standards
and expectations in our communities, to solve the problems
of labor shortages and lagging productivity in our industries,
to increase the skill and employment levels in our inner cities
and to eliminate the fundamental inequalities and injustices
in today's economy.
It will take all of us working together to redirect our public
policies to create opportunities for lifelong learning and
advancement for all workers, to pass living wage laws that
will block the path to the low road, to make the Workforce
Investment Act a useful tool in the fight for good jobs and
wage standards and to make sure that people who move from
welfare to work don't wind up with less and aren't stuck in
dead-end jobs with no chance to get ahead.
When the AFL-CIO created the Working for America Institute
in 1998, one of our priorities was to better understand emerging
partnerships that brought together unions, employers, communities,
foundations and government to create and retain good jobs
with successful employers in strong communities. We call them
"high road partnerships." They come in different
shapes and sizes, utilize different tools and tactics and
are at different stages of development. We believe they can
be important tools in leading America on the right path through
the global economy, so we charged the institute to identify
the elements that make their success more likely, the barriers
that stand in their way and the technical assistance that
could expand their reach and effectiveness.
This High Road Partnerships Report is the result.
We encourage employers, representatives of all levels of
government, community groups, foundations and all friends
of working families to learn from these promising partnerships
and to join today's unions on the high road path through the