Remarks by David N. Taylor
President & CEO
Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association
to the 2024 SAM Good Drug Policy Summit
February 1, 2024
Gaylord National Resort
National Harbor, Maryland
Thank you. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today, although I regret that I bring to you a challenge for which I have no solution. Hopefully, by identifying and explaining the problem, we can work together to find an effective response.
I am David N. Taylor and I serve as President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, which is the century-old statewide non-profit trade organization representing the people who make things in our commonwealth. PMA advocates in the state capitol for a pro-growth, pro-production agenda to improve Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness.
(As an aside, I am pleased to be on the program with U.S. Rep. Madeline Dean, my fellow Pennsylvanian whom I knew when she was a state lawmaker in Harrisburg. Thank you, Representative Dean.)
I ask for your patience as I try to lead you through the sequence of my thoughts today. This is a bit circuitous but once we get to the end, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Manufacturing is the engine that drives our economy. In Pennsylvania, manufacturing adds over $100 Billion in economic value every year, directly employing more than a half-million employees on the plant floor. Manufacturing is the industrial sector that adds the most value because, no matter what product is being made, manufacturing deploys a multi-stage process where raw materials and/or component parts are turned into a finished good. Because manufacturing adds the most value, our sector offers the best wages and benefits in the marketplace – these are family-sustaining jobs – while also generating significant local tax revenues to the communities where those factories are located. Because of the multi-stage manufacturing process, our sector has the strongest multiplier effect on job creation in related enterprises in supply chains, distribution networks, and providers of industrial services. Millions of additional Pennsylvania jobs are sustained by that manufacturing activity on the plant floor.
Because of the central role manufacturing serves in generating prosperity for our communities, states, and nation, our leaders should be aware of and concerned about the issues that affect our industry.
Along with much of the nation, Pennsylvania is facing a workforce crisis. Due to a complex set of factors — including demography, education, and attitudes toward work – our employers are having an increasingly difficult time finding enough qualified new hires to fully staff their operations to meet existing levels of production. Finding new employees is the top concern in our industry, as it is in many others.
There are thousands of manufacturing positions open in Pennsylvania today. My friends at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry share a statistic from the U.S. Chamber that there are seventy-four workers for every one hundred jobs in our state.
The workforce crisis places a cap on economic growth because employers can’t take on new work or bid on new contracts – even though the work is out there – because those firms can’t increase capacity to do the work because they can’t find new workers to hire.
As great as this challenge is, it is an even greater opportunity for true social progress in America. Due to absolute necessity, employers are going to have to cast the net wider and consider candidates who would not have been considered before: people who have been outside the workforce, including the long-term unemployed, people coming off welfare, and people who are coming out of jail. Even as employers will have to level up to accommodate the needs of these new workers, the candidates who can level up and meet the moment to take on this work will have the chance for an actual ownership stake in American society through a family-sustaining job.
Human thriving requires the dignity, self-sufficiency, and sense of purpose that comes from work. Applying one’s talents to change the world around us is how we know we matter. This is a powerful force for maturation and growth and a sense of identity. To be able to lift up our fellow Americans, especially people from marginalized communities, by helping them to achieve success in life through success at work would be a triumph for all of us. That effort could help bring us together as one people and one nation again. I want to live in that world. I want to do my part to make that happen.
And this is what brings me to you today.
There are any number of very consequential things that are present in an industrial environment. We have heavy machinery, bladed instruments, extreme temperatures, chemical reactions, and high voltage. There are any number of ways that a worker could be maimed for life or – God forbid – killed if someone makes a mistake in that environment.
Employers have a profound moral and legal responsibility to create and sustain a safe workplace. All of our licenses and insurances are predicated on it. OSHA and our state’s workers’ compensation law require it. The very real possibility of total ruination from lawsuits demands it.
This means that I can’t have you on my plant floor unless you pass a drug test.
The increasing permissiveness and social acceptance regarding recreation drug use – starting with marijuana – is a significant factor in the hiring crisis. While not the only factor, it is among the most noticeable to employers because it occurs later in the process. Because there is an expense involved with administering a drug test, it is done after the point when the employer decides a particular candidate is worth considering. And while some candidates do take the test and fail it, more often potential new hires just abandon their applications and walk away once told about the need to pass a drug test.
Again, I would like to emphasize that this is not my opinion. It has nothing to do with the boss being a prude or not wanting workers to have fun over the weekend. This is about an absolute red line that employers cannot cross without placing themselves and their employees in extreme peril.
The mass commercialization of recreational marijuana will intensify this workforce crisis. Most people, especially young people, have no understanding of the ways in which they are rendering themselves unemployable by being recreational drug users. And it isn’t just manufacturing – there are jobs in health care and finance that also require a clean drug test, among others.
The opportunity cost is almost too vast to take in. Instead of seizing this American moment to lift people up, restore them to dignity, reward them with good wages and benefits, and supercharge our economy by allowing employers to increase capacity by expanding the workforce…
Instead, we are going to give in to the desire to get high, as if getting high is more important than having a family-sustaining job. As if getting high is more important than claiming that future for our fellow citizens.
As I said at the outset, I don’t have the answer, but I know we need one.
For me, there is a significant difference between the decriminalization as opposed to the legalization of marijuana. Clearing people’s records for past offences and other rehabilitative measures seem reasonable and should be considered. But my greatest fear is for state governments to become invested in revenues collected from a new industry that mass-commercializes recreational marijuana.
As with Pennsylvania’s state liquor stores, state lottery, and casinos, once state government comes to depend on the revenues from these sources, it is only a matter of time before that state government begins to promote the underlying activity that generates the revenue.
Once the state begins to promote recreational drug use, the effort to keep people employable will take a turn for the worse, perhaps irreversibly.
A pro-legalization lawmaker in my state recently said the only danger posed by marijuana is to potato chips.
In a way, he was right, just not how he intended.
Pennsylvania is America’s top producer of snack foods. We are home to several of the nation’s largest and most famous makers of potato chips. And in order to have a job at the potato chip factory among the slicers and boiling oil and conveyer belts and forklifts, guess what you need to pass?
Yes, you guessed it – pre-employment drug screening.
Our elected officials are supposed to look out for the well-being of the public and work toward the long-term good. They’re supposed to know better, but the greed for more revenue seems to blind them.
My only advice to them is don’t take the blood money. It’s not worth it.
I appreciate the chance to be with you today, and I thank you for your kind attention. Best wishes to everyone for a successful conference.