Manufacturing Sector Gains New Focus from General Assembly
The economic power behind a half million manufacturing jobs brought two lawmakers together who, in some ways, couldn’t be further apart. State Representative Eli Evankovich (R-54), a Republican from Westmoreland County in the west, and Representative John Galloway (D-140), a Democrat from Bucks County in the east, co-chair the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus. Formed just a few months ago, the caucus already includes 95 of the 203 members in the House.
“We both realized that manufacturing needs a forum that distinguishes it from other causes,” Evankovich said. “When you have a half million jobs that support three times as many more, you have a sector that cuts across every aspect of the state’s economy.”
Galloway said that Pennsylvania has to invest in itself to bring the state back to its past standing as one of the leading job creators in the nation. “Two of the best ways to do that are by investing in infrastructure and manufacturing,” he said.
The Senate, likewise, recently formed a manufacturing caucus with Senator Kim Ward (R-39), and Wayne Fontana (D-42), as co-chairs.
Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, David N. Taylor, applauded House and Senate members for recognizing the value in not only maintaining but growing the manufacturing sector in Pennsylvania. “It’s a core message our policymakers must take to heart,” Taylor said. “Manufacturing is the engine that drives Pennsylvania’s economy. It’s the sector that adds the most value, generates family-sustaining jobs with above average wages and benefits, and has the strongest multiplier effect on jobs in related industries, through supply chains, distribution networks, and industrial vendors.”
The House caucus plans July and August visits to manufacturing plants in the eastern and western parts of the commonwealth. In September, when members return to Harrisburg for session, they are planning visits in central Pennsylvania. “We want to see first-hand the issues manufacturers face and what we can do to make it easier for them to continue doing what they do best,” Evankovich said.
Evankovich is planning to visit at least one business a week while in his district during summer recess. He predicts that he will hear many of the same concerns he hears when businesses visit him in Harrisburg. Finding qualified workers, reforming the tax structure, complying with ever-changing regulatory schemes, and fixing the unemployment and workers’ compensation systems are frequently-voiced concerns.
“Under workers’ compensation, an injured worker gets 500 weeks, regardless of the level of disability,” Evankovich said. “There should be a prorating depending on the severity of the injury.”
Not all the needed changes are as sweeping, but they are just as vital for preserving jobs. One measure sponsored by Evankovich would protect jobs in the steel industry threatened by a PennDOT district decision to ban slag, a co-product of the steel making process used in road composition. The ban has spread to two other PennDOT districts and the steel industry fears the ban could expand statewide and beyond.
Three years ago, a PennDOT district engineer blamed a road failure on slag. However, an official with U.S. Steel said that their research actually showed that slag did not contribute to the road failure and, moreover, it’s environmentally safe and cost effective.
“We’ve been using it in roads in Pennsylvania for over 80 years and never had a problem,” said Christopher Masciantonio, General Manager, State Government Affairs for U.S. Steel. “The alternative is landfilling at $50 a ton. Every year our plants produced 750,000 tons of slag. You can do the math.”
Masciantonio said they were in discussions with PennDOT to develop standards for the use of slag and he is hopeful for a solution on that level. If not, they will work for approval of Rep. Evankovich’s House Bill 1527. On June 26, the State Government Committee sent the bill to the floor with a 24 to one vote; the lone “no” vote coming from Representative Greg Vitali (D-166)
The measure requires PennDOT to develop and promulgate uniform standards for the use of steel slag by government agencies for road construction and maintenance. The slag standards would be published as a statement of policy and incorporated into PennDOT’s highway construction manual and other governing publications. PennDOT would also be required to review and approve supplies and suppliers of slag for use in road construction and maintenance based on the developed standards and uniform testing procedures.
A spokesman for organized labor said if the issue is not resolved, job losses would follow. “We can’t quantify it yet, but we’re hearing talk of job layoff notices,” said Ike Gittlen, Labor Co-Chair of the Pennsylvania Steel Alliance. “Beyond that, we’re talking about rising costs in road construction at a time when we desperately need a transportation funding law.”