Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on June 6, 2011
“I’m Lamar Alexander, United States Senator from Tennessee. I’d like to talk with you for a few minutes about making it easier and cheaper to create private sector jobs here in America. We can start by helping companies make in the United States what they sell in the United States, but unfortunately recent actions by the Administration are making that hard to accomplish.
“Last month the National Labor Relations Board moved to stop America's largest exporter, the Boeing Company, from building airplanes at a non-union plant in South Carolina, suggesting that a unionized American company can’t expand its operations into one of the 22 states with right-to-work laws, which protect a worker's right to join or not to join a union. But instead of making a speech, let me tell you a story.
“The story is about a White House state dinner in February 1979, when I was governor of Tennessee. President Carter said to us, ‘Governors, go to Japan. Persuade them to make here what they sell here.’
“So, off I flew to Tokyo to meet with Nissan executives who were deciding where to put their first U.S. manufacturing plant. I carried with me a photograph taken from a satellite showing the country at night with all of its lights on.
“‘Where is Tennessee?’ the Nissan executives ask. ‘Right in the middle of the lights,’ I answered, pointing out that locating a plant in the population center reduces the cost of transporting cars to customers. That population center had migrated from the Midwest, where most U.S. auto plants were then, south to places like Kentucky and Tennessee.
“Then the Japanese examined a second consideration: Tennessee has a right-to-work law and Kentucky does not. This meant that in Kentucky workers would have to join the United Auto Workers union. Workers in Tennessee had a choice. Well, in 1980 Nissan chose Tennessee, a state with almost no auto jobs. Today auto assembly plants and suppliers provide one-third of Tennessee's manufacturing jobs. Tennessee is the home for production of the Leaf, Nissan's all-electric vehicle, and the batteries that power it. And recently Nissan announced that 85% of the cars and trucks it sells in the United States will be made in the United States — making it one of the largest ‘American’ auto companies.
“So now the NLRB and unions want to make it illegal for a company that has experienced repeated strikes to move production to a state with a right-to-work law. What would this mean for the future of American auto jobs? Well, jobs would flee overseas as manufacturers look for a competitive environment in which to make and sell their products around the world.
“It's happened before. David Halberstam's 1986 book, ‘The Reckoning’ tells a story about the decline of the domestic auto industry. Halberstam quotes the President of American Motors, who criticized the ‘shared monopoly’ consisting of the Big Three Detroit auto manufacturers in the UAW. ‘There is nothing more vulnerable than entrenched success,’ he warned. Detroit ignored upstarts like Nissan who in the 1960’s began selling funny little cars to American consumers. We all know what happened to employment in the Big Three companies.
“Even when Detroit sought greener pastures in a right-to-work state, its ‘partnership’ with United Auto Workers couldn’t compete. In 1985, General Motors located its $5 billion Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee; just 40 miles from Nissan, hoping that side-by-side competition would help the Americans beat the Japanese. After 25 years, non-union Nissan operated the most efficient auto plant in North America. The Saturn/UAW partnership never made a profit. GM closed Saturn last year.
“Nissan's success is one reason why Volkswagen last week opened its North American manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, and why Honda, and Toyota, BMW, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and thousands of suppliers have chosen southeastern right-to-work states for their plants. According to the chief of the Boeing company: 'An unintended consequence of the Boeing complaint is that forward thinking CEOs also would be reluctant to place new plants in unionized states -- lest they be forever restricted from placing future plants across the country.'
“Boeing is America's largest exporter, but we want them to export airplanes, not jobs.
“Our goal should be to make it easier and cheaper to create private-sector jobs in this country. Giving workers the right to join or not to join a union helps to create a competitive environment in which more manufacturers like Nissan and Boeing can make here what they sell here.
“I'm Lamar Alexander, thanks for listening.”