By John B. SnyderMarch 31, 2009
As our country struggles to stave off the collapse of our economic system, in a small postage stamp parcel of land in upstate New York is the U.S. Army Watervliet Arsenal where economic survival is doing what has made America great Aca,!aEURc manufacturing quality products that last.
But there may never have been a more difficult time for our country's manufacturers than now and the Arsenal may not be immune to this current economic crisis.
Before the Joint Economic Congressional Committee on March 6, 2009, Keith Hall, commissioner of the U.S. Department of Labor, stated that manufacturing employment declined by 168,000 in February 2009 and has dropped by 1.3 million since the start of this recession.
Should this be a surprise to anyone'
After all, many economists claim that the United States has moved from an industrial-based economy to an economy based on information. This may be self-evident today when a communications company such as Cisco Systems has a net worth of $96 billion versus General Motors' current net worth of about $2 billion.
But can America survive this current economic calamity'
It may take years, but America will survive. The question may be, however, what will we look like when it is all done' To some, we should think about going back to what made America great in the first place.
Was it those who crafted and shared information that made America great'
Maybe to some degree, but it would not be until the mid- to late 1700s before those in the newspaper business were finally able to make information sharing an important part of everyday life in America.
Or, was it those who had the skills to craft furniture, build homes, and to tinker with basic machinery to develop simple tools that enhanced the everyday life of Americans that made our country great'
Well, if you ask Mike Bush, chief steward for National Federation of Federal Employees Union Local 2109, it was the latter.
Bush believes that America has moved away from what made America great in the first place, which was a society that could do for themselves.
"Today, we are in a disposable society where Americans consume stuff manufactured from other countries." said Bush.
Don't get Bush wrong, he still believes America is a great country but he is concerned about the way the country has moved from one that once prided itself on its skilled workforce to one that now consumes what other countries have manufactured.
According to the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, U.S. producers made 80 percent of what America consumed 30 years ago and today it is around 65 percent. So, there may be some truth to what concerns Bush.
According to Bush, America was founded by men and women who had to rely on their individual skills to survive. But the true strength of our country came when these skilled individuals came together to form communities and guilds, added Bush.
Bush said to take a look at the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution where it states, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union...," to see that our Founding Fathers saw the value and the power of individuals coming together to form a union.
Maybe, not the same sort of union that Bush envisions today, but the basic concept is probably the same in that there is safety and strength in collective numbers.
It may be easy for some to leap to the conclusion that Bush is concerned with the survival and viability of his union, NFFE Local 2109, and he is, but Bush says his main concern is to protect the Arsenal workforce whose exceptional history of service to our country dates back to 1813.
"We had an awakening of sorts in the 1990s, when the Arsenal went through nine reductions in force. We had become complacent, apathetic, and we almost didn't survive," Bush said.
According to Arsenal records, the workforce declined from more than 2,000 in 1991 to a little over 400 workers by 2001. Today, the Arsenal maintains a workforce of approximately 600.
The Arsenal represents what made America great and we almost lost it, said Bush. The skills required to manufacture cannons and mortars cannot be created overnight, it takes years. Once those skills are gone, they would likely be forever lost to the Capital District.
Bush said the goodness that came out of the lost decade of the 1990s was that the Arsenal workforce became closer. This was true for NFFE, as well as for the entire workforce.
Through this 'circling the wagons' environment, values such as loyalty, dedication, and leading by example came back into the forefront. "We knew that mechanical skills alone would not be enough for us to survive," added Bush.
Bush would be one of the first ones to admit the Arsenal's survival of the 1990s is due to more than just what NFFE has provided to the workforce. Nevertheless, Bush does believe that NFFE Local 2109 and its members have been instrumental to the Arsenal leadership and to the Arsenal workforce in creating an environment that better brings the entire command together to achieve a common goal.
So what does NFFE provide to the workforce'
Roughly 200 Arsenal employees are members of NFFE Local 2109, which represents about one-third of the current Arsenal workforce. But, according to a relatively new Arsenal employee, safety in numbers was not the reason he joined the union.
According to George Roach Jr., who works in Program Management, NFFE caught his eye due to the goodness the union was doing at the Arsenal and in the community.
"I remember after I started about one year ago, there was a trailer fire where an Arsenal employee lost everything. NFFE took up a collection and helped put that person life back together," said Roach.
Roach added the he also observed the Union helping non-union members and people outside of the Arsenal. This, he said, inspired him to join so that he could participate in giving something back to the community, too.
Bush added that although Local 2109 strongly believes in community service, it is also an organization that works well with the Arsenal leadership to ensure the viability of the Arsenal for future generations of skilled workers.
Whether one is a union member or not, the union spends a lot of time training, coaching, and counseling Arsenal employees to be successful at work, as well as in their personal lives, said Bush.
Given this period of economic uncertainty in our country, the Arsenal workforce, be them union or non-union, can be certain about one thing Aca,!aEURc they are part of an organization that has adapted, transformed, and survived every national crisis for nearly 200 years.
The question today is will the Arsenal workforce do what it takes to preserve what made America great in the first place' If you ask the Arsenal leadership and NFFE Local Union 2109, the answer is, unequivocally, yes.
Once again, the environment is calling upon the Arsenal to 'circle the wagons' and to better work as a team to preserve, at least in this postage stamp parcel of land, one of America's national treasures Aca,!aEURc the ability to manufacture quality products that last.