Jobs and Communities Are Not Disposable!

Like many other small communities across the United States, a community in southern Ohio will be devastated when their largest workplaces with good paying jobs are closing.  Two coal-burning power plants are being closed because the cost of both coal-burning and nuclear plants have become too expensive  thanks to low natural gas prices and alternative energy sources.  In addition, EPA issued strong guidelines for clean energy which resulted in an agreement reached with environmental groups. More communities in Ohio and other states with power plants face a similar fate as many of these types of energy producing plants are becoming obsolete.   The sad part with this closure, as in many small communities like Adams County, Ohio, has very little industry which means the  impact to the community will be huge.

Whether it’s power plants or manufacturing plants closing or other jobs lost, communities have to make adjustments.  Depending on the size of layoff or closure, it can be a big adjustment especially for smaller communities.  In Adams County, local government officials are slashing budgets.  Residents’ safety is at risk because the sheriff’s department is already spread too thin for the sprawling territory they have to monitor.  The school system, too, is concerned how children will receive their education as the tax base the power plants provided helped with school funding.  And then there’s the trickle-down effect as car dealerships furniture stores, and restaurants have to prepare for lower sales and that also can mean more layoffs or no hiring.

Every day a worker or community goes through this.  While the economy appears to be doing fairly well in some places, the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of mass layoffs that continue to occur.  March had  the lowest number of mass layoffs in the last year but that make it good.  There were 1,564 layoffs during the month.  That means over 1,000 people lost their job.  Imagine the affect if that was in one community.  Half of that number will be the amount for the layoffs in Adams County, and, if you take the average of the first three months of the year and multiply by 12, that’s 20,000 jobs impacted.  These numbers are for mass layoffs.  The number of layoffs grows when you add in smaller layoffs.

It’s been said we have become a disposable society and it seems like jobs are a part of that.  Every day people have to be prepared for the worst.  Closing plants and layoffs have become a way of life.  That secure, economic well-being that we all want and crave isn’t always there.  Our lives, homes and communities can be transformed as quickly as day and night.  Just like the people in Adams County, workers and their families have to make decisions, and sometimes motivated by fear and anguish, as to whether to stay or move.

Both local leadership and the union that represented the  workers at the power plants, Utility Workers of America, tried to obtain assistance.  They looked for a buyer, talked to politicians, even came up with an alternative plan but nothing happened.  The only response workers received was to look for jobs elsewhere and move.

All the people wanted was to maintain their livelihoods in a place they called home but everybody turned their backs on them and Adams County.  Some families moved even though selling their homes was going to be difficult because of the surplus of homes on the market.  One family did try to relocate to the state of Washington but they returned within a year because they were homesick and missed family members.  But did any of this need to happen?

In 2014, EPA held an energy hearing about the need for clean energy which really was the impetus for the shutdown of coal and nuclear power plants.  Many voiced concerns, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW.   They questioned the reports from EPA on emission problems with coal and nuclear energy, how electrical demands would be met especially during the winter time, and they also mentioned other countries being contributors to air quality problems. They warned 400,000 jobs would be impacted as the transition would occur and there wouldn’t be enough time to make the transition to avoid the loss of jobs.  There simply wasn’t enough planning time.

That hearing was four years ago.  Nothing, or very little, was done to  plan for the job loss.  Instead of preparing for the power-plant shutdowns, other energy job creating possibilities were shut down.  In May of 2014, the Ohio legislature put a two-year moratorium on the growing alternative energy field.  Governor John Kasich, who now touts the need for alternative energy as he gears up for a presidential run in 2020, signed the bill the next month that killed an industry that was to produce more than 30,000 jobs in Ohio by 2025.  There is nothing to guarantee those jobs would have gone to Adams County but it may have been a possibility as the transition for the closure of the power plants.

Everybody loves to talk about jobs, especially jobs that are created but what about the number of jobs that are lost and the response when people cry out for help?  Training for workers in transition is always the usual response but what does somebody do until they’re trained?  It can sometimes take up to two years.  Unemployment insurance barely covers average expenses and it’s humiliating for most people to rely on public assistance.  Training is okay but in the end, will it replace a good-paying job with another good paying job?  Had those alternative energy jobs been available at the power plans, there would have been little break in service time and the community, too, would be have been able to plan as well.

The Center for American Progress also recognizes the need for alternatives to happen when workers and communities are faced with closures or layoffs.  In their plan, A Blueprint For the 21st Century, they recognize the economic differences in different areas of the country and acknowledge some communities need assistance quicker than others with jobs.  They propose a guaranteed jobs program that would be tailored more to the community and area instead of a “one size fits all” approach.  Communities could apply for assistance but certain criteria would also have to be included.  This would allow not just training but a job that can help keep people working.   By creating these jobs it may help to keep younger people in communities.  That sense of community and rural life appeals to many young people.   Having employment opportunities for young people helps communities grow and sustain themselves for the future.

It’s time for ordinary people and their jobs to be put first instead of coming behind the needs of  corporations, governments and special interest groups. Lives are not and should not be disposable.   What’s wrong with wanting to live in the community you grew up in and knowing the people that have grown up with you?  As one of the power plant workers said it was great to know he could send his child to the concession stand at a game where his friends were working because he knew they would take care of his child or that it was nice to be able to call a family member when last-minute assistance was needed.

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About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at http://calmc.org
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