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Weekly remarks: GOP's Lamar Alexander warns NLRB threatens new jobs; Obama hails U.S. auto turnaround

June 4, 2011 |  3:00 am

Capitol Hill

Weekly remarks by Sen. Lamar Alexander, as provided by Republican Party leadership

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 placesTennessee Republican senator Lamar Alexander 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.     ####

Democrat president barack Obama enjoys an Oval Office phone call

Weekly remarks by President Obama, as provided by the White House

Hello, everyone. I’m speaking to you today from a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, where I just met with workers, including Jill. Jill was born and raised here. Her mother and step-father retired from this plant.  And she met her husband here, and now they have two children of their own. This plant has not only been central to the economy of this town. It’s been a part of the lifeblood of this community.

The reason I came to Toledo was to congratulate Jill and her co-workers on the turnaround they helped bring about at Chrysler and throughout the auto industry.  Today, each of the Big Three automakers – Chrysler, GM, and Ford – is turning a profit for the first time since 2004. Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency – and it repaid that money six years ahead of schedule.  And this week, we reached a deal to sell our remaining stake. That means soon, Chrysler will be 100% in private hands.

Most importantly, all three American automakers are now adding shifts and creating jobs at the strongest rate since the 1990s. Chrysler has added a second shift at the Jefferson North plant in Detroit that I visited last year.  GM is adding a third shift at its Hamtramck plant for the first time ever. And GM plans to hire back all of the workers they had to lay off during the recession. 

That’s remarkable when you think about where we were just a couple of years ago. When I took office, we were facing the worst recession since the Great Depression – a recession that hit our auto industry particularly hard. In the year before I was President, this industry lost more than 400,000 jobs, and two great American companies, Chrysler and GM, stood on the brink of collapse. 

Now, we had a few options. We could have done what a lot of folks in Washington thought we should do – nothing.  But that would have made a bad recession worse and put a million people out of work. I refused to let that happen. So, I said, if GM and Chrysler were willing to take the difficult steps of restructuring and making themselves more competitive, the American people would stand by them – and we did.

But we decided to do more than rescue this industry from a crisis.  We decided to help it retool for a new age, and that’s what we’re doing all across the country – we’re making sure America can out-build, out-innovate, and out-compete the rest of the world.  That’s how we’ll build an economy where you can see your incomes and savings rise again, send your kids to college, and retire with dignity, security, and respect.  That’s how we’ll make sure we keep that fundamental American promise – that if you work hard and act responsibly, you’ll be able to pass on a better life to your kids and grandkids.

Now, we’ve got a ways to go.  Even though our economy has created more than two million private sector jobs over the past 15 months and continues to grow, we’re facing some tough headwinds. Lately, it’s high gas prices, the earthquake in Japan, and unease about the European fiscal situation. That will happen from time to time. There will be bumps on the road to recovery.

We know that. But we also know what’s happened here, at this Chrysler plant. We know that hardworking Americans like Jill helped turn this company and this industry around. That’s the American story. We’re a people who don’t give up – who do big things, who shape our own destiny. And I’m absolutely confident that if we hold on to that spirit, our best days are still ahead of us. Thanks for tuning in, and have a great weekend.    ####


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Photos: Alex Wong / Getty Images; Alexander's office; Pete Souza / White House.