MANSFIELD -- U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown is set to introduce legislation to Congress next week that would require companies to provide their employees with advanced notice and increased training when adopting new technology.
He discussed his proposed “Workers’ Right to Training Act of 2019” on Tuesday with a group of community leaders and worker advocates at the United SteelWorkers (USW) Local 169 in Mansfield. The meeting followed an exclusive visit to Richland Source on Tuesday morning.
“I see in communities like Mansfield and Dayton and Toledo and Norwalk too many cases (where) people lose jobs because of globalization, where companies shut down production here and move it overseas, and other times, they lose their jobs because of technology,” Brown said.
He believes the first problem needs to be addressed by adapting the country’s trade agreements and tax policy to favor domestic production -- something he says President Donald Trump is “not really serious about.”
“But in terms of technology, companies are going to do that. They should. They want to be more efficient,” Brown said.
This is inevitable and necessary progress, Brown recognizes, but he argues steps should be taken to protect the workers who lose their jobs or whose training is made obsolete because of new technology.
“I hear from workers all the time that have been displaced by these technologies,” Brown said. “And we've got to make sure these workers are given notice so they know it’s coming and they have a chance to re-train.”
Brown has previously heard many of these concerns in Richland County. In a December 2016 roundtable discussion, workers at ArcelorMittal in Shelby expressed concern about potential job loss as technology becomes more integrated into their companies.
Dick Clady, an electrician only eight days away from retirement, said he worried that automation would cut into the number of jobs in Shelby.
"I see automation in the future as really cutting out a lot of jobs," Clady said at that time. "A lot of the skills I had 30 years ago are worthless today because of technology changes. There's no way I want to start again."
In a press release issued Tuesday at his more recent roundtable discussion, Brown explains how his “Workers’ Right to Training Act of 2019” could “empower workers in the face of increased automation.”
Specifically, Brown’s proposed bill would:
• Require companies to provide 180 days advance notice to workers when new technology will change employment positions, and provide 270 days advance notice if jobs will be eliminated. Further, employers would need to bargain directly with employees on how best to implement new technology.
• Require employers to pay for and provide on-the-job training to any employees who will be affected by the introduction of new technology. Companies must either provide training to employees whose jobs will change as a result of new technology or to employees who will lose their job to help these workers obtain a different position at a similar company.
• Require employers to provide six-month severance to all workers who lose their jobs as a result of new technology.
According to Brown, because these requirements would mandate employers consult and compensate employees whose jobs are changed or lost due to technology, the legislation would ensure the adoption of technology in the workplace is done in a “just way for workers.”
“I’m not wed to them exactly, (but) they seem -- from people we’ve talked to -- to be the best prescription to do it right, to give people that kind of notice so they can plan their lives better and they can have a chance at getting re-trained,” Brown said.
During the roundtable discussion, the vice president of Teamsters Local 40 Dave Funk suggested a “sliding sale."
“The bigger the company, the longer the vision,” Funk said.
He explained how he thinks it would be most appropriate for larger companies to give more notice than smaller companies. Meanwhile, Brown scribbled notes to transcribe Funk’s suggestion.
Others like Mid-Ohio Area Labor Council president, Norm Shoemaker chimed in to note the positive impacts of automation in some locations.
“In our shop, technology has allowed us to take more of the market,” he said.
This in turn has allowed for more employees to be hired.
At this time, Brown said he’s heard from a few Democratic senators who are interested in his proposal. He believes it’ll be more challenging to gain Republican support.
“(But) ideas like this always start with one or two or three people and they grow. So far everybody’s thought it was a good idea who’s heard about it,” Brown said.