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By Ken Lortz
A few years ago, the U.S. auto industry was on the brink of collapse. The livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Ohio workers was in jeopardy. Fortunately, leaders such as U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and President Obama led the fight to save the iconic industry.
When things looked their worst, and private financing wasn't an option for General Motors and Chrysler, Senator Brown refused to give up on American auto companies or American manufacturing. He led the charge to pass the bold auto rescue package, helping to protect hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs.
I started my career at a crankshaft company in Fostoria in 1970. Over four decades, I've met countless women and men — many on shop floors, many others at small businesses or local diners near employment centers such as Toledo — who rely on the auto industry to put food on the table, pay their mortgages, and provide for their families.
I took it personally when some people were willing to let Detroit go bankrupt rather than fight for hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs. In Ohio alone, more than 800,000 jobs are related to the auto industry. More than 120,000 Ohioans are directly employed by automakers, auto dealers, and supply-chain parts manufacturers.
The Center for Automotive Research found that Ohio would have lost more than 160,000 auto jobs in 2009 had Senator Brown, President Obama, and others not acted.
The auto rescue was about more than saving the Big Three. Ohio is home to more parts suppliers, industries, and technology companies that support America's auto manufacturing base than practically any other state. Investing in the auto industry meant investing in Ohioans up and down the state, in all walks of life.
In the past year, GM, Chrysler, Ford, and Honda have announced multimillion-dollar investments in facilities across Ohio. But there's still more work to do.
When Democrats in Washington, and workers across the country, acted to save the auto industry from collapsing, Ohio's steelworkers, plastics producers, and stamping plant workers — our neighbors and relatives — kept their jobs. Ohio auto-parts suppliers hired more full-time employees and ramped up production.
The auto rescue helped turn more than a decade of manufacturing job losses into the first sustained increase in years. But all of it could slip away, unless we develop a national manufacturing strategy that levels the playing field for American workers, invests in Ohio's supply chains, and ensures that workers have the skills to attract 21st century jobs.
Manufacturing jobs pay 20 percent more, on average, than service jobs. They have strong multiplier effects that support jobs in other sectors of our economy.
Senator Brown's bipartisan National Manufacturing Strategy Act, which the U.S. House passed in September, would ensure that America has a cohesive strategy to support traditional and high-tech manufacturing, create American jobs, and strengthen the middle class. His bipartisan legislation that would crack down on China for unfairly manipulating its currency would help to create thousands more jobs.
Because of the auto rescue, the U.S. auto industry — and American manufacturing — are on the road to an even greater future. Senator Brown has worked tirelessly to support the auto industry and boost the manufacturing sector. Now it's time for us to do our part to keep America's middle class moving forward.
Ken Lortz is director of Region 2-B of the UAW, which covers Ohio and Indiana. This opinion piece originally appeared the in Oct. 18, 2012 edition of the The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio.