New York Makes Buy America Permanent, Setting an Example for the Rest of the Country

By Brian Lombardozzi
Apr 06 2020 |
Photo courtesy New York State Thruway Authority

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the state lays the groundwork for its economic recovery.

Back in March, we were at the New York state capitol in Albany to urge elected officials to act to make the New York Buy American Act permanent.

Last week, the New York Legislature voted to do just that.

Language to maintain Buy America was included among the many other things in the nine bills that make up the New York State Budget, which was passed on April 2 and signed into law by the governor on April 3. The state’s Buy America requirements had been set to expire on April 15 of this year.

Under the law, all structural steel and structural iron used in state and road bridge construction projects with contracts worth more than $1 million will be required to be Made in America. Buy America already has been beneficial to New York, as several of the state’s biggest infrastructure projects have used American-made structural iron and steel, including 110,000 tons of steel to help build the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, 11,500 tons of steel for the Kew Gardens Interchange and 6,850 tons of steel for the first two phases of the Kosciusko Bridge.

Of course, this bit of good news comes at a particularly challenging time for the state.

The same week we were in Albany, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a State of Emergency due to the spread of COVID-19. Since then, New York has become the epicenter the coronavirus outbreak. Cuomo has been on the front lines, trying to meet the needs his state is facing, and putting a call out for much-needed medical supplies.

There is no doubt that this has been a challenging time for a lot of people, as what is going on is unprecedented. After the initial public health crisis passes, the United States will be faced with the devastating economic fallout, the likes of which the country has never seen.

Buy America will be essential to getting things back on track. Let me explain.

In the manufacturing sector, production cuts, idling, and layoffs have already been announced at manufacturing facilities across the country. If the current crisis continues, we can expect more bad news. 

Meanwhile, the growing need for ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) highlights some of the issues the United States faces going forward about its domestic supply chain and America’s reliance on imports, which are facing their own disruptions due to COVID-19.

The United States already is ramping up its manufacturing of PPEs and ventilators, and there’s serious discussion about reshoring critical manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and other vital medical supplies. Meanwhile, there’s talk that Congress will finally pass a robust infrastructure investment package in the coming months to help kickstart the economy (which is a good idea).

Buy America will be critical in these circumstances. These preferences ensure taxpayer money is reinvested right back into local communities, supporting good-paying jobs and the economy, rather than being sent overseas to the lowest bidder. 

As Cuomo has said: “Making the Buy American Act permanent will not only help ensure the safest, best quality steel and iron are being used in our infrastructure projects, it will also create even more jobs for New Yorkers.”

This is a real representation of why Buy America matters so much. When our public policies support good-paying, family-supporting jobs, we all began to reap the positive benefits.

While when you hear about a union like our loabor partners in the United Steelworkers (USW), you probably think about industrial manufacturing. But USW also represents about 50,000 health care and other front-line workers that are among the most immediately impacted by COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, other USW members are donating existing PPEs and shifting to manufacturing it, including:

  • Members of Local 366 at American Roots, an all American-sourced and American-made custom apparel company based in Maine, who have switched up their production and are now sewing masks and gowns for health care workers;
  • Members of Local 390 at the Mowhawk Paper mill, who are switching to manufacturing surgical gowns and masks for healthcare workers in the region;
  • Members of Local 4-753 at 3M’s Meriden, Conn., facility, who have been working overtime helping in the fight against COVID-19 by making filters that are used by Regeneron Pharmaceutical in Regeneron’s research efforts to develop an effective treatment for the COVID-19 virus.  

These workers are stepping in to demonstrate what domestic manufacturers can do in the face of an international crisis. And they know that when things eventually get back on track, it will be important for New York State to reinvest right back into workers and communities in the United States.

In the midst of the greatest health crisis of our lifetime, Governor Cuomo and the New York Legislature still managed to set an example for the rest of the country to follow to help us emerge stronger. America’s factory workers are helping the country navigate this crisis, and enacting policy to reinvest back into them will be critical for our long-term recovery.