Q&A: Three American Factory Workers on How Infrastructure Investment Will Help Manufacturing

Apr 01 2021 |
The Andrew M. Cuomo Bridge under construction. Photo courtesy New York State Thruway Authority

There’s a lot of talk in policy circles about infrastructure. But how would a robust investment package effect manufacturing workers in communities across the country?

President Biden on Wednesday officially unveiled the American Jobs Plan, his proposal for rebuilding American infrastructure, shifting to a clean energy economy, and strengthening critical manufacturing and supply chains. While most of the chatter around the plan has centered on what’s happening on Capitol Hill, we wanted to find out what factory workers think about a potential infrastructure investment package.

In a new occasional Q&A series, we ask people working in manufacturing facilities for their thoughts on infrastructure, including how investment may effect their job and what kinds of improvements are needed where they live. If you are a factory worker who would like to take part, please email us at info@aamfg.org.


Randy Beightol Photo via LinkedIn

NAME: Randy Beightol
HOMETOWN: Williamsport, Pa.
EMPLOYER: Lonza Inc.
UNION MEMBERSHIP: United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4907

Tell us a little bit about your job. What sort of products do you help make, and what is your role in making them?

Lonza makes a wide array of products for the pharmaceutical, biotech and specialty ingredients markets. We also provide solutions for composite materials and processing additives for technically demanding industries, like electronics, transportation and aerospace. We also provide chemicals for many industrial applications, such as agro intermediates, food and feed ingredients, cosmetics, and custom development and manufacturing. My position at the plant is Skilled Chemical Operator.

Manufacturing industries have had a number of ups and downs over the past several years, including layoffs and plant closures, both temporary and permanent. Has this impacted you at all?

Our manning has been pretty consistent over the years, and we are actually hiring at this time.

President Biden is proposing a major investment in U.S. infrastructure, including everything from fixing roads and bridges to building electric vehicle charging stations. Would an investment like this mean more business for your plant?

Yes, because of the end market for our products go into things such as construction, water treatment, and transportation along with many other products.

What sorts of infrastructure improvements are needed in your community?

Along with the normal culprits, roads and bridges, here in Williamsport, emergency funding is being requested for repairs to the Frank E. Heller Dam – recently classified as a high hazard with a potential risk for residents of Armstrong Township and South Williamsport and additional economic impacts for the Greater Williamsport Area.

Do you think infrastructure investment will help manufacturing workers overall? If not, what would you rather see the government doing for workers instead?

Infrastructure investment will absolutely help manufacturing workers.

Mark Musho

Seth Skalnik and his family. Photo courtesy Seth Skalnik

NAME: Seth Skalnik
HOMETOWN: Empire, Ala.
EMPLOYER: United States Steel Corporation
UNION MEMBERSHIP: USW Local 1013 Fairfield

Tell us a little bit about your job. What sort of products do you help make, and what is your role in making them?

Our plant makes tubular products for the energy sector such as gas and oil exploration. Fairfield Works also has a coil coating line that galvanizes coils for appliance housings and steel stamped products. 

Manufacturing industries have had a number of ups and downs over the past several years, including layoffs and plant closures, both temporary and permanent. Has this impacted you at all?

Yes. U.S. Steel shutdown its Blast Furnace and steel making facilities in Fairfield in August of 2015 and was deemed a closure for our steel making facilities. The Pipemill and Dualine (Coating Line) stayed operational. I was able to be recalled to the Pipemill in May 2017 to continue my career with the company. With the addition of the company building the new [Electric Arc Furnace] facility in Fairfield, some past employees and new people have been recalled and rehired.

President Biden is proposing a major investment in U.S. infrastructure, including everything from fixing roads and bridges to building electric vehicle charging stations. Would an investment like this mean more business for your plant?

Because of our specialty of goods we manufacture, I don’t think it would have much of an impact for more business at our location. However, other steel manufacturing facilities across the nation would probably see an increase in production.

What sorts of infrastructure improvements are needed in your community?

Roads and bridges. In the State of Alabama, 1,049 bridges statewide need replaced. Roads in my community are not maintained like they once were maintained, asphalt and grass maintenance included. Part of the reason is due to cutbacks in state government and local county budgets. The State of Alabama taxes gasoline 26 cents per gallon. On Sept. 1, 2019, a law was passed for the Rebuild Alabama Act. That rose the gas tax from 18 cents to the current 26 cent per gallon. We have seen some improvements to road conditions, but more improvements are needed.

Do you think infrastructure investment will help manufacturing workers overall? If not, what would you rather see the government doing for workers instead?

Investing in infrastructure would definitely help manufacturing in America as a whole. The tariffs placed on steel products help my industry.  I feel like more products need to be Made in America.

Just take time to think about all the manufacturing facilities in your area you have seen close in the past 30 years. Whether it be steelmaking, textiles, coal mining, automotive or farming. Those jobs have left America and hurt our country as a whole.

My father runs a local state-owned public lake. During the pandemic, he could not obtain a cricket bucket to sell crickets, reason being shipping delays coming from China. The simple things that could be manufactured here in America, but we rely on other countries to supply.

John Jeffers

John Konnovitch says infrastructure investment will “help workers greatly.” Photo courtesy John Konnovitch

NAME: John Konnovitch
HOMETOWN: Weirton W. Va.
EMPLOYER: Wheeling- Nippon Steel
UNION MEMBERSHIP: USW Local 1280

Tell us a little bit about your job. What sort of products do you help make, and what is your role in making them?

I am an Entry Operator. I help create steel like ZAM, Aluminized, Galvalume, Galvannealed, Galvanized, Galvalume Plus, and Galvanized Plus.

Manufacturing industries have had a number of ups and downs over the past several years, including layoffs and plant closures, both temporary and permanent. Has this impacted you at all?

No, these ups and downs have not impacted me. We have worked through the COVID-19 pandemic and nothing concerning my job has been affected.

President Biden is proposing a major investment in U.S. infrastructure, including everything from fixing roads and bridges to building electric vehicle charging stations. Would an investment like this mean more business for your plant?

Yes, this type of investment into infrastructure would mean much more business for the plant I work at. Our trucks need safer and improved roads and bridges to drive on.

What sorts of infrastructure improvements are needed in your community?

I think that improvements to the bridges and roads, as well as upgrades to our broadband connection to the Internet, are the most needed infrastructure improvements in my community.

Do you think infrastructure investment will help manufacturing workers overall? If not, what would you rather see the government doing for workers instead?

I believe that infrastructure investment will help workers greatly overall.

Lou Delatore