Steelworkers Shine a Spotlight on Broadband Infrastructure

By Matt Heller
Aug 19 2021 |
“I’ll be damned if we’re gonna buy fibers or electric vehicles from China, or solar panels from China or other parts of the world,” said Colin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Foundation, during a “We Supply America” bus tour stop on Thursday. Photo via United Steelworkers

The “We Supply America” bus tour made a stop at a Corning plant in North Carolina on Thursday.

The latest stop along the “We Supply America” tour saw the United Steelworkers (USW) arrive in Wilmington, N.C. on Thursday for another round of rallying Americans around infrastructure. They were joined by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, representatives from Corning — whose fiber optic cable facility hosted the rally — and other leaders and allies from labor and environmental groups.

This rally in particular put a spotlight on efforts to invest in rural broadband expansion, a major issue for millions of Americans who do not have adequate access to the internet. The bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access, which will go a long way to connecting more folks online, allowing them to access the digital economy.

But investments in broadband also mean jobs for American manufacturing workers. After all, you need people to build the fiber optical cable, install it, and to supply the industry with the needed components.

As Bernard Deutsch, vice president for Cable and Optical Fiber at Corning, told the rally goers: “Corning and the USW share a belief in the power of broadband investment to create jobs and opportunity for our communities and people. Like you, we support the bipartisan infrastructure bill in Congress that would advance billions of dollars for broadband.”

“The bipartisan infrastructure that’s going in Washington right now must pass,” Cooper said. “This is a once in a generation opportunity for transformational change.”

Cooper also discussed the real consequences that so many have faced due to a lack of broadband. He talked about a rehab clinic that had to set up a hotspot in their parking lot because too few of their patients had broadband access to telehealth. It’s people like that who will benefit tremendously from this broadband investment — in addition to American workers, of course.

Donneta Williams, president of USW Local 1025, summed it up perfectly: “Investments in infrastructure are investments in American workers and their communities.”

But there’s more to fix than just broadband. There’s still roads and bridges to be repaired, something also important to many in North Carolina.

Mike Cochran of USW District 9 noted that “About 14% of the roads in North Carolina is in poor conditions. Drivers spend about $400 a year extra on repairs to their vehicle…and 9% of the bridges in North Carolina are structurally deficient.”

Fortunately, the steelworkers at USW and workers all over the country, in every industry, are ready to get to work and fix it. Coupled with a major investment from the federal government (so long as it passes the House), American workers will be able to do what they do best.

“Union jobs built this country, and they will do it again,” said John Schinn, USW’s International Secretary-Treasurer.

Moreover, the infrastructure investment will be coupled with strong Buy America rules, to ensure that when we rebuild, American workers use American steel, concrete and cable. American tax dollars should go towards American workers — full stop.

“I’ll be damned if we’re gonna buy fibers or electric vehicles from China, or solar panels from China or other parts of the world,” Colin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Foundation, said in a passionate statement at the rally. “We can make those parts here stronger, better and more enduring because our workforce is better than anywhere else in the world.”

Stay tuned on Friday for our coverage of the final “We Supply America” bus tour stop in Pittsburgh, and don’t forget to raise your voice in support of infrastructure investment.