Washington — Lawmakers, lobbyists, businessmen and union guys gathered in a U.S. Senate office building for lunch April 27 to announce what may seem to some an unlikely joining of forces: The Chemical Industry Labor-Management Committee (CILMC).
The new alliance brings together the chemical industry, with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU), the largest building and trade union interest group in the U.S. and Canada, to work on issues of interest to both sectors. Among the items on the docket include regulatory issues, environmental protection, work-place safety mandates, and educating both the public and government officials on hydraulic fracturing, known to most as fracking.
Founding members also include Albemarle Corp., Calgon Carbon Corp., Solvay Americas, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, and the United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and Service Techs.
In this meeting of the minds, plastics interests are actually present on both sides of the equation, with liquid natural gas as an important polymer feedstock and driver behind the $164 billion in new chemical industry investment so far from the shale boom and the construction industry deeply involved with a wide variety of plastics products from pipes and insulation to widows and siding. Moreover, new chemical facilities and capacity expansions are generating jobs for skilled construction professionals: Chemical companies are expected to directly or indirectly create 465,000 new jobs by 2023, thanks to the shale boom, according to ACC.
There's also plenty of cross-industry synergy to be had. The plastics industry could learn a lot from the building and trades business when it comes to closing the skills gap and training the future workforce. Recruiting and training "happens to be our sweet spot," said NABTU President Sean McGarvey. The union has 1,600 training centers across the United States and had 270,000 people moving through their programs in 2008.
The reach of the plastics industry on Capitol Hill was incredibly apparent, with the words "plastics makes it possible" actually coming directly from the mouth of Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) — whose home district, the Texas 36th, has the most chemical plants and refineries in the country at more than 150 — and New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell (of the powerful House Way and Means Committee) touting his bill to give a 15-cent per pound tax break for bio-based plastics producers. And, don't forget, all were eating off the finest plastic plates and cutlery the U.S. Congress has to offer.