Washington, D.C. – The following remarks were delivered by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Joseph T. Hansen at the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness meeting in Durham, N.C. on June 13:
“I look at the work of this council as an effort to look at primarily non-legislative approaches to address the plight of the millions of unemployed or underemployed workers in this country.
“I believe we need to play to our country’s strengths. While not as sexy as some things you will hear today, one of our country’s strengths is agriculture—directly employing over 2 million Americans. And when you add related processing, distribution and retail jobs, that number grows to almost 4 million.
“The UFCW represents over 300,000 workers in food manufacturing—mainly in meat and poultry processing. The U.S. meat and poultry industry directly employs 1.8 million people and pays $45.5 billion in wages and benefits. An estimated 580,000 people have jobs in distribution of meat and poultry products, and over 1 million more retail jobs depend on the sale of meat and poultry products to the public. The meat and poultry industry is a growing industry with growing employment.
“Exports are a significant—and increasingly important driver—of this job growth.
- For every $1 billion in beef exports, over 12,000 jobs are created.
- For every $1 billion in pork exports, over 13,000 jobs are created.
- For every $1 billion in poultry exports, over 11,000 jobs are created.
“Industry economists believe that a focused governmental effort to address barriers to United States’ meat exports to Asian countries has the potential to add thousands of jobs in the U.S. Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Kirk have done important work in this area. We have already begun to see results. China has started to recognize that it is in their self-interest to address their domestic food situation by cracking open their import door to U.S. meat. As a result, food exports to China are growing strongly.
“Right now, we have additional opportunities with Russia. Since Russia is looking to join the World Trade Organization, it is important to get their commitment to drop their various methods of blocking U.S. meat imports. I know Ambassador Kirk and his team are aware of these issues, but I wanted to take this opportunity to stress the impact these issues have on U.S. jobs.
“Along with meat exports, I wanted to take this opportunity to stress another issue—the importance of traditional defined benefit pensions in the economic health of this country. Virtually all economists agree that the U.S. economy needs to be rebalanced:
- We need more national saving, investment, and new business formation; and
- We need less debt fueled consumption.
“The continuance of defined benefit pension plans needs to be part of that rebalancing. In 2007, public and private defined benefit pension plans had nearly $9 trillion in assets and, in the aggregate, these plans were almost fully funded. The downturn in financial markets reduced many of the plans’ funding. There is a consensus among labor and employers that there is a need for relief – not to change the requirement to fully fund pensions, but to extend the time frame for achieving such funding.
“Defined benefit plans have made significant investments in infrastructure in support of job generation in the U.S. We cannot afford to lose this source of funds which help create jobs. A well-thought out program of federal government guarantees and other financial incentives directed at pension investors could encourage such plans to invest even greater allocations to rebuilding America’s infrastructure. We hope that the Administration and Congress can work to achieve these goals.
“Finally, Mr. President, I want to thank you for keeping America’s unemployed at the top of your Administration’s priorities. I look forward to working with the council to help you continue to create job opportunities for American workers. Thank you.”