February 10, 2021
Authored by Jon DeRoo, financial secretary for UA Local 98, Detroit, MI
The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty across industries. The men and women of the Michigan building trades know this intimately. Early on during this crisis, the construction industry was shut down entirely as we looked for ways to deal with the spread of the disease.
Scientific innovation holds the key to our continued ability to build and create. While we are not out of the woods yet, the scientific community has made record-breaking progress in the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Until then, it is a long road ahead with many obstacles for our society and the economy. However, we are proud to say that our members were the first to arrive to help build the sites that will bring the COVID 19 vaccine to millions. These labs and manufacturing centers were built with union labor, relying upon the safest, best trained, most productive workers in the world.
Michigan’s organized labor organizations have a long history of partnership with the biopharmaceutical industry. Researching and developing innovative medicines takes exacting construction. That is why the industry relies on highly trained construction workers to build their world-class facilities here in the US.
For some time, Michigan political and business leaders have sought to diversify our state’s economy to insulate it from economic downturns. Encouraging investment in high-tech fields and bioscience will strengthen Michigan’s economy and help maintain and attract skilled workers, promote investment from a broad palate of businesses, and ensure potential jobs for younger people looking to join the workforce.
Indeed, the growth of life science industries and the biopharmaceutical industry not only attracts scientists and lab workers, but it puts the safest, best trained, most efficient construction workers to work in building and maintaining the latest, most innovative facilities in the country.
A recent study showed that the biopharmaceutical industry contributed to more than $22.4 billion in construction spending across 11 states, yielding more than 45 million labor hours in construction. Those numbers could grow as companies continue to innovate and invest in research.
As we grapple with COVID-19 and look for solutions during the pandemic, the pathway out will be medical innovation and discovery. In fact, recent reports have shown that the vaccine for the novel coronavirus could be developed and produced right here in Michigan.
Our member unions and companies have made great contributions to fight COVID-19, with building trades members helping to construct care facilities and donating PPE, and the companies are moving at unprecedented speed toward clinical trials for treatment and vaccine candidates.
However, even during a time of a pandemic, politics, and talk of short-term solutions can derail biopharmaceutical innovation and the hopes for cures for this and many other diseases.
Some in government are looking to price controls to gloss over the flaws in the medical supply chain. One dangerous idea is international price indexing (IPI), which ties the price of medicines to those sold in other countries with government price controls. This so-called “solution” is the quickest way to drive biopharmaceutical companies overseas and ship those jobs off along with them.
The partnership between labor and industry has long advocated that price controls negatively impact jobs. Placing an artificial ceiling on the price of medicines disrupts the market economy, thwarts the development of new research and development, resulting in less infrastructure investment and a loss of jobs.
Here in Michigan, our member’s wages and benefits are based on the value provided, not some arbitrary formula based on other countries’ policies.
Our members – and the Americans everywhere at large – are ready to move past the pandemic and get back to work. Until the vaccine is widely available, we’ll do our part to stay safe and work safely. This is the wrong time to threaten the very industry working tirelessly for the health and safety of all Americans and billions more around the world.