Tim Ryan: What my cousin Donnie taught me about America’s working class

(CNN)A few years ago, I received a call from my cousin Donnie, a proud Ohioan, Vietnam veteran and seasoned steelworker. Throughout his life, Donnie bounced between jobs in steel mills across our state, earning a living wage. Donnie told me on the phone that it was his last day at Delphi Automotive, a General Motors supplier, and that his job and the entire company were getting outsourced to cut costs. Donnie spent his last few hours on the job unbolting his machine from the floor, boxing it up and shipping it to China.

Unfortunately, Donnie’s story is one that hits home to a lot of folks who grew up, like I did, in the Rust Belt. It’s been almost 40 years since the economic decline hit the Midwest and Northeast. One after another, factories closed their doors due to inflation, import of foreign steel and cheap foreign labor costs.
As I grew up, I saw the steel industry slowly crumble, and it forever shaped both my ideology and my relationships with the diverse working-class community in Youngstown, Ohio. The struggle of the Ohioan working class still inspires me to do my job in Congress — and also led me to become a Democratic Presidential candidate.
    I believe America needs to reinvest in our manufacturing industry. After all, the manufacturing industry has seen an upswing in the last two years, with multiple indicators suggesting we could see pre-recession output levels return before the end of the year. The industrial sector continues to grow rapidly as technology companies make advancements, but the volatility of the labor market persists.
    We must invest in our new industries and laborers to ensure longevity and stability. And we need to put our country in a position to succeed. That is why I am introducing a National Industrial Policy to protect the future of manufacturing in America — and cut the workers in on the deal.
    On day one, I will appoint a Chief Manufacturing Officer who will report directly to me to develop and drive a national manufacturing strategy, set goals for production, increase advanced manufacturing and troubleshoot manufacturing-related issues. My administration will organize every needed federal agency and research institution to work closely with businesses and investors in order to dominate the industries of the future.
    We need to double union membership nationwide. Throughout our country’s history, unions have helped pave the way for safer working conditions, higher wages and essential benefits. Establishing strong unions with robust membership — for all industrial sectors — is critical to building an economy that works for everyone. I would enact legislation that certifies a union as the collective bargaining representative if a majority of employees have signed authorization cards, allow independent contractors to organize and collectively bargain, ban states from enacting right to work policies, make it illegal to replace striking workers and allow public sector employees to bargain.

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    Women and minorities have received very little aid in breaking down the cultural and economic barriers that hinder their access to careers in the industrial sector. We must provide apprenticeships and training opportunities to engage them. According to the Department of Labor, among those who complete apprenticeships programs — only 7.3% were women and 10.7% were African-American. My plan will create a task force at the Department of Labor that prioritizes both growing apprenticeships opportunities for women and minorities, and increases the diversity of existing programs.
    I also want to help workers who have been left behind, like my cousin Donnie, by creating a job assistance program similar to our country’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. The TAA program assists eligible workers whose working wages are reduced as a result of increased imports by providing new career training, employment and case management services, and allowances for time spent job searching and costs of relocation.

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    My plan would provide training stipends for these workers, create wage insurance for older workers to protect their livelihoods and raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour to ensure that our laborers can afford to live comfortably. My administration will also rebuild our forgotten cities by investing in infrastructure, green technology and modern transportation technology while creating a National Infrastructure Development Bank.
    Finally, we need to decentralize economic opportunity by creating the Distressed Community Investment Agency within the US Department of Commerce. This agency would have the mission of promoting, establishing and strengthening venture capital in distressed communities through grants, contracts and other agreements with public and private entities.
    As American industry continues to create and develop new technologies and careers that grow our economy and communities, we must acknowledge the disproportionate geographic centralization of job growth created by companies. Currently four states, New York, California, Massachusetts and Texas, receive 80% of venture capital dollars, but there are innovators and entrepreneurs throughout the country who are being overlooked because they don’t have the same access to that capital.

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      The Democratic Party has historically been the party for working people, and we continue to carry their interests at heart. In 1980, many working people in Rust Belt cities felt abandoned by the Democratic Party and voted for Ronald Reagan. In 2016, we found ourselves lost and desperate for change — and made the same mistake again in electing Donald Trump.
      It’s time for Democrats to take a stand and play offense when it comes to the rights and well-being of working-class Americans. We must show the working class that Democrats care about their ability to achieve the American dream and that we understand they comprise the backbone of our history, and ultimately our future, in the United States. If elected President, I will ensure our workers get the recognition they deserve and the best resources our country has to offer them.

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