Beyond Labor Day: The Year for a Jobs Compact

The Labor Day speeches may be over, but the pressure for action has just begun. Speakers, talk show panelists and editorial writers across the country stated the obvious: America's jobs crisis calls for leaders to step up to their responsibilities and work together help create more and better quality jobs.

My own message this year was, and will continue to be, a call for leaders in government, business, labor and education to forge a long-term Compact capable of addressing the two dimensions of the jobs crisis: the need to speed up job growth, and the need to improve the quality of new and existing jobs.

Many of us suggested that a good place to start would be for business and labor leaders to combine their economic resources and political influence to help launch a National Infrastructure Bank capable of funding the $2.2-trillion backlog in projects that have been identified. The labor movement has recently announced it stands ready to commit up to $10 billion of its pension funds to an infrastructure bank. If Wall Street would build a pool of equal and or greater funds, then business and labor could jointly go to Congress and get government to put up the "Build America Bonds" to match the private sector capital and provide the basis for getting started. By working together, business, labor and government leaders could also make sure that these investments pay off, by choosing projects based on solid economic (not political) grounds; furthermore, they could provide the expertise and on-the-ground labor-management partnership to make sure that these projects create good, quality jobs, achieve a fair return for investors and are completed safely, on time and on budget. This would serve as an initial model for the way the public expects management and labor to work together for the nation.

Clear and forceful messages were also sent to the Obama administration:

  • Make sure that the jobs plan you propose this week is up to the task.

  • Challenge Congress to act on a comprehensive set of short- and long-term legislative proposals, including not just the obvious, such as extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax reduction, but less obvious proposals like providing jobs for young, out-of-work or underemployed high school and college graduates.
  • Continue the "race-to-the-top" funding supporting education reform.
  • Staunch the bleeding of jobs in state and local government.
  • Build a bridge to Medicare and Social Security for the long-term, perhaps permanently unemployed workers over 55.
  • Modernize labor law and employment regulations to support workplace innovations and labor-management partnerships.
  • Instruct the various advisory bodies you have created, such as the Jobs and Competitiveness Council and the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, to come forward now with a concrete strategies for building the next-generation manufacturing industries here, with American workers. There is no shortage of ideas for how to do this, including tax reforms that reward firms for creating high-value-added jobs in the U.S., and matching funds or tax incentives for companies and unions to build the skilled workforce these industries will need by expanding apprenticeship and community-college training programs.
  • Equally clear and blunt messages were aimed at the new Congressional Debt Committee:

    • Put the jobs crisis on equal footing with long-term deficit reduction, and do it in a way that is true to the evidence on how to stimulate and sustain the economic recovery.

  • Don't repeat the narrow ideological posturing over deficits and revenue.
  • Support actions to create jobs now, tax reforms that encourage long-term investments in American jobs, and then make future spending cuts that share sacrifices fairly.
  • Call on the business, labor and education communities to join you in building a lasting Compact.
  • I hope that universities and business schools like my own and others also heard the message and wake up to the fact that they have to do more to help build and sustain a broad-based Compact. For too long business schools in particular have failed to challenge the narrow view that shareholder value was all that mattered. That has not worked and will not work in a complex global economy. Instead, business schools should be using online and on-campus courses to teach alumni, scientists, engineers and MBAs how to build sustainable enterprises that work for all stakeholders -- shareholders, workers, communities and the nation. It is time to instill a new ethic and set of skills in the innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders of today and the future.

    These are the messages that should be ringing in the ears of everyone in government, labor, business and education. Now it is time to act: each of us, from the top to the bottom of these institutions, needs to step up to our generation's crisis and do our part to build and sustain a long-term Jobs Compact.

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