WASHINGTON—Better bridges, rebuilt roadways and enhanced electrical grids: It's music to the ears of rubber industry leaders and laborers.
The Senate's Aug. 10 passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill drew praise from a number of industry organizations, which applauded the breadth of the bill and its bipartisan makeup. The legislation—a 2,700-page document that proposes nearly $550 billion in new infrastructure spending over five years—passed with 19 Republicans joining 50 Democrats for a 69-30 vote.
The House advanced the bill on Aug. 24 in a 220-212 party-line vote. A final Senate vote was expected by Sept. 27.
"The Senate did its job today," Scott Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing president, said in a statement shortly after the infrastructure bill's passage. "There's a reason why business and labor long have come together in support of rebuilding America's infrastructure: Our roads, bridges, electric grid, transit, water systems, and more are falling apart. It's time to get to work, and getting this work done will create millions of new jobs, too."
For the United Steelworkers union, which represents 850,000 workers, including 12,000 working at eight tire plants in the U.S., the investment in American jobs is a critical component of the bill.
"USW members from across every corner of our union already provide the essential building blocks of a modern infrastructure, from the steel that goes into our bridges, to the pipes that carry our water, to the fiber optic glass that keeps us connected and much more," USW International President Tom Conway said. "A comprehensive infrastructure investment that draws on the goods and services American workers supply will promote widespread job growth and economic opportunity. USW members and their families will further benefit from this investment as their workplaces and communities become safer and more efficient."
The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association and Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association also applauded the bill, saying the bipartisan support was a positive sign.
"(MEMA) applauds the U.S. Senate for passing important infrastructure legislation with significant bipartisan support," MEMA said in a statement. "As the largest employer of manufacturing jobs in the U.S., the automotive and commercial vehicle supplier industry depends on a reliable, modern infrastructure."
Modernizing America's infrastructure is vital, according to MEMA, which noted that technology—particularly in the automotive space—is pushing the limits of what our previous technologies and electrical grids could handle.
"As vehicle technologies continue to transform, investment must keep up with the safety, environmental and market demands of the American consumer," MEMA said, calling on the House to pass the bill as soon as possible.
The USTMA, which has supported the negotiations for months, praised the release of the final package for its inclusion of research provisions that would advance scrap tire markets.
"Congress cannot let this opportunity pass to make a generational investment in our nation's infrastructure," said Anne Forristall Luke, USTMA president and CEO. "The economic, societal and environmental merits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act speak for themselves, and members of Congress should evaluate and vote on the bill based on those facts alone. It is my hope—and that of all members of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association—that the House swiftly passes this package."
Meanwhile, Tire Industry Association CEO Roy Littlefield took a more cautious approach, saying that while TIA usually supports infrastructure bills, "we are reserving judgment on it."
Because the legislation does not include any taxes or funding proposals, and because it is loaded with amendments, Littlefield said it "will take time to read and digest."
"Before taking any positions on it, we must do our due diligence to make sure we are not supporting taxes, funding mechanisms or amendments that the association would find detrimental to our members and the industry," he said.
"We are happy that a bill is progressing. Now we have to make it the best possible bill."
Hitting the road
Making it the best possible bill is exactly what the USW hopes to do, and it took that message to the streets, launching a "nationwide week of action" Aug. 16, calling for robust investments in the country's infrastructure and highlighting the contributions USW members make in multiple industries.
The bus tour—which is part of the "We Supply America" campaign—scheduled stops at USW locals in six states: Chesterton, Ind.; Newark, Ohio; Weirton, W. Va.; Danville, Va.; Wilmington, N.C.; and Pittsburgh.
"We need a national infrastructure that keeps us safe, that is modern, that keeps our supply chains stocked with the materials we need, and that keeps the country moving in the right direction," Conway said. "As a union, we have the skilled work force to accomplish all these goals.
"This is about so much more than fixing roads and bridges," Conway added. "We need an ambitious overhaul of our entire critical infrastructure from modern schools and health care facilities to state-of-the-art communications networks. Everything that USW members make and everything that we do contributes in some way to this vital project."
The AAM joined the USW's efforts to drum up support for infrastructure rooted in American manufacturing. A series of tweets from the association captured some of the comments Paul made during the opening day of the tour.
Companies like Google, Facebook and Walmart, he said, "are the darlings of Wall Street" but they don't "make a damn thing in America."
The members of the USW? They make products in the U.S., Paul said, "which is why we need your voices to be heard loudly, persuasively and often."
Infrastructure is the core of the American Society of Civil Engineers, an association that offers a quadrennial assessments of key infrastructure facets such as roads, bridges, railways and energy grids. The latest report card, issued in February, examines the state of 17 separate areas across transportation, energy and public services.
Overall, the ASCE gave U.S. infrastructure a C-.
Eleven of the 17 evaluated categories received D ratings: aviation, dams, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks, roads, schools, stormwater, transit and wastewater.
Bridges, drinking water, energy and solid waste received grades in the C range, while rail and ports received grades of B and B-, respectively.
At the time the report card was introduced, the association urged bold action to address what it saw as dire needs. The passage of an over-arching infrastructure investment bill goes a long way toward that end.
"I'm ecstatic. There's nothing in my tenure with ASCE that compares to this," Paul Maron, a project manager for Strand Associates in Louisville, Ky., told ASCE's Source magazine, which noted that Maron is a longtime infrastructure advocate with the ASCE Kentucky Section.
"When it comes to reinvesting in our infrastructure, for so long we've just been doing the bare minimum, making very modest, incremental improvements," Maron said. "But this, I think, is a giant leap forward. And I hope this sets an expectation for more bills like this—not just as a response to a pandemic, but what we should be doing for our future generations going forward."