Saturday Mailbox


October 11, 2003

Free-trade pact threatens many more U.S. plants

The Sun's article on the shutdown of the Nevamar manufacturing plant in Odenton ("Changing times flatten Maryland laminate maker," Oct. 3) was well-written and outlined multiple issues behind the shutdown and its tragic consequences for our members. The article, however, promoted the idea that since most of Maryland's manufacturing job losses occurred in the 1960s, "recent slides nationwide haven't had major impacts locally."

I beg to disagree. Every manufacturing job lost causes the indirect loss of three to seven other jobs and a further erosion of the tax base of surrounding communities. The effects are certainly "major" for those affected.

Nevamar Co. pitted the members of the United Steelworkers of America in Odenton against workers at its South Carolina plant who were represented by the carpenter's union. The company also induced a bidding war between Maryland and South Carolina towns for tax breaks to continue local production.

The package of wage and benefit concessions and tax breaks the company extracted favored South Carolina.

Production from Odenton will now go down South. But if history means anything, it won't stop there. Corporations move from the North to the South and then often move to Mexico or overseas, exploiting cheap labor and the lack of environmental and safety standards in other nations.

This represents a global race to the bottom. And now this situation threatens to further deteriorate. Trade ministers from 31 nations will meet in Miami in November to consider the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

The FTAA would spread the damage of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which encouraged companies to shift production across borders and which cost more than 365,000 U.S. jobs.

The United Steelworkers will join a large coalition of groups in Miami to oppose the FTAA and support trade policies that truly value workers communities and the environment.

The chain of manufacturing plant shutdowns, which starts in places such as Odenton and ends in misery across our borders, does indeed represent "major" losses, and it needs to be addressed now.

Jim Strong

Glen Burnie

The writer is subdirector of District 8 for the United Steelworkers of America.

An unfair burden for contractors

The Sun's article "Contractors say law forces them to collect taxes" (Oct. 5) sent a wave of dismay through my contractor/subcontractor bones.

The state wants to make us accountable for out-of-state subcontractors' taxes. It would make contractors withhold 3 percent of their fees until the subcontractor can prove it has paid the tax it owes Maryland. This puts a burden on the contractor and is unfair to the subcontractor.

Subcontractors are probably the most abused parties in the contracting world. They provide labor, equipment and materials as is required in the contract but aren't paid until the general contractor is paid. And 10 percent of the contractor's fee is usually withheld until the entire project is complete.

Subcontractors are lucky if they get paid within 60 days of submitting an invoice for their work. And the 10 percent that is withheld until the end of the job might not be paid for many months. Indeed, my company has waited up to two years for final payment of the 10 percent.

In the meantime, the subcontractor's employees must be paid weekly and material and equipment vendors must be paid within 30 days.

Subcontractors are always behind, and now Maryland wants to make the contractor withhold another 3 percent of their fees until tax payment can be verified.

The state of Maryland has the competence and resources to handle the job of tax collection much better than I or my fellow contractors can.

Patricia Teller

Glen Burnie

The writer is treasurer of a construction company.

State can't afford the ICC's many costs

The Sun recently cited the cost of the Intercounty Connector highway as $1.7 billion ("One Maryland," editorial, Sept. 28). That official figure released by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) substantially understates the highway's real cost. The actual cost will be closer to $3 billion.

MDOT's $1.7 billion estimate includes only the project's costs for right-of-way acquisition, design and construction. It excludes the project's substantial financing costs.

MDOT proposes to raise $1 billion in bond funds by pledging to pay the interest with future allocations of the state's federal transportation funding. This will require the state to earmark $60 million a year in federal funds over 30 years to pay off this financing debt -- a total of $1.8 billion.

The net cost of this bond financing, then, is $800 million. Adding this cost brings the project's cost to $2.5 billion.

MDOT plans an additional $350 million in bond funding through the Maryland Transportation Authority. Add the costs of these bonds and likely construction cost overruns, and the ICC comes close to being a $3 billion project.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.