Not many manufacturers can say COVID-19 heralded the start of something great for their businesses, but Alex Grover may be the exception.
At Grover’s company, the Mountain Top, Pennsylvania–based plastics film manufacturer i2M, the pandemic gave rise to two important new employee offerings: Innovation 2 Education (i2E) and Innovation 2 Transportation (i2T).
A pandemic “pod”: To enable employees to keep coming to work when schools closed in early 2020, Grover, who is president of i2M, hired a local school teacher and offered an onsite learning pod for employees’ children.
- The pod endured for several months during the height of the virus’ first wave, enabling i2M team members who were also parents to work and earn money—without having to worry about child care or education.
A larger offering: Yet, as schools began to reopen in 2021, Grover and her team realized the need for child care was not subsiding. In fact, for parents of younger, non-school-age children, it had become even more pronounced than before.
- “People weren’t able to rejoin the workforce—not because they didn’t want to, but because there were new barriers,” Grover said. In families “with two working parents, a lack of accessible child care made it difficult for one parent to work in manufacturing. In single-parent households, it was essentially impossible.”
- Compounding the problem for manufacturing workers is the fact that good care offerings are often only available during the day. “Child care today is typically designed for 9-to-5 office jobs,” Grover said. “In smaller communities like Mountain Top, it is not usually aligned with work that involves 12-hour shifts.”
Changing the face of care: Grover and her team set out to change that. Working with local child care services provider Building Blocks, another woman-owned business in the area, i2M began offering subsidized, extended-hours child care for employees’ kids in January of this year.
- “The goal of developing this program with Building Blocks was, ‘How do we better align the hours to fit with a manufacturing schedule?’” Grover said. “It’s up to businesses to support their team with child care solutions that are a win for all.”
What’s more, Building Blocks is currently considering offering overnight care for the children of third-shift workers.
Gunning for success: Another challenge i2M has set out to solve is an often cited one among i2M employees: transportation. In late 2021, the company rolled out its i2T plan, a partnership with the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, to give interest-free loans to i2M team members for car repair or replacement.
- “It’s super disruptive for both the team member and plant operations when a machine operator can’t come in because their car breaks down or they need emergency repairs,” Grover said. “So, we developed the program to provide fast solutions when that happens.”
Thus far, the program has paid out more than $23,000 in 0% interest loans to its team members, who have the principal automatically deducted from their paychecks each pay period.
- Since starting the program, “there have been zero call-offs due to transportation issues,” Grover said.
Next steps: There are plans to expand both i2E and i2T.
- i2M owns a 12,000-square-foot space just up the street from its manufacturing facility and is currently determining how to turn it into a full-time child care center, both for employees of i2M and for other local companies.
- Grover is also working on developing a car-loan program framework that i2M can “roll out to other manufacturers,” she said.
The last word: As Grover put it, “There’s so much opportunity to remove barriers to manufacturing employment. The more people we can bring into the workforce, the greater our ability to deliver results for our customers, our community and the manufacturing industry.”
Manufacturing businesses have long been proponents of equality in the workplace. As legislation to codify protections for LGBT individuals passes through the House of Representatives, the National Association of Manufacturers joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and other members of the business community in advocating its passage, forging coalitions and providing congressional testimony.
Introduced with bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate in March, the Equality Act includes federal protections for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the existing framework of the Civil Rights Act, which already provides protection against discrimination on the basis of religion, national origin, race, color or sex. The goal of the legislation is to ensure that no person can face legal discrimination based on their gender or sexual orientation, setting a clear federal standard to enable individuals to succeed based on their abilities and qualifications to perform a job.
“Employers understand the importance of creating an environment in which the very best people can succeed based on merit,” Patrick Hedren, NAM vice president, labor, legal and regulatory policy, said. “At the same time, manufacturers know that discrimination in any form is antithetical to the values that we work to uphold every day: equality of opportunity, individual liberty, free enterprise and competitiveness.”
In March, more than 40 other industry associations rallied to support the Equality Act, providing an important boost for the groundbreaking legislation. In the weeks since, manufacturing representatives have testified before the House Education and Labor Committee and signed a coalition letter to the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services calling for the Act’s passage. As Congress considers the way forward, manufacturers have made clear that they intend to advocate forcefully on behalf of the legislation and uphold their commitment to workers of every gender identity and sexual orientation.
“The Equality Act creates a clear federal standard that matches the sentiments manufacturers already share: gender identity and sexual orientation have no impact on an employee’s abilities and discrimination is not welcome on the manufacturing floor,” Hedren said. “We look forward to working with Congress as this important legislation moves ahead.”
Washington, D.C. – National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons released the following statement after the Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded the 2016 Persuader Rule:
Manufacturers have fought for this victory for many years in the courts, in Congress and with two administrations, using the full weight of our policy, government relations and legal teams, said Timmons. The NAM’s Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action was able to halt the rule in court in 2016.And in 2017, the Trump administration, as part of its broader regulatory relief agenda, thankfully began the process of unwinding the rule. This overreaching rule threatened to impose serious burdens on manufacturers and upend employee–employer communications. Now manufacturers are relieved that this threat to workplace communications is finally and officially off the books. Commonsense steps like this to rein in onerous regulations are a major reason why manufacturers are reporting record-high business optimism.
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action (MCLA) is the leading voice of manufacturers in the courts and engages in a range of activities, including direct party litigation and operating a robust amicus program, as well as educating manufacturers about emerging legal trends. The MCLA is led by NAM Senior Vice President and General Counsel Linda Kelly and NAM Vice President of Litigation and Deputy General Counsel Peter Tolsdorf. More information on the MCLA can be found here.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12 million men and women, contributes $2.25 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, has the largest economic impact of any major sector and accounts for more than three-quarters of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the Manufacturers or to follow us on Shopfloor, Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.