Forum on outsourcing draws large audience

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(Host) An overflow crowd turned out Monday night in Montpelier for a town meeting on job outsourcing.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The meeting was organized by Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders who told the crowd of about 200 people that in addition to the overseas flight of manufacturing jobs, America is now witnessing an exodus of technology jobs.

(Sanders) “What we are finding now is that those jobs are beginning to disappear in large numbers from one end of this country to the other. The process of outsourcing is exploding.”

(Zind) Sanders says it’s cheaper for U.S. companies to farm the jobs out to workers in other countries.

In recent weeks outsourcing has become a politically charged issue in Vermont, with disclosures that some jobs the state contracts for are being outsourced.

Recently, the National Life Insurance Company in Montpelier announced it was outsourcing information technology jobs. Some jobs will be done in India. Others are being moved to a Boston based company and many of those may not last long. Marshall Breakstone is one of those whose job was taken over by the Boston firm. Breakstone had worked for National Life for 23 years.

(Breakstone) “I was 15 months from retirement when that happened. If I had made it to retirement, I would have had a liveable but modest pension. My pension is now 40 percent lower, and I’m looking at retiring without medical benefits now. I’ve also lost my life insurance.”

(Zind) While no one from National Life spoke at the forum, a number of other employers did. They talked about the difficulty of competing with overseas businesses whose workers earn far less in wages and benefits than their American counterparts.

Mitch Cabot is a co-owner of Cabot Hosiery Mills in Northfield. Cabot says nearly every day he’s solicited by companies offering to manufacture Cabot socks in India, China, Mexico or Pakistan.

(Cabot) “I have friends even coming up to me saying, ‘what the hell are you still making socks in this country for? You can’t make any money.”

(Zind) But Cabot says he’s keenly aware that 140 workers depend on him for their living.

(Cabot) “A lot of them have worked for us for 25 years and I’ll tell you one thing. We’re not going overseas. We’re proud to be Americans and we’re proud to be Vermonters.”

(Zind) Cabot’s comments drew a standing ovation.

Craig Barrett of the Vermont Machine Tool Corporation and Bryant Grinder in Springfield. Barrett said there are a number of factors contributing to the loss of jobs. And he told the audience they don’t have to look far to find one reason.

(Barrett) “It is a fundamental and inherent right of Americans to try and buy the best product we can for the least amount of money. And I think we have to look ourselves in the mirror and say part of our demon might be ourselves.”

(Zind) Barrett says he’s concerned that America is losing skills associated with highly technical jobs – and becoming too dependent on other countries.

Sanders called for tax incentives for companies that keep jobs in this country and for the repeal of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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