Delaware News Journal: Delaware workers, companies must unite to confront threats

Sam Lathem, the former president of the Delaware AFL-CIO, authored the following op-ed in the Delaware News Journal.

Click here to view the article on the News Journal website.

This election season has featured the usual speeches about the importance of American workers and expanding job opportunities. And as usual, the statements have lacked detail, particularly about some of the most serious emerging threats to Delaware’s labor force.

To confront these threats, workers, companies and political leaders must all stand united.

Over 40 million jobs in the United States are linked to industries that rely heavily on intellectual property. According to a report by the U.S. Commerce Department, this sector of the economy contributes more than one of every three dollars of the nation’s gross domestic product. If these companies are not able to protect and capitalize upon the intellectual property they have developed, there is a ripple effect that affects jobs and workers.

Consider the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which is consistently one of the largest employers in our state, with 2,100 direct employees in Delaware. The firm’s economic benefits are felt throughout the state, creating a substantial amount of indirect jobs.

The same is true of the biopharmaceutical industry as a whole. New treatments and cures are fully dependent upon maintaining a robust patent and intellectual property system. Intellectual property is protected in the U.S. not only by patent protections but also through data exclusivity, which protects data gathered from long-term clinical testing for 12 years. This is imperative so that companies’ innovations are safeguarded from theft.

On average, pharmaceutical companies invest more than one billion dollars on researching, developing, testing and bringing each new drug to market. This has a direct connection to employment. In order to meet the rigorous standards required by the industry and federal regulations, biopharmaceutical companies hire members of North America’s Building Trades Unions to build and maintain their state-of-the-art research and manufacturing facilities.

Another reason companies hire union labor is because of the certainty provided. Facilities must be built on time, on budget and with precision. The building trades meet this challenge by spending over $1 billion training its members annually. Earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs are taught at over 1,600 training centers in all 50 states. Thus, the economic impact of intellectual property-dependent companies is apparent.

That’s why there is legitimate concern about the fragile ecosystem in which these companies exist. The strong intellectual property protections in the United States make it possible for the biopharmaceutical industry to earn a profit – even in an environment in which only one of every 10,000 drugs make it to market. That’s why companies invest here. However, when patent protections are diminished and the data exclusivity period shortened, these investment incentives are lost and so are the jobs that are so vital to tens of thousands of American workers.

We’re working closely with members of Congress like Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), who have developed and supported legislation aimed at protecting American innovation and invention. Our national support for labor needs to be translated into specific policies that will protect intellectual property and data exclusivity and continue to encourage companies to invest here and create high-quality jobs.

It is important that as a society we are able to see the bigger picture – of how creating an environment-friendly to business spurs investment, invigorates the economy and most important, puts people to work.