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What Netflix doc ‘American Factory’ means for Washington state workers

“American Factory,” an important new Netflix documentary that spotlights the looming struggle workers face in the age of automation, has extra meaning in states like Washington, where some of the biggest companies in the world are going to great lengths to make operations ever more efficient. 

The film centers on a Chinese industrial glass manufacturer, Fuyao Glass, bringing thousands of blue-collar jobs to an Ohio town devastated by the shuttering of a General Motors plant in 2008.

After a brief honeymoon period, many of the workers’ hopes are dashed as they struggle to keep up with unrealistic demands.

Panning back and forth between the Ohio factory and its counterpart in China, it becomes clear that the U.S. workers aren’t willing to go to the lengths of Fuyao’s Chinese employees to achieve productivity goals. 

When safety and environmental concerns push the workers to organize, company executives push back and crush the unionization efforts. As the documentary ends, Fuyao is replacing some of the jobs with robots. 

The story hits close to home for workers in Washington state, where nearly 20 percent of the workforce (almost 650,000 people) have union membership, according to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Washington ranked No. 3 in the country for the strength of its union membership, 

But Washington is also home to some of the most innovative companies in the world – including Boeing, Amazon and Paccar – whose increasingly automated factories, warehouses and technologies can force blue-collar workers to make tradeoffs like Fuyao’s.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us at if you have an L&I, workers’ comp, injury, or employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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