Published October 17. 2012 5:00PM Updated October 18. 2012 3:02PM
Montville — U.S. Senate candidate Chris Murphy on Wednesday toured the Thomas G. Faria Corp., a maker of engine gauges and instruments in Uncasville for more than 50 years, in an attempt to beef up his image as a defender of "buy American" policies, which he said add jobs to local economies.
"One major employer can make an economic difference through the area," Murphy, the 5th District Democratic congressman who opposes Republican Linda McMahon in a tightly contested Senate race, said during a brief press conference after his half-hour tour. "I plan on making this a centerpiece of my work in the United States Senate."
A spokesman for the McMahon campaign said she, too, supports the buy-American concept.
"But the hypocrisy coming from Congressman Murphy is more unbelievable than his false attacks on Linda since he had the opportunity to vote on his own Buy American legislation twice just this year, and when push came to shove he voted no," said McMahon communications director Todd Abrajano in a statement. "Clearly, Congressman Murphy's Buy American rhetoric is just that — campaign rhetoric. It's nothing more than a slogan because if it wasn't he would have voted for his own bill in Congress."
Murphy has said that his votes against his legislation, which was part of larger defense-budget authorization and appropriation bills, were meant to protest the expense of the prolonged war in Afghanistan. He also has promised that his buy-American ideals are more than rhetoric. As founder of the Congressional Buy American Caucus, Murphy said he is serious about seeing that U.S. companies get a fair shake when it comes to gaining government contracts, particularly for defense work.
Murphy said the government needs to be more circumspect when awarding contracts, rather than handing them out based solely on price. Sending work to foreign countries can cut U.S. jobs, he said, and ultimately may cost taxpayers more by driving down local economies. When the hidden higher payments for unemployment compensation, Medicare and other programs are figured in, any savings is likely erased, he said.
Murphy said people who work at manufacturing plants need stronger Buy American legislation that would create more jobs. The current law, the Buy American Act of 1933, is virtually useless to protect American jobs, such as those at Faria, he said.
"The current Buy American law is toothless," he said. "They've built in so many loopholes that the exception is the rule."
The workforce at Faria, which had held at more than 320 several years ago, is down to 150, driven largely by a dramatic dropoff nationwide in the production of new boats, said David M. Hickey, company president and chief executive officer. Company employees also have faced furloughs.
"We're dying here," Hickey said.
Faria, which traditionally has relied on its line of boat gauges to supply half of its business, has plans to diversify into commercial and industrial equipment, which is less reliant on a booming economy. The company also is hoping to land a $20 million contract to provide gauges for a next-generation light tactical vehicle to replace the U.S. military's Humvees.
"I cannot imagine why the U.S. government would want that contract to go to a foreign competitor," Murphy said.
But Hickey said American manufacturers such as Faria are often shut out of the competition based solely on cost considerations. His competitors for the Humvee replacement contract include companies from France and Germany as well as an American company whose manufacturing largely has moved to Mexico, he said
Hickey said winning the $20 million defense contract would allow him to add up to 75 jobs at the local Faria plant. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced last month that Faria would add 85 jobs tied to a $3.5 million low-interest loan the state awarded to the company.
Hickey said in an interview after Murphy’s press conference that 50 of those jobs would be related to the pending acquisition of an unnamed out-of-state company. A few key employees from the company likely would be retained, Hickey said, but most of the new manufacturing positions would be open to local workers.
Hickey said Faria has yet to see any money from the state, so no new jobs are opening up now.