Since he left Wall Street in 1996, Ron Bloom has ushered two United Steelworkers presidents through a painful era of industry bankruptcies and mergers and, since February, has served on a task force overseeing the restructuring of the hemorrhaging auto industry.
Now, he's bringing his experience as an investment banker and a union organizer directly to President Barack Obama as a senior counselor of manufacturing policy, the president announced during his address at AFL-CIO's Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati yesterday.
In this position, Mr. Bloom will be working with the Commerce, Treasury, Labor and Energy departments to develop "new initiatives affecting manufacturing," the White House said. Mr. Bloom will maintain his position as a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and will continue to serve on the President's Task Force on the Automotive Industry.
In his speech, the president called American manufacturing "the sector that helped build the middle class."
"Ron has worked with steelworkers, service employees and management to create new jobs. He's helped guide my auto task force. And, as my new point person on manufacturing, he'll help us craft the policies that will create the next generation of manufacturing jobs and ensure American competitiveness in the 21st century," he said, according to text provided by the White House.
Mr. Bloom has been lauded by his former colleagues as a man who combines a passion for reviving America's manufacturing sector with a highly sophisticated understanding of financial systems. When he joined the USW as an assistant to union President George Becker, he brought an unprecedented level of financial credibility to the bargaining table.
Before joining the USW, the Harvard Business School graduate had been an investment banker and a founding partner of the investment banking firm Keilin and Bloom, which dealt with some labor-related issues. Before business school, he worked for the Service Employees International Union.
Current USW President Leo Gerard described him as a man with the exceptional ability to relate to people across the spectrum.
"He can explain complicated financial formulas to presidents, CEOs and to a worker on a shop floor, and that's a gift that not many people have," he said.
Tony Taccone, a partner in First River Consulting and a strategy consultant for the steel industry who worked with Mr. Bloom, called Mr. Bloom "low-key" in spite of his Harvard credentials and his Wall Street background.
Mr. Gerard said he still lives in the North Hills and commutes to Washington, D.C., frequently in a "beat-up Ford" that's at least a decade old.
Since USW represents paper, rubber and energy industry workers now, in addition to steelworkers, Mr. Gerard said Mr. Bloom will bring a wide range of experience to the position.
Most important, Mr. Gerard said, is Mr. Bloom's belief that the manufacturing is an essential part to rebuilding the economy.
"He really passionately, passionately understands and believes that America has to re-establish its industrial might to continue to be a world leader," he said.
Mr. Gerard said he hoped the appointment means the Obama administration is taking a serious look at how to address job losses in the manufacturing sector. He would like to see Mr. Bloom examine trade policies and to look at ways to encourage companies to stop sending jobs overseas.
"He's found someone with a unique set of skills to start dealing with it," he said. "It makes me a little bit more optimistic."
Moriah Balingit can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2533.