Optimism among manufacturers has surged to nearly 88% — the highest reading since 2019 — up from 74% in the fourth quarter of 2020 and about 34% in the first quarter, according to the National Association of Manufacturers' first 2021 survey of 450 different manufacturing companies released Tuesday.
"As vaccines roll out at a faster pace and we see signs of an improving economy, manufacturers' optimism is rising fast," said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. "Our industry is creating new jobs and investing in new projects, buoyed by signs that we may finally be getting COVID-19 under control."
He added that manufacturers know their industry is "not out of the woods yet," which is why they "continue to lead by example, wearing face coverings and promoting vaccination."
The top two biggest challenges manufacturers currently face include increased costs of raw materials (76%) and the inability to attract and retain talent (66%), according to the survey. Many manufacturers are optimistic about higher production (50%) and employment (38%) compared to the end of 2020.
The survey also found, however, that nearly 97% of manufacturers are worried that the Biden-backed PRO Act would have a negative impact on business operations and employee relations.
"I strongly encourage the House to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, which would dramatically enhance the power of workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions," Biden said in a statement, citing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on businesses and the importance of "rebuilding unions."
The bill would allow the National Labor Relations Board to fine employers who violate workers' rights, ease restrictions against worker strikes, follow California's new independent contractor law and erode right-to-work laws in 27 states that have been in place since the 1950s.
Opponents of the bill fear that it would threaten U.S. right-to-work laws that ensure that Americans can work specific jobs without having to join unions or pay union dues.
"When you consider the harm that it will do to the employer-employee relationship, it's clear the PRO Act is anti-worker," Timmons said. "As the latest Manufacturers' Outlook Survey highlights, manufacturers have deep concerns about the PRO Act's intrusions on worker privacy and restrictions on workplace communication—among many other issues."
He added that the PRO Act would "make it harder for manufacturers to thrive and more difficult to foster positive, inclusive workplace cultures."
"Manufacturers recognize and support workers' federally-protected right to collectively bargain," he said. "But the PRO Act will upend the modern workplace, and it could set back our industry, our workers and their families at a time when optimism is finally on the rise."