With the new span of the Bay Bridge in the background, members of a new campaign that launched Monday called "Should Be Made in America" pointed at the icon under construction as "the most egregious example" of what they're talking about.
The steel in the signature suspension structure, they said, should have and could have come from the United States instead of a factory near Shanghai, China. It would have been a boon for this country's economy and labor market, been more environmentally friendly and not supported exploitative labor practices overseas, said Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which mounted the campaign,
Paul placed the blame on former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for looking at foreign sources of steel to cut costs on the project, currently estimated at $1.7 billion.
"It was a stupid, shortsighted decision, and one we hope is never repeated by a governor anywhere or at anytime," Paul said.
Paul said it's critical to get the message out now because trillions of dollars' worth of infrastructure repair projects will be necessary throughout the country in the next decade.
He said the goals of the campaign are threefold.
One is to tighten federal "Buy American" legislation, which mandates federal dollars go to domestic companies over foreign competitors, provided they are not outbid by more than 25 percent.
A second is to encourage similar provisions at the state level, something that's being considered or already passed in 20 states, Paul said.
The third is to put pressure on public officials to support using domestic companies at every level, and that aspect includes a shaming element.
"If you are willing to outsource projects overseas, we're willing to put up a billboard in your neighborhood telling taxpayers you did just that," Paul said. "Any of our leaders willing to outsource jobs to China could find one of our billboards next to their shiny new project."
Two such billboards went up late last week, one visible to drivers coming off the Bay Bridge, the other off Interstate 880 near High Street in Oakland.
They feature a bright red Chinese flag and state "The Bay Bridge 100% foreign steel" along with the movement's website, MadeInAmerica.com.
Paul said the billboard refers only to the "signature" portion of the bridge, the new suspension span.
Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney called the billboards misleading and "a slap in the face to the Americans working on that bridge." He said all the concrete in the bridge and more than 70 percent of the steel is from the United States.
"The (signature span) has the largest amount of foreign steel in it because there were no American steel fabricators that bid on the job," Ney wrote in an email.
Ney added that the billboards' short message and news releases from the Alliance for American Manufacturing leave out a lot of facts. He said plenty of the labor and materials came from domestic sources, as well as foreign-based companies not in China.
"They don't mention Norway, England, Japan, Korea or Italy that joined China," he said.
"This is an American project, with American leaders, and it's also a world-class bridge," he said. "We have contributions coming in from all around."
Paul said his group plans to erect more billboards in coming months, but would not specify what sites or projects would be targeted.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.