He's best known for his portrayal of nerdy mailman Cliff Clavin on "Cheers."
But actor John Ratzenberger has taken on a new role as an advocate for U.S. manufacturing -- a calling that brings him to Buffalo to lead an open meeting about trade on Thursday. "I truly believe the foundation of who we are is manufacturing, regardless of what Hollywood believes," he said in a telephone interview.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing, led by the United Steelworkers of America and union-represented steel companies, will hold the "Keep it Made in America" event in downtown Buffalo.
Ratzenberger, host of the "Made in America" program on the Travel Channel, will host the event, leading a panel talk and discussing his own experiences touring U.S. factories for the TV program.
The meeting is the fifth in a series in the Northeast and Midwest. It is designed to raise public awareness of trade issues in advance of primary voting, organizers said.
"This is not just preaching to the choir," said William Pienta, District 4 director of the Steelworkers union. "We're trying to get the entire community, be they business people, politicians or working people."
The event is to start at 5 p.m. Thursday in Asbury Hall at Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave. Participants should register by calling toll-free, (866) 365-2203. Attendance is free.
The program is to begin at 6:30 p.m., following a dinner. Organizers expect about 700 people to attend.
"What people take away [from the event] is that there are other people thinking what they're thinking," Ratzenberger said.
Previous events were held in Manchester, N.H.; Des Moines, Iowa; Columbus, Ohio, and Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh meeting was described as an anti-trade rally in a Reuters report. China came under heavy criticism as a cheater on trade rules. Attendees were prompted to ask presidential candidates what they would do to hold China accountable, the report said.
The labor-manufacturing group decries the erosion of factory jobs as bad for the economy and for national security. The nation's factories have lost 3 million jobs in the past six years, or 17 percent of their total.
The alliance is a non-partisan group that works to raise awareness of trade's impact on voters and their communities, Pienta said.
"We hope that when candidates talk and ask for our support, we make them raise the issue of trade," he said.
Ratzenberger, 60, grew up in a blue-collar family in Bridgeport, Conn., the son of a fuel-truck driver. His "Made in America" program has toured plants that make Gibson Guitars, Campbell's Soup and other iconic brands.
He said he has been energized by manufacturing issues for years. His Nuts and Bolts and Thingamajigs foundation supports camps where kids learn manual skills.
"Growing up where I did, my heroes actually made things," he said. When asked to do the cable show, "I jumped at it," he said. "I wanted to thank the people who make things."
One mission of the meeting is to show how issues like the environment and the economy connect with manufacturing, he said. For example, since trading partners face lower environmental standards than their U.S. competitors, pollution is a by-product of an import-centric economy.
"It's the same ozone, the same water; it's the same air," Ratzenberger said.
One remedy for U.S. manufacturing would be to remove the stigma from a factory career.
"We should resume shop courses in schools and start honoring kids who choose to be tradesmen, instead of making fun of them," Ratzenberger said.