The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Job Killer

I suspect I’m in a relatively small percentage of white-collar professionals with advanced academic degrees who at one point in their lives were card carrying members of the UAW. My UAW membership, albeit short-lived and transitional, gave me insight into the union ethic that cannot be achieved by those who prefer to believe the Nancy Pelosi meme that unions are the solution to improved American productivity and competitiveness. She and her Democratic colleagues in the Congress are so enamored of the meme that they intend to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (a.k.a. “card check”)—an inappropriately named piece of legislation that will do more for labor unions than Jimmy Hoffa. But more on card check later.

First, a brief anecdote from my personal union experience.

I got a summer job as a sheet metal fabricator in a turbine engine manufacturing plant during the summers of my Junior and Senior years in college. I needed the money because I was putting myself through school and a factory job paid reasonably well, thanks, no doubt, to the UAW. The turbine engines made at the company were all purchased by the U.S. Government on a cost plus contract, so high labor rates were just passed along to taxpayers in the form of higher engine costs.

As the lowest of the low in my job classifiation, I was given scut work, deburring spot welds on a turbine engine stator. Each stator—picture a ring of turbine blades held in place by two concentric rings made of stainless steel—was placed in a holding fixture. My job was to use pneumatic metal working tools to polish spot welds to specification.

During my second week on the job, I was working away contentedly at my workbench when the department union rep and the shop steward approached me.

“How’s it going,” asked the union rep. I don’t think he knew my name.

Thinking that they were just greeting the new guy, I smiled and told them everything was going just fine.

“How many of these have you deburred today?” asked the steward, pointing to the stator currently sitting in my fixture.

“Uh, I think I’ve done six of ‘em.” I answered, proud that I mastered the job so quickly and hoping they might recommend to the supervisor that I be given something a bit more challenging.

“Six?” reiterated the rep, looking at the steward.

I nodded, beginning to realize that this wasn’t a social call.

You gotta slow down,” said the steward, “you don’t want to be a job killer.

I must have looked puzzled. I had never worked at a job where a person in a position of authority told me to slow down, implying that I do less work.

“Look," said the rep, mildly exasperated, “work rules say that your job class should complete 4 stators per day. It’s what, 1:00, two hours to quitting and you’ve already finished six. You’re killing the job … you understand.

I didn’t understand, actually, but I got it. I nodded slowly, not meeting his eyes.

The steward and the rep turned, and as they walked away, I sat there wondering what I was going to do for the next two hours.

Maybe things have changed dramatically over the many summers that have passed since those events took place, but my instinct tells me they have not. Labor unions are a 20th century artifact that my not be viable in a global, 21st century economy. But the Democratic leadership in Congress thinks otherwise.

Michael Barone comments as he discusses the President’s many high cost items in the proposed federal budget:
…the most grievous threat to future prosperity may be off-budget -- the inaptly named Employee Free Choice Act. Also known as card check, the legislation would effectively abolish secret ballots in unionization elections. It provides that once a majority of employees had filled out sign-up cards circulated by union organizers, the employer would have to recognize and bargain with the union. And if the two sides didn't reach agreement in a short term, federal arbitrators would impose one. Wages, fringe benefits and work rules would all be imposed by the federal government.

It's not difficult to see why union leaders want this. Union membership has fallen from more than 30 percent of the private-sector workforce in the 1950s to about 8 percent today. Union leaders would like to see that go up. So would most Democratic politicians, since some portion of union dues -- unions try to conceal how much -- goes directly or indirectly to support Democratic candidates. The unions and the Democrats want to put up a tollgate on as much of the private sector as they can, to extract money from consumers of goods and services.

In a way, "card check” will be nothing more than another form of tax paid by consumers on the goods and services they purchase. Worse, in many industries it will drive jobs off-shore, because whether Nancy Pelosi and her friends like it or not, labor markets tend to be cost sensitive, with jobs flowing to the lowest labor rate locale.

But market demand and global competition be damned. "Card check" will force employers to pay a union wages no matter what. At the same time, companies will be forced to agree to uneconomic entitlements and other benefits, not to mention work rules, that often damp productivity and competitiveness rather than enhance it. It will be the ultimate job killer in our country.

You don’t have to believe me, just take a look at GM—a long time “partner” of the UAW.