Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | June 20, 2011

NLRB tried to save America from dumb, unskilled Southern workers

I had to check my paper copy of the Wall Street Journal today to make sure this wasn’t some elaborate prank.  Then I double-checked what year it is, to make sure I hadn’t been slingshotted around the sun and found myself back in 1975.

That’s about when I remember it last being routine for Rust Belt lawyers to publicly disparage the skills and education of people from the South.  The only thing missing from the op-ed by Chicago-based lawyer Thomas Geoghegan is the word “hick” or “hillbilly.”  WSJ is to be applauded for its determination to feature different viewpoints, but Geoghegan’s piece certainly pushes the envelope.

The topic is the NLRB ruling against Boeing moving its assembly plant for the Dreamliner to South Carolina.  And it really is as bad as my intro suggests.  Go read it, if you think I may be cherry-picking or making a mountain out of a molehill.  I’ll wait.  OK, here’s that last paragraph again:

Most depressing of all, Boeing’s move would send a market signal to those considering a career in engineering or high-skilled manufacturing …: Don’t go to engineering school, don’t bother with fancy apprenticeships, don’t invest in skills.

In case you miss the point of the piece, here’s another go at it:  “We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force.”

And this:

… because of [our] trade deficit, foreign creditors have the country in their clutches. That’s not because of our labor costs … It’s because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.

And Boeing wants to turn the manufacture of airplanes – airplanes! – over to these poorly educated, low-skilled workers in South Carolina.

Here’s a weird fact, though.  There is already a plant manufacturing rear-fuselage elements for Boeing in South Carolina.  (The Dreamliner final-assembly plant that opened 10 June is located next to it.)  South Carolina also has a BMW plant, a Honda plant, a Bosch plant, a Caterpillar plant, an American LaFrance plant (fire engines and ambulances), and a Daimler plant, all employing highly-skilled labor to manufacture big, intricate stuff that has to work.  That’s in addition to the Milliken, BASF, GE, Core, Bose, BP, DAK, DuPont, Eastman, Mitsubishi, Albemarle, MeadWestvaco, PhilChem, Roche, Mount Vernon Mills, Invista, Metromont, Johns Manville, Alcoa, Kimberly-Clark, Shaw, Jarrett, Mohawk, Anderson, AccuTrex, Sonoco, and Cox Industries plants – and those are just the ones I recognized by industry as I looked through the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance website.  I left out a bunch of other ones.

Should I go on?  If Southern manufacturing workers are a national liability, we’re in big trouble.  All those aircraft engines being mishandled at the Pratt & Whitney plant in Georgia.  Shoddy VWs and Nissans coming out of Tennessee, Hyundai clunkers being puked out of Alabama, lousy Kias flooding the market from Georgia, Toyota risking its customers on the gap-toothed th’owbacks who show up with employment applications in Mississippi.

Texas is going to get us all killed: there are 248 separate listings for aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturers just in the Dallas area alone.  And let’s not even get started on all the scary, substandard manufacturing going on in North Carolina, where Honda headquarters its global aircraft-components manufacturing, and thousands of non-agricultural manufacturers are heaving chemicals, plastics, textiles, engine parts, computer parts, airplane and vehicle parts, and who know what else at an unsuspecting market every day of the year.

It’s a meltdown.  So many things are now manufactured in the poorly educated, low-skilled South, it’s a wonder you’re not dead yet.

Just a couple of sober points.  One, the South Carolina average manufacturing wage of $14 an hour isn’t what the most experienced workers, with the most difficult skill-sets and the longest time on the job, make.  Calculating the state’s average wage (for all “production” workers) takes into account lower-wage workers like food processors ($8-12 per hour), sewing-machine operators ($10 an hour), and furniture finishers ($11 an hour).

But first-line supervisors in equipment manufacturing plants make over $25 an hour. Computerized-machine operators in manufacturing make over $20 an hour; operators of grinding, lapping, buffing, and polishing machines make over $19 an hour, and welders, solderers, and brazers make $16-17 an hour.  The average skilled manufacturing worker in an industry like Boeing’s is making $16-21 an hour in South Carolina – and that’s an average.  Some workers make more, depending on skills, seniority, and position.

The average in Washington State, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $16.75 per hour, for all “production” workers in the same period (figures are for 2010).  Mr. Geoghegan pulls the demagogue’s trick of comparing the South Carolina state average with the union pay of some (not all) Boeing workers in Washington.  The actual wage differential for the same types of work is $1-3 an hour – not $14.

The second point relates to Geoghegan’s discussion of the Boeing “retaliation” against past worker strikes in Washington.  Geoghegan makes the supremely cynical case that if the CEO of Boeing had simply kept his mouth shut about moving to South Carolina because of the cost of strikes in Washington, he could have brought off the move without interference from the Feds.

But it is a corrupt kind of “law” that can be gotten around so easily.  The purpose of properly-constituted law is not to show meaningless solidarity with unions.  It is to define what government will prosecute and punish.  Law that has to be ignored, gamed, and gotten around in order for human life to function – and law that can be ignored, gamed, and gotten around – loses the respect of the people, and corrupts their consciences and the consciences of government officials.  If the law in question is so unlikely to be enforced, then the most important point of all is that we don’t need it in the first place.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

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Responses

  1. nice try, but no cigar.

    the complaint is about moving production out of skilled and experienced hands and into unskilled and inexperienced ones in order to depress wages.

    but if you wanta proudly whistle “Dixie’” you’re welcome to do so, long’s you don’t scare the horses.

    • When did they uninvent the car? Admittedly, Washington state to South Carolina’s quite a haul, but it seems to me that a highly-skilled airplane engineer probably has the skills necessary to load a U-haul and move where his skills are needed.

      • Good question, Benzene265, and thanks for joining the fray. My apologies for the delay in admitting your comment. There’s a one-time “approval” for new commenters. Don’t be shy! Welcome.

  2. “the complaint is about moving production out of skilled and experienced hands and into unskilled and inexperienced ones”

    And it’s an invalid complaint, as demonstrated by the numerous high-skill manufacturers who have located in South Carolina and are successfully producing quality products.

    • arguable. the quality of products produced is not entirely the result of the labor, as you might be expected to understand.
      new plants and new techniques can mask the decline in quality of the labor and allow for a good product while the workers acquire skill.

      but you’ve still dragged your red herring across the trial rather than directly addressed what the guy said.

      • I disagree. The article was overwhelming about how the quality of the product will be less. Geoghegan points that this will be due to workers of the plant in South Carolina, will be less skilled than the ones in the Washington state. Thomas Geoghegan gives no evidence the skill of the workers will be less than the ones in Washington other than his erroneous numbers relating to pay (Which she took to task).

        Your initial post claims that the manufacturing is going into unskilled hands. Dyer points out that production will be at a plant that Boeing already using to make rear-fuselage elements. There is no reason to believe these are going to unskilled workers. The point is moot since all aircraft, regardless of where it’s built, have to go through a inspection by the FAA.

        The argument of Boeing moving the production to South Carolina because they can pay someone less to do the same job (Or depress wages)…. I don’t see the problem with that? If I had 2 qualified people bidding to painting my house, I’d hire the cheaper of the two. Even if this was a argument that Boeing made, why shouldn’t they try to keep costs down?

        • BigRichardSmall — welcome, and my apologies that your post went to the spam queue and I just got to it. I think it has to do with the moniker (Big and Small together in the user name probably sound naughty to the anti-spam software.)

          But you’re “approved” now, so any comments should post automatically. I agree: no case whatsoever is made that South Carolina workers have inferior skill levels. The very wide variety of high-end, brand-name manufacturing in South Carolina would argue that the opposite is the case.

        • biggie, my initial comment was a reiteration of the complaint in the article.

          –”Yet the Boeing case has a scarier aspect missed by conservatives: Why is Boeing, one of our few real global champions in beefing up exports, moving work on the Dreamliner from a high-skill work force ($28 an hour on average) to a much lower-wage work force ($14 an hour starting wage)? Nothing could be a bigger threat to the economic security of this country.
          We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force”—

          the complaint isn’t mine just as the claim is not my own.
          however, I’ll buy in to the extent of venturing that you’re not usually expecting to get the same level of experience and/or quality of work (in the same country) when you pay $14/hr instead of $28/hr.

          and again, Dyer is chasing her own rear-fuselage element and tying her self in knots knocking Geoghagan as knocking the South when that’s not what he’s doing.and she damn well knows it or damn well should.
          she’s a real little Miss Character here.

          • I think it’s fairer to say more bang for the buck. It’c cheaper to live here in the south, so in reality the value of the wages paid here is more. Best of both worlds. Product is just as well made (and perhaps even better made as southerners tend to put more pride into their endeavors) and cheaper to produce, sell, or buy.

            • Welcome, dismal. Sorry about the delay in your comment appearing, but you’re “approved” now, so you comments should all post directly from now on.

  3. Geoghagen says that this would be a non-story if only the Boeing CEO hadn’t opened his big mouth and shouted “Fire!” in a crowded theater. But try and find a quote by Jim McNerney that addresses the move. The faultless NY Times printed this:

    ” The N.L.R.B. asserted that on numerous occasions Boeing officials had communicated an unlawful motive for transferring the production line, including an interview with The Seattle Times in which a Boeing executive said, “The overriding factor was not the business climate. And it was not the wages we’re paying today. It was that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years.”

    The unions should really be filing suit against the HVAC industry, since the movement of manufacturing to the American South has exploded with the development of efficient air conditioning. Imagine what the population of Phoenix would be without AC. My guess is maybe 50,000 in the summer, like it was in pre-AC 1935.

    Also: http://m.nctimes.com/mobile/article_caaa216b-e4d0-5075-85ff-f9ee317e875e.html

  4. Fuster, where is your proof that these “new hands” are at all unskilled? The fact that starting wages (in some cases) are lower? Having worked for a staffing firm that has supplied workers to some of the firms listed, I can assure you, that while wages may be lower, it in no way means that said workers were unskilled. Quite to the contrary, I hired numerous engineers, welders, machinists, project managers, etc. who were all well educated, had quite a bit of experience, or both. Just because a person makes 25 dollars and hour or more is certainly no guarantee that they know their butt from a hole in the ground.

  5. sarahfrederick — welcome. Thanks for your comment from an inside perspective.

    Looking back over my piece, I think I buried the real story about comparative wages in the details. I could have emphasized it better: the wage differential between Washington and South Carolina is NOT $28 versus $14 an hour for the same work. On average, it’s $16.75 versus $14 an hour for the same work. The Washington worker who is being paid $28 an hour would be paid $25 an hour for the same work in South Carolina. Average line workers in South Carolina who would be paid $16-21 an hour are earning only $1-3 less than their counterparts in Washington would make. The “$28 versus $14″ comparison is invalid.

  6. Just for the sake of discussion, our entry level workers at BMW started at 12.00 an hour, but were bumped up to 14.00 upon permanent placement. Our Fuji workers were the same. Textiles, such as Miliken, started around 9.00 but again, increased upon hire. These are very competitive starting wages for entry level in SC and even temp. Workers were offered benefit packages. Our training programs and the companies training programs were very good and structured to promote internal promotion. The idea that my workers were unskilled bumpkins grates a bit. Thank you for your concise rebuttal to this arrogant fool’s suppositions.

    • Hi Sarah,

      The real comparison isn’t between $14 in Seattle and $12 in South Carolina. The real comparison is between $12 in South Carolina and whatever Chinese or other Asian workers can do the job for.

  7. Why should the Feds get involved in a private business decision on where to expand or operate?
    Should Boeing be able to expand in New Mexico? South Dakota? Virginia?
    The unions should be able to make any demands they wish. They should be able to strike anytime they wish. They should be able to price themselves out of the market if they wish. The should be able to become obsolete and outmoded if they wish.
    Boeing should be able to operate their business where they wish.
    The unions are on the losing end of history. Their time is over.
    The private sector union percentage of the work force has been shrinking for 60 years. This isn’t a secret.
    Look for the union label. You can find one on the Chevy Volt.

    • Of course Boeing should be able to operate where they wish. I bet that within 5 years the cheap jobs in SC will be gone and Boeing will be manufacturing 90% of the components in their civil airliners in even cheaper China and Indonesia where they won’t need to bother themselves with either unions or US laws relating to working conditions, workplace safety, or working hours. I can’t wait.

  8. Two things: the engineers, AKA “highly-skilled workers” I placed at FujiFilm started at 21 and 23 dollars an hour. ENTRY LEVEL BMW workers (once hired perm) start at 14. Fuster is comparing two different levels or workers. Two: in unionized states starting wages are in no way an indicator of a “highly-skilled” worker. They indicate a higher wage dictated by the union. In other words, an entry level worker starting at 20 an hour in a union state is not necessarily more skilled or educated.

    • keep digging your hole sarah, trying to keep the comparison to a single point, but it ain’t fuster that you’re attempting to rebut, it’s Geoghegan et al.

      • And the Chinese will do it just as well for half the US non-union rate. And so on………

        • Nobody is going to assemble airplanes in China when the North Koreans will do a better job and work for peanuts.

          • The NKs don’t have the skills, infrastructure, industrial organization, or market access to make commercial airliners. The Chinese manifestly do. Their first entirely indiginous planes will be coming to the airshows in 2015, and to the market on the following year.

            • thanks for the info. I hadn’t realized that a country could produce long-range rockets and not airframes.
              I’m ignorant that way.

              • Yeah, you sure, sure, are.

                Any state can, with sufficient determination, manufacture expensive and sophisticated weaponary if cost and absolute callousness with regards to the economic consequences for the population aren’t issues.

                Successfully producing and selling a COMMERCIAL product is another matter entirely.

                (Who exactly is going to certify a NK commercial airliner? And who will buy it from a UN embargoed state? – get a grip)

              • well, all the NorKs got to do is slap a Boeing sticker on them airframes.

                they’ve done extremely well in the past producing $100 bills that are better made than the ones that we produce.

              • Stop digging.

              • not digging, P, leveling.

              • You are about to emerge into the light somewhere in the south Indian Ocean.

  9. Peter Kirsanow, a former member of the NLRB, has this at The Corner:

    In a typical “runaway shop” case, the employer moves some or all of the work work presently being performed in its unionized Mayberry facility to a nonunion facility in Green Acres. The employer does this to avoid the costs and restrictions related to being unionized. The employer moves the work without giving the union an opportunity to bargain about labor costs and make them more competitive with the nonunion operation. The union plant is either completely shut down or some of the operations are eliminated, often with machinery and other equipment being transferred to the nonunion shop. Invariably, some or all of the employees in the Mayberry facility lose their jobs.

    In the above scenario, the NLRB may issue a “restoration” order, requiring the employer to return to the status quo ante and give the union an opportunity to bargain in an effort to retain the jobs in Mayberry. In the Boeing case, however, no existing work or machinery was transferred from Washington to South Carolina, no unionized Washington employees lost their jobs (in fact 2,000 jobs were added), and the General Counsel doesn’t even allege that Boeing refused to bargain with the union in violation of Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act. As former NLRB chairman William Gould says, the General Counsel’s complaint is unprecedented.

    http://theoptimisticconservative.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/nlrb-tried-to-save-america-from-dumb-unskilled-southern-workers/

  10. Sorry, wrong link!

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/270089/boeings-threat-american-enterprise-peter-kirsanow

  11. This NLRB/Boeing travesty is an egregious display of political favoritism that makes one almost sick to their stomach. However, I wonder if this isn’t a terrible move for Democrats and “blue” states in the long run. In light of this, if a future someone is starting a business, why in god’s name would they start it in a union state if they had a choice not to? I’d be looking specifically to what Boeing is going through and decide that I don’t want to risk such a thing happening to me and my company.

    Obama probably does not care, as all he’s likely concerned about right now more than anything else is getting himself a 2nd term. He seemed willing to throw congressional Dems under the bus to get Obamacare passed, so it would would fit that Obama was willing to throw future faceless Dems under the bus to help secure his political fortunes.

    Not so surprising all this given Obama’s legendary narcissism.

  12. Good on Boeing.

    But why stop at South Carolina? Why not do what Dell did? Lest you forgot, Dell didn’t like the wages our self-indulgent US workers thought they deserved. Neither did they like US tax rates (required to pay our bloated military and their cushy pensions), so they moved their biggest manufacturing plant to lower wage, low (12%) corporation tax, Ireland. Then they moved much of their R & D to Ireland where there was a well-educated English-speaking workforce. Then they discovered that Eastern Europeans were prepared to work at half the irish rate, so they shut their Irish plant and moved manufacturing to Poland. Then they discovered that the Chinese would do the job for half the Polish rate, and Dell is now in the process of moving it’s manufacturing out of Poland and into China. In the meantime they have realized that India is turning out zillions of English-speaking university graduates who are just gagging to do R&D for a quarter of what US grads, and half of what Irish grads demand for high-level research and development. And so it goes…………

    The world doesn’t owe Washington State workers a living. Neither does it owe South Carolina a living. Or anywhere else in the US, come to think of it. The Chinese and Indians can now do it for a fraction of the price – even high tech manufacturing and R&D. And if we impose trade-protection to protect the overpaid workers of South Carolina we are cutting our own throats because the US market is a decreasing percentage of world trade, and major growth in the future will be in Asia. We depend on export trade for our standard of living.

    China is co-operating with EADS (the Airbus people) in establishing its own civil aviation manufacturing base. The first of this new generation of Chinese airliners will hit the airshows in 2015. After that, I wouldn’t put a dime on the future of the South Carolina jobs. Boing will have to move manufacturing to Asia or go to the wall (Unless the workers in SC are prepared to work for Chinese rates). Of course, as we all join in this race to the bottom, who will generate the value-added to pay the taxes to fund our bloated military and their bloated pensions?

    • p.s. Its all Obama’s fault.

  13. Paulite -the only reason Boeing moved is because their customers were beginning to refuse to business with them because of the work stoppages. Staying in Washington meant losing business. The movement of work to less expensive climes has been going on forever. I presume when you have work done you look for the most expensive service and product you can find, without regard for its quality or convenience. My guess is you don’t.

    I don’t shop at Walmart hardly at all – most of their high end stuff they sell is built to break soon because they are not willing to pay for quality features they feel aren’t important to their customers. Their produce spoils quickly and their beef tastes terrible.

    But guess what, consumers overall spend alot of money with them, so despite the truths (well the beef you can always argue is opinion, the others are facts, lol!) that I hold dear, the purses and wallets of America are saying something else. So you can wax eloquent regarding the race to the bottom – it isn’t. It’s just business.

    • Of course its just business. I always go for the best deal. But increasingly the best deal is one that is produced by Chinese labour. Boeing is soon going to realize that even its non-unionized South Carolina workforce is unsustainable in the face of foreign competition. Under free trade rules most manufacturing is uneconomic in the US – even at South Carolina rates.
      When the South Carolina jobs go to Asia – as surely they will – there won’t be any one to shed any tears for them. But you and I will be able to enjoy our cheap flights on Chinese made Boeings.

  14. By the way – the byproduct of all of this will be the creation of more right to work states. So in the long run, this will just speed the demise of the unions. Once you can no longer force people to join a union to work, their power is kaput.

    That will be a fine day.

    • Particularly if you have a fat and secure government paycheck or pension.

    • yeah JEM, the union should be dissolved and the states can hang separately.

  15. I have an even better idea. Why stop at the $16 (or whatever) wage-slaves at Boeing? Why can’t we outsource military “intelligence” to US corporations who could be free to employ people who don’t require enormous salaries to get out of bed in the morning, or demand gold-plated taxpayer-funded pensions in the prime of their working-lives? And, lets face it, they couldn’t do any worse than the current overpaid shower who failed to predict the “Arab Spring”, and who took a decade to locate bin Laden in his hacienda at Wisteria Drive, Abbotabad?

    I’m beginning to warm to this idea of tackling the sacred cows in our labour-market.

  16. [...] to goodness, if this doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will. Yet the Boeing case has a scarier aspect missed by conservatives: Why is [...]


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