In the News Columns section of the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman takes on the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over last month’s heavy-handed attempt to force Boeing to open a second Dreamliner Line in Washington State – rather than in South Carolina where they have already spent $1 billion building a plant, and plan to hire about 1000 non-union workers.
You can read his piece here. It’s quite interesting:
Chapman covers all the points about why Boeing made that decision – which I think is completely rational and will ultimately prevail at the Supreme Court level – so I won’t recap all his points here. I will say, however, that it is becoming increasingly obvious that unions themselves and their role in free societies needs to be reexamined.
Let me be clear on this, however, I am not anti union per-se. Organized labor almost always starts from real needs and good intentions. It is the nature of human beings to be greedy, and it is a virtual certainty that any company that is not watched carefully will eventually end up under the control of unethical people who will do whatever they can to maximize their profits, regardless who or what gets hurt in the process.
Yet no one seems to realize that the same point holds true for the greedy people that manage to gain power in the unions themselves, or realize that as soon as a union gets big enough to require a paid staff to manage its affairs, its purpose inevitably shifts from representing the workers and instead becomes ensuring its own survival and growth.
A wise man once noted that “whenever you have people who are paid to feed the poor, you will have people who will not be paid if there are no poor people to feed.” If you change the words just a little bit, you can come up with a sentence that makes every bit as much sense. “Whenever you have people who are paid to fight management in the defense of workers, you will have people who will not be paid if there is nothing to fight about – so they always manage to find something.”
And boy-howdy do they! The IAM has managed to shut down Boeing five times since 1977, including a 58-day walkout in 2008 that cost the company more than $1.8 billion. This despite the fact that Europe’s Airbus has made massive inroads into what was once a totally American market and the Chinese are dead serious about breaking into international air travel as well.
Now maybe I am being a bit cynical here, but I very seriously doubt that the issues Boeing’s machinists went to the picket lines for warranted those strikes and their intendment damage to the company. An aviation machinist’s lot may not be a carefree dance through the marigold fields, but it’s scarcely the grimy sweatshop environment of yesteryear either.
Nevertheless, the demands keep coming. Better pay, more vacation time, better this, more that – each presented by the unions to the workers as life-or-death, line-in-the-sand, absolutely make-or-break must haves, because without a carefully maintained sense of crisis and conflict between workers and management, the workers might wise up and wonder just why the hell they need a union!
You’d think that maybe a little light would go off in people’s heads when Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airways said flat out “If union leaders and management can’t get their act together to avoid strikes, we’re not going to come back here again.”
Well, I gather management is trying, hence their decision to open the second 787 line in a “right-to-work” state when the unions flatly refused to consider a no strike agreement.
This brings us to last month’s decision last month by the NLRB to collaborate with the IAM in charging that Boeing’s decision violated the rights of union workers in Washington. However, when viewed through cynical eyes it’s completely obvious what is actually at stake.
You see, despite the fact that not one single union worker would be losing his or her job in Washington due to the opening of the South Carolina line (indeed, Boeing has hired more than 2,000 workers in Seattle since the decision to open the second Dreamliner line), union commissars and apparatchiks are in total panic over the idea of well-paid, well-treated machinists and aerospace workers operating a line in a state where they would not be required to cough up a significant portion of their hard-earned money to union coffers.
Look at Detroit! The American automobile industry is in total shambles and the blame for that can be laid directly at the feet of the United Auto Workers (UAW) who made it impossible for American-made vehicles to compete – not only with imports, but with American-produced foreign brands assembled in “right-to-work” states.
The UAW killed Detroit. Motown is no mo!
The IAM just might manage to kill off the American aircraft manufacturing industry the same way because if it becomes unprofitable for an industry to build their product in one location, they really have only two alternatives. They can either shut down, or they can move somewhere else.
If the IAM and the NLRB do manage to keep the South Carolina line from opening, I would not be surprised in the slightest if Boeing starts investigating the possibility of opening a subsidiary overseas. Say inJapan, maybe?
Think it won’t happen? I’m not so sure. If I was an official of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), I would be looking very carefully at ways to entice Boeing into setting up shop there.
In the aftermath of this year’s Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan’s industrial sector is in turmoil, but the nation still has vast numbers of hardworking, well-educated machinists, a sound industrial base and a proven reputation for producing high quality products. You can also bet that the Japanese government would fall all over itself to offer choice locations with alluring tax breaks.
And, while labor costs would not be significantly lower than in the United States, and may actually be higher in some cases, Japanese workers are not stupid enough to cut their own throats by walking off the job for a few nice-to-have goodies when their entire industry and thus future livelihood is in peril.
Think about it.