Metal stampers' take on unions: Part I

January 11, 2012

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Labor unions continue to make news. Today, sfgate.com published the article Twinkie-Maker Hostess Files for Bankruptcy Citing Pensions, which said that the baker's latest bankruptcy filing is being blamed on the weak economy and costs tied to pension- and medical-benefit obligations resulting from union agreements.

Also in the news, Oklahoma union workers are testifying against Indiana's "right to work" initiative.

Labor unions have been cited by some as major contributors toward U.S. automakers' woes and the outsourcing of jobs. Perhaps no industrial sector has suffered more from the automakers' travails than  U.S. metal stampers. Last month, "Stamping News Brief" asked its subscribers—stamping industry professionals—to take a survey about unions. Some of the results may surprise you.

The majority of survey respondents (61 percent) have never been union members. Sixty-one percent do not believe unions have a place in today's work environment; 32 percent said they do have a place, and 7 percent are undecided.

When asked if they think unions have caused U.S. jobs to disappear, 79 percent said yes; 18 percent said no, and the remaining 4 percent don't know. 

What might surprise you is that the 61 percent who have never been union members are not necessarily the same 61 percent who believe unions do not have a place in today's work environment. 

Case in point—Paul, who works for a precision stamping company that serves Fortune 500 customers, has never been a union member, yet he believes unions are necessary in today's workplace.

It's Paul's belief that "unions have not caused jobs to disappear; greedy owners and top management are the culprits. Unions are necessary to ensure the workers—the people—the heart and soul of this country—are compensated fairly. 

"Don’t forget the lessons we learned from the past before unions existed! Remember that greedy owners denied all except the upper echelon fair wages and a safe working environment. Unions are nothing more than the average Janes and Joes joining together to fight for their rights.

"We can keep good paying jobs in this country if we get off of our duffs and continue to drive productivity higher, and if we fight together to keep the few from stealing from the many. The key is we have to work hard together!" 

Nonunion member John, who works for a fitness equipment manufacturer, also thinks unions are necessary but believes they have contributed to job loss. In his opinion, "Unions need to realize that they have a responsibility to help companies be competitive. They need to help—and encourage—companies to reward productivity, not hold them back." 

Bill, who works for a company that makes aircraft parts, also has never been a union member but feels they are needed and doesn’t know if they are responsible for job loss. He said, "If unions were not needed they would not exist. There needs to be a balance between workers and management, and a union can make that happen.

"I for one would not like to see things go back to the 1920s. The problem is that unions and management must learn to work together for the overall good instead of constantly fighting over who gets the largest share. In the end the business must produce a competitive product; it takes both sides to make that happen.”

And then you have the opposite—respondents who are or have been union members and believe the organizations are responsible for job loss and are no longer needed. Dirk, who works for an Ohio-based stamping company, falls into this category. He said, "Unions are the worst thing to happen in the automotive world. The unions can make an easy task into a nightmare if they want to drag it out.

"I have worked in two union plants. The first closed. It suffered from employees sleeping, abusing FMLA, and the not-my-job attitude. The second was in the south. The union was set in its ways and was happier filing grievances over working. I will never work in a union shop again." 

Dave has a similar view, but in his opinion, another entity also bears a lot of responsibility for manufacturing's problems. "My grandfathers worked in the coal mines during the '50s and '60s. They needed the unions because the big coal companies were treating them poorly. Safety was a big issue and became a main issue due to the unions. 

"Today's unions are something else. I have worked in nonunion and union shops.  I am proud to be a productive employee that excels in whatever I do. I’m not bragging; I have been around long enough to know how I rate. 

"The union environment stifles creativity and discourages any productivity other than what they have in writing. Both union shops I worked at went out of business because they were not competitive enough.

"I feel if the unions want to survive they will need to do a 180. They need to train their workers to recognize ways to improve productivity any way they can. They would not necessarily need to work harder, just smarter. 

"They also need to address issues and union rules that reduce flexibility and productivity. I learned a long time ago that I resist change for some reason. I soon learned that quite often when something changed in the manner in which I did my job, it took getting used to, but after I got used to it, my job was actually easier to do, and it usually increased production and quality. The unions need to change, or they will be left behind.

"There is no doubt in my mind that jobs are leaving this country because of the high costs and low output of union shops.

"I also feel that the U.S. government is not helping any. They are passing new laws and restrictions on businesses every day that drive up the cost of doing business here in the U.S. They do not take in to account what these laws and restrictions come at a heavy price. The current administration is the worst I’ve ever seen. Our government needs to make manufacturing a priority and help us to be competitive in the world marketplace." 

This is just a small sampling of thoughts from SNB survey respondents on this topic. More will be featured in next week's post. Check back for Part II.

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