Unemployment benefits or a factory job?

March 28, 2012

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If you’re a regular reader of The Fabricator Blog, you may have seen the post about wages that drew comments from both employers and workers—both those who think current wages are fine and those who don't. 

These comments also offered opinions about why employers may be having such a difficult time finding workers, even with today's high unemployment rate. 

"C" said, "I will tell you why [workers aren't taking factory jobs]. It is because they can work at Wal-Mart or any number of warehouse or even office jobs for the same money that is being offered to skilled labor and work in air-conditioning instead of 115-plus degree welding shops. I personally worked at the local Wal-Mart making a little over $10 an hour and it was 4 miles from my home.

"Why would someone expect you to work in a job that pays only slightly more in a difficult environment with little to no chance of advancement or increases in pay and typically not close to home for a whopping $2 an hour more? It's not that they are working somewhere else for more; it's that they are working easier jobs for the same money. The point is that you can't reasonably expect skilled labor to accept the work load/conditions for what is pretty much starting pay at many nonskilled labor jobs." 

Similar thought were expressed in a recent series of articles on cnn.com.

One article—“I have jobs, but no one wants them”—highlighted MCM Composites LLC, Manitowoc, Wis.  Writing about his business, owner Michael J. Fredrich said, "We're a small business manufacturing custom thermoset composite moldings. We run our factory 24 hours a day, four days a week and sometimes on Friday.

"Lately, we have had to lock our front office doors. People receiving unemployment benefits are required to show that they have put some effort into finding work. Some show up at our offices to fulfill this requirement—usually on a Friday. So we lock our doors to avoid them. We’re resorted to only hiring people who have worked 90 days for a temporary staffing agency.

"We have about 60 employees and are looking to hire four more. The jobs are entry-level press operator jobs. They are not difficult. The presses run on automatic, but someone needs to inspect and clean the parts when they are produced by the machine.

"And we offer a competitive wage: $8.50 to $9.50 an hour. The $8.50 is just the starting wage. After 90 days we increase it to $9.50 to $10 an hour.

"But many people add up their constantly renewed unemployment, food stamps and housing assistance and realize that they can make as much not working, as working.

"We could raise wages to $100 an hour, fill the positions and then go out of business, taking all our jobs with us.

"Not being able to remain fully staffed means we may not meet our performance delivery standards all of the time. That makes us less competitive. We are creating a permanently dependent class of people in the country who won’t ever want to work again. Harsh talk, but that's our experience." 

Fredrich and "C' both have valid points. I've witnessed them firsthand. A close relative, "Sam," recently began working in a flooring factory. He acquired the job through a staffing agency at a starting wage of $8.50 an hour. Ninety days after his start date, he will be an official employee of the company and will receive a nominal wage increase.

Roughly a dozen people started at the same time as Sam. After a week, only Sam and one other person from this group remained. The working conditions include a breakneck pace and sweltering heat—and it isn't even summer.

Gloves the company provided Sam were not effective when it came to preventing splinters. He visited the local Lowe's to buy his own. 

Not all factories are the same, but it's conditions such as these that contribute to manufacturing's image problems.

Sam is sticking it out, because he has a family to support, and his employers have told him that he's doing a great job.  However, he is keeping his eyes and ears open for a less physically demanding job that pays as much or more. Who can blame him? I can't. And in this case, neither should his employer. 

It's a sad day when unemployment benefits seem preferable to an honest day's work.

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Vicki Bell

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