Today, The Town Talk reported that Union Tank Car — our area’s only recent foray into the realm of blue collar manufacturing jobs– has fired 50 of their approximately 600 workers. The official term used, of course, is lay-off, but these job cuts were applied with a caveat that employees would not be eligible for rehire, pending future production increases. I suppose with moving into the blue collar labor market, we get to learn the realities of that market…that is, when the companies don’t need labor, they will ditch our workers quickly.
So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves at least 50 of us, their partners, families, and friends thinking of January rent or mortgage payments, when they should be thinking of Christmas presents. For the rest of us, it certainly must leave us asking whether this should stand as is. We, as a community and a State, gave UTLX everything short of the kitchen sink (they apparently didn’t ask for one at the time) in exchange for their opening the plant and employing a minimum of 800 employees within two years. They never made that number. In fact, their workforce only approached 75% of their promised level and not all of those were the full-time/benefits/pension jobs they had promised. So, now we have a company that did not keep their end of a golden goose deal, then after weaseling through a reprieve from local taxpayers, they reward us with cutting 50 more of those jobs. Scrooge needs a visit from taxpayers past.
The employment issue we are now facing as a nation is only likely to get worse. How it will all play out is unclear, but there is more to come. This week, Bank of America announced that is would eliminate 35,000 jobs over the next three years. When you think about it, this is a HUGE number. Just within that company, if you divide this up by the number of years (3) and the number of working hours during a year (around 2000) that means that if you spread them out, five Bank of America employees will lose their jobs every single day for the next 3 years!
OK, so what’s this really have to do with us? Well, everything.
We have allowed this situation to develop. We, as a voting, working, and buying public have virtually thrown away all of the labor advances achieved by previous generations in the early part of the last century.
We have some serious problems with our present economic model. We have allowed companies to pursue a Race to the Bottom. This term has been used for over a decade to describe the legal system that allows corporations to move their operations to locales at the bottom of the wage ladder, bottom of the tax system, bottom of the environmental standards…and coincidentally, usually the bottom of the world.
We have lost our willingness to exercise the power of our dollars and of our votes. For decades, government has worked for business, whereas previous generations demanded that government ensure that business work for the people they serve, sell to, and employ.
Businesses pay for political campaigns, give gifts to politicians, and get most anything they want. For a reference, just check the voting record of our own Senator David Vitter. Almost EVERY bill he has introduced during his term in the Senate have been on behalf of business, and many if not most of these have been very targeted bills only serving specific corporate interests.
We keep voting these people into office. We allow a system where there are a dozen gatekeepers between us as voters and actual decision makers in the offices of our elected officials. We don’t demand action on issues affecting us. We don’t inundate officials with mail, email, phone calls. We sit back and watch.
We allow companies to pay workers as little as possible. We allow them to cut benefits, to do away with pensions. We support them in building a system in which their employees absolutely cannot live on what they make. And the whole time, we look at these same employees and hope direly that that won’t be me one day (Wal-Mart greeter’s?).
How do WE do this? We buy products from these stores and companies. We spend $7 of microwave popcorn from them, even though we know they refuse to pay their employees that much per hour. We buy a cheap bottle of aspirin because we can. It doesn’t matter that the company placed such heavy price demands on the aspirin producer that they had no option but to fire all their workers and get those pills from China instead.
We buy the truck made in Shreveport by workers earning a fraction of what they make elsewhere. We go to a store we can jokingly refer to as Old Slavey, even though we know that slavery is actually a reality of that three button polo with the slightly crooked hem…but we buy it anyway because it’s 9 bucks!
We buy into the nonsense that unions are bad. We adopt terms such as right to work even though we know that means the right to work horrible hours for little above minimum wage with no job security whatsoever.
One of the biggest differences I tell people about between here and Germany is the public mentality regarding jobs. You see, the Germans view every job as valuable. They realize that even the most menial positions are integral to their economy and their way of life. Thus, they pay everyone properly. Socialism…maybe a little, but not really. Social justice is what it’s called.
This isn’t to say that checkout clerks make as much as doctors. But German consumers realize that they cannot eat cheeseburgers (they LOVE their McD’s) if they have no one to make the cheeseburgers for them. At the same time, because making cheeseburgers is that person’s job, they also believe that that person should be able to live off of that job. He likely has healthcare, a pension, receives a yearly training benefit, and can afford an apartment, furniture, a vacation, and school for his children. Amazingly enough, cheeseburgers don’t cost much more in Germany (1 euro).
If you go into a clothier in Germany you will likely encounter a professional salesperson — someone who is trained in the various aspects of clothing, who can help you chose the proper size and cut, and who knows his product and takes pride in outfitting you with what you desire and need. A professional. And he is paid, treated well, and given the opportunity to take pride in what he does.
He doesn’t make minimum wage.
We need to admit to ourselves and each other, that WE have allowed ourselves to become the least important factor in business and politics. Now…are we willing to take control back?