We wish we could say we didn’t warn Boeing’s machinists about the key trend taking place in the US economy under the Obama “recovery” but unfortunately we did. Three years ago, to be specific, when we wrote: “Charting America’s Transformation To A Part-Time Worker Society” and followed it up with “A “Quality Assessment” Of US Jobs Reveals The Ugliest Picture Yet” in which we explained that while the propaganda machine was fixated on numeric, quantitative, job additions every month, what has subversively going on, was the constant deterioration in the quality of jobs – and specifically the declining wages – available to those Americans who had not rotated outside of the labor force permanently (currently at a record 91.5 million). We say “alas” because it once again took several years before our cautions to be felt by the broader population, in this case the Boeing machinist union struggling to extract a wage increase from its employer: Boeing, whose stock keeps hitting new record highs with every passing day.
The machinists’ lament is well-known to virtually everyone who relies on labor instead of capital to exist: pay us more. Bloomberg reports:
“We need to focus on how many jobs there are that give an adult a chance to earn a decent living,” said Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center in Eugene. “Too much of the discussion has been about the number of jobs, and that’s obviously important, but there’s also a crisis in the quality of jobs.”
That’s ironic: when we said it first three years ago, the mainstream media mocked it. Curious how things change when that hope you once believed in becomes a “zero balance” nightmare at the ATM machine, eh?
Blame it on the Fed, blame it on globalization, blame it on corporations who have a virtually unlimited labor, cheap and global pool to pick from, but the bottom line is US workers have zero leverage.
Where unions and their allies see reason for alarm, employers see a way to retain jobs against the lure of lower wages overseas. There were about 12 million U.S. factory jobs in October, buoyed by recent gains while still down 39 percent from 1979’s peak.
“We certainly have seen manufacturers become much more competitive,” said Chad Moutray, chief economist at the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers. Falling labor costs have helped “keep U.S. manufacturers much more competitive and you’re seeing more investment in the U.S. as a result.”
The good news for workers: each day of pain for them means a day of joy for the shareholders – typically those in US society who already are the wealthiest.
Manufacturers’ after-tax profits rose to a record $289.1 billion last year, more than three times 2009’s tally, the Commerce Department reported. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Industrials Index has more than tripled since its 2009 low, and topped the broader index by 59 percentage points over that span.
“What’s being referred to as a recovery in manufacturing is to a large extent a recovery in profitability,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington-based group funded by unions and private foundations. “That’s good for the companies and good for the shareholders but it’s not necessarily good for the workers.”
To some, labor’s epic lack of leverage has to do with lack of unionization to take on greedy coroprations.
Some of the states where factory jobs are growing the fastest are among the least unionized. In 2012, 4.6 percent of South Carolina workers were represented by unions, as did 6.8 percent of Texans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. New York, the most-unionized, was at 24.9 percent.
Assembly workers at Boeing’s nonunion plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, earn an average of $17 an hour, compared with $27.65 for the more-experienced Machinists-represented workforce at the company’s wide-body jet plant in Everett, Washington, said Bryan Corliss, a union spokesman.
Higher wages also no longer go hand-in-hand with union jobs, as they once did.
But the reality is that in a world drowning in overcapacity, and in which globalization, technological innovation and improvements in productivity mean that Boeing can open a plant anywhere else in the US, or in the world and still pay less than it does currently, even if it means a lot of unhappy, and unemployed labor workers. For example:
General Electric Co. says it has added about 2,500 production jobs since 2010 at its home-appliance plant in Louisville, Kentucky. Under an accord with the union local, new hires make $14 an hour assembling refrigerators and washing machines, compared with a starting wage of about $22 for those who began before 2005. While CEO Jeffrey Immelt has said GE could have sent work on new products to China, it instead invested $1 billion in its appliance business in the U.S. after the agreement was reached.
The company is also moving work to lower-wage states. In Fort Edward, New York, GE plans to dismiss about 175 employees earning an average of $29.03 an hour and shift production of electrical capacitors to Clearwater, Florida. Workers there can earn about $12 an hour, according to the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, which represents the New York employees.
In summary: here is the corporate speak:
“GE’s business units continuously review their operations and sometimes have to make tough decisions to keep up with market trends, address customer demands or reduce cost,” Duchamp said in an e-mail. “The intention of the proposed move is to address the increasing cost pressures and leverage the resources” available at the Florida site.
And here is the worker speak:
“This is really a symbol of what’s going on in this whole country,” said Machinist Thomas Campbell, 40. “We’re losing middle-class jobs.”
What is sad is that both are correct, and while Bernanke and his wealth effect policies do everything to make the rich, and the corporations, even richer, they continue to rob what little standard of living America’s workers have, and in the process continue to destroy what little is left of the middle class. Once again, as we warned, so long ago.
Tim Geithner was only kidding about “welcome to the recovery” – what he meant was “welcome to the new feudal system.”