Unions go home

Almost without exception, readers responding to our recent piece on engineering unions think that engineers and unions don't mix. The most common reason was that engineers are professionals and professionals don't join unions. Meanwhile, other readers blame the declining number of U.S. manufacturing workers on managers of manufacturing companies.

Union? No thanks.

I’d like to answer the question posed by Stephen Mraz’s commentary (“Time for engineers to think about unionizing?” Jan. 19). If one is a professional engineer, with independent, primary adherence to professional ethics, the idea of having one’s professional standing collectively bargained should be anathema. On the other hand, if one is a laborer, albeit skilled, working at the behest of one’s employer, then subsuming one’s working conditions to the interests of union negotiators may be desirable. Just don’t confuse the two different situations, as Mr. Mraz does; one is a professional and the other a laborer.

William F. Hammett

Stephen Mraz’s commentary encouraging engineers to unionize is disgusting and despicable. If he thinks unions are good for Boeing, he must be completely disconnected from reality. Does he think all our good heavy-industry jobs are leaving America just because of cheaper labor offshore? Doesn’t he realize that these jobs are being driven offshore by unrelenting union demands on management? Unions and their often inefficient and crushing work rules forced U. S. Steel to close its huge Fairless works in Pennsylvania, Bethlehem Steel likewise. It is totally irresponsible for you to let this Mraz guy promote unions in your magazine. Any engineer worth his salt would be embarrassed to admit he was jealous of union members.

Chris Page

If you read the commentary, you will see I do not advocate that engineers join or form unions. I merely ask openmindedly why they haven’t. And to get some background, I talked to engineers in a union, SPEEA, to get their take on whether being in a union had been a positive or negative in their careers. I assume from this letter and several others that the reason the writers shun unions is that they see unions as being for the hoi polloi, the “laborers,” while engineers are professionals. Last time I checked, there were no special lines in the unemployment office for professionals. I also find the last line in Chris Page’s letter to be revealing. Apparently, he can imagine an engineer being jealous of a union member, but considers it bad form to admit to it.

— Stephen J. Mraz

Your commentary in the January 19, 2012 issue of MACHINE DESIGN, “Time for engineers to think about unionizing,” was amazing. Should we really encourage engineers to jack up their companies’ cost to run a business in America? Brilliant. That’s just what we need, more U. S. companies with noncompetitive labor rates.

You are setting American engineers up for layoffs and plant closings.

I assume you have a union connection driving your actions.

Kevin Ewing

Your assumption is wrong

— Stephen J. Mraz

In your commentary about engineers unionizing, you lay out exactly why unionizing is a bad idea. It is called greed. Even if the company is having economic problems and nonunionized workers have to make concessions to keep the company afloat, the union workers, just like government workers, keep getting raises and expanded benefits at the expense of their fellow workers.

“So why do you think engineers have avoided unions all these years?" Maybe they have compassion and like working as a team instead of just for themselves.

Sandra Permid

Your editorial was a little confusing. Autoworker unions have destroyed the U. S. auto industry. For years, the auto companies had their hands tied in dealing with labor issues, so whenever they were in trouble, they took it out on the suppliers. It seems that the only place where unions are flourishing is in the public sector where elected officials sign the contracts and taxpayers foot the bill. The disconnect allows unions to flourish at the expense of the community.

Tom Van Loon

Looking for American workers
I just read Leslie’s Gordon’s blog (“Why does the U. S. lack skilled workers?”) and have to admit this issue is dear to my heart and I am involved in various programs to promote manufacturing jobs to high schools as well as technical schools.

My daughter, a high-school senior, recently invited me to a school meeting on the various opportunities that seniors might be interested in. The presenters spoke almost totally about college opportunities; some mentioned military careers. Then was a question-and-answer session during which I asked why manufacturing jobs were not mentioned. I also briefly described how many jobs were sitting empty in my home state.

After the meeting was over, I spoke with the presenters and discovered that the states track the number of kids the high school sends off to college. The high school is in fact graded on this metric. I then asked if high schools track the college completion rate and was told that they did not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the states credited high schools for promoting manufacturing jobs. And why not be honest on how many kids actually make it through college and earn a degree.

Rich Kime

As a sometime-designer of factory equipment, I can testify that many in the lower-paid echelon of factory workers are woefully underprepared to think critically, thus the heavy emphasis on “poke-yoke” design. (The original Japanese phrase translated roughly as “mistake proofing.”) One of the problems, however, is not so much that U. S. factories can’t hire well-qualified people, but that management just won’t pay reasonable wages for them and the work is uninteresting and tedious. Why should intelligent people take repetitive, nonchallenging, and poorly paid jobs in a factory when they can do more interesting things, even at low pay?

Foreign workers are often less picky, even if no better qualified. If factory jobs were made more rewarding by placing more emphasis on intelligent decision making, I believe many “poorly qualified people” would end up significantly more qualified after some period of adjustment and a little training.

It seems the lessons Harley Davidson learned in the late 70s and early 80s about “ownership” of jobs have still, at this late date, not been learned by most of American Industry. And these lessons are taught in almost every U. S. MBA program. American industrial engineers are constantly doing time studies to determine how to shave seconds off of fabrication processes, but they are seldom tasked by corporate executives to find ways to get employees involved in making products better. A few companies make half-hearted stabs at it, but they are really not interested in or willing to invest part of upper managements’ and shareholders’ profits to make meaningful changes. Company managers are also unwilling to delegate any part of the decision making to their employees as Harley Davidson did. Consequently we coddle and tolerate intellectual laziness, and it shows.

In short, the problem is as much about poorly educated managers and greedy corporate bigwigs as it is about poorly educated and intellectually lazy laborers.

Mark Stapleton

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.