Engineers still unified on some things
Readers convey their dislike of engineering unions, although one offers a more -opt imistic view. But readers are speaking with one voice to criticize modern design and the fact that form no longer follows function. They also seem to agree that sustainability standards will do more harm than good. We’ll see.

Almost united on unions
I read with amusement the letters sent to you concerning the question of engineers joining a union (“Time for Engineers to Think About Unionizing? Jan. 19). I was in an engineering union several decades ago. It was for a large railroad-car manufacturer in the Rust Belt, which is no longer in business. (No, the union didn’t bring it down.) As a designer and engineer-in-training,

I was required to join the union based on my job description. It was a good learning experience on why engineers and unions don’t mix. I won’t go into details of the office culture or issues with having hourly and salary workers combined.

The issue that I had at the time and still do today is that the union had many constricting work rules on how you get promoted and how people advance within the organization. Professionals or not, you were treated differently if you were in the union. I found the whole process to be nonproductive and inefficient for getting work done. I was denied advancement, not based on experience or productivity, but on years of service. Union people didn’t go to lunch with nonunion. The entire culture was counter to the teamwork environment required in the engineering profession.

During the summers, while attending college, I worked in a manufacturing plant that was also unionized. I can honestly say that the hourly union plant job had more job satisfaction than did engineers in the unionized office. My opinion is that there is no place for a union in the office environment, let alone the engineering profession.

Joseph C. Dominick

There can be a period in an engineer’s career in which the individual is too young to retire but old enough that a change of employment is difficult or the potential loss of benefits is too great. Management can take advantage of this situation by withholding salary increases. Membership in a union could be advantageous in this situation, and a union could also provide assistance against dismissal before eligibility to retire.

In my own career, I benefitted from a union I did not even belong to. The factory employees were represented by the United Auto Wor ker s Union, whi c h negotiated ear ly retirement, health-care benefits, and vacation and holiday times. The same benefits were then granted by management to salaried employees. Thus, there was no union of salaried employees who had no protection against age discrimination or arbitrary dismissal.

R Bruce Hopkins

No form and too much function
As an industrial designer, I appreciated your recent commentary (“Form Should Follow Function, and More,” April 19). I suggest that anyone involved in the design of any product that people use read two books from the 70s. One is How Things Don’t Work, and the other is Design for the Real World. Both books deal with the same issues we need to deal with today.

By the way, we have a 2005 German car purchased two years ago. We are still trying to figure out all of the technology/gadgets in the car. My son has the same type of German car, but his is a 2010. He will be trading it in this year for a new one. He is a top engineering manager working for one of the top computer manufacturers, and he still hasn’t figured out all the gimmicks and features of this German driving machine. But he paid for all of them.

There is no evidence of a human- factors approach in these two cars, just lots of interesting things to look at and play with, but hardly functional or germane to driving. And who has the time to figure out all of this?

If I buy something, no matter what, I want to use it, not have to go back to college for two years and take another 60 credits, just to repeat the exercise the next time I buy a car.

As my teachers used to say: Make it simple enough for a 10-year old to figure out.

Manuel de Sa

I just read your commentary and now I think we are wired similarly. I agree with all your comments. At my firm, we are always talking about form following function and to design for use, not looks.

Cars today get too cluttered because so many automakers are competing to have the most “options” for mass marketing. I told my spouse the other day that if I could, I would get our next company vehicle with a hand-crank starter. Less to go wrong, no batteries, and those cheap magnetos used to work pretty well.

All kidding aside, I enjoy controlling the functions of driving. It’s not that difficult to clutch and shift and hand crank the windows up and down, especially when there’s little physical work to do while sitting there anyway.

Larry Kooiker

Sustainability = Scam?
I want to thank you for your commentary on sustainability (“Do We Need a Sustainability Standard? March 22). Unfortunately, I think you are preaching to the choir.

I appreciate your perspective, but the idea of a sustainability standard just sounds too good to those politically correct nonproductive meddling by nonproducers. They firmly believe we all, but especially everybody else, will just have to buckle down and throw more money at another nonproblem (until it dies from suffocation under its own weight). By then, of course, two new great sounding ideas will have covered it up, and all the money that can be squeezed from the last idea will be taken. The small companies that can’t afford the extra cost and the drag of more bureaucracy will have closed up shop.

Remember when efficiency meant doing more with less, when economical meant costing less? Some day that common sense will again prevail. In the meantime, keep up the good work.

Wayne A. Strand

I do a lot of presentations about Reduce, Recycle, and Reclaim and I paraphrase another engineer (her name escapes me). She wrote: “I cannot design anything green. Everything will consume resources. I can make my designs greener, so they consume less resources both when built and when they run.”

Randy Mountcastle

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