Some Union Leaders Hurt Their Own

June 5, 2002
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One of the most common sayings in the military, probably dating from Hammurabi’s time, is that there’s always some joker who doesn’t get the word. The same certainly seems to apply in global economy.

Fortunately, the joker in industry who doesn’t get the word — say, the president of a carriage company who refused to go horseless — soon ceases to be a bother for the rest of us. Such firms are history. In other sectors, though, some jokers can hang on and on and burden everyone else.

The jokers in this case are national leaders of certain trade unions who are trying to torpedo proposed tax credits — $15,000 per employee per year — for small companies that need to train new workers. We’re not talking about training assembly line workers, but teaching people how to transform multi-axis specifications into programs for computer-driven metal-cutting machinery.

Leaders of several trade unions say that giving businesses tax credits to train workers, or to pay for workers’ training, just won’t do. There’d be no quality standards, they say, and trainees’ skills would be inferior to union standards. They also complain that since employers won’t commit to pay for training, there’d be no accountability that real training occurs.

Such statements probably get repeated without question by daily newspaper reporters and Rather, Jennings, Brokaw, et al. Nonetheless, they carry the same logical weight of teacher union arguments that strikes for 10 percent raises are in the interest of the pupils.

Businesses would give substandard training to workers just to get tax credits? Such a suggestion says much about the minds that thought that up.

Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine training with greater rigor than that sponsored by businesses that need highly skilled employees to compete in ever-tougher markets.

We suspect the unions’ real concern is that some training centers might lose enrollment and some cushy administrative jobs. But maybe some of the union leaders in question actually believe what they say. If so, clearly, they just haven’t got the word.

The tool and die and molding industries in this neck of the woods have difficulty finding qualified workers. Accordingly, as older craftsmen retire, some of these firms buy state-of-the-art, computer-driven equipment. And, as a spokesman for one distributor put it, “When one of these new machines go inside the plant, three old ones come out.”

The new machines can raise one worker’s productivity to that of three craftsmen on the older machines. And it also happens that one worker easily can run three of the new machines, meaning his productivity actually can rise to that of nine predecessors.

Now it seems to us, the union leaders should ask themselves a question. Who gets hurt when small business can’t afford to train new workers? Well, certainly not the business. If a plant manager can replace three craftsmen with a $200,000 machine, the plant is not hurt. In fact, proportionate to its production, its payroll and group health insurance premiums are reduced.

The people who are hurt are the workers to whom inexpensive training, and opportunity, are denied. And ultimately unions also are hurt as their ranks keep declining.

Incidentally, a good many CNC metal cutting machines are not produced by union workers in American plants but by citizens of Singapore and Japan. And those governments’ tax policies favor businesses.

That means jobs.

But some jokers just never get the word.

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