NLRB tried to save America from dumb, unskilled Southern workers

posted at 9:24 pm on June 20, 2011 by J.E. Dyer

I had to check my paper copy of the Wall Street Journal today to make sure this wasn’t some elaborate prank.  Then I double-checked what year it is, to make sure I hadn’t been slingshotted around the sun and found myself back in 1975.

That’s about when I remember it last being routine for Rust Belt lawyers to publicly disparage the skills and education of people from the South.  The only thing missing from the op-ed by Chicago-based lawyer Thomas Geoghegan is the word “hick” or “hillbilly.”  WSJ is to be applauded for its determination to feature different viewpoints, but Geoghegan’s piece certainly pushes the envelope.

The topic is the NLRB ruling against Boeing moving its assembly plant for the Dreamliner to South Carolina.  And it really is as bad as my intro suggests.  Go read it, if you think I may be cherry-picking or making a mountain out of a molehill.  I’ll wait.  OK, here’s that last paragraph again:

Most depressing of all, Boeing’s move would send a market signal to those considering a career in engineering or high-skilled manufacturing …: Don’t go to engineering school, don’t bother with fancy apprenticeships, don’t invest in skills.

In case you miss the point of the piece, here’s another go at it:  “We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force.”

And this:

… because of [our] trade deficit, foreign creditors have the country in their clutches. That’s not because of our labor costs … It’s because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.

And Boeing wants to turn the manufacture of airplanes – airplanes! – over to these poorly educated, low-skilled workers in South Carolina.

Here’s a weird fact, though.  There is already a plant manufacturing rear-fuselage elements for Boeing in South Carolina.  (The Dreamliner final-assembly plant that opened 10 June is located next to it.)  South Carolina also has a BMW plant, a Honda plant, a Bosch plant, a Caterpillar plant, an American LaFrance plant (fire engines and ambulances), and a Daimler plant, all employing highly-skilled labor to manufacture big, intricate stuff that has to work.  That’s in addition to the Milliken, BASF, GE, Core, Bose, BP, DAK, DuPont, Eastman, Mitsubishi, Albemarle, MeadWestvaco, PhilChem, Roche, Mount Vernon Mills, Invista, Metromont, Johns Manville, Alcoa, Kimberly-Clark, Shaw, Jarrett, Mohawk, Anderson, AccuTrex, Sonoco, and Cox Industries plants – and those are just the ones I recognized by industry as I looked through the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance website.  I left out a bunch of other ones.

Should I go on?  If Southern manufacturing workers are a national liability, we’re in big trouble.  All those aircraft engines being mishandled at the Pratt & Whitney plant in Georgia.  Shoddy VWs and Nissans coming out of Tennessee, Hyundai clunkers being puked out of Alabama, lousy Kias flooding the market from Georgia, Toyota risking its customers on the gap-toothed th’owbacks who show up with employment applications in Mississippi.

Texas is going to get us all killed: there are 248 separate listings for aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturers just in the Dallas area alone.  And let’s not even get started on all the scary, substandard manufacturing going on in North Carolina, where Honda headquarters its global aircraft-components manufacturing, and thousands of non-agricultural manufacturers are heaving chemicals, plastics, textiles, engine parts, computer parts, airplane and vehicle parts, and who know what else at an unsuspecting market every day of the year.

It’s a meltdown.  So many things are now manufactured in the poorly educated, low-skilled South, it’s a wonder you’re not dead yet.

Just a couple of sober points.  One, the South Carolina average manufacturing wage of $14 an hour isn’t what the most experienced workers, with the most difficult skill-sets and the longest time on the job, make.  Calculating the state’s average wage (for all “production” workers) takes into account lower-wage workers like food processors ($8-12 per hour), sewing-machine operators ($10 an hour), and furniture finishers ($11 an hour).

But first-line supervisors in equipment manufacturing plants make over $25 an hour. Computerized-machine operators in manufacturing make over $20 an hour; operators of grinding, lapping, buffing, and polishing machines make over $19 an hour, and welders, solderers, and brazers make $16-17 an hour.  The average skilled manufacturing worker in an industry like Boeing’s is making $16-21 an hour in South Carolina – and that’s an average.  Some workers make more, depending on skills, seniority, and position.

The average in Washington State, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $16.75 per hour, for all “production” workers in the same period (figures are for 2010).  Mr. Geoghegan pulls the demagogue’s trick of comparing the South Carolina state average with the union pay of some (not all) Boeing workers in Washington.  The actual wage differential for the same types of work is $1-3 an hour – not $14.

The second point relates to Geoghegan’s discussion of the Boeing “retaliation” against past worker strikes in Washington.  Geoghegan makes the supremely cynical case that if the CEO of Boeing had simply kept his mouth shut about moving to South Carolina because of the cost of strikes in Washington, he could have brought off the move without interference from the Feds.

But it is a corrupt kind of “law” that can be gotten around so easily.  The purpose of properly-constituted law is not to show meaningless solidarity with unions.  It is to define what government will prosecute and punish.  Law that has to be ignored, gamed, and gotten around in order for human life to function – and law that can be ignored, gamed, and gotten around – loses the respect of the people, and corrupts their consciences and the consciences of government officials.  If the law in question is so unlikely to be enforced, then the most important point of all is that we don’t need it in the first place.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

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Gee, if they didn’t pay Americans to make BMW’s and Mercedes (Daimler) in South Carolina, those limousine liberals could pay Germans to build them! Maybe that’s why Obama made a campaign speech in Berlin!

But then again, why are foreign companies like BMW, Daimler, BASF, Honda, and Mitsubishi hiring “poorly educated and unable to compete” South Carolina workers, instead of educated, competitive German or Japanese workers to build their products? Nobody forced these companies to cross an ocean to set up shop in South Carolina, but they came anyway. Just maybe…they see something in South Carolina that they couldn’t find in Germany or Japan…or New York or Michigan or Washington State?

Steve Z on June 21, 2011 at 12:02 PM

The NRLB must think the entire South is like parts of Arkansas.

Uncle Sams Nephew on June 21, 2011 at 1:15 PM

The propagandists like this guy rely on listener/readers that live in such a narrow world that Disney World images pass for truth with no questions asked. That type of propaganda is the exact opposite of intelligent thought. The eternal election cycle is upon us.

jimw on June 21, 2011 at 1:21 PM

““The Beverly Hillbillies” TV show did nothing for the image of the south, just lined some lib pockets while bringing a few laughs.
Robert17 on June 21, 2011 at 7:09 AM”

Actually Robert, I think it did us good in the long run. It shows how truly bigoted and ignorant many Yankess are that 50 years aftet TBH debuted, they actually think these things. On my first day of school forty eight years ago when we moved North, the first question another student asked me was did they really teach us the South won the war “down there”? ROTFL Even at the tender age of 12 I thought to myself, “Who’s the hick here?” Imagine people living in the NYC metro area thinking they actually taught things like that, or that even today we don’t wear shoes etc. Morons and bigots. Many, many Northerners are the biggest hicks in this country. How much of a rube do you have to be to believe such things? But for TBH and other shows like it, we might not have known just how stupid and bigoted many Northerners are. The joke is on them, not us.

JimP on June 21, 2011 at 2:32 PM

You left out one other big one…We also have about 6 different Michelin tire plants here in good ole’ South Cakalakee…

MechEng5by5 on June 21, 2011 at 4:31 PM

And as N.C. born, S.C. educated (Clemson U.) engineer I am disgusted with this idiot author and his utterly clueless assessment of my beloved state…

MechEng5by5 on June 21, 2011 at 4:44 PM

How dumb would you have to be to vote for an administration which has this opinion of you?

IlikedAUH2O on June 21, 2011 at 4:50 PM

I used Redneck Riveria hillbillies from the Florida Panhandle in my post on this yesterday.

Can ya tell we alls pissed?

tree hugging sister on June 21, 2011 at 6:51 PM

How dumb would you have to be to vote for an administration which has this opinion of you?

IlikedAUH2O on June 21, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Not much different from little Bammie’s Jewish voters.

slickwillie2001 on June 21, 2011 at 7:13 PM

I’m just going to import my original comment from the Green Room:

There are reasons workers in the North get $28 an hour while down in the South they get $14 or even $10. Adam Smith could explain it: “productivity,” “skill level,” “quality.”

There are reasons why foreign-owned factories in the South produce cars that actually sell, unlike those union-produced lemons from your well-paid, allegedly-skilled Northern counterparts. The Northern workers know they can get by with “getting by”, thanks to union abuses. The Southern workers know they need to produce efficiently and well.

This is one of the most discriminatory pieces I’ve seen in a mainstream publication. Right-to-work states choose to remain competitive rather than attempt to lock in job-killing benefits that will most likely disappear in less time than Jimmy Hoffa especially if their benefactors are driven overseas or out of business. They also know that the disparity in wages is more than made up by the difference in the cost of living and the quality of life.

Yours truly,

A Dumb Hick.

hillbillyjim on June 20, 2011 at 4:57 PM

hillbillyjim on June 21, 2011 at 7:29 PM