Green Room

NLRB tried to save America from dumb, unskilled Southern workers

posted at 3:53 pm on June 20, 2011 by

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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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.”

He misspelled “unions,” I think.


cs89 on June 20, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Geoghegan’s statement shows you don’t have to live on the coasts to disparage the people in flyover country from an elitist standpoint. It wouldn’t be a shock if he really believes most of the south in 2011 is still like a scene out of “Deliverance”, in part because those dumb puds aren’t even smart enough to unionize. I’m only shocked the lawyer didn’t throw in some other vintage claims about the south, like how are you going to cool in the summer without air-conditioning?

jon1979 on June 20, 2011 at 4:40 PM

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

Yeah, my wife and I after education up North, including some top 5 schools, working in California and DC, have been so appalled at the miserable working and living conditions down and idiot employees here in Texas that we have spent 18 years here, building great careers, raising well mannered kids and, dollar for dollar, living much better lives than we would have had on either coast. I am thankful every day that the fools like Geoghegan are so sure of their “facts” that they would never move here.

Over50 on June 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Over50 on June 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM

The biggest irony of all is that people who think like this Thomas Geoghegan mouthpiece actually believe that it’s we Southern “unskilled” folk who are the bigots. This clown’s article makes Archie Bunker look like a fair-minded cherub of a fellow.

hillbillyjim on June 20, 2011 at 5:58 PM

J.E. promised that the entire op-ed by NLRB lawyer Thomas Geoghegan was as bad as the pull quotes. I didn’t believe it. Then I clicked on the link.

Showleigh Hit, you weren’t kidding.

Here’s the thing that makes the whole piece ironic enough to build a battleship with: The smug puke opens up by saying that “in effect,” “[T]he president of Boeing was unwise enough to blurt out that his company would move a production line to South Carolina as payback for past strikes by machinists in Seattle.” To show how much smarter he is than the Boeing chief, he writes a piece aimed at conservatives blurting out — “in effect” — “Southerners are too dumb and too lazy to put assemble a decent machine.” There is no doubt in my mind that Geoghegan means every word he wrote, but did he really think that is an argument that would bring conservatives around?

Here’s something else interesting about Geoghegan: He’s done work in the past for the United Mine Workers. I’d like someone to run that column past some of the miners he used to represent for UMW, and see what they would think about what he said about people like them. Geoghegan probably thinks they either don’t read the Wall Street Journal, or can’t.

L.N. Smithee on June 20, 2011 at 6:50 PM

I have another couple of products manufactured here in Tennessee.

The best guitars you can get are made in Nashville at the Gibson plant, including my favorite the Les Paul Custom.

These instruments are legendary the world over, and I have a 1987 model that I will never get rid of.
This is what she looks like.

Another one is also legendary the world over, and is made in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Barrett M-107 .50 cal sniper rifle, ventilating terrorist skulls for the USA since 2001.

Brian1972 on June 20, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Do we get to look at southern vs. northern demographics and then call this guy a racist?

Count to 10 on June 20, 2011 at 8:12 PM

Don’t know why but Mr.Geoghegan seems to have not studied his geography too well. Those highly skilled, highly paid northerners sure did great jobs in Detroit with regards to QC..

theblacksheepwasright on June 20, 2011 at 8:52 PM

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