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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Can Rednecks In South Carolina Build an Airplane?

"A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others." — Ayn Rand

On June 20th Thomas Geoghegan wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with the lead stating: When major firms move to the South, it's usually a harbinger of quality decline. Why let that happen?

According to Geoghegan, a let-wing labor attorney from Chicago, Boeing should not be allowed to open its new Dreamliner assembly plant in Charleston, South Carolina because it will do damage to Boeing and the U.S. aircraft industry. His article states:

“Conservatives are in an uproar that the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has filed an unfair labor charge against Boeing. It seems the 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. It's a dead bang violation of the National Labor Relations Act, even if it comes as a surprise to Republicans and many other Americans.

Section 7 of the Wagner Act, passed in 1935, states that all workers can engage in concerted activities without reprisal. The president of Boeing said, in effect: You exercise those rights and we're moving. Companies have long done such things, of course, but CEOs aren't usually so gaffe-prone as to say so.

The Boeing case may show that labor is so out of mind that CEOs have forgotten what they can or cannot say. It would have been easy enough for Boeing to move the production line to South Carolina and let the workers in Seattle draw the conclusion. There is little bar to a runaway shop if the CEO is careful with his public statements.

Yet the Boeing case has a scarier aspect missed by conservatives: Why is Boeing, one of our few real global champions in beefing up exports, moving work on the Dreamliner from a high-skill work force ($28 an hour on average) to a much lower-wage work force ($14 an hour starting wage)? Nothing could be a bigger threat to the economic security of this country.”

Mr. Geoghegan has not only got his facts wrong and is misrepresenting the truth, but he is insulting the good people of South Carolina and the South in General. It seems that Geoghegan is blindly overlooking that one of the most prestigious and successful auto makers in the world, the Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) has a full assembly plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. BMW’s Spartanburg plant makes the Z4 roadster and an both models of the “X” model SUV. I guess the Board of Directors in Munich doesn’t know they are in decline.

To paraphrase Mr. Geoghegan.

“But when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline. Over and over as a labor lawyer in the 1980s and ’90s, I saw companies move away from Chicago, where the pay was $28 an hour, to some place in South Carolina or Louisiana where the pay was about half that too often, alas, it was the beginning of the end, as it was for Outboard Marine Corporation, where I once represented workers.”

Boeing and The National Labor Relations Board have been locked up in a800px-Boeing_787_first_flight major dispute regarding the rights of The Boeing Company to conduct their business where they see fit to. Boeing has its traditional manufacturing center in the State of Washington. It has built there for decades, and intends to continue so doing. The plant has a capacity of 7 planes per month at full throttle. The boss needs ten airframes per month to meet demand for the 787 Dreamliner Aircraft.

Boeing has anticipated this need and responded by tooling up to manufacture the additional demand in Charleston, SC. This would occur at a pre-existing Boeing Facility that already builds Dreamliner fuselages. Yet according to Thomas Geoghegan, Boeing would be handing off a vital part of our technological base and our national advantage to a tribe of gibbering Cro-Magnons.

Part of the fallacy pitched by the South-Bashers, is to act like all of this started only recently. Then, they pretend further that the new location is just too backwards, uneducated, unmotivated, too Southern; to properly handle the load. Blogger J. E. Dyer explains how easy it is to debunk this is with about five minutes of online research

“Not only does South Carolina have a BMW plant it also has 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.”

Walter Russell Mead further pulls back the curtain to reveal what a pathetic, disingenuous pile of bigotry Mr. Geoghegn attempts to peddle on behalf of his labor cartel. He describes what happened when Newsweek actually attempted to rank who had the best public high schools in America.

“The results make depressing reading for the teacher unions: the very best public high schools in the country are heavily concentrated in red states. Three of the nation’s ten best public high schools are in Texas — the no-income tax, right-to-work state that blue model defenders like to characterize as America at its worst. Florida, another no-income tax, right-to-work state long misgoverned by the evil and rapacious Bush dynasty, has two of the top ten schools.”

Just how bad are the schools not invited to the top 1,500 list? According to The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, the following statements are true about the adult population of Detroit, MI.

“The National Institute for Literacy estimates that 47 percent of adults in the City of Detroit are functionally illiterate, with staggering rates recorded in some of the suburbs as well: Southfield at 24 percent, Warren at 17 percent and both Inkster and Pontiac at 34 percent illiterate.”

It’s a no wonder American cars lack he quality of the imports.

Now, someone please explain to me, and Mr. Geoghegan, how moving work away from a region where 50% of the adult population can’t read sends a 800px-Boeing_787_Section_41_final_assemblybad signal to children who want to study engineering? The argument, in general, that companies move south to go cheap on labor costs still holds true. But the argument that the people they hire are all sub-literate morons compared to the capable and dedicated workers you find in Detroit, MI is positively laughable. This begs the question, why are Blue State labor costs so high, if they no longer hold the cognitive advantage that they may have once held back in the 1920s to the 1950s, when American industrial infrastructure built out?

In fairness to both Boeing and to Seattle, WA, a lot of what Thomas Geoghegan argues doesn’t apply. Seattle educates children far better than Detroit, Gary, IN, or Cleveland, OH. Boeing has built at least some FAA-rated components in Charleston, SC for several years. It beats having them built in Australia, Japan, or China. This would be Plan B if the NLRB and Thomas Geoghegan don’t both rapidly dismount from their high horses and stop lying to people.

According to J.E. Dyer writing in Hot Air:

“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.”

Just yesterday Obama appointed as his nominee for Secretary of Commerce, John Bryson, who recently stepped down from Boeing's board. Fox News reports:

“President Obama's pick to head the Commerce Department criticized a federal labor board's lawsuit against the Boeing Co. on Tuesday over the aerospace giant's decision to locate a new plant in South Carolina.

Bryson's comments came at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on his nomination to succeed Gary Locke, whom Obama has named to become U.S. ambassador to China.

At the session, Republicans raised questions about Bryson's views on the environment and criticized the Obama administration for what they said is over-regulation of businesses. They also reiterated their threat to block Senate approval of Bryson's nomination until Obama sends the panel trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Republicans asked Bryson about the National Labor Relations Board's suit against Boeing, which accuses the aircraft builder of opening a plant in South Carolina in retaliation against union workers in Washington State who went on strike in 2008. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the NLRB action was "an unprecedented violation of a company's ability" to locate its facilities where it wants to.

"I think it's not the right judgment," Bryson said of the NLRB suit. He said Boeing officials were surprised by the legal action and said they believed they were "doing the right thing for the country" by keeping jobs in the U.S. and not moving them abroad.”

Geoghegan, the NRLB and the fools I grew up with who still wore Confederate Flag T-shirts need to realize is that the American Civil War has ended. Continuing to fight it will only accomplish one thing. An entity to be known henceforth as The Wise and Venerable Aerospace Firm Boeing will build all your jets in Shaanxi. They will never be blind or misguided enough to waste their money on American Labor again.

My bet is that the Machinist Union, AFL-CIO, Donald Trumka, and the Democrats are going to lose this one. Obama, with his House member buddy James Clyburn in whose district the Dreamliner plant is located, have too much to lose if the NLRB prevents Boeing from opening this plant.

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