Why You should Care About the Wabtec Strike
The first in a series of blogs about the Erie, Pennsylvania wage dispute.
If you are a blue-collar manufacturing worker in Erie, you should be concerned about the Wabtec/GE strike. The outcome of this labor dispute may eventually affect you.
Here’s how GE labor relations affected Erie in the past:
My Husband as an Example
Jeff worked as a journeyman toolmaker in Erie at a livable wage for years. When the owners of manufacturing companies in town banded together to control wages and, in some cases, alleviate overtime costs, Jeff’s pay raises and overtime stopped. We had three children in college at the time, so Jeff applied to and accepted a job at GE as a second-shift, press-brake operator in the hope overtime would be available to help pay our mounting college costs.
That year, GE hired hundreds of Erie workers. Smaller Erie manufacturers lost much of their skilled labor to them. In an attempt to keep some employees, those Erie manufacturing companies had to step up their pay increases and benefits. In doing so, they kept some employees from going to GE.
Fast forward a few years. GE is no longer hiring. In fact, they have laid some of those workers off.
Now those same manufacturers have the ability to fall back to their nickel-and-diming ways. So, some did. No need to take the scaling back to prior ways personal. This is Basic Supply and Demand 101.
Webster defines supply and demand as: the amount of goods and services that are available for people to buy compared to the amount of goods and services that people want to buy. If less of a product (workers) than the public (manufacturers) wants is produced, the law of supply and demand says that more can be charged (paid to) for the product (workers).
Hence, if GE attracts more Erie workers by paying them more, there are less workers available to other Erie manufactures and, in essence, they must pay those of you out there not working for GE more.
If the new Wabtec lowers labor rates, employers in our area will follow. Period.
You can debate this issue at length, but if your employer no longer worries about losing you to Wabtec, fight all you want for that cost-of-living wage hike, their backs are no longer against the wall.
Yes, you may have a few great employers who do right by their employees, but manufacturing businesses are currently in the struggle of their lives. If their employees don’t have better employment opportunities in our area, Erie manufacturers no longer have to work as hard to keep them.
Here’s a complaint I have about the Erie area.
I worked in Economic and Community Development for years before I retired. An Economic Development leader once complained that GE blue-collar workers were earning six figures. It was a nice spring morning in May, and I asked him how many days he had taken off that year. He said he had only used a few vacation days.
“No, how many days away from the office have you had? Saturdays and Sundays included?”
Well, of course, he may have worked some overtime, but he generally had weekends off.
“My husband has only had three days off in over four months—weekends included. That is the reason he will make six figures this year.”
Economic Development Leaders want a community college? Of course, they do. (Remember the properties of supply and demand?) They want to attract jobs to the Erie area? Of course. And in order to do so Erie needs more skilled labor?
Here’s a tip: stop bashing the skilled workers you do have.
Tomorrow: Mandatory Overtime
Email your comments to Cyndie.email@example.com
_____________________________________________ Cyndie Zahner has lived in the Erie community her entire life. She is a retired grant writer/administrator, and now writes fiction novels. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon. See her BookCircle Online interview at here.