Will Wabtec help Erode the Middle Class?

The wealthy are stomping the middle class down to the level of the working poor. That’s how I feel about this entire Wabtec deal. The union is fighting for future Erie workers not simply current employees. And here’s a secret, I’m not exactly an all pro-union person. I get it. Unions aren’t perfect.

But they are at least attempting to keep middle-class jobs in Erie. So for those of you who are bashing the union for not bowing and curtsying in thankfulness to Wabtec for grandfathering current workers in with higher wages and screwing future workers, stop reading. This is my blog and my opinion.

To Wabtec

Even if you stay, and that is a very big if, you are simply offering our city low-income jobs. Period. There may be some employees grandfathered in at higher rates, but eventually, the only people who will be making a good wage on Wabtec products and services are people higher up the Wabtec ladder.

Who will you attract to take a $20 an hour job in a factory where it is sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter? Once minimum wage increases to $15 an hour (and it eventually will) what kind of a person will take your job over easier jobs?

Mr. Sbrocco, you taunt you’ve offered 150 options to the union. Eh, you’ve merely restated the same offer in 150 different ways. The truth? In order to remain competitive in this world, you want to do so by keeping extremely high wages for upper management and lowering wages for everyone else.

Because, THAT, is corporate America in a nutshell.

To the union

You are more important today than you ever were in the past.

But you are not without error. You can’t support employees who do not deserve to be supported.  You also must not succumb to your own power.  And you must be absolutely open and honest with membership. (Post daily updates even if only a few sentences.)

To those who doubt unions defend middle-class America

Back in the 1950s, my father, Pat Filutze, was fired when his trucking company brought in a new boss. That man fired all of the Italians and African Americans. The Teamsters Union Local 397 stepped in and fought. My father got his job back.

My dad was a hard, hard worker. People eventually asked him to run for president of local 397. He did not feel qualified. He had quit school in eighth grade to help support his brothers and sisters. So instead, he ran for trustee and supported Joe Santone for president. Joe and my father were elected and served together twenty-four years before my father retired from both his full-time, truck-driving position and his part-time trustee position.

My father was far from rich, but he lived a good, decent life because of that union. AND that’s why we need unions. They support decent, living-wage jobs.

To Erie leaders

To the County Executive and Mayor, I like the two of you. You know I do. I’ve worked with both of you. But you can’t sit on your hands and hope this Wabtec problem resolves itself. Economic development is the survival of the fittest.

Instead of visiting China and arguing over a community college, please let the public know what you are doing for economic development in Erie so we can support you. (Have I missed an article on this? I’ve been out of town much in the past two years. Please tell me I have.) A trip to Silicon Valley would make more sense than China. Has anyone met with leaders in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Des Moines, Iowa, Boise, Idaho, or Provo, Utah whose business grew from 2011-2016 (https://www.inc.com/business-insider/35-up-and-coming-cities-with-job-opportunities.html.) (Anyone know of other northern cities surviving the erosion of the middle class? Please post articles in the comments below.)

You hired someone at the Chamber who purported to increase jobs and capital in another American city. “According to the chamber, Grunke has a track record of achievement. During his tenure with the Missoula Economic Partnership, the region added 10,000 new jobs and attracted nearly $1 billion in capital investment.” https://www.goerie.com/news/20180810/erie-chamber-names-new-ceo#

Were those low-income jobs?

“Bozeman and Missoula have fared well in terms of overall job growth, but their typical wages are actually below the state average — $35,900 in Bozeman and $35,500 in Missoula (including Ravalli County).” https://www.missoulacurrent.com/business/2018/11/montana-jobs/

We do not need more low-income jobs. We need decent, living-wage jobs.

(Somebody PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong about this. I truly want to be wrong. If you find a better article, please post the link in the comments below. I WANT better news.)

The “don’t-go-there” line

There is a line between the rich and poor that I refer to as the “don’t-go-there” line. I call it that because nobody wants to talk about it.

The concept is simple really. The people above the line have no income problems, and the people below the line can barely make ends meet. Some can’t at all.

Here’s the greedy secret:  The people above the line WANT to keep the people below the line right where they are. In fact, they want to push more people below that line because it means more for them. They also spend their entire lives pulling their own kids and friends and friend’s kids above the line.

My advice to anyone still reading is do everything you can to get your kids above that line because the eroding of the middle class is happening. With right-to-work states, the fall of unions, political bailouts, CEO bonuses, and make-America-great-again profiteers, our middle-class kids are in for the struggle of their lives.  My husband and I tugged and pulled and broke our backs to get our kids above that line. I hope you will, too.

Oh, and by the way, all three of our kids had to move out of Erie to break into that top half of the “don’t-go-there” line. Go figure.

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Cyndie Zahner has lived in the Erie community her entire life. She is a retired grant writer/administrator, and now writes fiction novels. Her husband, brother-in-law, and nephew-in-law work at Wabtec. Her brother, Mike Filutze, is a GE retiree. Her father-in-law, Edwin Zahner, was a proud GE employee for thirty-seven years. Follow Cyndie on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubLinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon. See her BookCircle Online interview here.

 

 

 

 

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Strong Workers, Strong People, Strong Middle Class

To Wabtec

Want strong workers? You’ve got them in Erie, Pennsylvania.

When General Electric’s business boomed, they hired some of the best, hard-working, skilled labor from all over the city. Other manufacturers were angry. GE enticed some great workers to leave their jobs and come work for them. They added some of the city’s best skilled labor to their own great workforce, and the result is these strong men and women now stand arm in arm in sub-zero wind chills fighting to keep middle-class jobs in the city they love.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have strong workers who are weak people. These individuals will help your company thrive. Be glad for their strength. They want your company to succeed. They want sustainable work for future generations.

They want to work.

Negotiate. Get them back to their jobs. Let them prove themselves.

To economic leaders

Do you want more jobs in Erie? Tell manufacturers and corporate America about the strength of our region. For once, the country is watching Erie, Pennsylvania. Don’t waste this opportunity.

Get economic leaders who feel Erie’s skilled labor are paid too much away from the table. We don’t need their negativism. The truth is, corporate America would like nothing more than to push skilled labor like ours out of the middle class and into the working poor.

Yes, unions are not perfect. But they are absolutely necessary to sustain the middle class. Without them? Our country will erode into two classes: the rich and the working poor.

Please, sit down with our unions today and use this brief yet vital opportunity of being in the lime light to show a unified effort to attract businesses. Showcase Erie as strong, skilled and resilient. Sell our work ethic. Our love of our region. And if you don’t believe Erie is strong, skilled, and resilient, at least get out of the room and let the rest of us fight for our lives.

To the union workers

Stay strong. The strength of a man doesn’t show in his economic status. It shows in his soul. This fight is bigger than all of us. Whether you know it or not, you are in the fight of your lives to help keep the middle class, not only in Erie, but in our entire country.

When you get back to work, and hopefully you will soon, work your tails off. Show them just how strong Erie is.

God bless.

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Cyndie Zahner has lived in the Erie community her entire life. She is a retired grant writer/administrator, and now writes fiction novels. Her husband, brother-in-law, and nephew-in-law work at Wabtec. Her brother, Mike Filutze, is a GE retiree. Her father-in-law, Edwin Zahner, was a proud GE employee for thirty-seven years. Follow Cyndie on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon. See her BookCircle Online interview at here.

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When Words Hurt

Why Your Words Hurt, Mr. Grunke

For a moment in the morning he wakes up, and everything is fine. Then he opens his eyes and remembers the nightmare.

He’s on strike.

More thoughts run through him. How long will this last? What about the mortgage? Should he pull his son out of hockey? His daughter from dance? Where is gas cheapest? Will his first-grader come home from school upset, again?

Because they do, the little ones overhear people talking about the strike. They come home and ask, “Will we run out of money?” “Can I still go to my school?” And their parents pick them up, smile, and assure them everything will be all right. They hope they aren’t lying.

An Impression on Wabtec and other business Interests

The Wabtec employees, old and young alike, want jobs. They want living-wage jobs. They want to make a great impression on business interests so their children have jobs. Their hopes for this city are the same as economic leaders’ hopes.

But they are not willing to step back in time and relinquish total control of their lives to an employer.

In order to assure they do not do that, UE506 refused to ratify a contract with flexible schedules and mandatory overtime stipulations.

A historic point of view

Dr. John Olszowka, Ph.D., a professor at Mercyhurst’s Thomas B. Hagen Department of History teaches the history of labor.

“From a historic standpoint, the issue of an eight-hour work day was one that was a central goal and objective that drove American workers since the advent of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. There’s an interesting historic (autobiographical) novel that speaks to the mental fatigue, physical exhaustion, and coercive force of the excessive work hours that once existed in the United States.”

The book Dr. Olszowka uses in his class, Out of the Furnace by Thomas Bell, discusses the old steel industry when employees were forced to juggle shifts while working twelve-hour days seven days a week. On the last day of the week, which they called “The Turn,” their shift changed and employees were forced to work twenty-four hours.

Back then, unions didn’t exist. Steel workers received no overtime pay.

“Conditions were dangerous, and unsafe to say the least—injuries and death were not uncommon.” Dr. Olszowka said. “These conditions were permissible because employers looked at workers as little more than interchangeable parts.”

The bad conditions inspired workers to ask for standard eight-hour days.

“It was about recapturing their dignity, fighting for their lives and safety,” Dr. Olszowka said.

Like strikers and unions today, the steel workers met with criticism.

“At the time, to outsiders, these efforts to change the work condition were seen as a threat. Critics complained it would hurt the companies, financially. They would want to leave the region,” Dr. Olszowka said. “One of the constant comments I still hear is how the labor unions destroyed the American Steel industry with their “excessive demands”—which is completely false. It was about having a degree of control over their lives; and raising their lives to a quality worth living.”

UE506 and Wabtec employees feel accepting flexible schedules and mandatory overtime is relinquishing too much control back into the hands of an employer.

The Mandatory Overtime Stipulation

Embedded in the proposed Wabtec contract is the following reference to mandatory overtime:

  1. B.3. Overtime Assignments. Employees will be required to work overtime including, but not limited to, work performed before and after shifts, on weekends, and on holidays, as necessary depending on the needs of the business.

In this country, if you refuse overtime, you can be fired. As long as your employer pays you in accordance with the law, there is no limit on the amount of overtime they can require.

Sign on that dotted line, and UE506 ratifies a contract where an employer has absolute power over the amount of time an employee must spend at work. Family wedding? Child’s recital? Soccer game? Vacation? Family reunion? Unless those events land during shutdown, there is no assurance they’ll be able to go.

Let me restate Dr. Olszowka’s words. “It was about having a degree of control over their lives; and raising their lives to a quality worth living.”

What can we do?  

Right now, seventeen hundred families are in the fight of their lives. They will do anything to keep these jobs in Erie—anything except go back in time.

If you do not understand their plight, then at least be kind.

Political leaders, your words are powerful. Walking that cold Wabtec picket line are first, second, and third generation GE workers. Please don’t accuse their fight for personal dignity as making a bad impression on business interests. They have a vested interest in this city. Unlike you, Mr. Grunke, most of them grew up here. They love Erie. They want their kids to stay here, and they are desperate to make a good impression on business interests.

They are hard-working people who will work overtime when they can to make Wabtec successful, but they are not going to sign their lives away.

They are not interchangeable parts.

 

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Cyndie Zahner has lived in the Erie community her entire life. She is a retired grant writer/administrator, and now writes fiction novels. Her husband, brother-in-law, and nephew-in-law work at Wabtec. Her brother is a GE retiree. Her father-in-law, Edwin Zahner, was a proud GE employee for thirty-seven years. Follow Cyndie on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon. See her BookCircle Online interview at here.

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Why You Should Care About the Wabtec Strike

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.

GE/Wabtec Rates

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.

Our Area

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.zahner@gmail.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 InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubLinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon. See her BookCircle Online interview at here.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/cyndiezahner/

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https://twitter.com/TweetyZ