WHATEVER HAPPENED TO "BE CONTENT WITH YOUR WAGES?"

by David Sisler

"Be content with your wages" is probably not a popular text in the union hall this Labor Day weekend (or any other time, for that matter). It becomes increasingly less popular when it is viewed in its context: John the Baptist's call for personal repentance.

Dressed in simple clothes and nourished with even simpler fare, John thundered from his desert pulpit, demanding a baptism of changed hearts and lives as a response to the forgiveness of sins.

Among the groups addressed were soldiers who had agreed with their generals for a certain level of pay. They were told to live up to that promise and be content with their wages (that means raising a barrier against greed).

There are real differences between a First Century soldier under the command of a Roman general and a pilot striking Northwest Airlines, or an assembly line worker striking General Motors, or a driver striking United Parcel Service. But one thing is certain where our money is concerned, we are definitely a discontented nation. And in the form of modern-day strikes, it costs us more than we ever gain.

Last Friday the pilot's union struck Northwest, and the mechanic's union has asked for permission to join them.

Northwest, as reported in The Boston Globe, said its last offer would have paid the average pilot $150,000 by the end of the contract in 2002, or more than the average pay at the big three airlines. But pilots have said Northwest misrepresented the value of the offer.

Northwest's management and its pilots are at a stalemate that boils down to disputes over added compensation costs of between $70-100 million per year. This strike will cost the airline a conservative $12 million per day.

On August 25, the Detroit Free Press announced that General Motors Corp. put an additional $500 in incentives on 13 cars and trucks in an effort to draw customers back to showrooms following a 54 day strike earlier this year at two Flint, MI plants. This pushes the total rebate on some vehicles to $2,500.

The two GM strikes closed 27 of 29 North American assembly plants and idled 192,000 workers. The 9,200 strikers collected unemployment compensation and strike pay amounting to half of their regular weekly pay while costing the company $2.5 billion.

Patrick Anderson, managing director of Anderson Economic Group said Michigan's economy will lose more than $1 billion in output of goods and services because of the strikes. William Wilson, an economist with Comerica Bank in Detroit disagrees. He estimates the loss to the state at almost $6 billion.

"To be honest, I don't know what we won in the long run," Craig Layman, a 16-year GM employee, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It seems like now the situation is worse than before."

Scott Zwiegler, who has worked for GM for 12 years said, "I think we are going to have to go out on strike again next year."

How many more billions will that cost the workers, GM, and the general economy, Scott?

Is there the slightest correlation between the fact that GM has lost 15 percent of its market share (down to 30 percent from 45 percent in 1980) and the fact that the company has endured 16 factory-level strikes? Consider that Chrysler, during the same period, has had only a few minor strikes, and Ford has not had a work stoppage since 1986.

Andy Johnson, a 28-year-old GM worker wonders what will happen if the company and the union do not work together and jobs are taken overseas. "Then what will the UAW do for me?" he asks.

In case you've forgotten, it was just a year ago that United Parcel Service was struck for 15 days by the Teamsters. Before the strike UPS was delivering 11.6 million packages per day. Daily U.S. deliveries are now 11.1 million. The Teamsters had 185,000 jobs before the walk-out. Today they have 174,000. And company profit dropped by over $200 million.

Ron Carey, who was Teamster president at the time of the strike, crowed that the union had won "a victory over corporate greed." Gwenita Brown, who has been at UPS for 19 years said, "We didn't get anything."

There were some winners in the UPS strike the Postal Service, Federal Express and other shipping companies which picked up lost UPS volume. FedEx's volume was up in sufficient figures to allow the acquisition of the RPS ground shipping company.

Working hard to earn a raise makes sense. Asking the boss to reward you for outstanding performance makes sense. Being recognized for loyalty makes sense. Striking is just plain stupid. Does anyone out on Northwest's picket line remember Eastern Airlines the company that struck itself out of existence a decade ago? It makes good sense to listen to God's Word.

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 9/5/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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