Demolishing a pro-labor-union hit job on Boeing and the South

Wow. Where to begin tearing apart the worst, most disingenuous op-ed I’ve read in a long time: Thomas Geoghegan’s anti-Boeing, but really anti-South, diatribe in today’s Wall Street Journal? Let’s try the beginning, since he gets the misrepresentations started in sentence No. 2:

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.

The word “move” is key, because pro-labor people like Geoghegan have depicted Boeing’s decision to open a production line for its 787 Dreamliner jet in North Charleston, S.C., as a loss to workers in Seattle. In fact, this is a new production line; the existing production line will remain in place.

I’m sure the workers in Seattle — or, more precisely, the union leaders whom their union dues pay — would have liked for the new jobs to be in Seattle (in addition to the 2,000 jobs Boeing has added there despite its alleged hostility to unions there, but I digress). Geoghegan, however, is trying to suggest workers in Seattle are losing something they never had. That’s never true.

Alas, it gets worse. See if you can spot the twin rhetorical sleights of hand in this sentence:

Why is Boeing…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)?

Good for those of you who noticed that Geoghegan not only conflated “high-skill work force” with “lower-wage work force” — as if wages reflect only one’s skills, and not other factors such as cost of living and labor-market competition — but also compared an average wage to a starting wage.

How important is the second trick, comparing average wages to starting wages? Pretty important, as becomes clear when we compare apples to apples. Geoghegan didn’t cite the source for the statistics in his comparison. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • The mean hourly earnings for production workers in Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, S.C., in May 2009 was $19.30.
  • The mean hourly earnings for production workers in Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia, Wash., in December 2009 (the available reading nearest the May 2009 figure for South Carolina) was $21.04.

A difference of $1.74 an hour sounds a lot less menacing than a difference of $14 an hour, huh?

That’s particularly true when we consider that earning $40,144 ($19.30 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) in Charleston-North Charleston, S.C., is equivalent, from a cost-of-living standpoint, to $45,426 in Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. — or more than the $43,763 to which $21.04 an hour extrapolates over the course of a year.

In other words, manufacturing workers in North Charleston arguably are better paid than those in Seattle. They must be better-skilled!

Geoghegan more or less gives away the game in the very next paragraph, where he bemoans our trade deficit with other countries:

That’s not because of our labor costs — in that respect, we can undersell most of our high-wage, unionized rivals like Germany. It’s because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.

Following Geoghegan’s own logic from the previous excerpt, in which he argued that lower wages reflect lower skills, shouldn’t consumers be afraid to purchase any American good instead of any German good, given that the Germans pay more? Their workers must be more highly skilled! Don’t buy American!

Of course, that would be a ridiculous thing to say; wages don’t only reflect skill levels. But it’s the logical conclusion of Geoghegan’s argument about Seattle vs. South Carolina.

Moving along, Geoghegan’s next attack goes like this:

We depend on Boeing to out-compete Airbus, its European rival. But when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline.

Now, never mind that Geoghegan offers just one (scarcely supported) example to back up his claim that “when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline.” Certainly, the international automotive industry — and its customers — haven’t gotten that memo. But it’s an especially silly example for Geoghegan to give because most of Airbus’ own North American manufacturing operations are — you guessed it — in the South.

Most of the other absurdities in Geoghegan’s op-ed play off these key misrepresentations. If this is the best argument union allies can make in the Boeing case, it’s no wonder private-sector labor unions are such dying dinosaurs.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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76 comments Add your comment

MightyRighty

June 20th, 2011
1:10 pm

BraaaaVO! Well said, Kyle!

MightyRighty

June 20th, 2011
1:11 pm

We lost the War of Northern Aggression because we didn’t have manufacturing. We don’t make the same mistake twice.

BULLSEYE

June 20th, 2011
1:24 pm

If you don’t like Unions, then don’t join.

Kyle Wingfield

June 20th, 2011
1:31 pm

BULLSEYE: Tell it to Mr. Geoghegan.

Middle-of-the-road

June 20th, 2011
1:36 pm

Good job. The WSJ author uses different data – starting wages with average wage. The average reader (readling level – 9th grade) may miss such nuances. Bring jobs south. Bring jobs to Charleston. It’s nice there and it doesn’t rain like it does in Seattle.

JuliaK

June 20th, 2011
1:43 pm

Awesome Kyle! BULLSEYE – you may be able to avoid joining a union, but employers often can’t avoid hiring from them – especially government entities… How are we supposed to reduce our state and local (city, county) spending when they are required to hire union labor at often 2x the cost with 10x the restrictions??

Don't Tread

June 20th, 2011
1:58 pm

Liberals have no problem distorting facts, omitting relevant data, making invalid/irrelevant comparisons, and outright lying to attempt to support their positions. His column appears to cover all those bases quite well.

Would you expect any different from a pro-union, socialist lawyer from the North? I’m sure the phrase “right to work state” sends him over the edge.

Maybe he should move to Germany, since they do a better job of socialism than we do…or better yet, he can move to utopia (China).

the guy on the couch

June 20th, 2011
2:01 pm

My dad worked in a unionized industry for close to 30 years. He fought the union tooth and nail because his tenure eventually led to seniority which allowed him to work the “better” assignments. The union goons used to vandalize his locker, his car, and threaten him anonymously to “get in line” because his individuality weakened their collective bargaining base. To hell with unions, we don’t need em.

Bryan G.

June 20th, 2011
2:04 pm

This NLRB deal is the biggest power grab by government short of the personal mandate or the Patriot Act. It’s awful

Whacks Eloquent

June 20th, 2011
2:19 pm

Nice piece, Kyle! The unions are having a tough year, and no matter what the outcome is for Boeing, the big loser here is the NLRB. I am glad they have been exposed for the corrupt hacks that they are. I have no problem with unions overall, so long as the goal is to improve the workplace and make it safer and more competitive. But when the overall health of the union is given priority, there is the problem. What good will a union do if a company goes out of business? (or moves South!)

GW

June 20th, 2011
2:36 pm

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.

What evah!

Dave

June 20th, 2011
2:56 pm

The op-ed author’s piece does have a few problems; but, don’t the flaws you point out actual support the main conclusion, that Boeing is retaliating against the union? If SC will cost Boeing the same or more than Seattle, why move, other than getting away from the union?

Kyle Wingfield

June 20th, 2011
3:12 pm

Dave: My point is that it’s not really retaliation because the company isn’t taking anything away from the workers. They’re simply making a business decision — based on the track record of the union, no doubt — not to add operations in that location. Totally different thing.

Whacks Eloquent

June 20th, 2011
3:20 pm

Dave,

It won’t cost more…that only came when you inflate the wages based on the lower cost-of-living.
I also think the BLS statistics are just area averages, not actual company figures, there may be a bit more discrepancy there. But they’d have to stay competitive – keep in mind that in SC you’ll have janitors and such, who probably will only make half what they do with a union. But the actual assembly line workers will have comparable competitive wages.

As for the overall issue, it’s not completely retaliatory, they did not actually move the jobs out of Seattle – that would have been a problem. They just chose not to expand there, but in a different location. There is no way the NLRB should be able to force a company to expand jobs in one location over another. When you think along those lines, it should come as no surprise that so many companies moved manufacturing out of this country altogether!

GW

June 20th, 2011
3:22 pm

I don’t see Kyle presenting any solid evidence that counters the author’s claim that this move would shift work away from a highly skilled and highly experienced and/or more educated work force earning an average of $28/ hour to a lower trained and less experienced and/or less educated work force with an average starting salary closer to $14/hour (It is a new plant after all.). Lockheed Martin’s lower bound for starting hourly wage for an intern in Marietta is $14/hour. Sure, the author’s numbers may represent bounds for the two groups of workers but then again we are talking about precisely this scenario given that the workers in Seattle are indeed the highly skilled, highly experienced group and the workers at a new plant in South Carolina would be at the opposite end of the spectrum. Granted, if Kyle had been writing this article though, I suspect he would have chosen a different set of equally valid numbers.

Whacks Eloquent

June 20th, 2011
3:29 pm

GW, only the workers that are already there are skilled for the work. Anyone new they’d hire would need training, just like in Charleston. Given that, why would you want to pay a new hire any more than you had to until you were sure they could perform the job well?

GW

June 20th, 2011
3:37 pm

Whacks,

You would not want to pay a new hire with less experience, etc., as much as you would the more experienced. I did not claim that you would. As for the workers in Seattle, I think it logical to assume, absent any solid evidence to the contrary, that the bulk of the workers do indeed fall into the highly experienced and trained workforce category unless the bulk of their workers recently retired or something. Further, workers hired at a new plant would naturally fall into the lesser trained and inexperienced category unless they transfer in from Seattle.

Kyle Wingfield

June 20th, 2011
3:37 pm

GW: Geoghegan’s op-ed was a slam on the entire region, which he apparently considers unfit to perform manufacturing jobs. Not only does he not provide any evidence for that assertion, but it’s wholly unreasonable to compare the average wage in one place to the starting wage at another. Yes, it’s a new plant — but it won’t be new after a year or two, so wages will rise. And then it’s also unreasonable for him to assert — again, with no evidence — that S.C. workers are less skilled simply because of that apples-to-oranges wage comparison.

I’m sure some labor-union supporter could make a decent argument for why Boeing should put the new production line in Washington state. But this ain’t it.

Kyle Wingfield

June 20th, 2011
3:39 pm

GW: Geoghegan never mentioned the word “experience.” He didn’t mean this as a temporal problem. As I wrote a minute ago, he meant it as a slam on the entire region. And he offered no evidence to back up his ill-considered opinion.

Whacks Eloquent

June 20th, 2011
3:48 pm

GW, I think you are underestimating the Charleston work force. I lived there for a few years, and can tell you there were a lot more skilled workers than jobs. They had a couple of rough decades there, with the closure of the Naval Base and several manufacturers, but the workers still lived there. Some worked down at the docks, underemployed, but there is a sizable talented workforce there. The plant Boeing built is near the still highly-active Air Force Base, and there is a lot of talent that can be pulled from that area as well, which from what I understand is part of the reason for that location.

As for Seattle, I have never lived there, and don’t know what the economic trends are there as well as I do Charleston, but again, there were no massive layoffs at Boeing or anything. The people they have trained to work there – well, they work there! So if they were to add another production line, they’d need new people. I don’t think there is an inherent superiority of Washington blue collar workers over South Carolina workers, do you?

BULLSEYE

June 20th, 2011
3:49 pm

JuliaK-

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers > Government Services Union.

Jimmy62

June 20th, 2011
3:51 pm

GW: First off, of course starting wages are going to be lower. Notice how the WSJ author doesn’t mention what the starting wages are in Seattle. And why are the people in the South lower skilled? BMW built a plant in South Carolina. Since we are told people in Seattle are more skilled, then shouldn’t the NLRB force BMW to move their plant to Seattle?

Also, why does the government have any right to tell a company which states they are allowed to expand in? Shouldn’t business decisions be made by businesses rather than politicians? Don’t you think the economy will grow more when businesses get to make decisions based on economics rather than what a union or a politician wants?

Furthermore, while Kyle doesn’t present “proof,” the original writer of the column presented even less proof. And made ridiculous comments. When BMW decided to build a factory in the South, was that a sign of decline in their business? Or was it simply a smart decision to build where they wouldn’t have to pay off parasitic union officials and have their ability to make business decisions restricted by what a union wants, as opposed to what the best thing for Boeing is.

The author is a jerk, this is a highly biased hit piece with no backing evidence.

tar and feathers party

June 20th, 2011
3:54 pm

Break that union, hey, break that union…I come from long line of union breakers….Break em, hit em again, harder, harder, hit em again….

tar and feathers party

June 20th, 2011
3:54 pm

As Rick Perry says, don’t try to make friends with the Left, just hit em as hard as you can!

GW

June 20th, 2011
4:38 pm

Kyle, the guy gave his views and openly stated his bias and his concern that this move, based on his own experiences, is a mere stepping stone toward a further loss of good paying jobs for a highly skilled (experienced) U.S. workforce. If the workers in South Carolina do indeed rise in a few years to the same level of compensation for the same level of work as performed by those in Seattle, then I would claim at that point that this author’s concerns were ill-founded.

Dumber and Dumber

June 20th, 2011
4:57 pm

“Hit job”?

Kyle loves his one-way hyperbole. Partisanship is an IQ test, if you still believe in either dems or the GOP, you failed. Sorry Kyle.

Kyle Wingfield

June 20th, 2011
5:09 pm

“Partisanship is an IQ test…”

…says the guy who brought partisanship into the discussion. LOL

Joe Mama

June 20th, 2011
5:10 pm

Mr. Wingfield — “My point is that it’s not really retaliation because the company isn’t taking anything away from the workers. They’re simply making a business decision — based on the track record of the union, no doubt — not to add operations in that location. Totally different thing.”

My understanding is that if the executive hadn’t specifically *said* that unions were the reason for the line being started up in SC, then the union wouldn’t have had a legal leg to stand on. Having said it, the executive put himself — and Boeing — on a potential hook.

I don’t deny that the company may have had very good and valid reasons to want the work done in SC — but the executive should have stayed mum on the company’s reasons.

Full disclosure — I am somewhat sympathetic to the union’s position, being the grandson of two UMWA coal miners. However, none of my relatives have worked union jobs in any kind of manufacturing plant and neither have I. My sympathy when it comes to union workers is primarily in the area of making and enforcing strong rules for work conditions and worker safety, as coal mining is an awfully unsafe occupation if any corners are cut. I count myself fortunate that both my granddaddies came out of the mines in one piece, though black lung did eventually do one of them in.

Kyle Wingfield

June 20th, 2011
5:15 pm

Joe: You’re right, it all hinges on this memo or statement or whatever it was where he alluded to some kind of payback. (Another example of why law that seeks to govern motivations, rather than actions, is usually bad law, but I digress again.) My point is that he can *say* it was payback all he wants, but what Boeing ultimately *did* isn’t payback, because it didn’t take anything away from anyone. You can’t lose what you never had, right?

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 20th, 2011
5:55 pm

I read this editorial today in the WSJ and figured it wouldn’t be long before it got taken apart.

Nicely done, Kyle.

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 20th, 2011
5:58 pm

GW: If the workers in South Carolina do indeed rise in a few years to the same level of compensation for the same level of work as performed by those in Seattle, then I would claim at that point that this author’s concerns were ill-founded.
—————

I think the point is that Boeing believes they can get the same quality of work for less pay than what the lazy union thugs in Seattle would have extorted from them.

GT

June 20th, 2011
6:03 pm

The country has a bad impression of the south. We do little to discourage that impression. I am sure he went through a few test scores from our school system, saw our average SATs and came to the not unusual conclusion; these are some very weird people.

We are the fattest, most unemployed, lowest literacy of any part of this country. And Georgia sweet Georgia may be the over all dumbest. So what is you point. Pick any minute of the day and you will find someone else referencing our area as backwards. Not because he got his facts wrong but because we pride ourselves on how dumb we can be. Yet we are smart enough to lead our country in laws concerning immigration. Very lucky we spelled it right, could use a thousand good laws on the books but true to our DNA we think illegal immigration is our monster to fits.

GW

June 20th, 2011
6:03 pm

I think the point is that Boeing believes they can get the same quality of work for less pay than what the lazy union thugs in Seattle would have extorted from them.

Then you’ll have no problem with those planes being built in China or India with a workforce more than willing to do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost.

electrician

June 20th, 2011
6:05 pm

thanks,Kyle,I have been waiting for someone to bring this topic into the open, well done.

Bob

June 20th, 2011
6:10 pm

You mean the lazy union thugs that built every commercial Boeing airplane in the sky today? Those lazy union thugs? Look, the writing is on the wall. First the Northern manufacturing jobs move to the South. Then in fifteen years, Boeing will leave the South too and start opening manufacturing jobs in Mexico. Just like the auto industry did. Pretty soon, this country will have few manufacturing jobs, and even fewer skilled workers.

I understand there’s a need to be pro-South, but in this case, we’re picking up a quarter today knowing we’ll lose ten bucks tomorrow.

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 20th, 2011
6:12 pm

GW: you’ll have no problem with those planes being built in China or India with a workforce more than willing to do the same jobs for a fraction of the cost.
——————–

I don’t own Boeing, so it isn’t really any of my concern. Or the Idiot Messiah’s for that matter. Boeing can build planes wherever they wish–that’s their business.

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 20th, 2011
6:14 pm

Well, Bob, why don’t you start a manufacturing company and hire a bunch of Americans? It’s easy, right?

Bob

June 20th, 2011
6:25 pm

Lil’ Barry, selling out the country is a lot cheaper and easier for major corporations. Ask Ford, GM, Boeing, Kodak, AT&T, Delta…the list is endless.

Ultimately, YOU as an American will pay the price. But no big deal, right?

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 20th, 2011
6:39 pm

Tell it to the buggy whip makers. They moved on–you should too.

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 20th, 2011
6:43 pm

Bob, where were your shoes made? Why aren’t you buying American? There are still shoes made here, as long as you don’t mind paying Americans to do the work.

DawgDad

June 20th, 2011
6:49 pm

“The country has a bad impression of the south. We do little to discourage that impression.”

Speak for yourself. “The country” cannot possibly have a lower impression of the South than I and many other Southerners hold for the northern and western urban centers. Atlanta or Detroit anyone? Newark? Chicago? LA? St. Louis? Cleveland? Pittsburgh? Boston? We live here for a reason (or reasons), many of us, myself included, by choice.

Thulsa Doom

June 20th, 2011
6:54 pm

Kyle, When ya gonna learn. Liberals don’t understand logical, factual arguments such as yours.

Ayn Rand

June 20th, 2011
6:59 pm

Kyle, you overkill the case of Boeing’s move to SC. Boeing was offered an attractive package of multi-million dollar subsidies to situate a new production line in SC. Washington State didn’t match SC’s offer. That’s how the southern (“red”) states are able to attract major industries: they buy jobs for $100,000 each, and pass off the costs to their taxpayers.

The US labor union movement is indeed due for shakeup. Most of the issues the labor unions campaigned for have been incorporated into worker security and safety legislation. Strikes and protests over pay are no longer appropriate for a nation that has low labor participation and high unemployment.

Still, workers need a way to air their grievances, since employers can be arrogant a*h*s. The European version of labor unions is more appropriate for modern conditions. All employees of a company, including the managers, are members of an employee association, and their elected representative has a voting seat on the company board of directors. Thus, there are no labor unions bigger than the company, and there is little employer vs. worker hostility.

On second thought, that won’t work in the US since workers depend on their employer and their labor unions, not only for their jobs, but also for medical coverage and retirement benefits. In Europe, health care coverage and retirements benefits are guaranteed for all citizens, regardless of employment or union/association membership.

Guess we’ll just have to muddle through with the mess we inherited from Taft Hartley, but can’t seem to update as the nation and the world changes around us.

GT

June 20th, 2011
7:02 pm

False pride Dawgdad, until we face that truth we will never be what we think we are.

DawgDad

June 20th, 2011
7:12 pm

“You can’t lose what you never had, right?”

Come on, Kyle, of course you can – the country around us is absorbed in an entitlement mentality.

We are so innundated with this we are becoming numb to the effects all around us – billion dollar increases in Federal spending characterized as “massive budget cuts”, increased spending in entitlement benefit programs characterized as “starving old ladies” or “killing our children”, support for record extensions of unemployment characterized as “feeding the greed of the wealthy on the backs of the poor and unemployed”, sensible balance the books cuts in Hope Scholarships characterized as “depriving our most talented youth of the educational opportunity they deserve”, voter ID laws characterized as “the great civil rights violation of our times” (ostensibly depriving unentitled voters of the privilege to vote – check the AJC Editorial page today for more on this), and on and on and on . . .

DawgDad

June 20th, 2011
7:14 pm

. . . and, the liberal line that “we can’t afford to pay for tax cuts”. Almost forgot to mention that one.

DawgDad

June 20th, 2011
7:26 pm

“False pride Dawgdad, until we face that truth we will never be what we think we are.” — sorry, I am pretty comfortable in my skin. I may strive to be more, or better, but I’m not deluded and most Southerners I know are pretty well grounded, too.

Look, I don’t for a moment think Southerners are better than people in other places (well, there are some people and places I would have to make exception for), but I absolutely believe many things we do in the South are better. Building roads might be an exception, unless you compare Atlanta to Boston.

GW

June 20th, 2011
7:35 pm

Boeing can build planes wherever they wish–that’s their business.

So if they were to just skip over handing out those jobs in the South and go straight to China, you would be good with it.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: Thee Magnificent!!! mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

June 20th, 2011
7:38 pm

So obozo and the dummycrats have been letting assault rifles walk illegally into Mexico, so that they can blame the United States for Mexico’s violence, and one of these guns was used to kill a border patrol agent.

When are we going to put obozo into a cage?

GW

June 20th, 2011
7:40 pm

When are we going to put obozo into a cage?

You’re the big talker so what do you need a “we” for, big boy.