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Anybody else affected by the west coast lockout?(14 posts)

Anybody else affected by the west coast lockout?4bykn
Oct 11, 2002 10:29 AM
My place of work has lost three days of production so far, with an undetermined loss as parts finally start to trickle in. The parts are sorta vital where I work, can't really sell cars without engines and transmissions.
Electric cars. . .czardonic
Oct 11, 2002 10:42 AM
. . .have neither engines nor transmissions (if I am not mistaken). Not helpful, I know, but I couldn't resist.

As a person who is peripherally but directly affected by this dispute, what is your opinion of the lockout? I haven't been following it that closely, but insofar as this is a lockout, as opposed to a strike, I thought it odd that certain politicians were pressuring the workers to go back to work.
Oct 11, 2002 11:04 AM
While negotiating a new bargaining agreement the union declined an offer to temporarily agree to a "status quo" contract. And when the union's first proposal wasn't summarily accepted, they forced a work "slowdown", 1/3 or so of normal productivity. So while it was a lockout, the hand was definitely forced and perhaps perfectly understandable. And these tactics never go over well in the public mind, thus the near unanimity in pressure to go back to work. Also the average salary of $107,000 might have had something to do with it...
Yeah. High salaries should be reserved for paper-pushers.czardonic
Oct 11, 2002 11:18 AM
$107,000? I heard the average was more like $80,000. As a person finding it hard to make ends meet on a fair bit less than that, it hardly seems extravagent for what I imagine is strenous and dagerous labor. They're facilitating $2 billion a day in economic activity, after all.

Sounds more like a temper-tantrum that a forced hand.
Well, you should earn whatever...Wayne
Oct 11, 2002 11:42 AM
your services are worth. Problem is Unions inflate what your services are worth through the power of the collective bargaining. This was great when people were scraping by and being exploited by management, now you got guys making really good money for services that in a free market wouldn't earn them nearly as much. I don't begrudge them for making the money it just seems like to me sometimes the Unions need to think a little more about what's good for the company rather than just taking as much as they can squeeze out of them. But perhaps I'm just off base, have there been any union companies go belly up b/c of high operating costs due to saleries? There certainly plenty that have gone overseas.
It is a paradox that I don't quite understand.czardonic
Oct 11, 2002 12:03 PM
People seem far more ready to criticize self-aggrandizing Unions than self-aggrandizing management. I would like to think if all the cards were on the table, Unions and management could come to an agreement that maximizes wages without sinking the company. Maybe I am naive, but on the other hand Unions gain nothing when businesses fail. Management, on the other hand has an incentive to keep those cards close to their vest and offer as little as they can get away with.

Ultimately, it is kind of a chicken and egg argument: Do jobs exist because of companies, or do companies exist because people are willing and able to fill jobs? Who contributes more?

For me, it comes down to: Without which is the company best able to survive?
Oct 11, 2002 12:18 PM
I'm not saying they're getting paid too much. Only that public perception changed, in Oregon at least, when the Oregonian printed that figure and the details of the lockout. The question pertained to public/representative pressure on the workers and I tried to answer the question from that perspective, not my own. Here're my thoughts:

Workers don't deserve a comfortable wage (whatever that is) for any job. They do DESERVE the marginal revenue that their job provides the business, nothing more, nothing less. Of course supply and demand, job danger, hours, education, training, labor, and experience all contribute to the efficiency and availability of the worker, and thus the revenue that the business receives from the worker. Consider adding one additional forklift operator to a full production port. How much marginal revenue does this provide the port? I have no idea really; it might be 0 if they are already perfectly efficient. It might be a million if they're short on operators. The most efficient operator should be paid the most and fired last. The least efficient should be fired unless the marginal revenue generated is greater than the marginal cost of keeping the worker, in which case revenue could be maximized by hiring more workers until the equilibrium condition is realized. If it takes ten more operators to meet the condition and they provide 1.5 million in marginal revenue than 150,000 is the optimal salary for each. If they only provide 750,000 in revenue than 75,000 is the correct salary.

And I do find a work slowdown illegal and unproductive. If the owners are bargaining in good faith either agree to the same contract during the process or strike. You think the owners are throwing a temper-tantrum for not paying "workers" that refuse to work? So when a baby cries because he doesn't get more candy it's the parent that's throwing the tantrum? I guess I've always just misunderstood the word.
Your giving management more credit than they have earned.czardonic
Oct 11, 2002 12:37 PM
Management never bargains in good faith as prescribed by your marginal increase in productivity theory. Management tries to minimize wages, workers try to maximize them. That is the way the game is played. Why blame the workers for playing hardball?

Thanks mostly to management for whom the deck is currently stacked, there can be no imparial analysis of the average workers marginal contribution to the bottom line. If there were I suspect that most workers would get a raise, and most managers would be defaulting on their Lexus leases.

I think that public opinion is generally attributable to sour grapes rather than a rational analysis of fairness. Most people think that their bosses are paid too much, and that they are paid too little. It is just a bit odd and rather sad that this rationale vaporizes when it is some other employee claiming a bigger slice of the pie.
Oct 11, 2002 12:52 PM
You're probably right. My point is that companies should be trying to maximize revenue. The best way to do this is to pay optimal salaries to the correct number of workers. This attracts the best and most efficient workers and hopefully limits worker dissastifaction as a side effect. Because if you don't, someone else will and should succeed in driving you out of the market (Unions tend to complicate this slightly). Maybe workers are underpaid and managers overpaid, but it could be the opposite as well. A manager that increases revenue within in a group by a couple million is probably well worth a 250,000 salary. One that shows no difference or a decline is probably worth less than the workers themselves. I just don't understand non economic reasons on either side for income disparity arguments.
True, but. . .czardonic
Oct 11, 2002 2:06 PM
. . .there is also an incentive to minimize costs by eliminating labor altogether through new technology. That seems to throw a wrench into the system, because it can be used to leverage wages down even with the increase in skilled labor, which seems to be the trend.

Can a manager truly increase revenue? Ultimately, a plan of action is useless without the means to implement it. My point is that employees, being the means, are just as valueable. Granted, that is a judgement call.
hard to saytao
Oct 11, 2002 4:23 PM
Sorry for the delay, had to get my afternoon ride in.

I'm not totally sympathetic to the labor elimination argument only because it's been around for 200 years and a greater percentage (by choice) of the population is working and getting paid better for it. Of course if I was in an industry where this was happening I'd feel a little different because change is hard. But someone has to design, install, program, update, maintain, and oversee see these technical gadgets, so usually just as many if not more jobs are created and efficiency increases.

This is a good thing unless you've been doing it for all your life and you don't want to do anything else. Imagine if direct connect telephone operators had employed such techniques during the switchover. We don't have enough people in the world now to hand route all calls. Is it better to have a working telephone system? I say yes, though I'm sure the thousands of women that were laid off felt much differently at the time.

Of course workers are valuable! But no number of perfect workers will save a company with a bad business plan or one that doesn't treat its employees well. The best managers I've had are the ones that have great people skills. They create an environment conductive to productivity through encouragement, reinforcement, problem resolution, incentives, and well, money. Here's a cheesy example of a manager increasing revenue:

A medium sized software company does 10 million a year in support contracts. A new manager takes over the group of ten service agents. They're not unhappy, but not happy either. He allows a more flexible schedule for everyone, provides bagels and drinks every morning, Friday afternoon lunches, weekly issues meetings, monetary incentives for timely call resolution and follow-ups, daily interaction with each person, and monthly "outings" when reasonable goals are met. Each year he increases the rate of renewal for contracts for both new and existing clients, up to 20% over a five-year period. While technically the workers increased revenue, and they should be compensated of course, the manager provided the environment to do so and should be compensated accordingly.

Don't get me wrong; the managers that are responsible for a group and don't communicate well and hardly ever interact with their employees probably don't deserve a big, if any, salary since that's their job. Efficient companies will find these managers and get rid of them. Others won't, and when the company fails, 8-10 times as many "workers" as "managers" will be let go. This sucks, but also demonstrates why managers can have a bigger effect (positve or negative) than a single worker can, not always of course. So good managers of managers need to be able to recognize this and act accordingly.
Good points.czardonic
Oct 11, 2002 7:11 PM
But, I wonder if the trend of the last 200 years will be sustained. From what I hear, average wages have been on the decline since the mid 70's. Also, earlier technology allowed pent up demands to be met. Will that always be the case? It seems like more and more money is being spent trying to convince people to buy things that you'd be hard pressed to argue that they need. (Need being a function of the functional benefit to the consumer.) The latest "must have" technologies seemed to have exhausted their demand fairly quickly.

Obviously, progress must continue. But again, can it continue to eliminate labor and satisfy the demand for employment? Robots and mechanization initiated the migration from the assemply line to the cubicle. But where will people go when software catches up? Can the utopian life of unlimited leisure through technology be anything but a welfare state? (A bit extreme, but you get the idea.)

My own best managers have been people who fostered productivity rather than mandating it. Maybe our respective points of view are different sides of the same coin. A finely honed axe in the hands of an inept woodsman may be as ineffectual as dull blade in the hands of a master. (Speaking of cheese). Or is it? Able managers and skilled employees are both necessary to a successful venture. I guess my gripe is that workers get a lesser share of recognition for their contribution (or less than I think they deserve, in many cases).
Not that I know of...Wayne
Oct 11, 2002 10:43 AM
What are the issues? I used to be a Teamster when I worked at UPS and I went through two contract renewals (one of which resulted in a strike of a few weeks). I developed a pretty poor opinions of unions. It seems like to me they went from serving a good purpose of protecting worker's rights to trying to squeeze the company for everything it's worth and protecting workers to the nth degree. It was practically impossible to fire someone, I definitely felt for the management.
I think the issue is....Starliner
Oct 11, 2002 2:01 PM
I got this third hand: the dispute boils down to management wanting to introduce a barcode tracking system for the containers, and workers resisting for fear that such modernization will mean job layoffs.