Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Beast of Burden

The last week has brought a few interesting articles to my attention.

The first was the OSHA compliance issues in New York as they relate to the building boom. As we are experiencing a renaissance of building in cities across America (well in those deemed hot, now and most livable) there is a concern about the lack of safety inspection from those related to the buildings themselves to the ongoing process during build.

I have written about these issues before as most construction today is done with immigrant labor, the ones Donald Trump wants to wall out. They will of course build that wall as well as they have likely done so on many of Trump's own building projects.  I doubt Mr. Trump has someone verifying immigration status in his company to assure legitimacy and veracity of the individual doing the heavy lifting of which they are paid comparably less. Or maybe he does? I have no idea. Does he?

The article in the New York Times discusses the peril that workers are placed in regards to the haste and pressure to build more million dollar dwellings at a fast clip. Those same faces could be here in Seattle and little is said or mentioned if in fact they too are compliant with current OSHA laws, immigration and labor laws.  My feeling is no. We have already had one developer questioned over financing issues so as one window opens so does a door.  But we like our labor like our food - cheap and plentiful and of course disposable.

Then we have the growth of manufacturing jobs in the rural south by foreign companies. We have some American businesses relocating there as well, as Boeing did so in South Carolina with many of the tax breaks and other bribes to get them to do so.   Meanwhile the state of Washington, their largest manufacturing base (Boeing had moved their headquarters to Chicago years ago under the same promises) ended up losing close to 20 Million in sales tax, aka "revenue,:" in which to retain the plants here.

As states struggle to find the black in the their own budgets, we here in Washington are facing huge crisis in funding education and this issue is increasingly common in many states that are much less blue than here.

And the south is one such region of turmoil in many ways.  Louisiana has found itself on the short end of the stick for over a decade now, post Katrina, particularly New Orleans with the elimination of public schools, a near shuttering of their press, the lack of diverse population, housing costs, crime and the rest of the problems plaguing a city that decided to take on the natural disaster as a way of "improving" the quality of life. Clearly that plan worked out well as their former Mayor is awaiting appeal on fraud charges.  Some things change and some things remain the same and corruption seems to be one consistency.

Then we have the growth in automobile plants in the South by German automakers.  They are facing their own problems and their workforce opted to not unionize despite the welcome from the head companies, but the issues surrounding unionizing and/or organizing to have negotiations that can assure wages and benefits and of course hours of work, etc are all coming to white collar professions as well. The University of Washington academic staff that are non-tenured are examining that concept and more are interested in doing the same.  An interesting study from the Brookings Institute found that as union membership is declining there is an actual increase in establishing and joining a union in fields less associated with traditional union membership.

And again this is largely a responsibility of the voting public. As States look to dissolve unions as they have tried in Wisconsin and will soon be doing so in Illinois with their new Governor it is clear that those who most benefit from organization are the ones paying the dues in an entirely different way.  If those in fast food, the service sector and those in white collar professions such as writers and educators in higher ed, charter schools and even online schools  (other than the maligned K-12 sector which gets more credit that it deserves) we may see a resurgence in unions and in ways that changes both perceptions and purpose.

The South once a union stronghold has suffered economically for decades and the incoming manufacturing base is helping or is it?

This article in the Washington Post discusses the Chinese copper plant in Alabama. The Chinese have become aggressive in investing in American business and real estate of late and the contrast of cultures is one problem, the other is largely American - the lack of education and training of our workforce- placing them in situations that put them in a cycle of poverty and illiteracy.

When you have a workforce that cannot spell, cannot operate equipment correctly and need to read the manual and be trained appropriately which requires both English speaking skills and comprehension skills you have a problem that can be dangerous. The product(s) or buildings can be unsafe and the workforce equally as such.

Then we have a population beholden to the whims of a foreign government that we may or may not have good relations and with it the conflicts that result.  I am not against Chinese business but with the access to data and transparency lacking as well as issues of corruption and illegality (such as hacking) you have a problem.

Having a third party business as Unions have functioned as secures the issues that have brought benefits to workforces that are not unionized. The 40 hour work week, holiday and sick pay, the idea of pensions, the safety and security laws that comprise OSHA are largely due to unions.  They do not have to be an adversary but instead a partner in enabling American workers to be productive and in turn be a member of a larger community.

When you are dead, ill, or unemployed are you a productive member or a burden, And how to we handle burdens in this country?  We don't.










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