Guest Column: Lordstown: Who is to blame
With the ratification of a new contract, the UAW conceded that the shuttering of the idle Lordstown plant is permanent. The union, in self-preservation mode, blames General Motors, as it must, to avoid painful introspection. But is the so called evil corporation really the culprit here?
Perhaps an analysis of the auto manufacturing sector will shed light on where the responsibility for this loss should fall. Over the past few decades, manufacturing jobs have been migrating from “forced-union” states to “right-to-work” states in alarming numbers. This is no secret. A quick internet search is all that is necessary to realize this as fact.
Why is it that we have witnessed a flurry of new manufacturing facilities popping up across the south? Manufacturers flock to the south because the workforce steers clear of unionization. Earlier this year Mazda and Toyota announced plans to open a joint assembly facility in Huntsville, Alabama. A $1.6 billon facility that will produce 300,000 vehicles annually. This is one of six Alabama vehicle production projects, totaling thousands jobs and encompassing billions in investments. Volvo Cars USA, recently kicked off production in Berkeley, South Carolina. This could have been Ohio — Lordstown, Ohio.
Why the south? The key difference is traditionally the south, where the foreign manufacturers operate (Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas), are predominantly right-to-work states and the workers have chosen not to buy the UAW drivel. In the past few years Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri have all seen the light and switched over from forced-unionism to right-to-work. Ohio is surrounded by states who have announced to the world they want to attract businesses and are willing to make the changes necessary to do so. Lordstown is a result of a refusal on the part of Ohio and the union workers not to accept change.
Wages are not the only issue. For decades, big-labor bosses wielding the power created by forced-unionization have imposed and perpetuated counter-productive work rules. Unions would force contracts requiring rigid job classifications that killed efficiency and productivity, ultimately to the detriment of workers’ job security. The propaganda fed to the rank and file by the union is that the union is all that stands between the workers and the evil corporations. The data begs to differ.
Right-to-work states outperform forced union states, like Ohio, in nearly every metric of economic health, (on average they have greater economic growth, a lower unemployment rate, and lower taxes). In the last 30 years, per capita income rose 23 percent faster in right-to-work than in forced-union states.
U.S. Commerce Department statistics, show that the average annual compensation per right-to-work state manufacturing employee was $76,454. That’s roughly $3,800 higher than the average for states that still lack right-to-work protections.
While I am a supporter of workers having the freedom to unionize, they must be willing to accept the negative consequences of that decision. Do they want a non-union job or no job at all? Should they have been willing to decertify the union to keep their jobs or be bullheaded and toe the union line thus leading to closures like Lordstown?
Unless you are a believer in the musings of Karl Marx, corporations exist to earn profits. In a free market competitive world, corporations must change with the environment. The days of the big three auto makers having a monopoly on the car market thus being able to give away the farm to union demands is long gone. The competition is operating under a new dynamic that creates a different cost structure. Places like Lordstown are dinosaurs on the brink of extinction. Lordstown was unwilling to change with the times and now sits idle. The question is, did the unions and the union workers learn anything from this? Did the state legislators in Columbus learn anything? If not, Ohio will continue on the downward slide from being an economic powerhouse to being an economic has-been.
Jack Loesch is an area resident and Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Akron for the past 27 years whose columns appear periodically in the Salem News, a sister newspaper of The Review.