Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Union Destruction

The unions are at it again. The UAW has nearly killed the big three auto companies but fails to connect their actions to the decline in union jobs, decline in profits, and slow deaths of the companies they are bleeding dry. Through their lobbying on congress the UAW managed to get some protective tariffs in place but rather than making the foreign manufacturers less competitive they simply began manufacturing their products in the US in non-UAW plants. The UAW maintains that without their pressure these plants would not be paying the high wages that they do. Certainly there is some truth to this allegation but the UAW tries to ignore the fact that these foreign manufacturers are not burdened with a seniority system or debilitating retirement programs, or onerous healthcare obligations. These are all “benefits” that the UAW has won over the years for their members. The result is an aging workforce, exorbitant healthcare costs, a generous pension program that cost more each year, excessive numbers of employees, and an uncompetitive salary structure.

The UAW is now trapped in their own rhetoric and any retreat from these “benefits” is almost impossible. Their membership continues to decline as the companies they have unionized continue to sink into irrelevancy with ever declining market share. Of course, the management of these auto manufacturers shares some of the blame as well. After all they surrendered to the union blackmail year after year and kept feeding that tiger until now the tiger threatens to consume them. At least some of this problem lies with the incestuous relationship within the auto industry. Auto executives simply move from company A to company B then to Company C and then back to company A. No company would even consider hiring a senior executive who wasn’t a “car guy”. This attitude has ensured that no fresh thinking would be introduced to challenge the status quo. Recently Ford has hired an executive outside of the auto industry and this is a first. However, it may be too late because Ford like all of the big three auto companies is bloated and virtually paralyzed by the UAW. The challenge for the non-car guy will be to find a way to escape the clutches of the UAW and undo years and years of management thinking that has pitted labor against management.

However, the auto industry isn’t the only industry that is dominated by unions that are gradually destroying their industry and the teacher’s union is a prime example. This is a group who are heavily unionized, have no quality metric, and protected by tenure. This is not a problem in and of itself, but when high schools are graduating students who can’t read or spell and who have limited mathematical skills, then that is a problem. At the same time these teachers are complaining that they are under paid and over worked. The underpaid argument rings very hollow when you examine their pay on an hourly or per diem basis. When teachers are measured on their actual scheduled work days, their pay is equivalent to that of computer programmers and engineers. The reality is that these teachers only work nine months of the year and of those 270 days they actually work less than 180 days. Of course the teachers like to point out that they are required to constantly educate themselves and frequently work long hours. Naturally they seem to not realize that ALL professionals require constant education and the 40 hour work week is only a baseline and most professionals work well over the 40 hour baseline.

Another factor that the teachers fail to recognize is that unlike virtually all other professionals they have no metric. They produce educated students but they resist all attempts to measure the quality of the education of these students. Even when standardized tests are forced upon them, there is no punishment for those teachers whose students fail the tests. They mumble and grumble and blame everyone but themselves. The incompetent and the competent are treated alike unlike normal business where the incompetent are weeded out. In the education community they are given tenure and protected by their union. The result is the continued erosion of the public school system and the continued decline of their reputation as professionals.

What about universities and their professors? This is a very good question and it appears that as the quality of education has declined the tuition for a substandard education has increased. This is especially true for the highly prestigious universities where the tuition commonly runs in the tens of thousands. These highly vaunted bastions of education are rated on reputation which is based on the number of PhD’s they have and the professional stature of those PhD’s. Of course the undergraduate student may never actually see his professor and the greater the prestige of the university the more probable that is true. The student enrolls for a class taught by Professor Doe only to discover that the actual class is conducted by a teaching assistant. In any other business this would be called fraud but at the university level this is called standard practice.

As bad as this is, the worst is that these bastions of learning have become so politically correct and so concerned about creating an egalitarian society that they no longer fail students and the letter grades have become so eroded that any student who has less than a 3.0 average must be brain dead. In fact the grade erosion at Harvard has gotten so bad that almost half of the graduates are Cum Laude. Some examples of university level work are:

Europe was disrupted by the fast paste of change
Thomas Jefferson was president, founder of the University of Virginia, and author of the Decoration of Independence.
Germany’s William II had a chimp on his shoulder.

These gaffes can be attributed to misspellings due to haste rather than a poor understanding of the subject or an inability to spell. But these are not the only things they come from college graduates. All too often when questioned college students and college graduates show an appalling lack of knowledge of such things as geography; for example:

The first example of modification was in small cities such as Connecticut.
Northern Africa is the region which lies just north of Africa and is therefore not part of Africa.
The five European grade powers were France, Germany, England, Russia, and Australia-Mongolia.

These are products of our current university system, young people who have paid a considerable sum of money for their “education”. You can rest assured that the professors who have produced this shoddy product are either unionized or protected by tenure or both. The time has long past when teachers and professors should be called to account. Also students should not be given a passing grade when they clearly don’t deserve it. Unions are killing industry but it seems to me that the greater threat is to our students.

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