Friday, December 10, 2004

Stalingrad, USA

I once spent a good deal of time working in the Cleveland / Akron / Youngstown area for a former employer. An AP article, entitled "Newspaper in Hard-Core Ohio Union Town Is Hit With Its First Strike in 40 Years," reminded me of the business climate there, particularly in the Mahoning Valley around Youngstown.

I was an avid talk radio listener and would tune into a local show in the afternoon whenever I could. To listen to the conversations between the host and his local callers was like stepping through a time/space warp into Soviet Russia in the 1920's. There was such hostility, even overt militancy expressed by many of the callers there that I, if I were a manager in one of the plants in the area, would fear for my life. When the title in this article refers to the town being hard-core, it is not exaggerating.

The odd thing is, one of America's largest employers is situated there. Lordstown, OH, just up the road, boasts a state-of-the-art General Motors plant that is the envy of the world, employs 8,000 workers (some of the highest paid hourly employees in the country), and has just gone through a retooling by GM at the cost of an estimated $500 million. The jobs there would be coveted by 98% of America's labor pool.

But you'd never know it by listening to the workers there bitch.

I would hear GM employees call in and complain about work rule (UAW and other union contract) violations relating to overtime, start time, lunch time, shift times, break time, overwork, stress, an endless array of management transgressions relating to the manner in which the employees are treated, environmental issues, sexual harassment issues, race issues, physical abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, preferential treatment, nepotism, unsafe working conditions, unsafe equipment, unclean air, impossible production schedules, unrealistic production quotas, inadequate restroom facilities, poorly situated drinking fountains, insufficient lighting, inadequate and hazardous parking facilities, oppressive cigarette smoking rules, and on and on. And the employees make, on average, nearly $60,000, which they think should be supplemented with more attractive overtime pay and better benefits. Add to this group of malcontents all the union personnel in shops in nearby plants, offices, and worksites and you have a cacophony of disgruntled, Marxist Leninist wage earners.

Welcome to Youngstown, Ohio, the friendliest little city in America.

And now the unions at the newspaper have gone out on strike. I think we should show our solidarity. Let's read only weblogs until their demands are met.