As the United Auto Workers union battles to organize Johnson Controls Inc. plants in Plymouth, Mich., and Oberlin, Ohio, that supply parts to Ford, we should remember that it was rampant unionization, resulting in higher costs to manufacture (CTM) that opened the door for the Japanese automakers almost three decades ago.
Although Ford says labor is only a small part (15 percent) of the total CTM and suppliers can still reduce prices through efficiency, suppliers know the truth: Labor unions increase costs.
Union membership is on the decline at large companies as they've downsized and restructured to decrease their CTM.Most unions have an over-inflated opinion of their value to employees in this day when most manufacturing plants are clean, well-lit, safe places to work and employees enjoy good wages and many benefits unheard of 50 years ago.
Perhaps that's why membership in unions has dropped off so drastically in recent years.
I'll give the unions credit for improving the plight of the American worker back in the days when some employers took advantage of workers. Unions raised the standard for employers when dealing with employees, demanding they be treated like human beings and receive a fair wage.
The unions' recent foray into nonunion plants of auto industry suppliers is a last-ditch attempt to keep alive the illusion of unions benefitting working people, and to keep the fat-cat bosses who head unions in their well-padded jobs at the expense of these workers.
When my father worked at a large company during my childhood, he had nothing good to say about the union to which he was forced to belong in spite of his vehement opposition to their strong-arm tactics. ``Thugs'' he called them after they shot the windows out of the house of a friend of his because this man, like my father, refused to walk the picket lines during strikes.
Johnson Controls has said in reports that it will hang tough, closing these two, new plants — and even forfeit Ford's work — if need be, to protect its right to remain a nonunion company. If suppliers become too afraid of union dominance in dictating the business relationship, many will opt out of doing automotive work altogether, or at least doing it for U.S. automotive firms.
If these corporate giants won't permit suppliers to raise prices to make up the money lost in paying higher, union wages, then maybe suppliers, in order to achieve greater efficiency on the production floor, will find ways to use robotics to a greater extent.
Robots, after all, don't strike. Neither do they pay union dues.
Goldsberry is a Phoenix-based correspondent for Plastics News.