WASHINGTON — Wages for hourly workers in the plastics industry rose 6.4 percent in 1996, fueled by a 16.3 percent jump in the Southeast that propelled that region from the lowest- to the highest-paid, according to figures from a trade association survey.
Supervisors' pay rose 9.1 percent, with the strongest gains in the West and the Southeast, according to the 1996 Labor Survey published by the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
But the survey results should be considered cautiously, because the results are self-reported by companies, and firms that supplied data in 1995 may not have responded in 1996.
In fact, the Southeast's growth is not nearly as striking when only plants that reported figures in both years were considered.
In that case, wages for hourly workers rose 3.3 percent, with the Southeast seeing wages increase 4 percent. The region remained the lowest paid but the gap narrowed substantially.
Still, the rise in the Southeast is not a surprise. Although some plastics companies moved there for cheap labor, living standards have risen and companies have discovered they needed to import some skilled workers, said Ken Eaton, president of the plastics industry executive search firm Eaton and Associates in Lake Forest, Calif.
Now, however, the North American Free Trade Agreement is shifting growth to the border states and cities such as El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, said John Dugan, president of J.H. Dugan & Associates Inc., a Carmel, Calif., plastics industry headhunting firm.
SPI presented its figures without explanation or commentary. It surveyed 182 member companies with 241 plants, with about 70 percent of the firms supplying information in 1995 and 1996.
When data from all companies was considered, the Northeast and Midwest hourly wages each increased about 4.5 percent, boosting pay to a little more than $10 an hour. That is well below the Southeast's 16.3 percent increase, which pushed average wages to $10.43. Hourly wages in the West, however, were stagnant with a 0.5 percent rise to $9.48.
The survey also found a slight increase in union representation, with 17.2 percent of plants covered by union agreements in 1996, up from 16.5 percent in 1995. The West had the lowest union representation, with one of 42 plants covered, while the Northeast had 13 of 41 covered and the Midwest 22 of 105.
The average hourly wage rose from $9.49 to $10.10, but the pay scales dropped in 12 of 51 job categories reporting.
Salaries in most molding jobs increased, with injection molding and blow molding supervisors increasing from $12.21 to $12.92 and $11.71 to $12.68, respectively.
In extrusion, working supervisor and troubleshooter positions increased from $13.72 to $15.92 and from $11.39 to $15.67, respectively. Wages for extrusion operators and material handlers dropped, however, from $10.74 to $10.49 and $10.03 to $9.51, respectively. Reinforced plastic supervisors' hourly wages rose from $11.56 to $13.21 and troubleshooters saw their salaries go from $10.72 to $12.13.
In thermoforming, wages for working supervisors were $13.39 in 1996, up from $11.90. Wages for troubleshooters dropped from $11.13 to $10.85, however.
EPS foam firms saw salaries decline for foam shop operators and material handlers, while mold operator pay went from $7.39 in 1995 to $8.57 in 1996.
Most categories in finishing firms increased, with only general finishers dropping from $8.87 to $8.14 per hour. Troubleshooters' pay jumped from $10.71 an hour to $12.14, while buffing operators and painters added nearly $1. Most fabrication positions increased, with machine operators seeing a healthy jump from $8.78 to $10.21 per hour, while calender operators' pay skyrocketed from $9.50 per hour to $12.27.
Quality assurance wages jumped about $1 an hour, and all categories of shipping and receiving and maintenance jobs rose also.
Pay for toolmakers showed healthy increases, with supervisors' pay going from $17.07 to $18.42 an hour, and mold makers rising from $15.54 to $15.86.