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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Miss Ginger Chimes in on the Automaker Thing!

Miss Ginger read a couple of thought provoking posts by some favorite bloggers to day, and she decided to chime in with her own rather than cannibalising their comments sections!
First of all, Nutwood Beth posted about the effect the shutdown of Studebaker had on the economy of South Bend, IN in 1963. If I am summarizing correctly, she felt strongly that the automakers must prove a viable plan before the government provides any assistance. Her husband Ken, in a separate post, ran some numbers to estimate what he thought the failure of the industry potentially could cost. One of his commenters went so far as to add that she wondered if this "impending doom" of the automakers foretells the fall of Capitalize, if I editorialize just a tad on her words.
Ken quoted a number that blew me away when he used the assumption that the average auto worker makes $60k a year. I'm not sure where Ken got his number, but I am going to assume it is accurate.
Everyone knows that the chief executives are making way too much money, especially in light of the results they are showing. But really, in the whole American auto industry, there are 3 CEO's. 3. That's it. And any business plan for any company is going to allow for a CEO salary that can attract a leader capable of managing an organization of that magnitude. And sure, they surround themselves with a bevy of stuffed shirts and yes-men that are all overpaid as well. But they are part of the budget. And the existence of some of them is inevitable, and a few might even be required. But really, in total they are just a handful of the millions of autoworkers whose jobs are at risk.
If you go into the plants, you find the masses, the "millions" the press likes to call them. They will form the bulk of the corporate payroll, not the execs. The riveters, the painters, the assembly workers, and "all the rest" take home the largest portion of the payroll. These are the "worker bees". The ones who make the honey. The ones who get it done. They may or may not be educated. They may or may not have skills. They may or may not even be very dedicated. But if Ken's salary average of $60k is correct, they are taking home $28/hr for every hour they work. A salary typically negotiated by a labor union, not granted due to superior work, or supreme dedication, or remarkable results. When the raises come along, everyone gets them, whether they are the best in their field or the worst. What happens to them? Where would they go? What would they do if they lost the only job they know how to do?
They could go down to their local mall and apply for a job at, say, a department store. Department stores almost always have job openings, and they require very little experience. And department stores require lots of worker bees. People to fold the clothes, pick up the fitting rooms, wait on the customers, ring them up, smile, be nice, and make the customers want to come back and spend money there again. Worker bees. The lifeblood of any industry.
And do you know what the worker bees make in a department store? $8.50 and hour, usually. Some make more, but even the oldest, most experienced don't make much more than that. If they have been there "all along", since the "good old days", they may make it to a wage of $12 or $13 an hour.
Most of those older worker bees have a drawer full of old nametags, too. Names like "Bullocks", "Burdines", or "Broadway". "May D&F","Meir and Frank", "Filene's", or "Marshall Field's". Miss Ginger has stores in Louisiana that have been named "Goudchaux's> Maison Blanche> McCrae's> Parisian> Foley's since they were built in the 80's.
It's an industry of the survival of the fittest. Fat cats don't make it. Quick fixes don't work. And nothing can be swept under the carpet (which is glued to the floor, by the way, so it won't wrinkle and trip people!) And the big sharks swallow up the little fish every day.
You may have a newly named department store in your town; it may have even replaced one of your venerable old favorites. You may have seen changes in the store, or it may be pretty much the same to you. But if you look at the faces, you'll see the people in the store are many of the same people who have helped you for years. They wear all black to work now. They wear a different nametag. And they had to learn to work a "new-fangled" cash register. But they have a job. With a company that respects them. And makes them feel good about what they do every day. That didn't get bailed out by the government, and never will. Americans would laugh at the thought of bailing out the Department Store industry. But I'm not sure why? It appears to be a hell of a lot better run than the automakers!
So, start your Chevrochrysford and head to the mall!


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

A quick search indicates that the service industry, a.k.a., Department stores, are have an employment of about 4.5 Million. So, based on my entry, you can do the math, but if an assistance program was developed, it would be about half of an auto industry program. The only other argument is that there are many more retail stores than there are automobile industry companies for America.

Thanks for the mention and the link, I hope that your M#%@'& company survives the current financial storm :o)

Beth said...

Miss G, thanks for the linky!

One of my friends in the lab where I worked in Indianapolis had a husband who worked in an auto plant in the area. I can assure you that he made quite a bit more than I did at my job in the lab, despite my Bachelor degree. After working for almost 25 years, I don't believe I ever achieved the salary that he did working in the auto plant!

I can't and won't blame all of this on the unions--they helped promote safety and health care and reasonable wages for workers, many years ago. But I believe they DO bear some of the blame. I think they got away from those noble goals and started making some demands that really began to hurt the auto industry. For a while, unions demanded free health care for all retirees, although that is changing now. That is a huge expense, as the companies eventually found technology improved, fewer workers were needed at the plants, which meant less money going into the retirees' health care can see the vicious circle.

As you pointed out, that sort of wage is unheard of in retail jobs, and in most manufacturing jobs. It's a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into, and although the situation is dire, I don't believe it spells the end of capitalism. If we can jumpstart things, and hold some of these people accountable, I still believe we can turn things around.

But the free ride is over.

And here I've cannabilized YOUR comment section! My apologies, but as you can see, it's something of great interest to me, and to many others. Thank you for taking on the topic as well.

Love, Beth

miss alaineus said...

well said.

read 'rivethead'. i forget who wrote it but it does describe the evils of the unionized worker to a T.

as evil as the unions are, they are a necessary evil (like the state police and underwire brassieres) and working in the plant is about as shitty of a job as you can have, trust me i have done it as a part kitter for a subcontractor who made prototypes for car seats for all the automakers (big 3 and foreign) it's hard on the body and the soul and the monotony is killer. the mentality around here has always been screw eduacation, i am gonna go work for _____________ (insert auto company name of choice here) and it's been proven time and time again that simply cant be the case in my state anymore.

the thing that is killing the unions now is the cost of retiree benefits. people retired early and have lived longer then the actuaries expected them to.

but such is life. they do need to be accountable and we cant afford as a country to be without our three major employers after the US GOV and the armed forces (when figuring in all the second and third tier suppliers, as well as trucking industry to move parts)

when that woman cut me off i wanted to bitch sylyptar.

mistress maddie said...

Here,Here,Miss Ginger! What a wonderful post to make and how true! Marshall Field,s and Maison Blanche! What memories and wonderful old glamour stores. And is Parasian and Maison's still around. One of the best department stores I think is Bergdorf Goodmen is New York City who is hurting at the moment,but they will weather it. But that would be a sad day if they go. The flagship is just beautiful and so oplent.

Miss Ginger Grant said...

Alas, Miss Maddie, Maison Blanche is no more. The old building on Canal Street has been converted to a hotel, I think. Not sure what happened to Parisian. They may have retreated back into Alabama but they are certainly not dotting the South like that once did.
I'm glad our company just celebrated it's 150th anniversary. How many companies can say that?


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