Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

More than 1,700 union workers walked off the job last week at the former General Electric locomotive plant in Erie. They’re protesting demands made by their new owner, Wabtec Corp. of suburban Pittsburgh (Wilmerding).

It’s the first strike at the facility in 50 years.

Wabtec closed on its $11 billion deal to purchase GE Transportation last week. And it’s seeking a two-tiered wage system that, while maintaining current wages and benefits for existing employees would, on average, pay new and recalled workers 38 percent less. Current employees have a starting wage of $35 an hour.

The union – the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 506 – balked.

Wabtec, which told the Post-Gazette that the Erie plant has been GE’s least competitive facility, says that’s the same employment deal it uses at its Wilmerding manufacturing facility which is represented by the same union.

But as Jake Haulk, president emeritus of the Allegheny Institute, reminds, unions have a long history of driving jobs away from Pennsylvania to right-to-work states, if not driving them out of the United States all together.

“Their unwillingness to learn from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s never ceases to amaze,” the Ph.D. economist says. “Pennsylvania will never fully recover or grow compared to right-to-work states; it buries itself in its fealty to unions, especially public-sector unions.”

Tragically, the most obvious lessons are the ones most difficult to learn. For some.

From the email inbox, a reader writes, part:

“How sad it was reading your column “Latest Pittsburgh jobs report disappoints (in the Tribune-Review).  When will we ever see growth again in this region like all my immigrant grand and great-grandparents experienced?  I don’t believe that today they would leave Germany, Slovakia and Ukraine for the USA.

“Locally you see the building of high rises, stores and renovations and new restaurants in Oakland and around Pittsburgh. But I guess that’s just in some areas while it seems a lot of our small towns and cities continue their now decades-old languish.

“All I see around me here in southern Armstrong County is the new world of broken-down buildings, crime and drug addictions and wasted lives of unemployed young people.”

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).