Thursday, March 6, 2008

Those Crazy Men In Their Flying Machines

I've been ruminating on something all day, ever since I heard it on NPR this morning. It has to do with the Air Force awarding the contract for tanker planes to France's EADS-Northrop instead of Boeing. All during the news piece I kept waiting for the big "duh" but it never came.

The Pentagon dude they interviewed said that they made their decision based on five criteria, and the Airbus plane was superior in all five. He said they weren't just a little better, they "blew [Boeing] out of the water." They then went on to interview Boeing executives and workers, and made it a story of how upset Congress and Boeing is about the decision.

Well, here's a novel concept for you, Boeing -- have you ever thought about making a better plane? Could be that this is a giant wake-up call.

Which leads me to my main topic -- manufacturing being done overseas. I'm so sick of people whining about that. Yes, I'm sorry U.S. citizens have lost their jobs, but have they ever considered that perhaps their unions are, at least partially, to blame? Unions have their place, certainly, but they really need to back off on that higher and higher wages platform. There's a guy in Seattle making $50 an hour to put screws in a piece of metal all day, every day. Doesn't it stand to reason that there's someone (say, in France) willing to do it for $30 an hour?

My job is covered by a union contract. I work for the state, though, so our union is pretty limited in what it can and can't do. They do provide the very valuable services of negotiating benefits and providing an avenue for grievances; as well as assuring people can't be fired on a whim. Perhaps manufacturing unions should adopt this philosophy, and let wages land where they land. I have a college degree and a very responsible and demanding position, and don't think for a minute that it doesn't piss me off that the guy in Seattle putting a screw in a piece of metal is paid twice as much as me.

So, pretend I'm at a store and looking for an electronic gizmo, say an MP3 player. The store has two of them, one made in the US, and one made overseas. The US one is mostly plastic, has little or no online support, will hold 500 songs (that can only be uploaded via CD). The foreign-made one is sturdy and elegant, provides all kinds of support and uploading options, a 5-year warranty, and holds 1,000 songs. Guess what else? It costs 25% less than the US one. Do you really think I'm going to hesitate in making my decision???

Enough ranting, I guess. It's just something that really bugs me. The same scenario could go for almost any consumer item -- cars, furniture, toys, tools, etc. There's nothing I can do about it, except rant, so lucky you.

p.s. Happy 26th birthday to Günter!