Mission Impossible: Finding a Mini-Van Made in America by Union Workers

 

 by WALTER BRASCH

 

Last year, not one of the 491,687 new minivans sold in the United States was made in America by unionized workers.

Some were manufactured overseas by companies owned by non-American manufacturers. The Kia Sedona, with 24,047 sales, was built in South Korea, Russia, and the Philippines. The MAZDA5, with 19,155 sales, was built in China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Some minivans from Japanese companies were built in the U.S., but by non-unionized workers. Honda sold 107,068 Odysseys built in Alabama. Toyota Siennas, built in Indiana, went to 111,429 persons. The Nissan Quest, built in Ohio, had 12,199 sales.

Only three minivans were built by unionized workers, but they were made in Canada by members of the Canadian Auto Workers. The Dodge Grand Caravan, with 110,996 sales; Chrysler Town & Country, with 94,320 sales; and the VW Routan, with 12,473 sales, all share the same basic body; most differences are cosmetic. GM and Ford no longer produce minivans.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) suggests that members who wish to buy minivans buy one of the three Chrysler products because much of the parts are manufactured in the United States by UAW members.

All cars, trucks, and vans from GM, Ford, and Chrysler are produced by union workers in the U.S. or Canada. The Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Eclipse, Spyder, and Galant, and the Mazda6 are produced in the U.S. under UAW contracts; neither company makes minivans. All vehicles produced in the U.S. have the first Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as a 1, 4, or 5; vehicles produced in Canada have a 2 as the first VIN number.

Founded in 1935, the UAW quickly established a reputation for creating the first cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) and employer-paid health care programs. It helped pioneer pensions, supplementary unemployment benefits, and paid vacations.

It has been at the forefront of social and economic justice issues; Walter Reuther, its legendary president between 1946 and his death in 1970, marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, and helped assure that the UAW was one of the first unions to allow minorities into membership and to integrate the workforce. Bob King, its current president, a lawyer, was arrested for civil disobedience, carrying on the tradition of the social conscience that has identified the union and its leadership.

The UAW doesn’t mind that corporations make profits; it does care when some of the profit is at the expense of the worker, for without a competent and secure work force, there would be no profit. When the economy failed under the Bush–Cheney administration, and the auto manufacturers were struggling, the UAW recognized it was necessary for the workers to take pay cuts and make other concessions for the companies to survive.

But not all corporations have the social conscience that the UAW and the “Big 3” auto manufacturers developed. For decades, American corporations have learned that to “maximize profits,” “improve the bottom line,” and “give strength to shareholder stakes” they could downsize their workforce and ship manufacturing throughout the world. Our companies have outsourced almost every form of tech support, as well as credit card assistance, to vendors whose employees speak varying degrees of English, but tell us their names are George, Barry, or Miriam. Clothing, toys, and just about anything bought by Americans could be made overseas by children working in abject conditions; their parents might make a few cents more, and in certain countries would be thrilled to earn less than half the U.S. minimum wage.

Americans go along with this because they think they are getting their products cheaper. What they don’t want to see is the working conditions of those who are employed by companies that are sub-contractors to the mega-conglomerates of American enterprise. These would be the same companies whose executives earn seven and eight-figure salaries and benefits, while millions are unemployed.

But, Americans don’t care. After all, we’re getting less expensive products, even if what we buy is cheaply made because overseas managers, encouraged by American corporate executives, lower the quality of materials and demand even more work from their employees.

Walk into almost every department store and Big Box store, and it’s a struggle to find clothes, house supplies, and entertainment media made in America. If you do find American-made products, they are probably produced in “right-to-work” states that think unionized labor is a Communist-conspiracy to destroy the free enterprise system of the right to make obscene profits at the expense of the working class.

We can wave flags and tell everyone how much more patriotic we are than them, but we still can’t buy a minivan made in America by unionized workers—even when the price is lower than that of the non-unionized competition.

[Sales figures of minivans is from Edmunds.com. Also assisting was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which looks at the mass media, social justice, and the labor movement. The book is available from amazon, local bookstores, and http://www.greeleyandstone.com in both hard copy or an ebook.]

 

Fewer Words; Less Filling

 

                                    by WALTER BRASCH

 

The Reduced Shakespeare Co. cleverly and humorously abridges all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays to 97 minutes. Short of having a set of Cliff’s Notes or a collection of Classic Comics, sources of innumerable student essays for more than a half-century, it may be the least painful way to “learn” Shakespeare. The critically-acclaimed show, in addition to being a delightful way to spend part of an evening, is a satiric slap upside the head of the mass media.

The condensation of the media may have begun in 1922 with the founding of Reader’s Digest, the pocket-sized magazine which keeps its 17 million world-wide subscribers happy by a combination of original reporting and mulching articles from other magazines. Books also aren’t safe.

For more than six decades, Digest editors have been grinding four books into the space of one, calling them “condensed” or “selected,” and selling them by subscription to people with limited attention spans. These are the people who actively participate in society’s more meaningful activities, such as watching Snooki and JWoww on “Jersey Shore” or swapping lies with the gentrified folk at the country club. However, most media condense life to save money and improve corporate profits.

Book publishers routinely order authors to reduce the number of manuscript pages, saving production and distribution costs. The printed book will always have a place, but publishers are now deleting print production and putting their books onto Kindle and Nook, reducing page size to a couple of sizes smaller than the first TV screens. Because reading takes time, and time needs to be abbreviated for the MTV Go-Go Generation, chapters are shorter, and book length has been further reduced to adapt to e-book format.

Movie industry executives, eyes focused upon their wall safes, dictate shorter films, with more “action-paced” scene changes, an acknowledgement that Americans need constant stimulation. It isn’t uncommon for writers, faced by corporate demands to reduce the length of a screenplay, to indiscriminately rip out three or four pages in protest, only to find that the corporate suits instead of being appalled are, in fact, pleased.

Scripted half-hour TV shows were once 26 minutes, with four minutes for promotions and commercials. Now, the average half-hour show is 22 minutes; the average hour show is about 45 minutes, with at least two sub-plots because producers believe viewers don’t have the attention spans to follow only one plot line.

In radio and television news, the seven-second sound bite is now standard, forcing news sources to become terse and witty, though superficial. News stories themselves usually top out at 90 seconds, about 100–150 words. An entire newscast usually has fewer words than the average newspaper front page.

An exception is the music industry. At one time, popular songs were two to three minutes, some of it because of the technological limits of recordings. During the past two decades, with the development of digital media, pop music has crept past four minutes average. The downside, however, is that writers are taking the same cutesy phrases and subjecting listeners to nauseous repetition.

Long-form journalism, which includes major features and in-depth investigations that can often run 3,000 or more words, has largely been replaced by short-form news snippets, best represented by Maxim and USA Today.

USA Today condenses the world into four sections. Publishers of community newspapers, citing both USA Today’s format and nebulous research about reader attention span, impose artificial limits on stories. Thirty column inches maximum per news story, with 12 to 15 inches preferred, is a common measure.

When the newspaper industry was routinely pulling in about 20–30 percent annual profits, the highest of any industry, publishers were routinely delusional, believing that was the way it was supposed to be and would always be. Instead of improving work conditions and content, they increased shareholder dividends and executive bonuses. When advertising and circulation began to drop, they made numerous changes to keep those inflated profits.

Publishers downsized the quality, weight, and size of paper. Page sizes of 8-1/2 by 11 inches are still the most common magazine size, but several hundred magazines are now 8- by 10-1/2 inches. Newspaper page width has dropped to 11–12 inches, from almost 15-1/2 inches during the 1950s.

Faced by advertising and circulation freefall the past decade, publishers cut back the number of pages. More significantly, they began a systematic decimation of the editorial staff, cutting reporters and editors.

Faced by heavier workloads and tight deadlines, many reporters merely dump their notebooks into type, rather than craft them and then submit the story to a copyeditor to fine tune it so it is tight, has no holes, and no conflicting data. In the downsized newspaper economy, stories often pass from reporter to a quick scan by an editor and then into a pre-determined layout, all of it designed to cause fewer problems for overworked editors.

The solution to the “newspaper-in-crisis” wailing, with innumerable predictions that print newspapers will soon be as dead as the trees that give them nourishment, may not be in cutting staff, and replacing the news product with fluff and syndicated stories that fill pages, but are available on hundreds of websites, but in giving readers more. More reporters. More stories. And, most of all, more in-depth coverage of local people and issues, with each article well-reported, well-written, and well-edited.

[In a 40-year career in journalism, Walter Brasch has been an award-winning  newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, syndicated columnist, multimedia and TV writer-producer, and tenured full professor of mass communications. He says he’ll keep doing journalism until he gets it right. His current book, BEFORE THE FIRST SNOW, is an autobiographical mystery novel that includes a number of media observations.]

 

 

 

Fewer Words; Less Filling

 

                                    by WALTER BRASCH

 

The Reduced Shakespeare Co. cleverly and humorously abridges all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays to 97 minutes. Short of having a set of Cliff’s Notes or a collection of Classic Comics, sources of innumerable student essays for more than a half-century, it may be the least painful way to “learn” Shakespeare. The critically-acclaimed show, in addition to being a delightful way to spend part of an evening, is a satiric slap upside the head of the mass media.

The condensation of the media may have begun in 1922 with the founding of Reader’s Digest, the pocket-sized magazine which keeps its 17 million world-wide subscribers happy by a combination of original reporting and mulching articles from other magazines. Books also aren’t safe.

For more than six decades, Digest editors have been grinding four books into the space of one, calling them “condensed” or “selected,” and selling them by subscription to people with limited attention spans. These are the people who actively participate in society’s more meaningful activities, such as watching Snooki and JWoww on “Jersey Shore” or swapping lies with the gentrified folk at the country club. However, most media condense life to save money and improve corporate profits.

Book publishers routinely order authors to reduce the number of manuscript pages, saving production and distribution costs. The printed book will always have a place, but publishers are now deleting print production and putting their books onto Kindle and Nook, reducing page size to a couple of sizes smaller than the first TV screens. Because reading takes time, and time needs to be abbreviated for the MTV Go-Go Generation, chapters are shorter, and book length has been further reduced to adapt to e-book format.

Movie industry executives, eyes focused upon their wall safes, dictate shorter films, with more “action-paced” scene changes, an acknowledgement that Americans need constant stimulation. It isn’t uncommon for writers, faced by corporate demands to reduce the length of a screenplay, to indiscriminately rip out three or four pages in protest, only to find that the corporate suits instead of being appalled are, in fact, pleased.

Scripted half-hour TV shows were once 26 minutes, with four minutes for promotions and commercials. Now, the average half-hour show is 22 minutes; the average hour show is about 45 minutes, with at least two sub-plots because producers believe viewers don’t have the attention spans to follow only one plot line.

In radio and television news, the seven-second sound bite is now standard, forcing news sources to become terse and witty, though superficial. News stories themselves usually top out at 90 seconds, about 100–150 words. An entire newscast usually has fewer words than the average newspaper front page.

An exception is the music industry. At one time, popular songs were two to three minutes, some of it because of the technological limits of recordings. During the past two decades, with the development of digital media, pop music has crept past four minutes average. The downside, however, is that writers are taking the same cutesy phrases and subjecting listeners to nauseous repetition.

Long-form journalism, which includes major features and in-depth investigations that can often run 3,000 or more words, has largely been replaced by short-form news snippets, best represented by Maxim and USA Today.

USA Today condenses the world into four sections. Publishers of community newspapers, citing both USA Today’s format and nebulous research about reader attention span, impose artificial limits on stories. Thirty column inches maximum per news story, with 12 to 15 inches preferred, is a common measure.

When the newspaper industry was routinely pulling in about 20–30 percent annual profits, the highest of any industry, publishers were routinely delusional, believing that was the way it was supposed to be and would always be. Instead of improving work conditions and content, they increased shareholder dividends and executive bonuses. When advertising and circulation began to drop, they made numerous changes to keep those inflated profits.

Publishers downsized the quality, weight, and size of paper. Page sizes of 8-1/2 by 11 inches are still the most common magazine size, but several hundred magazines are now 8- by 10-1/2 inches. Newspaper page width has dropped to 11–12 inches, from almost 15-1/2 inches during the 1950s.

Faced by advertising and circulation freefall the past decade, publishers cut back the number of pages. More significantly, they began a systematic decimation of the editorial staff, cutting reporters and editors.

Faced by heavier workloads and tight deadlines, many reporters merely dump their notebooks into type, rather than craft them and then submit the story to a copyeditor to fine tune it so it is tight, has no holes, and no conflicting data. In the downsized newspaper economy, stories often pass from reporter to a quick scan by an editor and then into a pre-determined layout, all of it designed to cause fewer problems for overworked editors.

The solution to the “newspaper-in-crisis” wailing, with innumerable predictions that print newspapers will soon be as dead as the trees that give them nourishment, may not be in cutting staff, and replacing the news product with fluff and syndicated stories that fill pages, but are available on hundreds of websites, but in giving readers more. More reporters. More stories. And, most of all, more in-depth coverage of local people and issues, with each article well-reported, well-written, and well-edited.

[In a 40-year career in journalism, Walter Brasch has been an award-winning  newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, syndicated columnist, multimedia and TV writer-producer, and tenured full professor of mass communications. He says he’ll keep doing journalism until he gets it right. His current book, BEFORE THE FIRST SNOW, is an autobiographical mystery novel that includes a number of media observations.]

 

 

 

Labor Pains: A Fable for Our Times

 

                             by Walter Brasch

 

Once, many years ago, in a land far away between two oceans, with fruited plains, amber waves of grain, and potholes on its highways, there lived a young man named Sam.

Now, Sam was a bright young man who wanted to work and save money so he could go to school and become an electrician. But the only job open in his small community was at the gas station. So, for two years, Sam pumped gas, washed windshields, checked dipsticks and tire pressure, smiled and chatted with all the customers, gave them free drinking glasses when they ordered a fill-up, and was soon known as the best service station attendant in town.

But then the Grand Caliphs of Oil said that Megamania Oil Empire, of which they all had partial ownership, caused them to raise the price of gas.

“We’re paying 39 cents a gallon now,” they cried, “how can you justify tripling our costs?” they demanded.

“That’s business,” said the Chief Grand Caliph flippantly. But, to calm the customer fury, he had a plan. “We will allow you the privilege of pumping your own gas, washing your own windows, checking your car’s dipsticks and tire pressure, and chatting amiably with yourselves,” said the Caliph. “If you do that, we will hold the price to only a buck or two a gallon.”

And the people were happy. All except Sam, of course, who was unemployed.

But, times were good, and Sam went to the local supermarket, which was advertising for a minimum wage checkout clerk. For three years, he worked hard, scanning all groceries and chatting amiably with the customers. And then one day his manager called him into the office.

“Sam,” said the boss, “we’re very pleased with your work. You’re fired.” From corporate headquarters had come a decision by the chain’s chief bean counter that there weren’t enough beans for their executives to go to Europe to search for more beans.

“But,” asked Sam, “Who will scan the groceries?”

“The customers will,” said the boss. “We’ll even have a no-hassle machine that will take their money and maybe even give change.”

“But won’t they object to buying the groceries, scanning them, bagging them, and shoving their money into a faceless machine?”

“Not if we tell them that by doing all the work, the cost will be less,” said the manager.

“But it won’t,” said Sam.

The manager thought a moment, and then brightly pointed out, “We’ll just say that the cost of groceries won’t go up significantly if labor costs were less. Besides, we even programmed Canmella the Circuit-enhanced Clerk to tell customers to have a nice day.”

Now, others may have sworn, cried, or punched out their supervisor, but this is a G-rated fairy tale, and it wouldn’t be right to leave Sam to flounder among the food. By cutting back on luxuries, like food and clothes, Sam saved a few dollars from his unemployment checks, and finally had enough to go to a community college to learn to become an electrician. After graduating at the top of his class, an emaciated and homeless Sam got a job at Acme Industries.

For nine years, he was a great electrician, often making suggestions that led to his company becoming one of the largest electrical supplies manufacturers in the country. And then one day one of the company’s 18 assistant vice-presidents called Sam into a small dingy office, which the company used for such a day. “You’re the best worker we have,” the AVP joyfully told Sam, “but all that repetitive stress has cut your efficiency and increased our medical costs. In the interest of maximizing profits, we have to replace you.”

“But who can do my job?” asked Sam.

“Not who,” said the manager, “but what. We’re bringing in robots. They’re faster and don’t need breaks, vacations, or sick days. Better yet, they don’t have union contracts.”

“So you are firing me,” said Sam.

“Not at all. We had to let a few dozen other workers go so there would be room for the robots, and we won’t be hiring any new workers, but because of your hard work, we’re reassigning you to oil the robots. At least until we design robots that can oil the other robots.”

For three years, Sam oiled, polished, and cleaned up after the robots. Sometimes, he even had to rewire them. And then the deputy assistant senior director of Human Resources called him into her office.

“No one can oil and polish as well as you can,” she said, but the robots are getting very expensive and we still have several hundred workers who are taking lobster and truffles from the mouths of our corporate executives, “so we’re sending all of our work to somewhere in Asia. Or maybe it’s Mexico. Whatever. The workers there will gladly design and assemble our products for less than a tenth what we have to pay our citizens.”

“You mean I’m fired?!” said a rather incredulous Sam.

“Not fired. That’s so pre-NAFTA. You’ve been downsized.”

Downsized?!”

“If you want, we can also say you’ve been outsourced. How about right-sized. That’s a nicer word. Would you prefer to be right-sized?”

By now, Sam was no longer meek. He no longer was willing to accept whatever he was told. “The work will be shoddier,” said Sam. “There will be problems.”

“Of course there will be,” said the lady from HR. “That’s why we hired three Pakistani goat herders to solve customer complaints.”

“Our citizens won’t stand for this,” said a defiant Sam.

“As long as the product is cheaper, our people will gladly go to large non-union stores and buy whatever it is that we tell them to buy.”

And she was right.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and former university professor. His latest book is the social issues mystery novel, Before the First Snow, available at amazon and other book dealers.]

 

 

Outsourcing America’s Health Care

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

“Ola, Amigo! Pack your bags, we’re going to Mexico!” bubbled Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, faux physician and money-maker.

“Yeah, I could use a decent vacation,” I replied, figuring he’d pay for both of us since he had just set the world record for the most nose jobs in a 24-hour period.

“What vacation?” he said. “I’m setting up practice.”

“And give up catering to rich people with inflated bank accounts and deflated ethics?”

“Don’t have a choice. I’m getting laid off.”

Comstock had been a rainmaker for the Megabucks Happy Health Care Medical Center for the past decade. There was only one reason I could think of why he’d be laid off. “Megabucks tired of paying your malpractice insurance?” I asked.

“Not just me,” he said. “Hospital’s laying off most of the staff, making the rest work overtime, and hiring outside contractors. They said it was hard to survive when the profit was down to only 20 or so million a year.”

“I didn’t realize it was that serious,” I said. “You planning to set up private practice to help the poor in Mexico?” I asked admiringly.

“Not a chance! Gonna get rich working for Megabucks!”

“You just said you were laid off.”

“Been laid off in the U.S.,” said Comstock while putting a frozen burrito into the microwave. “Megabucks/Mexico just hired me. There’s cheaper labor down there.”

“You crazy?” I asked. “You’re the cheaper labor.”

“Obviously you don’t know American business,” said Comstock haughtily.

“Megabucks/U.S. closes its auxiliary operations, and then contracts with Mexican companies for a fifth of the cost in the U.S. They do the work, ship it back to the U.S., and Megabucks bills Blue Cross the full rate as if it was done locally.”

“So where do you fit in?” I asked.

“Just as before. Nose jobs. Breast augmentations. Tummy tucks. All the important medical procedures. But this time, I do it in Cancun.”

“To rich Mexicans,” I said disgusted.

“To rich Americans!” said Comstock. “If they want the best care, they’ll take their private jets to Mexico and then deduct the trip as a necessary business expense.”

“And what about the impoverished and middle-class Americans?”

“If they can sneak across the border, they can also get medical care.”

“What about prescriptions?”

“Megabucks contracted with some of the best drug dealers—I mean pharmacists and chemists—in Mexico. Quality is just as good and it’ll only be four or five times production costs. Unlike the U.S. there’s no TV advertising and six-figure MBAs and lawyers that require drugs to be 30 or 40 times production costs.”

“With prices that low, how do you know there won’t be mass rushes by Americans to grab everything they can?”

“Because there’s security! Every hospital and pharmacy has armed guards with the best automatic weapons smuggled through the God-fearing 2nd Amendment patriotic Southern states.”

“Is Megabucks outsourcing all its operations?”

“Keeping the ER. After tummy tucks and butt lifts, that’s the hospital’s ‘cash cow.’”

“So, then, it’ll have to keep some services like X-Ray and the lab,” I said. “Maybe even a doctor or two.”

“Too expensive,” said Comstock. “Megabucks will hire more residents and foreign-educated doctors, and work them 18 hours a day. More work, less time to complain. Residents will do anything to get experience to pass their boards. May even hire a couple of hospitalists. You know, the ones who graduated at the bottom of their class and can’t even get work in a Free Clinic.”

“I suppose they’ll also do the lab work?” I asked.

“Do you know some of those lab techs are making as much as $30,000 a year! Made sense to lay them off, too.”

“So how will the ER know a victim’s blood chemistry, or if there’s internal injuries?”

“Technology,” said Comstock. “They scan the blood here, and send digital X-Rays to Mexico. Mexican lab technicians—you know, the ones that don’t know about unions and will work for only a few bucks a day—will analyze everything, then text the results back to the U.S.”

“This sounds like it’s not only a way to maximize profits, but also a way to avoid dealing with the President’s health care reform program.”

“Obamacare!” spit out Comstock. “Nothing but socialized medicine.”

“Most countries have forms of socialized medicine,” I countered, “and they not only have good health care but affordable prices to their citizens.”

Comstock put his hands to his ears and began chanting, “We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1.”

“Number 37,” I corrected him. “The World Health Organization ranked the U.S. just below Costa Rico.”

“They’re all Commies,” replied Comstock. “Besides, that study is a decade old.”

“Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund compared the nations of the United Kingdom against the U.S., and the U.S. ranked seventh of the seven.”

“Yeah, like Americans will go to Canada? It’s covered by snow and run by a queen who can’t even speak English.”

“You and Megabucks are crazy!”

“Possibly,” said Comstock, “but outsourcing is the American way. By the way, do you put ketchup or mustard on a burrito?”

[Dr. Walter Brasch isn’t licensed to practice medicine, but he goes to some excellent physicians who are—and they’re just as frustrated with the costs, insurance companies and myriad forms as anyone else. His current book is the critically-acclaimed mystery novel, Before the First Snow]

 

 

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