In this election year, there are plenty of U.S. politicians criticizing the present administration and corporate America for the loss of manufacturing jobs. I think that's a bit hypocritical considering many of them have taken it upon themselves to pressure companies operating on U.S. soil by imposing costs that make operations uncompetitive.
Just look at what is happening in Massachusetts and you will better understand my contempt. Saint-Gobain is a Paris-based multinational operating an abrasive plant in Worcester, Mass. This company employs 1,700 workers and buys approximately $50 million worth of goods each year from in-state vendors. According to an independent study, employees at the Worcester plant earn 25% more and pay less for healthcare than workers at similar jobs elsewhere in Massachusetts and surrounding states.
Three years ago, the UAW was voted in by a narrow margin (406-386). One week before the vote, James McGovern (D-MA) sent a letter to employees urging them to unionize. Today, the company is still trying to negotiate an initial contract. Saint-Gobain wants to base future wage increases on performance measures and is asking employees to pay a higher percentage of rising healthcare costs. In fact, according to a company adviser, the cost of benefits for employees at the plant will exceed the cost of wages within two years.
While this may sound like a private company's internal labor dispute, local politicians want to please the union to the point they are pressuring the company to sign a labor agreement with the UAW. In fact, one Massachusetts senator, who incidentally is campaigning for the presidency, sent a letter to the company's chairman on behalf of the UAW.
It's about time elected officials look at the big picture rather than how to muster a few more votes. Instead of pushing to saddle U.S. companies with greater costs, politicians should introduce legislation to reduce government burdens involving healthcare, lawsuits, and regulations, just to name a few. They should leave the contract negotiations up to the parties involved.
At the same time, our politicians need to get their heads out of the sand and take a hard look at what is going on around the world, particularly in terms of global manufacturing.
It's almost humorous that while pressure is being placed on this Parisbased multinational willing to operate in the U.S., France is prepared to spend 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) next year to attract investment and keep jobs from leaving the country. Fighting an unemployment rate in excess of 9%, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin says the money will be divided equally among measures to stem outsourcing, finance research, and fund a government plan that includes incentives to hire and sign apprenticeship programs and even fight housing shortages.
I'm tired of hearing about outsourcing issues here in the U.S. From my perspective, we are in better shape than other developed countries and, best of all, we're not afraid to work hard to stay competitive. We can and will compete with any country on this earth. And, with a little assistance from our elected officials, we will be tough to beat.