Don’t Worry — Take Action

By John Simourian II, President & CEO

This Opinion Piece appears in the March 23 (2009) print edition of Transport Topics.

The private sector has plenty to worry about at the moment. On a global scale, there are the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear issues. Closer to home, the stock market is declining and taking our 401(k) plans with it. As an industry, we’re watching the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (card check to its opponents) and TARP — the Troubled Asset Relief Programs

But worry rarely produces good results. What’s needed is action by those of us in the private sector to stimulate and repair the economy.  We certainly can’t leave it to the government — although we can urge the government to help us become more competitive in the global economy by reducing corporate and individual taxes rather than increasing them. The United States already has one of the highest corporate tax rates on Earth, and it has been proved in the real world that when governments reduce taxes, corporations and individuals flourish.

The government also could help us to be competitive by abandoning the card check legislation — admittedly not likely because it was introduced in both the House and Senate on March 10.

Card check’s supporters seek to amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an easier system to enable employees to form, join or assist labor organizations and provide for mandatory injunctions for “unfair labor
practices” during organizing efforts.

The measure will make us less competitive by driving up costs such as payroll and benefits and by transforming even more companies into the GMs and Chryslers of the world, weighed down by their bloated payrolls and benefits
costs and costly work rules.

Here’s why: Card check is not just about the fact that there no longer will be a secret ballot when employees vote about union organizing. That in itself is un-American — there is a reason we elect our leaders through a
secret ballot.

In addition, under the proposed legislation, if there is no agreement between management and the union within 60 days of unionization, the National Labor Relations Board will appoint an arbitrator to force a “negotiated” contract in place. That means management must negotiate with a gun to our heads.

With Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) recently confirmed as the Obama administration’s new, pro-union secretary of labor, we know which way the NLRB will tilt.

Unions are not our economy’s salvation. Look at what has happened in “closed shop” states of the North, where only union workers can work in unionized companies, compared with “open shop” states of the South, where union
membership is not mandatory at those companies that are unionized.

In the southern states, wage rates and benefits are either at market or above and on par with the more unionized northern states with “closed shop” mandatory union labor. Meanwhile, the only things growing in those northern states are the unemployment lines. That’s because companies caught in closed-shop states with their unionized workforces are uncompetitive.

If our national-level efforts to have taxes lowered succeed, the government will take in more revenue to use reviving our nation’s antiquated and crumbling infrastructure.

If card check is defused, we can focus all our energies on improving processes, investing in technology and improving plant and distribution infrastructure.

As for the state of the economy, the course of action for those of us entrusted with management responsibilities is to improve our own companies’ cost structure and service performance. It is the private sector that can and
must fix the economy, not the government. Only the producers of goods and services can make a difference. Without significant changes in our processes and overhead, we will see increased cost per unit delivered and lowered
profits. Instead, to overcome these challenges, we must take action:

• Seek out inefficiencies and waste that cause bottlenecks and improve every process until it is the most efficient with our assets.

• Find and acquire better tools, invest in technology and improved processes that upgrade customer service and bottom-line performance.

• Read voraciously, network vigorously, share what seems to work well — and borrow shamelessly from each other.

• Accept that nothing can be a sacred cow. Companies that profess to having “always done it that way” or have a “corporate culture” based on doing everything in-house or with a proprietary process or technology need to
take off the blinders and explore all options.

• Seek out benchmarking opportunities with others in our industry and with those who are specialists.

• Understand that in times like these, smart, hardworking, improvement-oriented managers with their eyes wide open have a far better chance of keeping their jobs, simply because their efforts will increase their companies’ chances of survival.

If we work for “best in class” results and invest in better tools,equipment and improved training, our businesses will grow, be profitable and the economy.

We cannot waste time worrying about what the government will or will not do. We need to take action with our legislators to hear us on taxes and card check. It’s up to us, the private sector, to redouble our efforts and rebuild our economy and our country — starting now.

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