Commentary

Outsourcing Jobs to Foreigners

Perhaps German and Japanese workers scorn how “their” jobs are sent oversees to places with less worker protectionââ?¬â??places like America. Actually, workers at these auto plants seem to be doing pretty well. This article inadvertently shows that outsourcing can also mean “insourcing” for Americans. It follows a union organizer as he fails to gain support among southern autoworkers: Across the South, workers at the German and Japanese auto plants say they’ve heard labor’s pitch for the past two decades — and most say they are just not interested in risking their jobs to support a union from Detroit: These 24,000 workers make good money, and many of them live large on their paychecks from Honda Motor Co., Toyota, Nissan, BMW and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Mercedes-Benz plant. The best-paid Southern autoworkers can make as much as $60,000 or $70,000 a year, with overtime and bonuses. Compare that to the median household income of $44,223 in a place like the Nashville metropolitan area — where Nissan has a plant in Smyrna. Autoworkers in the South are buying custom-built or lakefront homes, farmland and horses. Some of the most fortunate can be found enjoying remarkable amenities like in-ground swimming pools, four cars in the driveway or three tractors in the barn. Others are raising miniature horses, Black Angus cattle, even zebras in the hills and hollows of northern Kentucky. They see nothing to gain by joining a union, or even talking about why the UAW is not attractive. Some call the UAW — which fought throughout much of the 20th Century to lift assembly workers at the car plants into the middle class — a dinosaur of the 21st Century. Some labor historians seem to pay little attention to the good conditions these workers enjoy. Why don’t they unionize? Could be ignorance: There is no collective memory in the rural South of the gains that the UAW’s fiery leader, Walter Reuther, made for the autoworkers in the Big Three plants over several decades, says Charles Hyde, an automotive historian at Wayne State University. Or maybe even racism: [Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara] says there is an element of “hostility to the union-liberal” message in the South. Some white men in the South have become conservative in a fundamental way and see unions as representing a black or feminist movement, alien to them.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.