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Green Shoots in Attitudes and Jobs

Here is something that may surprise you. We are now gaining manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Manufacturing employment has fallen every year since 1998, until 2010. Since the beginning of 2010, there has been a 1.6% gain in manufacturing jobs. That’s twice the pace of the growth in other private sector jobs. The unemployment rate for the manufacturing has improved from 13% in December of 2009 to 9.5% in August of 2010. That’s a better performance than that of the overall labor force.

These gains have come primarily in four industries: automobiles, fabricated metals, primary metals and machinery. These industries have all been losing jobs for several years. What is behind the change? Here is a significant indicator. Recently, the United Autoworkers Union has crafted an agreement with General Motors to encourage GM to invest money to assemble a low-priced sub-compact car in the U.S., with unionized labor.

This will be a first. All other domestic and foreign manufacturers have produced their sub-compact cars offshore. GM’s sub-compact, the Aveo, came from South Korea. Ford’s Fiesta came from Mexico. Chrysler and Fiat are planning to manufacture the Fiat 500 in Mexico. The Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris are imported from outside the United States.

This new agreement is truly ground-breaking. Under the terms of the agreement, GM will pay 60% of the sub-compact plant’s 1550 workers a wage of $28 an hour. The other 40% of the plant’s employees will make $14 an hour. By GM’s calculations, this would enable the company to build a sub-compact at a profit in the U.S.

This new agreement may, in fact, reduce the average wage rate to competitive levels. Before GM’s bankruptcy, the average GM worker earned over $70 an hour in wages and benefits. After bankruptcy, that rate of cost fell to about $57 an hour…good, but not good enough to compete profitably. (See “Audio Tip #163: Introduction to Step 25 of the Basic Strategy Guide” on StrategyStreet.com.) Toyota has average labor costs of about $50 an hour. The Toyota workers are not unionized. This new UAW agreement with GM should make the new sub-compact plant competitive with the cost that Toyota incurs in the U.S.

A change in attitude at the UAW is behind this job-creating agreement. A senior UAW official explained that this agreement was the result of some very difficult decisions the union had to make in order to safeguard jobs. He further explained that the UAW developed a new understanding of the realities of the 21st century global auto industry while living through the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies. (See the Symptom & Implication, “The industry is reducing costs aggressively” on StrategyStreet.com.)

Three cheers for the UAW/GM agreement. Let’s hope that it creates jobs and profits.

(Posted 11/15/10)

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