Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered
The famous song title describes a state of mind stemming from three seemingly unrelated, but ultimately linked, items I came across during an otherwise routine day at the office.
First, was a bewitching story in the May 10 Wall Street Journal describing a new contract settlement with airplane mechanics by Northwest Airlines. The agreement upped top pay to $37 an hour, which projects to $77,000 a year. Top mechanics had been making only $54,000 under the old contract. Two ways of looking at that. One is to gasp at the 43 percent hike in pay. Or, one could conclude those folks were woefully underpaid before. The latter is my point of view.
I think airplane mechanics deserve every dime they make and then some. Think of all the lives depending on their skills - skills that require two years of training and federal certification. Think of the pressure, plus the odd hours and inclement weather they endure. Only to top out at 54 Gs?
It's not surprising the story was headlined, "Airlines Find Good Mechanics In Short Supply." When I think of all the white collar twits I've met who earn more than 54 grand a year, this article reinforces everything I said in the "Blue Collar Bias" article that appeared here in the February 2001 edition. It also relates to the two "Pay Stinks" commentaries I penned in July 1996 and June 2000. (Articles from 1996 on can be found in PM's online archives at www.pmmag.com.) Whether airplane mechanics or plumbers, skilled craft workers tend to get shortchanged in our society.
Next came a letter sent to a local vocational school and copied to me by a committee of plumbing contractors in Connecticut. They were bothered by the pending elimination of one of two plumbing instructors from a curriculum partially supported by the state PHCC. I sympathized with them, though I could understand the school's position as well. The letter acknowledged declining enrollment in the plumbing program.
So it goes. Blue collar bias leads to inferior pay, which discourages talented young people from entering the trades.
And the beat goes on. The bewildering item that caught my attention was an e-mail link to a story in the day's New Jersey Star-Ledger about a plumber charged with lewdness for inexplicably taking off his clothes while working in the home of a young woman. The plumber was employed by what was described only as "a nationwide plumbing company."
The friend who sent that e-mail found it humorous, but I didn't laugh. I've heard too many tales of assorted wackos finding their way onto the payrolls of labor-starved contractors.
Please, don't accuse me of denigrating everyone working in your noble trade. Upwards of 90 percent of them are good people who deserve greater respect and compensation than they receive. All I'm doing is connecting the dots to show a chain of cause and effect between blue collar bias, lousy pay and the hiring of dysfunctional persons who wouldn't get a chance to act out within this industry if you folks weren't so desperate for warm bodies.
You get what you pay for. If you want to attract high caliber trade workers, you'll have to pay them what they're worth. And don't think that someone who makes a living with a wrench in hand doesn't deserve to make as much as someone waving a sheepskin.
Oh, and never hire a naked plumber.