On Dec. 20, 1936, workers at a GM plant in Flint, Mich., had enough--and sat down. Many consider that sit-down strike in 1936 as the impetus for the modern labor movement. That made yesterday’s news more poignant--when Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature made Michigan a right-to-work state.
People can debate endlessly about the pros and cons of unions, but the issue isn’t simple. A decade ago I recall talking to a few lean manufacturing consultants who told me they wouldn’t work with a union shop, because of the work rules in place. In a high-product-mix situation, workers need to adapt, cross train, and work when and where needed to meet ship dates.
I still hear complaints, but not as often as I used to. Some unions are great to work with, while others adhere to the old, inflexible-work-rule stereotypes.
Still, when it comes to metal fabrication, unions do have good training facilities, especially when it comes to skills like welding. Consider the UA, the pipefitter’s union, which has facilities across the country--and a particularly large welding facility in Chicago.
Consider Team Fabricators LLC, a Texas fabricator that's a UA shop. Earlier this year a pipe welding team quietly accomplished a rare feat. Over two months, after thousands of welds and 847 radiographic examinations, the team did not produce a single reject. That's not bad.
Love them or hate them, unions do provide training and education in things that matter. For an industry begging for people who have skills, that training has value.