Business viewpoint: Qualified workforce is an asset, not just an expense
BY SAM CIRRI Business Viewspoint
Thursday, October 04, 2012
10/04/12 at 3:22 AM
Leave it to "Monday Night Football" to send a crystal clear message about the value of quality work in this country. If you missed the Sept. 24 game, a botched call by outsourced referees led to the Green Bay Packers losing to the Seattle Seahawks. Fans were outraged, but this was just one of many shoddy calls over the course of several games by these ref temps.
Two days after the Packers fiasco, the trusty in-house NFL referees had a new contract and returned to work. Fans are happy to see an end to careless officiating by inexperienced substitutes.
The football season goes on, and the NFL learned a valuable lesson about replacing the league's veteran game officials with cheaper, lesser-skilled referees.
Take this situation and apply it to something extremely critical to our nation's economy - keeping airplanes safely in the air. That's what we do each day at the American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa, where some of the most talented airline mechanics in the world are employed. With more than 7,000 mechanics and related workers, we have one of the largest private workforces in the region.
You probably know someone who works at American. Our workers have a history of giving back to the community. They build Habitat for Humanity homes, give record amounts of blood to the American Red Cross, volunteer with United Way, support our military and give their time and resources to many other efforts for the betterment of Tulsa.
Unfortunately, for the past 10 months our workers have been experiencing the pains and uncertainty of corporate bankruptcy. The main goal of this reorganization process is to emerge as a stronger, smarter company that can be competitive with other airlines and turn a profit. Labor costs are being targeted as a primary area where the company thinks it can save money.
In August, our workers voted to give up work rules and benefits that took years to negotiate. Although this is disheartening, it does reduce the number of our brothers and sisters who may be laid off. The many mechanics who have volunteered to take the early-out retirement option is further reducing the number of layoffs that could be seen at the Tulsa plant.
But in our view, one layoff or outsourced job is one too many. For anyone who loses his or her job, we will do everything in our power to help that person find new work.
What's important to remember is the value these workers bring to the company. I believe American Airlines and other major companies in financial duress need to stop viewing their workers as problems and start viewing them as the solution.
On numerous occasions, we have had aircraft work outsourced to other shops only to have it returned to us so we can fix it. I shudder to think of some of the sloppy workmanship happening on other U.S. airlines that outsource work to unregulated shops in other countries.
This is one reason why the Transport Workers Union Local 514 fights so fiercely to protect and keep our work here in Tulsa. Our families ride in these airplanes, too, and we want the safest flights for them and the rest of the passengers.
During this difficult time in our nation's economy, I urge employers to be careful about misreading the value of their workers. Your employees aren't just overhead. Given the proper training and management, they're the key to a bright, profitable future for your company.
Speaking for the airline mechanics here in Tulsa, I know they have experience, talent and truly care about doing the job right. Often it is they who have the hands-on experience to help identify ways to improve processes, work smarter and save the company money.
Whether we're talking about airline mechanics or NFL referees, it's dangerous to lose sight of our greatest ally in an economic recovery - human capital. Workers built this country, and they're the key to making our economy strong again.
It's time to embrace the value of our workers and finish the job right. None of us want substitutes in the cockpit or servicing the airplane we are about to board.
Original Print Headline: Who do you want servicing your airplane?
Sam Cirri is president of Transport Workers Union Local 514, which has represented American Airlines mechanics and related work groups in Tulsa since 1946.
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