Yesterday's post here about Scott Walker's misguided conclusion that Wisconsin needs to better match skills to unfilled jobs covered the particular example of welders. New developments have since emerged. They suggest even more strongly that the real issue isn't a supposed skills mismatch, but rather in at least some cases the unwillingness of businesses to pay equitable wages.
First, the United Steelworkers Local 1343 wrote a letter to the Milwaukee Area Technical College noting that Caterpillar Inc. has placed two dozen nonunion employees in the college's welder training program, just before the firm begins contract negotiations with its unionized workers, including welders.
The union said the nonunion trainees could be used to replace union employees should a strike ensue. The union asked MATC to stop training nonunion welders under a customized training program for welders it set up on behalf of Caterpillar.
Meanwhile, Walker signed legislation into law that he said "will help address the skills gap by investing in worker training grants and developing a Labor Market Information System." Or maybe it won't address the problem, since a UWM study we cited yesterday questions whether there really is a job skills mismatch in the state. (See Oshkosh Daily Northwestern coverage at URL below)
Walker's citizen point man on the worker training issue has been Tim Sullivan, former CEO of Milwaukee-based Bucyrus International, which Caterpillar acquired in 2010.
From a story today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (see URL below):
"Caterpillar acknowledges putting nonunion employees into the welder training program, and it says that's standard practice when preparing for contract talks that could break down and result in a work stoppage."
The steelworkers union local says Caterpillar has taken other actions to prepare for what it apparently thiniks could be a Milwaukee plant strike, among them training plant managers for blue-collar jobs. The union calls this step an intimidation tactic. "Our members have been told they are required to train these people on their jobs, up to and including allowing them to run their jobs," union official Ross Winklbauer told the newspaper.
Anyone familiar with the history of labor-management relations knows that when a company openly prepares for a labor strike, especially just before contract negotiations begin, that is not good-faith bargaining but rather a signal it intends to be unyielding. And at Caterpillar, this is considered "standard practice."
In so many words, the corporate mentality here is: Let's effectively threaten to break labor unions after we force a contract impase by using public resources to train a backup pool of scab workers. Also, let's pretend this issue is mainly about a jobs skills mismatch, so we can get state help training more workers to fill jobs that few unemployed skilled workers want because the pay is inequitable.
Job skills mismatch or a mismatched fight over wage levels? You decide. And don't forget that what's involved is your tax dollars and state workforce development policy, driven by Governor Wrong-Way Peachfuzz.