Saturday, 17 November 2012

08:40 – The stupidity of many unskilled and semi-skilled workers never ceases to amaze me. I suppose it shouldn’t. If they were smart, they probably wouldn’t be unskilled or semi-skilled.

In the latest example of this phenomenon, the morning paper reports that Hostess has been driven out of business by the recalcitrant bakers’ union, destroying more than 18,000 jobs. Even the Teamsters are pissed at the bakers’ union, whose stupid stubbornness also cost a lot of Teamsters their jobs. And some moronic WalMart employees are going on strike because they don’t want to work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Geez, they knew when they took the job that WalMart is open on holidays. Why are they complaining now? I hope WalMart fires every one of them. It’s not like they’ll be hard to replace.


10:33 – As usual for a Saturday, I’m doing laundry. Our washer, a Sears Kenmore Elite (part # 110.24832200, in case I ever need to find that again…) has been having some agitator problems. Two or three weeks ago, I decided to do something about that. Barbara wanted to replace the machine, but it’s only nine years old. So I did an Internet search and found a bunch of hits on replacing the agitator dogs in a Whirlpool/Kenmore washer, including some YouTube videos. I was about to order an agitator repair kit, but I couldn’t find the model number on the machine. For the last couple weekends I’ve been so busy that I just let it slip. This morning, I finally located the model number and ordered an agitator repair kit for $29 including shipping. Much cheaper than paying for a service call, let alone buying a new washer. It should take me five or 10 minutes to do the repair once the kit shows up.

27 thoughts on “Saturday, 17 November 2012”

  1. If you look closer, you’ll see the Twinkies on the Executive Board looted the company last year. Executive raises up to 80%, and the Chairman who left in the spring took over a million in “compensation” away as a golden parachute. Asking the workers to take a pay cut of 8%, while receiving 80% in raises is not right. Badly managed companies deserve unions.

    Frankly, they made crap products, so I won’t even miss them a little bit. I much prefer buying locally baked breads and treats, anyway, made with real ingredients, rather than HFCS.

  2. I’m not sure I understand what you think is “not right” about the situation. Employment is (or should be) a contract freely entered into by the employer and the employees. Employees are, of course, free to ask for wage/benefit increases. The company is equally free to refuse them, or indeed to cut them. The employees have the choice of taking what’s offered or not. If they don’t like what’s offered, they should go find another job.

    Anyway, executive pay is a drop in the bucket in a company with more than 18,000 employees, the vast majority of whom are at best semi-skilled. I read some comments by one of the employees. He’d been making something like $48,000/year before 2005, when he had his wages cut to $34,000/year. In the latest cuts they were going to reduce that to about $25,000/year. Obviously, that’s what he’s worth to the company. His attitude was that he’d make more on unemployment. Good luck with that. I hope he and all of the other union members who destroyed that company don’t get unemployment compensation, given that they effectively quit.

  3. USPS is in an odd situation. It’s effectively a private company now, but under direct supervision and control of Congress. USPS would be a lot better off if it were truly a private business. That $15.9 billion loss is entirely the result of Congressional meddling in the business. USPS would be profitable today if they were allowed to do what they want to do, including dropping Saturday delivery, closing small and unprofitable post offices, and so on. Not to mention not having to pre-fund their retirement plans.

    As a truly private company, USPS already has in place everything it would need to give UPS and FedEx a real fight.

  4. I should add, I think a private company should do whatever it wants. Execs make a million, workers get $5/hr., their biz. Congress will do something with the USPS. Loan, bail out, whatever. That’s not right. Maybe they will let them reorganize and cut a lot of overhead. I don’t think so. They should go private. Competition will be good for all of us.

  5. I should add that I have nothing against unions, as long as the government doesn’t compel businesses to deal with them. That is, a business should be free to fire anyone who attempts to form a union, or anyone who joins a union. And they should be free to blacklist those people to warn other businesses not to hire them. Nor should a union be permitted to force anyone to join or pay dues. And if a union strikes and blocks access to private property, anyone should be free to run over the strikers. Or shoot them, for that matter.

  6. You mean because businesses aren’t permitted to do the things I suggest?

  7. No, you posted as I was typing. I quite agree about unions. I hate unions, but I also hate entities (including the government) that are so bad at managing people that unions were formed in the first place.

    It’s the general consensus that only unions are bad, while companies can do what they want, which is causing me to make my dire prediction. What I really don’t like is large entities that think they’re too big to fail, be it GM or some stupid baker’s union. Especially when they reward their workers with fat benefit packages, they shouldn’t have had in the first place. What I dislike even more are rat CEOs that pillage and then scurries down the rope to safety, while the ship goes down, dumping thousands onto the public dole. I would be really pissed if I was a Texan paying taxes, right now. Yeah, the union fucked up, but so did the Board. The whole thing stinks!

    Bob, from what you have said on this website about running your science kit business, I am of the opinion that you would never subject a hypothetical employee of yours to a pay cut, while you trebled your own pay. Nor would you gut the assets while reneging on your debt to suppliers and banks. You would apply your critical thinking before hand, and arrive at a different answer that Hostess Foods did. You profess things that you wouldn’t do yourself.

  8. I profess only in the sense that I believe in the free market, which almost no one does. That means that both companies and individuals should be free to do whatever they wish, as long as they’re not infringing on someone else’s right to do the same. But a true free market punishes bad business decisions and rewards good ones. Corporate capitalism is an oxymoron, but that’s what passes as a free market nowadays. Corporations reap the rewards; risk and loss is offloaded onto the taxpayers.

    You’re right. I have no employees now, and I may never have any. If I do, I will treat them as I would wish to be treated, just as I treat customers. I will pay them what they’re worth to me. For example, Jasmine works during the college summer break at the Y, which pays her a bit over minimum wage, something like $8.00/hour. I don’t think we’ll be busy enough next summer to need Jas full time, but I may contract some stuff out to her to fill in her hours when she’s not working at the Y. Rather than pay her minimum wage, I’d pay her maybe $10/hour, because I already know how hard Jas works.

    Same deal if I ever end up hiring permanent employees. I’d do as Google and other forward-thinking companies do. For example, I’d offer no fixed holidays or vacation or sick leave, and just tell employees to take time off with pay when they need it, as they need it. The kind of people I’d want as employees would not abuse that.

  9. This I am in total agreement with. If only we lived on a planet with a free market!

    My issue is it always takes two to tango, and blaming the union without also blaming management is wrong. Stupid headed greed is at fault, on both sides.

    If you do expand, can I apply for a job? 🙂

  10. “I’m not sure I understand what you think is “not right” about the situation. Employment is (or should be) a contract freely entered into by the employer and the employees.”

    The problem that arises all too frequently is this: Within each industry, a comparatively small group of people sit on company boards and work as top-level managers in companies. They pretty much all know each other, and rotate through the available companies over the course of time. I sit on your board, and approve your 80% raise and/or golden parachute. You rake in your take, leave the company, and wind up on my company’s board. Where, of course, you approve my 80% raise and/or golden parachute. Theoretically, the shareholders could put a stop to this, after all, they elect the boards. In practice, for a variety of reasons, this just doesn’t work.

    If you put a bit of work into it, you can actually follow the trails. Most executives have their CVs online somewhere, and you can watch the paths of the chosen few cross, and cross again. Once, just for interest, I did this for part of the investment sector: some supposedly disgraced executive had suddenly popped up as CEO of another company. Surprise, surprise, the board members of the company were old colleagues of his from a couple of iterations before.

    So what’s “not right” here, ethically speaking, is this: the top management of a mediocre company with admitted management issues got massive raises, when their performance should have dictated the opposite. I don’t know what one can do about this problem, but it is a definite non-feature of pure capitalism.

  11. RBT, a suggestion: If you hire Jasmine or anyone else part-time to help make kits, don’t hire them and don’t pay by the hour. Pay piecework – fixed amount for 1000 filled and labeled bottles. Paying hourly, even for a part-time contractor who works from her home, is too likely to get them labeled as employees by the state department of labor or tax department and then subject your company to a whole slew of new regulations and reporting requirements and I don’t know what else, stuff that you aren’t currently subject to. And then, once the state labels you as a business with non-family employees, the federal government gets it on the act. I speak from experience here.

  12. My issue is it always takes two to tango, and blaming the union without also blaming management is wrong. Stupid headed greed is at fault, on both sides.

    That’s a logical fallacy. A successful enterprise certainly requires capital and labor to work together, but I have personal experience of many, many situations in which the union was 100% responsible. Again, it’s in the best interests of a company to provide competitive salaries, benefits, and working conditions for its good employees and to get rid of the bad ones. The inevitable result of that is that the good employees prosper and the bad employees end up working, if at all, for companies that don’t pay as well and don’t otherwise treat their employees as well.

    Unions are all about encouraging people’s sense of entitlement, which is a fatal world view. As Barbara said this morning when we were talking about the WalMart morons striking, if her firm asked her to come in and work on Thanksgiving she’d do it without a second thought. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t need her. Her firm takes care of her, and she takes care of her firm. That’s as it should be. The problem with many employees is that they expect their companies to give, but they refuse to give in return. Fine. Those are the kind of employees that I don’t want, nor does any other sane businessman.

    If you do expand, can I apply for a job? 🙂

    Sure. I think I remember that you’re considering a move to Alberta. We may end up there as well.

  13. RBT, a suggestion: If you hire Jasmine or anyone else part-time to help make kits, don’t hire them and don’t pay by the hour. Pay piecework – fixed amount for 1000 filled and labeled bottles. Paying hourly, even for a part-time contractor who works from her home, is too likely to get them labeled as employees by the state department of labor or tax department and then subject your company to a whole slew of new regulations and reporting requirements and I don’t know what else, stuff that you aren’t currently subject to. And then, once the state labels you as a business with non-family employees, the federal government gets it on the act. I speak from experience here.

    You’re right, of course, and piecework is exactly how I planned to pay Jas. I know about how many bottles Barbara can do per hour, and I’d set the piecework rate for Jas to work out to $10/hour or whatever based on that rate.

  14. I have personal experiences with union shops that have closed due to the pig headed union bosses, so no argument there. But my argument remains that there was a reason the union got a foothold in the first place. That’s the point in time where the corporation failed first and most. Treat people fairly in the first place, and unions would never have appeared. I find Newton’s 3rd law applies to business in much the same manner as objects.

  15. The purpose of labor unions is to provide guaranteed jobs for their clients at wages much higher than they are worth. Toward that end, labor unions have supported Democratic candidates at all levels. Those candidates, if/when they are elected, pay back the unions by passing laws and regulations that benefit the unions and their members, not just at the expense of businesses but at all our expense.

    The last time I looked, for example, union auto workers were costing the companies something like $70/hour, counting wages and benefits. This for jobs that should be paying minimum wage or close to it. So when I buy a car, I’m subsidizing those union workers, who are in turn subsidizing Democrat politicians, both with their votes and (often involuntarily) with money extracted from them by the union.

    Greed has nothing to do with it on the company side, and it never did. It has everything to do with it on the union side. That’s why companies are whenever possible relocating manufacturing to North Carolina and other right-to-work states. They’re tired of being extorted by the unions, and I’m tired of it too.

  16. “Francie Lou Smith from Louisville, Kentucky. She was dating a guy named Tom, whose last name I forget. Francie was a virgin, which was unusual for a college freshman back then. She was also the only one of the four I never showered with. ”

    Okay, I give up. My Google-fu isn’t working very well. All I turned up was the following:

    Francie (Smith) ’76 and Thomas F. Cuffney

    http://new.oberlin.edu/office/development/recognition/all/1976-1982.dot

    Looks like she married Tom Cuffney. From the above it looks like she and Tom donated some moolah to Oberlin in 1976.

    I Googled Francie Cuffney and got a fair number of hits that may or may not have been her. Was she smart? Some of the hits indicated an academic career at college or university level.

  17. I have no clue. I know Francie’s boyfriend at the time was Tom, but I don’t think I ever heard his last name, except perhaps when we introduced ourselves. I can’t remember what Francie was majoring in. Hell, I don’t remember what Martha majored in.

  18. BTW, the date sounds right. I was ’75 and Martha was one year behind me.

  19. “I have no clue… Hell, I don’t remember what Martha majored in.”

    Yeah, I know the feeling. My memory’s shot too… 🙁

    Getting Old is Hell

  20. I just realised that the “’76” in the above quote was her year of graduation, not when she and Tom handed over the dough to Oberlin, which was presumably later.

  21. I’ve done the cog fix on my washer.

    The Kenmore Elite washers of that vintage also tend to have a problem where the bleach dispenser drain holes get clogged with minerals and the end result is a leak. The fix is easy but you have to practically disassemble the washer to get to the bleach pan

    The new HE washers don’t work IMHO. I’ll keep the Kenmore going as long as I can, even if I have to resort to a service call that costs almost as much as a new washer.

  22. We sold our Kenmores (Whirlpools) when we left for Germany. I am ‘borrowing’ the use of family’s Kenmore machines rather than buy anything new for Tiny House. However, I recommend Bosch-made front loaders. The water savings over a top-loading agitator is very significant. I know it sounds crazy, but my experience has been that the front-loaders get clothes cleaner. I noticed that when we used them in Germany, but upon return, I see that—once again—soil marks do not come out of my shirts after having returned to the use of agitators again. Never had to spot shirts with the front-loading machines. Even spotting them in the agitators does not always get out whatever is embedded there.

    All front-loaders leak water out the door and down the front. Not much, but requires a rag or sponge to wipe after each use.

  23. The Teamsters were out driving Hostess trucks in Lafayette, Indiana while I was over there for the Friday video job. There must have been goods still to deliver.

    I have worked in several of both union and non-union shops over the decades. Stupidity reigns in both management and unions. However, there was one place I worked where management never feared the unions. They played it by the letter, and made the unions work to police their people. If somebody did not show up for work on time, management told the shop steward that a letter would go into that employee’s file every day he was late, and he would be fired after the third letter, which the contract allowed. It worked. Whatever the problem, it was fixed without management having to lift a hand, except to write letters for the file.

    Anarchist Emma Goldman spells out the problem. Management cannot accomplish the work without workers, and workers should participate to a degree in running the company, because their stake is no less important than management’s. In most cases, it is not true that management provides the capital. They borrow it from third parties, so management has no self-interest or risk in the money, except to make payments on it, just as they do to compensate workers. And Bill is right; in the US, greedy top management has made off scot free in the face of failure, and with obscene amounts of compensation, while capital is completely lost to bankruptcy, yet management loses nothing, while being compensated handsomely.

    Actually (you knew this was coming), Germany has a system very much like Goldman describes. They have worker guilds that function somewhat like unions, which represent concerns of the workers to management. Management takes the works council (that is what they translate it to in English) very seriously, and they work cooperatively to solve problems. Workers elect representatives to run the works council. The works councils get much deeper into workings of the company than do unions in the US. I saw it change the whole structure of reporting-for-work hours while I was at the chemical company.

    Overpaying CEO’s and top management will come to an end in the US. NO ONE pays as much over the average hourly wage of employees than does the US. Before I left Germany, the Financial Times ran a study on that, and the figures were 401 x average worker wage for US CEO compensation, while France is 16 x, Japan is 12 x and Germany is 11 x. The US will not be able to compete being so out of the marketplace with its compensation, and rates will eventually be driven down, just like manufacturing worker wages have been—thanks to CEO’s and top management, who sped up the demise of overcompensation for unskilled labor. But their day is coming. Doctor and lawyer compensation will also come down, because wages in those areas are tens to hundreds of times what those skilled people are paid in other Western countries. My doctor daughter in-law makes about the same wage as tenured school teachers in Germany. Certainly not the hundreds of thousands even average-performing doctors in the US make.

    Meanwhile, I will be sorry to see Hostess go. Their products—while nothing like as good as what their European counterparts produce—was still leagues better than Arnold bakery of New Jersey, which has bought up good regional bakeries all across the US, and turned formerly good products into pure tasteless crap with little or no food value. It is Arnold that deserved to die for their crappy products, not Hostess. I refuse to buy Arnold products, but there won’t be much choice after Hostess folds here.

  24. I’d be worried about a major leak with a front loader, that’s why I’ll probably always get a top loader.

  25. I pretty much agree with Chuck on managerial payments. Sure, give them more, but not insanely more. The thing that bugs me is that management cream off far more than they are worth. There’s a saying that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. I think that is basically a lie: you can get very good management for fairly modest payment. I do not need to have a fabulous package in order to work well. Pride, self esteem, and many other things come in to it. I get really peeved when incompetent management drive a company into the ground and yet are still getting top dollar right until the end.

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