Monday, December 23, 2002

Semi literate boobs running around spittin tebakky on the ground

Pete from Flowery Branch, GA (what a wonderful name for a town) takes exception with part of my post from last week on airline mechanics:

While I share your feelings towards the poor ole mech who had to move to Minnesota and the tragedy of the 12 inch TV, I do not share your description of mechs as poorly educated semiskilled tradesmen. An airframe and powerplant mechanic is a demanding and highly skilled job which is worth every penny they are paid. The testing requirements for these mechs are quite rigorous and not just anyone can do it. How do I know? I am an A&P mech. At least I hold the rating anyway, or did so years ago. I have to say that I personally want the mechs who are working on the plane I am going to fly on to be well paid happy individuals. You say that these people are paid some 68,000 dollars a year and up for their work? Good! When we as a society have no problem with sports figures making 20 million a year for playing baseball for God's sake and get the bends over an airline mech making 68 grand I just don't get it. What kind of mechs do you think you would get if they were paid 10 bucks an hour? Again these guys aren't semi literate boobs running around spittin tebakky on the ground, these guys need to know their shit cold and believe me they do. Next time you fly and the plane is on hold for a technical problem think about the guy who is out there, maybe in freezing cold wet weather, making sure that aluminum tube you're sitting in is good to go. Who do you want working that baby? I say give me a well paid guy who knows his shit and is one happy camper. Nuff said.

My response:

Pete has some interesting points and obviously has some experience on the subject. I have a bit of background here myself as I studied aviation administration in college and hold a private pilot's license even though I have not flown as P.I.C. for a number of years. I also worked as a baggage handler at the Humphrey Charter Terminal in Minneapolis and among my coworkers were a number of students training to be mechanics and a few mechanics who had been laid off by Northwest. Over paid, poorly educated, semi skilled workers would be an accurate description of airline baggage handlers but that's another subject for another day.

Actually my piece referred to mechanics as being semi-educated rather than poorly educated based on the fact that you could qualify as an A&P mechanic by attending two years of vocational technical school. While I don't doubt that they are skilled in their field and that they do need to undergo continuing training to maintain their license I don't think that the tradesman label is inaccurate. Can just anyone do it? No, of course not. But could at least 30% of the population do it if they so chose? I would think so.

I'm all for people being happy in their work and getting paid well does contribute to that happiness. But do you think that these guys would be earning an average of of $68-$72k a year if they weren't part of a powerful union? If they had to go out and compete in a non-union marketplace I think you would find their wages lower. The most skilled and knowledgeable among them would probably make more but the majority would have to settle for less. Labor costs are killing the major airlines and a big part of that is the union contracts for mechanics and ground workers.

To compare mechanics pay to baseball salaries isn't any more valid than comparing it to teachers salaries. It's all about what the market will bear. How many people can hit major league pitching? Say somewhere around three hundred worldwide (I'm not counting ex-Twin David Ortiz in this mix)? In the United States alone I'd say there are easily 50 million people who if they chose to do so could either become airline mechanics or teachers. Does it make their work any less meaningful or important? No, but it means they aren't going to get be getting paid twenty mil a year.

Again I don't have anything against these guys being well paid. And I certainly want competent folks working on the aircraft that I'm flying on. But how many of these guys are actually working on critical power plant and airframe components and how many are back in the tool crib performing unchallenging duties due to the rigid union work rules that they operate under? This is what I've heard from a few people I know who work at Northwest right now.

Anyway my point wasn't to rip A&P mechanics in general. I just think that instead of whining about how unfortunate their situations were these Northwest mechanics should be thankful for what they had.