Another in an occasional series From the Flight Deck

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on challenges facing the airlines mentioned how Northwest was having a very difficult time completing timely luggage transfers between connecting planes.

Apparently, after all the cutbacks that have been plaguing the industry, Northwest couldn't attract sufficient numbers of dependable ramp workers - luggage handlers - at the starting wage of $8.75 an hour.

Northwest management decided that to attract more dependable workers they should up the starting wage and agreed that a $1 per hour increase would do the trick. We're not talking highly skilled tasks here, but still, timely luggage arrival is a major factor in airline customer satisfaction, which is a major factor in helping potential customers decide which airline to select when they travel.

In accordance with contract dictates the Northwest management approached the union leadership proposing to increase the ramp workers' starting wage by $1, with the end goal of increasing customer satisfaction, attracting more customers, and keeping everyone employed.

The union responded that it was an all or nothing issue. Either all the other job classifications immediately got a raise by the same amount proposed for the baggage handlers, or no one got a raise.

Rather than working with management, helping improve the product, and bringing on more customers, which would bring in more money, which would lead the union to a far better bargaining position in the next round of contract talks, the union leadership typically went for instant greed over long term common sense.

The cost of immediately increasing everyone's wage base by $1 per hour was far outside of the company's abilities, so Northwest scrapped the idea. Everyone lost.

Northwest is now looking to outsource its ground/ramp work.

So, at what point in this issue did the union really look after the workers and balance the long term benefits with short term goals, which would have led to a stronger corporation and better wages all around? Right. Never.

Now let's talk about Wal-Mart and the national left-wing efforts to run it into the ground because Wal-Mart workers aren't unionized.

Although I now am in the flight industry, I started my working career right out of high school, while I was attending college, at the Sam's Club division of Wal-Mart. When Wal-Mart and Sam's Club first came to my community the crowds applying for positions there were huge, and it was obvious that with such a vast pool of potential employees, the firm was in a position to select the best. I was proud to be among those who were offered positions.

I spent several years with Sam's Club, starting out stocking shelves, unloading trucks, driving forklifts, and ultimately moving upward in the organization until I was managing people and merchandise.

It was obvious that if I had decided to stay under the Wal-Mart umbrella the stairway always led upward and the opportunities for advancement were constant. This applied across the board to everyone who came to work with a decent set of skills and a positive attitude; race, gender, and age all were irrelevant. Motivation was relevant.

In recent years I have become increasingly aware of how the country's business climate can affect my job possibilities, and have taken to watching the Saturday morning business blocks on Fox News. Unfortunately, in the interest of presenting balanced perspectives, these blocks are loaded with pro-union talking heads, often claiming that Wal-Mart treats its employees harshly, and that a union would solve all their woes.

What a crock!

When I joined Sam's Club I was trying to find a job that paid well and had a flexible schedule so I could continue my education. I also wanted to do some traveling, and having employment opportunities in other areas of the country if I decided to relocate was a major consideration.

Not only did I find that I could work a wide range of hours that fit my school and personal schedules, but Sam's management had no problem with me moving around the country just as long there was a club in the new area with a need that I could fill.

With that as a background I have been listening with a heightened level of astonishment as these TV "experts" discuss Wal-Mart's relationship to its employees, and how Wal-Mart employees are just too stupid to know there is a better life out there if only the union was involved.

What they don't talk about are all the things Wal-Mart provides in addition to flexible schedules and working conditions, those 'other' factors commonly known as benefits. The benefits were great! I may not have been able to go to the doctor with a hangnail and pay $10 for the visit, but should I have encountered an illness or injury, my medical benefits were there for me.

In addition to medical benefits, I also had a stock purchase plan which allowed me to purchase Wal-Mart stock at discounted rates. For a person in their 20s this was a gold mine. I also was able to invest in the company's profit-sharing plan.

Those are just some of the tangible benefits I received during my tenure at Wal-Mart.

One of the intangible benefits I received was the training on how to be an effective team leader/manager. It was unparalleled and provides a model that other industries certainly could use to their advantage. The training I received then still is valid in my career today.

To those who say we who work or worked at Wal-Mart are too stupid to know better I say, perhaps you need to take an updated IQ test. Then, when you see the results, sign up for some remedial training in basic business management.

Wal-Mart's critics are using the same tactics that they use against our people in the armed services - making false statements, or selecting a small sliver of data that reflects only a minuscule portion of the overall picture, but portraying that sliver as the whole.

To what end? Look what the unions have done for GM and Ford in recent years. Toyota is killing America's car manufacturers because the unions don't care about the long term. It bears noting here, that when unionized workers are laid off or go on strike, the union representatives and executives don't suffer. Their salaries are paid from workers' dues, not by the company, so when others are on strike or unemployment with reduced or no income, their union reps talk sympathetically, but they aren't the ones sacrificing.

On the corporate level, the unions simply won't let organizations do what they have to do to stay competitive. And in the culture of Wal-Mart, every cent of cost they cut directly impacts the costs of the merchandise.

Just for the sake of argument lets say the union finally gets established inside of Wal-Mart - who do you think is really going to pay for the increased costs? That's right - the employees and the consumer.

For all you pro-unionists out there, take a look at what happened when your cohorts kept going after Halliburton. They finally pulled up stakes and moved to the UAE.

Using that as an example, I would look very carefully at what can happen if you continue to target the country's LARGEST employer outside of the federal government.