We've all heard the anti-union argument before: automakers in right-to-work states are still thriving during tough economic times because they are union free. Congressional Republicans laid heavy on this argument as Democrats tried to save thousands of auto-worker jobs last year. But that old argument is losing ground as we learn today that Toyota is considering lay offs in the United States.
Toyota, though union-free, still isn't immune from job cuts during tough economic times. But that's a slap-in-the-face to lawmakers like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Sen. John Boehner (R-Oh) who support the idea that union-free is better. They claim companies like Toyota, not restricted by union wages and benefits, can thrive and grow when unionized corporations cannot. Yet, Toyota (though not as worse) is flopping around like unionized GM and Chrysler -- especially in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
The moral is, union-free companies are just as vulnerable to job cuts as unionized companies, the only difference is, unionized employees see more rewards during better times. So will the loss of 1,000 Toyota jobs spell the end of right-to-work arguments?
Toyota is approaching talk of lay-offs gently. A spokesman for the company, Mike Goss, said:
Toyota is considering "additional steps" after making several production adjustments in recent months, but no decisions have been finalized.
Clearly, the company doesn't want to scare employees. Scared employees are worried employees who can't focus on their jobs.
Maybe... I guess?
Who knows what Toyota execs. are thinking! But evidently they are handling this very easily; very carefully. Inventories at the company for Camrys and Corollas are rising and that means less cars being sold. It doesn't take a genius to figure out, someone will lose out.
The Japanese business daily, Nikkei, may be more on target saying:
Toyota was considering cutting up to 1,000 full-time jobs in North America and Britain, as shoppers stop buying cars and the pressure to cut fixed costs mounts.
The decision on job reductions and possible pay cuts would likely be made as early as next week, the Nikkei said on its Web site without citing any sources.
The company, which has just picked Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, as its new head, aims to cushion the blow for employees with steps such as raising retirement bonuses and helping with job searches, the paper said.
I'm thrilled that Toyota is being pro-active about helping displaced employees find work, but where will they work? In Georgetown, Ky -- home of Toyota's Camry plant -- no other company can offer as much as Toyota. Some workers have been there 10 or 15 years and scoring a place on the payroll is a coveted act. Take away a stable like that and middle-class lifestyles in the region will tank fast!
So much for union-free is better.
But workers at the Georgetown plant won't be the only ones hurting. Thousands of other small mom-and-pop companies around Central Kentucky rely on business from Toyota. Making everything from hubcaps, dashboards and wiring, these little manufacturers would surely go out of business. That means more job loss.
If there is any silver lining here, it's that the Toyota's crisis might prove to many Americans that union-free doesn't always equal a better chance. If anything, having a powerful union to argue your case in Washington is better than being shuffled out the door on a delayed whim.
When Toyota starts lay-offs, who will bargain for those workers? If the company decides not to "cushion the blow for employees," then who will fight for their hard-earned benefits? Certainly not the collective power of union organization. For Toyota employees who lose their jobs it's going to be a personal fight.