Feeding economic monster endangers workers…

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

It’s not always fun to be an American worker. Often business sees you as bothersome overhead and does anything it can to get rid of you, such as outsourcing or shipping your work overseas.

In the space of a day in my hometown newspaper (online edition) I ran across two disturbing items, the first via a feature that lets me pick up news from other newspapers from around the country (actually not a bad thing and it kind of goes along with the evolving role of newspapers and the move toward online editions I wrote about in my last blog).  An item from the Anderson, S.C. Independent-Mail caught my eye because I once edited the Anderson, Ca. Valley Post and we did a story in conjunction with the Anderson, S.C. paper (but that’s another subject I’ll get to below), and because it had to do with workers being laid off.

To quickly summarize, some 250 workers in that area of South Carolina who had made towels will no longer have jobs because their company sold out to a company out of the neighboring state of Georgia and much of that company’s towel production has been moved to Pakistan (you know, the country that is our ally, but is believed to host Osama bin Laden).

And here in my hometown in Northern California, the forever-changing-ownership downtown hospital, currently called Shasta Regional Hospital, once more has changed hands and the new owner after assuring all one day that no changes would be noticed by the patients announced the next that everyone on the staff is fired, but can apply for whatever jobs are left.

It’s no secret that patients have indeed noticed changes there over the past year or more. Heck I was a cancer patient there several times over the past year. While I have rave reviews for the nursing staff and others there, I can say they are definitely short handed. And the hospital’s effort at housekeeping was, well, not good. My wife had to make my bed several times and they never did clean the bathroom. And over the past several weeks I was told by two different doctors in town that the hospital was cutting back on staff and supplies, I suppose in anticipation of selling out.

So here we have dedicated hard working medical personnel whom so many depend upon (I know the feeling personally as a patient) and they are simply told, you now have no job, but maybe we will have a new opening for you, or maybe not. Also, a union at the hospital claims it is a move to break the union contract – and that seems likely.

As I have blogged before, I am not a union person, having only been a union member for about a year one time and in a passive manner. But I have worked for someone all my life, so I empathize with working people.

The problem in South Carolina for the towel factory workers is that a 102-year-old company sold out to one that only cares about how to make a product in the cheapest manner and nothing about the country in which it operates. Patriotic Americans fight in the Middle East so we can ship our jobs over there!

But the made in America issue gets tricky. Things can be made in America, but by companies based overseas. I don’t see a particular problem with that. Strangely enough, an example of that came to me out of the Anderson, S.C. newspaper, which also had a story about an area employer expanding its workforce by 152. The company hiring the new workers is based in Hong Kong and is actually shifting some of its production from China to South Carolina. The company makes various products, to include chain saws and generators. So, who says our workers are not competitive?

The hospital situation in my home town here in the northern end of California’s Sacramento Valley is the effect of privatization of the health care system (along with poor management). I sometimes feel that health care would be better off in the not-for-profit sector, with some, or possibly many, exceptions, to include individual doctors, as opposed to hospitals. The profit motive does not always provide the best service when it comes to health care (the motive is profit, not care, and sick people are in no condition to shop around and there is not much choice anyway in many cases).

The goal of the health care system should be to provide the best care for the patients, not how much the bandages can be sold for (just look at the markup on your hospital bill).

Back to the issue of American jobs lost to overseas competition: I am aware of the history that suggests that trade barriers is what created or exacerbated the Great Depression. Well, even I don’t think dropping out of the global market is the solution to our current financial crisis or unemployment problem. But I do think there needs to be more of a priority within government to create incentives to expand U.S. jobs and to re-industrialize America. We just need to find a way to become more competitive. I would suggest competing by producing quality. And I would suggest concentrating on programs that get people into paying jobs. Actually I think many of the secondary schools and junior colleges are doing a great job. In some cases the programs they provide need to be better utilized and in many cases those programs may need additional and/or more stable funding.

And back to the health care issue. We do have a second hospital in our city. It is run by Catholic Healthcare West. I believe it is in somewhat better shape than the other one, but it has its own financial challenges. It recently split up its cancer treatment program, in some cases requiring it to transfer patients across town to another facility for radiation treatments. The split may have made financial sense for the hospital, but it is a burden to some patients and some staff at the hospital. I do give the Catholic-run hospital credit for providing stability in their operations for many years, as opposed to the instability of the downtown hospital. And, by the way, one of my doctors suggested to me that our city is big enough to support two hospitals.

I should add, the troubled downtown hospital (Shasta Regional) gained some notoriety from a couple of its former surgeons who performed needless heart surgeries to line their own pockets and the coffers of the hospital with the apparent tacit approval of some of the unscrupulous members of that hospital’s former management. Certainly that was an example of the profit-motive gone awry.

Please don’t conclude that I look at the world as workers vs. management, or the proletariat vs. the capitalists. No, I don’t. In the United States of America we have our brand of ideology that combines elements and various political approaches. But it is based on individual freedom, the ability to choose one’s own destiny, and the ability of the individual to succeed. In some cases the individual succeeds as an employee and in other cases as an employer or even both at the same time. But I think as a nation we may have been forced to stray from providing ourselves with all of that freedom and success in an effort to feed some monster called the “economy”, which has turned out to really be the interests of the greedy. The forces of greed and quick profits have turned us too much away from being the producers of high quality goods and more towards consumers of things made elsewhere.

P.s. That connection between Anderson, Ca., and Anderson, S.C. that I referred to earlier had to do with a severe drought in the Southeast back in the early 1980s (I believe they have been undergoing one this past year or so too). Some farmers in Anderson, Ca. sent donated hay for cattle feed to farmers in Anderson, S.C. , kind of an example of Americans working together, rather than fighting among themselves. United we stand, divided we…..

———-

Correction: In a previously-posted draft of the exact same blog you have just read I incorrectly wrote that the Catholic-run hospital in my city was a for-profit business. I corrected that in this draft. It is a non-profit, run by Catholic Healthcare West. I regret the error.

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