It's not the workers, but the wages

by Lewis Loflin

Printed Kingsport Times-News May 3, 2004

The following is a response to two news articles printed in the Kingsport Time-News:

I wish to express my concern about the report "The Skills Gap in Our Region," a copy of which I obtained from Dr. Tarnoff. The sponsor of the research is Eastman Chemical and some biased government agencies protecting their jobs. Of 2,000 surveys, they got only 118 responses or three percent.

Of 40,795 employees mentioned, almost 20 percent are from Eastman, and well over half are in 24 firms. Page 31 points out why these companies have the employee problems they whine about.

While the survey did inquire about using abusive temp agencies, they failed to factor in subcontractors, many operating as temp agencies mixing in lower pay, no benefit employees off the company books. This often creates low worker morale and management problems.

When asked about pay issues, they answered "going rate," which here is among the lowest in the nation and why ING Investments ranks the Tri-Cities as one of the worst places to earn a living.

The report indicates the available qualified labor pool is limited by the refusal of firms to pay better wages. They refuse to even train anyone as the Times-News correctly pointed out.

The report reveals there's no real skills gap or labor shortage, but a severe wage gap. They want better-trained, minimum wage workers that won't relocate.

Most skills and vocational training being taught in local colleges are a waste of time. I commend County Commissioner Jack Sitgreaves for pointing out what happens to our college graduates.

Before we trash our workforce, let's get the facts. It's time to consider the abusive labor tactics and mismanagement at local businesses that no amount of cheap labor and more useless education will ever fix.

Lewis Loflin
Bristol, Va.