Companies won’t pay workers any more than they have to, and, as union power ebbs, pathways to the middle class evaporate. That’s the point of Joe Nocera’s recent New York Times column riffing on Timothy Noah’s new book, “The Great Divergence.” True enough, but it’s not the whole story.
As we discover leading-edge employers in manufacturing and health care, we see that wholesale transformation in these sectors propels these employers to not only have to but actually want to pay workers more.
In health care, the triple goal is improved quality, better outcomes, and lower cost. Front-line workers – medical assistants, technicians, nutritionists and others – can deliver more and extend the productivity of the much higher cost doctors and nurses. For example, at High Plains Community Health Center increases in physician productivity and other savings allowed for increased training and support to medical assistants while shifting them from hourly wages to salary. The results: remarkable improvements in health outcomes for cardiovascular and diabetes patients and workers moving up the pay ladder.
In manufacturing, the game is quality, innovation, and adaptability. Cost control remains important, and companies with new approaches that build the skills and enhance the value (and pay) of front line workers are prospering and growing. At Pridgeon & Clay, a precision metalforming company in Grand Rapids, the need for advanced skills in operating Automatic Presses prompted the company to develop new training and certification. Trainees see a 50% increase in pay with another 7% jump upon completion. This is part of larger changes the company made leading to growth in employment and revenues and new product development from 11% to just over 25% of total global sales. CEO Bob Clay notes “People see the way to the top, and they get there using tools we provide them. This creates loyalty to the company and they bring their creativity to work every day.”
Nocera echoes Noah’s call for liberals to rejoin labor’s side. But it’s not about sides. It’s about encouraging more companies to be as forward-thinking, daring, and innovative as High Plains and Pridgeon & Clay.