Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NPR Watch

Note: The below is a response to the audio portion of the linked article.]

“When you fly, who do you think has been taking care of your airplace. Mechanics in Chicago, San Francisco perhaps?”

Right from the intro, the reporting overwhelmingly appeals to an “us vs. them” mentality. "Aren't you comfortable that your airline is undergoing repairs in a US city?" This isn’t said, but it doesn’t need to be. Nor is the thrust of the article to engender compassion toward the US worker. What is achieved is the more sensationalistic belief that “we” can’t trust “them” to do what we used to do and that in outsourcing, we’re sacrificing safety (but not jobs…that goes unreported). I’m sure the tale will be ramped up, that of the poor failing industry versus the haughty demands of union members. [Plus hefty retirement packages, health insurance demands from people who want a better life, largely because that’s what they were told their country stood for.]

After the introduction, Daniel Zwerdling begins his “investigation” and the cue music is probably some stock sound file of guitar/gauchesque ridiculousness. Were this TV, we’d probably see a run-down pig ranch and semi-nude children running under clotheslines. Then listeners are battered with salsa and shouting, presumably either from inside the factory or a marketplace, we’re not told. “Those damn Latinos,” they might as well be saying, “always with their loud voices and their music. No wonder they can’t fix stuff good [sic].”

It’s odd that the last statement accuses workers in the El Salvadoran factory, Aeroman, of being those who improperly installed the door latch (upside down). First off: mistakes happen everywhere. To use this example as a conclusion that work done there is subpar is insulting to listeners and obscures the truth this article attempts to address in favor of a more inflammatory message (again, see aforesaid message of attempting to foster an us v. them (read, high v. low quality). The juxtaposition of the statement about the flange or thingamajig being backwards and that it happened in that factory implies that there’s a language or intelligence barrier—that something about an overseas factory is shoddy. Mind you, we’re not told they lack oversight, just that inspectors (FAA) haven’t “been there” in years. The reporting suggests that this is not just a simple laborer’s error.

Did this simple error cause panic and dismay and a near crash scenario? Yes. Was it a serious error and probably avoidable? Certainly. But it’s also certain that this example is not emblematic of greater problems at some of these factories. That this doesn’t occur more or why airline companies have resorted to outsourcing is, sadly due to the faulty reportage here, something we don’t ever find out. (Perhaps in the upcoming segments?)
Second, it seems odd that while the FAA doesn’t require airlines to report where they outservice their repairs to that this particular airline in the above example would be able to place blame on one particular factory. How can we know where this piece was mis-installed if the FAA doesn’t?

Factual problems:

If you look at the map provided on the page, there are thousands of factories all over the world. It’s worth noting that many of these factories exist in Europe, where salaries are equal or higher in most cases; it’s odd that the union argument would even be used in light of this information.
I’d like to know where they get their averages for airline mechanic pay. Doing a bit of quick research online puts the average pay per hour around $20-25 dollars, not the kingly $100 as cited by NPR. [It’s odd that this would even be an hourly position, since I’m sure the hours worked are inconsistent. Not that there’s no demand, just that it’s probably on-again, off-again.] The Bureau of Labor Statistics further states that some Avionics Mechanics (AM) are union members, but that these only represent about 30% of all AMs. Such a percentage wouldn’t mean that Airlines would ship costs overseas to save money, but instead simply opt to utilize some 70% of the remaining non-union workforce.

This is backed up by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To wit:
Median hourly earnings of aircraft mechanics and service technicians were about $22.95 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $18.96 and $28.12. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14.94, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $34.51. (www.bls.gov)

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