Organized labor is in an environment of opportunity unprecedented since the 1930s. ("Can this man save labor?" Cover Story, Sept. 13). In today's "throwaway worker" economy, many blue- and white-collar workers alike wish for some measure of job stability, a more equitable sharing of pain between workers, management, and shareholders when economic conditions change or a company underperforms, and for fair opportunities for advancement and increased compensation when performance objectives are met. Unions, by and large, continue to respond with antiquated work rules, seniority-based compensation, and a unwillingness to look at new labor models that work with new economic realities.
When all the internal brouhaha settles down, one has to wonder whether there will be much left to work with.
In 1970, as the last president of American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, N.Y., I spent two years in constant negotiations with the Steelworkers, including a trial project that proved the company could compete with new methods and only half the people. But the union refused and struck, so we had no choice but to shut down and lay off hundreds of people.
During the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, strikes were common, and American companies were in dire straits. Then we learned that the only way to stay in business was to outsource, starting what we now call "globalization." If Service Employees International Union President Andrew L. Stern could see that the best use of union strength would be to fight for a fair share of company profits, not to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg," American business and the American worker would be much better off.
With wise leadership, it would sell.
Palos Verdes, Calif.
Your editorial "Our take on the GOP's economic plans" (Sept. 6) is generally well-balanced. But calling the pending federal highway bill "egregious pork barrel projects" misrepresents the measure and the importance of highway investment to the American economy. More than 80% of the nation's freight moves by truck. Highways account for 90% of passenger miles traveled each year. Without a safe, efficient highway system, the American economy would come to a grinding halt.
Congress proposes to invest $280 billion to $300 billion in highways and transit improvements during the next six years. This won't even help close the annual $20 billion investment gap needed just to maintain current conditions, according to the U.S. Transportation Dept.
Cutting taxes is nice, but transportation investment is key to cranking up America's economic engine for the future.
Vice-President for Economics & Research
American Road & Transportation Builders Assn.
"Another dawn for solar power" (Science & Technology, Sept. 6) covered only two major aspects of photovoltaics (PV): the current crystalline silicon efforts and the futuristic nanoparticle-based research. There is a third aspect that in some people's opinion will be more promising than either: thin films based on copper indium diselenide alloys, amorphous silicon alloys (briefly mentioned), and cadmium telluride.
PV devices based on these three semiconductors exist in multi-megawatt production and are growing rapidly. More important, they have the qualities needed to make PV cost-effective for energy-significant markets -- a combination of excellent light-to-electricity conversion efficiencies, much lower manufacturing costs per unit area than existing wafer silicon options, and the potential for long outdoor durability. That is why research in these technologies has been heavily and consistently supported by the U.S. Energy Dept. through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
One or more of these technologies and the U.S. companies that dominate them may turn out to be leaders in the future of photovoltaic electricity -- and therein elevate the U.S. as leader in PV worldwide.
Thin Film PV Partnership
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
As a micro-business owner and president of the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE), I was troubled to read "Enough to make you sick" (Social Issues, Sept. 13), regarding the "proliferation" of health-care insurance scams, and your writer's implication that the NASE is one of those responsible for this problem.
Since 1981, the NASE has been a valued resource for the self-employed and micro-business community, providing legislative and regulatory advocacy, and services and benefits that previously were not available to micro-business owners. The NASE has co-sponsored the legislation for Association Health Plans, and it believes that more health-care tax credits, a self-employment tax deduction for health premiums, and other efforts that gear our nation's health care towards a more consumer-driven system are necessary to provide affordable, quality health coverage. The NASE offers more than 100 member benefits, and access to an insurance product is only one of them. The article's implication that a third-party vendor controls the NASE is ridiculous.
Robert E. Hughes
National Association for the