From yesterday's WSJ article: "NURSING AMBITIONS: In Shift, Auto Workers Flee to Health-Care Jobs; Many Seek New Starts In Field That Bled Big 3; Detroit's Next Migration:"Bad News 1: Health care has long been a huge budget item for Detroit's auto makers. Last year, health care cost the three more than $10 billion combined, more than they spent on steel for their cars and trucks. The manufacturers figure that over coming decades, they will be obligated to pay about $95 billion in retiree health-care costs for current workers, retirees and their spouses (see top chart above). Bad News 2: GM spends about $1600 per vehicle on health care costs, about 10 times the amount Toyota spends per vehicle (see middle chart above).
Bad News 3: UAW membership has declined by 126,000 since 2003, as workers have early retirements or lump-sum buyouts.
Good News 1: The American Association of College Nursing estimates the U.S. currently has 126,000 nursing vacancies. By 2014, the U.S. will require 1.2 million new and replacement nurses, as many of the nation's 2.9 million nurses retire and aging baby boomers need increasing amounts of care.
Good News 2: In Michigan, health care is the only industry in demand across the state, says Andy Levin, the deputy director of the state's department of labor and economic growth. Michigan projects a shortage of 18,000 nurses by 2015. "Every hospital in Michigan needs nurses, and every school has a nursing waiting list," he says. "The health-care industry is a growth sector we want to foster."
Solution: Last year, Ford began offering a buyout package that covers schooling, following an internal 2005 study that showed many of its younger workers would leave if given a chance to attend college. Under this plan, Ford agrees to pay former workers half of their annual pay for four years -- typically $25,000 to $30,000 annually -- plus health-care benefits and up to $15,000 each year for school. Workers surrender retiree health benefits but retain whatever Ford pensions they've earned.
Ford says 40% of its former workers who are going to school are studying in medical fields -- more than half specializing in nursing, followed by radiology, dental hygiene and pharmacology. "Health care is where the jobs are," says Marty Mulloy, Ford's head of labor relations, who helped develop Ford's education buyout plan and is handling this summer's UAW contract talks.
Good News 3: Former auto workers say they are drawn to health care because the jobs pay well and are less vulnerable to being outsourced. Registered nurses currently have an annual mean salary of nearly $60,000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. Dental hygienists earn about $62,000. By comparison, auto-manufacturing jobs currently pay about $54,000.
Conclusion 1: The Big Three have almost $100 billion in health care obligations, and some of that money will be spent in the future to employ the autoworkers who have left the auto industry and gone into health care. In other words, Ford's buyout packages will help train the nurses and other medical professionals necessary to provide essentially unlimited lifetime health care for 721,000 current and retired UAW workers. The very industry (health care) that could eventually bankrupt GM and Ford, is nevertheless currently providing many jobs for former UAW workers.
Conclusion 2: Many UAW workers will be better off in the medical field than in the auto industry, and could have greater job stability and higher wages.