A Look at the German Employment Model

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary The U.S. Post Office, in an effort to stop the gigantic money losses it is going through, is going to shut down thousands of small post offices around the country and lay off an estimated 220,000 people. The U.S. Post Office is even considering asking the U.S. Congress to approve legislation to cut retirement benefits for former postal workers and wage cuts for those employees currently working. The U.S. post workers union is against these cuts and will fight any effort by either the U.S. Post Office and the U.S. Congress to cut their wages and retirement benefits.

On a personal note, I have a great fondness for post workers and mail deliverers. I know how hard they work and that many are doing double and even triple shifts. It is not an easy job especially when you are exposed to the weather and have to worry about angry vicious dogs (why some people let such dogs run loose I will never comprehend). And yet with all of this these poor people may see their salaries cut and they may even get laid off for their hard work? Whatever happened to the Post Office motto of, “we will adapt to the 21st Century?”

But even if the U.S. Post Office did get its way with the U.S. Congress, or even if somehow the U.S. Post Office was privatized or partially privatized, it will not solve a lot of the problems the U.S. Post Office is having. But what really bothers me is that it really makes no sense to lay off so many people at any one time and send them to an already swollen unemployment line where these poor souls will be in competition with people in the private sector who have already lost their jobs and have had no work for months or even a couple of years. Because I do not see post workers as mere numbers, I see them as people who have families and need to live and make a living like anyone else.

It is because of this I look at the German model of how to deal with an economic crisis situation. Oh yes, the Germans have had crippling labor strikes, have had and still have worker discontent, and there are in a growing number of cases discrimination against workers just like in the United States. But when the Great Recession hit Germany, this meant that private companies could not sell their exports. The German private companies felt that eventually things might improve. So what most of them did was to institute rules to have their employees work only for four or even three days out of the week and to negotiate with the unions to have some benefits cuts for the short term duration. No, none of this was popular with German workers, but they realized that since nothing was selling and their companies had to partially shut down their production lines it made sense.

It was also far more humane than throwing their workers out of their jobs. If nothing else, German workers still got some of their pay. If nothing else, German workers for the most part could plan on what they had to cut from their family budgets. If nothing else they did not have to worry about looking for work and if they could put food on their tables. Working part time was better than being completely unemployed. The private companies and even the German government did this. And it worked. For all of the union strikes and labor unrest Germany is still having, the country has turned the corner. Its economy is growing again, unemployment is down to less than seven percent, Germans are spending more than ever, and strangely enough so many jobs are available that Germany is now going through a labor shortage!

Contrast this with what is happening in the United States. Unemployment still remains well above nine percent officially. We have very little job growth, and actual contraction in the economy. Some American businesses try to put their employees on part times work which is better than getting rid of them. Sadly, this is not the case with most businesses here. And the U.S. Post Office seems to be no exception to the rule. Sometimes America is a model for the rest of the world, and sometimes America can also learn from the rest of the world. This is especially true when it comes to how we treat American workers.

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