Posts Tagged ‘Unions’
Steven Greenhouse writes a peculiar news report in the NY Times titled “Strained States Turning to Laws to Curb Labor Unions.” The story is frustrating because it lacks information and accepts clueless arguments. For example, Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, seems to think Wisconsin public employees do not pay taxes:
“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said in a speech. “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers.”
A kind reporter would have let the governor know that Wisconsin public employees are in fact taxpayers, and his entire statement is the equivalent of farting with his mouth.
The story opens with this puzzler:
Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.
State officials from both parties are wrestling with ways to curb the salaries and pensions of government employees, which typically make up a significant percentage of state budgets.
Have you noticed the complete omission from the opening (and the entire story) of any sign of accountability.
Here’s the situation: A and B are negotiating. Naturally enough, each attempts to maximize his own benefit, but since it’s a true negotiation, A and B must in the end agree in order to have a contract and agreement.
The agreement turns out to be bad for B. Whom would you say deserves the blame: A? or B?
I’d be inclined to blame B, assuming it was an honest negotiation with nothing concealed. (And if anything material was concealed, I believe that would void the contract in any case.)
So apparently we had a bunch of elected officials, all over the country, enter into agreements with the public employees’ unions. The agreements turn out to be bad for the government. Who is at fault? I would have to say that it’s not the unions, it’s the elected officials.
But the Right will always blame unions, because the Right believes that employees should have no power. Companies (and governments) should be able, in the view of the Right, to do what they want with their employees.
When the American auto manufacturers were in terrible trouble, I have a right-wing acquaintance who thought it was all the fault of the unions. But:
The unions don’t design the car, plan the product line, plan and administer the advertising, set prices, do competitor research, and so on: that is all the job of management.
And in fact the unions don’t make the labor contracts: Those are agreements between management and the unions. Management is as much a part of those agreements as unions, and if the agreements are bad for the company, it was management at fault: management is responsible for running the company, and management is responsible for agreeing only to sensible contracts that properly protect the company.
We have unions for a reason: the record shows that companies—and management—will in general treat their workers as shabbily as they possibly can, paying them as little as they can get away with, and cutting costs by cutting safety and all other programs that protect workers. Look at Massey Energy to see why we need unions.
And we also need better managers and better elected officials, ones who can exercise responsibility and accept accountability.
Excellent post. Go read and you’ll not regret it.
Over at the Washington Monthly, T.A. Frank tells the story of workers at a Rite-Aid distribution center in the Antelope Valley, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. At first, things were great. Then new management came in, conditions went from bad to worse, and finally the center’s workers decided to unionize:
The Rite Aid organizers filed their union authorization cards with the NLRB, setting the ground for an election. And then things got ugly—and illegal, too….Eventually, the NLRB racked up so many complaints that it planned to take Rite Aid to trial on forty-nine violations of federal labor law. In the summer of 2007, though, Rite Aid chose to settle instead, agreeing to rehire two fired union supporters with back pay and to post a notice in a common area promising not to engage in thirteen types of illegal anti-union activity.
….[ILWU] won the March election, becoming the sole bargaining representative of the warehouse employees. And yet, the day after, things got worse….By August, thirty-nine more employees had been dismissed….Today, nine months later, Rite Aid and the ILWU have not yet come up with a contract. At meetings, Rite Aid has been pushing aside contract negotiations in order to discuss other things. Legally, Rite Aid is supposed to bargain “in good faith,” but such terms are highly subjective and difficult to litigate. Work conditions for the warehouse workers remain much as before, perhaps even worse. And that works to Rite Aid’s advantage — for when a union fails to deliver, its members may lose faith in it and vote it out.
The whole thing is worth reading to get some insight into how unionization drives really work as opposed to the civics class version of how they work. In the end, Tom argues that “card check,” which allows unions to organize merely by getting 50% of a site’s workers to sign authorization cards, may be the least important of card check legislation. The more important parts of the Employee Free Choice Act, he says, are …
Much praise is being laid about for the amazing rescue of all passengers and crew after the aircraft crashed into the Hudson River. That miracle is due in no small part to unions.
Fascinating book review in the New Yorker. A few snippets:
… Oddly, in a phenomenon that Andrews calls “the paradox of coal,” one of the few things unchanged by the fossil-fuel revolution was the way that fuel itself was mined. First, a worker undermined a chunk of coal by chipping away at the foot of it with his pick, creating a gap called a kerf. Then he drilled holes, filled them with explosives, and detonated. Finally, he loaded the coal loosened by the blast onto a car. Except for the explosives, the only energy deployed was the miner’s own. An attempt at mechanization, in 1881, failed; the machines kept breaking down and miners hated them so much that they deserted. For decades, companies simply hired more men. Coal made this easy to do, because it had boosted population and efficiency—so that everywhere there were more people and less work—and had also made travel cheaper than ever before. By the eighteen-nineties, three or four thousand tons of coal could push a steamer across the Atlantic in just six days, and a ticket aboard cost only thirty dollars. Between 1870 and 1910, the non-indigenous population of Colorado grew twentyfold. Unskilled workers from Italy, Greece, Japan, the doddering Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Spanish-speaking New Mexico were hired for their muscles and their willingness to risk their lives. As an individual, a miner was expendable, and, to prevent unionizing, mine operators kept their workforce polyglot. In some Colorado counties, democracy was nearly vestigial. Industrialization was gradually reproducing the conditions of feudalism…
… Miners feared the company’s power. Those who criticized the company were often sent “down the canyon” (blacklisted) or “kangarooed” (beaten up). On Election Day, the company supervised voting, and when the Republican Party needed a victory one sheriff obliged by counting as voters the heads of passing sheep. “I am king of this county,” he once boasted. Whenever a miner died in an accident, the undersheriff asked the mine superintendent whom to put on the coroner’s jury. In the decade leading up to the Ludlow massacre, just one mining fatality in Huerfano County was blamed on management, leaving payments to widows and orphans in the other eighty-nine cases to the company’s discretion…
… In 1907, to stanch C.F. & I.’s losses, Rockefeller assigned it a minder. LaMont M. Bowers was old school; he scorned “muckrakers, labor disturbers and the milk and water preachers and professors.” Upon arrival in Colorado, he shortened lunch breaks in the office, pruned the Sociological Department until miners’ living standards fell, and even reduced bribes to politicians. The company turned profitable. In 1910, when an explosion killed seventy-nine miners and the Colorado Bureau of Labor Statistics accused C.F. & I. of “cold-blooded barbarism” in its neglect of safety measures, Bowers assured his superiors in New York that the miners would soon “get over the excitement.” In reply, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to whom his aging father was ceding control, merely asked why C.F. & I. wasn’t growing faster. The younger Rockefeller had recently resigned from the board of Standard Oil to devote his energy to philanthropy. He was particularly concerned about fallen women…
… Once the National Guard was deployed, its general claimed the power of martial law, holding prisoners incommunicado, setting up a military commission to review detentions, and threatening to jail a local district attorney if he interfered. According to Papanikolas, one union organizer took advantage of his indefinite incarceration to read “The Pickwick Papers,” “The Three Musketeers,” and “Les Misérables.” Mother Jones took advantage of hers to win publicity, and, when a thousand women protested her detention by marching through the city of Trinidad, the general, who in peacetime served Denver as an ophthalmologist, panicked. On horseback, he kicked a sixteen-year-old girl; then he fell off his mount and in revenge cried out, “Ride down the women!”—an order that led his cavalry to slash with sabres at a square full of women. One was cut on the face, another on her hands, and a third had an ear partly severed…
In fact, their attitude is illegal. That’s pretty much wrong. Here’s the story:
Starbucks, once the undisputed leader in premium-price caffeine fixes, has long cultivated a corporate image for social responsibility, environmental awareness, and sensitivity to workers’ rights. Now that carefully crafted reputation is under assault, thanks to a messy legal dispute with a group called the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) (part of the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW), which started recruiting employees in 2004 and now claims 300 members.
The National Labor Relations Board found on Dec. 23 that Starbucks had illegally fired three New York City baristas as it tried to squelch the union organizing effort. The 88-page ruling also says the company broke the law by giving negative job evaluations to other union supporters and prohibiting employees from discussing union issues at work. The judge ordered that the three baristas be reinstated and receive back wages. The judge also called on Starbucks to end discriminatory treatment of other pro-union workers at four Manhattan locations named in the case. The decision marks the end of an 18-month trial in New York City that pitted the ubiquitous multinational corporation against a group of twentysomething baristas who are part of the Industrial Workers of the World.
The timing isn’t ideal for Starbucks, which faces lower demand from the recession, an overall loss of panache for the brand, and a sliding stock price. “[The ruling] is a real thumb in the eye—a real gotcha moment with potential for heartache,” says Eric Dezenhall, chief executive officer of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis management public relations firm in Washington D.C. “I don’t think it’s a crisis, but it hovers between [being] a nuisance and a problem.” …
Continue reading. Note that this is the current National Labor Relations Board, which is not especially friendly to labor.
Bad news about a big, powerful, wealthy corporation:
‘Twas the night before Christmas when Wal-Mart told the world it decided to settle 63 lawsuits to the tune of as much as $640 million; most of those lawsuits alleged that Wal-Mart “underpaid its employees.”
So what prompted the usually greedy Grinch to give more than half a billion dollars to its employees? It must’ve been a passing wind of Christmas Cheer, right? No.
The Wall Street Journal says one reason Wal-Mart paid out $640 million is because the world’s largest retailer wants to improve its image ahead of its fight against the Employee Free Choice Act. Wal-Mart appears to be afraid of that legislation because it would give employees the free choice to join unions and negotiate for better wages, benefits, and retirement security – something Wal-Mart employees certainly don’t have now.
Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about the settlements:
But there may be something else going on. Remember the Employee Free Choice Act? […]
Paul M. Secunda, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School, suggested Wal-Mart wanted to settle the lawsuits not just to avoid potentially more costly defeats in the courtroom, but to resolve issues that might be used to argue for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The legislation, expected to be considered by Congress next year, is fiercely opposed by Wal-Mart because the company worries it will make it easier for workers to unionize.
Wal-Mart is familiar with fighting the Employee Free Choice Act. FEC complaints were filed against the company in August alleging that Wal-Mart told its employees to vote against Democrats such as now President-elect Barack Obama because of their support of the Employee Free Choice Act. And current Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott told reporters this fall why he’s against the Employee Free Choice Act. From the WSJ: …
Via Publius on Obsidian Wings, this site provides good information on the Employee Free Choice Act, which will (I hope) provide unions with the support they need. Under GOP influence, our government has gradually turned anti-union in terms of the NLRB, the court system, and laws. The EFCA will help correct the balance. This video (also via Publius) will give you an idea of why unions are still needed: