From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend

In honor of May Day, aka International Workers’ Day, I’d like to take a moment to write about a movement and a history of achievements I am proud to be associated with.

May Day actually started in the United States in 1884 as a national campaign to establish the eight-hour day.  Until organized labor addressed this situation, workers would be forced to work twelve, fourteen and sixteen hours a day, six days a week.  By 1886, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (the precursor to the American Federation of Labor (AFL)) organized a general strike that mobilized a quarter of million workers to achieve the goal after legislative methods failed a number of times.

The American labor movement hasn’t only changed lives, it has altered our perception of what is fair and deserved.  Victories the labor movement has led and helped champion include, but are not limited to:

  • Ending child labor;
  • Establish the legal right of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions;
  • Paid overtime;
  • Workers’ compensation benefits for workers injured on the job;
  • Unemployment insurance;
  • Securing a minimum a wage, now working for a livable wage;
  • Improving workplace safety and reducing on the job fatalities;
  • Establishing pensions;
  • Win health insurance for workers;
  • Securing paid sick leave, vacations, and holidays as standard benefits;
  • Win passage of the Civil Rights Act and Title VII
  • Win passage of the Occupational Safety and Heath Act
  • Win passage of the Family Medical Leave Act

What has the other side accomplished?  What does Corporate America stand for?  Capitalism is an economic system; it is a means to fulfill need and therefore create profit.  Corporate America has the right, some would argue the obligation, to be driven by profit.  Corporate America can claim accomplishments such as the computer, the automobile, appliances, Coca-Cola, the cell phone and most of the goods and services we use and make our lives easier and more enjoyable.  But it is not a movement. It exists to make money.

What I do not see Corporate America doing is driving the debate on human rights.  In fact, there are too many instances of greed superceding, and being in direct competition with, human rights. 

So I have to ask – why is Corporate America now suddenly claiming to be the champion of the worker by saying management ordered secret ballot elections (to be represented by a union) are the right of employees?  One of the biggest advocates against the Employee Free Choice Act is Rick Berman.  He runs an organization called Union Facts.  He also has campaigns AGAINST Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), lobbies for the beloved Tobacco industry, and works to discredit the link between fast food and obesity.

Knowing nothing about the Employee Free Choice Act but judging it merely on the groups advocating for and against it – who do you think truly has the best interests of working families at heart?

Happy May Day.

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1 Comment

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One response to “From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend

  1. David H.

    Maybe this proves I am both a neutral and progressive. You are not wrong to point to all of the things that unions have done to improve the lives of workers. They are necessary to our form of democracy. But unions also, in my opinion, were slow to catch on to the diversity within their own ranks and include newer immigrants to assume positions of power within those organizations. Again, it is only my opinion, but unions cannot blame their failure to organize solely on existing Board law (they did quite well under those laws in the 1930s-60s). They did the same thing Corporate America did – marginalized women and minorities, albeit with fewer poisonous consequences. They also got comfortable with top-down organizing drives and talking about whether a “service model” was superior to an “organizing model”. They started to look like the corporations that they detested. We’ll never know what union participation rates would be today if many large unions had figured out that they can never, ever stop organizing, whether to add to their ranks or motivate their existing membership.

    Not all corporations want to outsource their unionized employees. Some of those corporations, even non-union ones – created and exploited technologies that created millions of decent jobs right here in the U.S.

    I think both groups got us into the mess we’re in right now. GM can’t sell their inventory because they allowed the quality of the vehicles to suffer and are stuck with huge legacy costs that made the average auto industry worker middle class. The UAW took its time getting involved to try to help and have done an admirable job in the last few years helping GM get its act together. We’ll see if it works.

    The card check/union secret ballot option will certainly make organizing a great deal easier. I just hope that the promises made on the doorsteps of workers’ homes are deliverable. The cruelest thing we can do to people is to raise expectations that are unrealistic.

    I’m just a junior arbitrator who writes disciplinary and contract interpretation decisions. Because most of the work I will do (at least for awhile) will be in the public sector, there is an established history of labor-management relations (not always so great, I suppose) but I hope that if organizing rules are relaxed that unions spend lots of money training their new members on collective bargaining and its complexities. Otherwise, they will have arbitrators write contracts for them based on how well-paid corporate negotiators describe the industry and will have scant information from inexperienced union members who don’t spend much of their time looking at 300 page spreadsheets that attempt to prove that the company can’t afford to do much more than grant a few sick days and write a few work rules that make life a little easier. That would be a tragedy.

    I don’t need to remind you that my partner’s whole corporate banking job revolves around making deals that permit airlines and other companies to stabilize their energy costs so they can continue to operate and pay their employees. Let’s be careful about painting corporate types as universally anti-worker or you’ll never get the votes necessary to change the organizing rules.

    I am not embarrassed to live in a nice place in an expensive city and have the luxury of the freedom to establish an arbitration practice without worrying about paying the mortgage. It’s all possible because of corporate dough being thrown our way over the years.

    Don’t get too mad at me. You know me too well to think that I am trying to rock your world a more moderate position. I’m glad that we can talk about these things and still be good friends.

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