US Govt: Doing what it can to forbid people to join a union

Reply Sun 4 Nov, 2007 06:26 pm
I want to crosspost two posts from the Hillary, Obama, Edwards thread, where Georgeob1 and I were arguing on this topic.

Union decline far predates the Bush era, of course. But I said that union drives have also had to face a Bush administration that actively undermined and hollowed out the federal agency intended to settle labor disputes. While companies use every means possible to prevent unionisation (in ways that would never fly in Europe!), the Bush administration made a mockery of the federal agency meant to oversee the process, staffing it with yes-men for the industry side.

George rejected all this. Unions are collapsing because of their failure to organize support among the workers of new and growing industries, and of "their generally bad influence on the economic health of those which they do infect." The Bush Administration has merely "acted to seriously enforce existing law regarding the mandatory elections required before a union could claim the legal right to a government-enforced monopoly in the representation of the workers (and the forced collection of dues from their pay)."

Moreover, the reference in the articles in this thread "to 'employer manipulation' of NLRB sponsored elections (which involve a secret ballot) compared to the much fairer (or so it implied) public signing (and widespread forging) of cards by union paid organizers" constitute an "obvious distortion of the truth."

In general, he wrote,

Labor union organizers, like the union managers themselves regard their workers more or less as do the managers of meat packing companies regard the cattle in their feed lots - each one is a unit of revenue. The politics of local union governance are based on self-serving lies and deceptions practised by non working stewards and officers of the local. In my experience they were generally opposed to any initiatives of the company directed at improving working conditions and raising productivity, preferring confrontation and belligerence in pursuit of lesser benefits for their workers - but benefits that they could claim as their own. Once I understood this, it was relatively easy to outmaneuver them, however it was the workers who suffered.

That exchange sparked these two posts:

nimh wrote:
georgeob1 wrote:
Both cited articles from "The New Republic" were pro-union polemics and propaganda. I was particularly amused by the reference to "employer manipulation" of NLRB sponsored elections

Blatham just accused you of "fascile rejections", and this is one. There's a lot of actual hard facts out there about this subject, from which the TNR articles sample some illustrations. I reread them now, and barring a rhetorical flourish at the beginning and end, they are, if anything, wonky, fleshing out existing policies and how they are now implemented, manipulated or abused.

Employers do manipulate NLRB-sponsored elections. The second article cited a study of 400 union election campaigns in manufacturing plants in 1998 and 1999 that showed that 25% of employers involved fired at least one worker for union activity. The article also cited a specific case where a judge determined that a company used 36 different illegal tactics to block unionization at its plant.

A research report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research that was linked in on the thread found "a steep rise in the 2000s relative to the last half of the 1990s in illegal firings of pro-union workers". A rise that resulted in an about one-in-seven chance for union organizers and activists to be illegally fired while trying to organize unions at their place of work.

A report on the Chicago area, also linked in in the thread, reinforced those findings: it found that 30% of employers faced with organizing campaigns fire pro-union workers, 49% of them threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union when only 2% actually do, and 91% force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.

Companies follow the advice of people like Employee Relations Consultant Philip Wilson (page linked in on the thread) to hold at least five "captive audience meetings", where employees are obliged to attend meetings where the horrible dangers of unionising are spelled out - even as unions are refused to even talk to part of the personnel.

In theory, the NLRB is supposed to bar such employer harassment. In practice, it is ineffectual, and the penalties for violating labor laws are relatively meaningless. In practice, under Bush's appointees, the NLRB has consistently sided with employers, and refused to penalise companies that violated the National Labor Relations Act. It even ruled in favour of the company cited above that a judge had found to have used 36 different illegal tactics to block unionization.

Whenever a related case came up, the NRLB under Bush has stripped people of even the relative protection its supervision of union elections provides. It helped blocked the right to organise temporary, subcontracted or apprentice workers. And disabled janitors? No right to unionise. Nurses who in the course of their work set schedules for other nurses? No right to unionise, because they are now judged to be "supervisors" - never mind that they have little or no control over wages and workplace conditions.

The latter ruling is the one that the first article in the thread calls "the biggest victory" for business at the Bush-era NRLB yet. Why? Because it strips everyone who performs even minor supervisory roles - software programmers who serve as team leaders, nurses who have aides, scientists who have lab assistants - of the right to unionise. As the article points out, "the decision could prevent as many as eight million workers .. from joining unions."

Note: for 60 years, the NLRB interpreted the legislation one way; now, the Bush appointees depart from this long-standing reading in order to forbid up to 8 million people from unionising.

About 40% of public employees in the USA do not have the right to organize a legally established union, says Wikipedia. That is stunning. I bet there are few if any democratic, Western countries that deny so many of their citizens the right to join a union.

I do regret not keeping up that other thread, but the detail is there for those who want to see. Now you prefer to brush away all such detailed enough info as above as mere "polemics and propaganda" as long as it is found in articles from left-leaning magazines (and mind you, it's not like The New Republic has been particularly leftwing the last decade or so - they endorsed Lieberman in the Democratic 04 primaries for pete's sake. The Daily Kos it is not.) But yes, since you wont find labor issues coverage in headline coverage anymore, that neatly inoculates you from learning about the very things you brush away as non-existing [..]

georgeob1 wrote:
[Y]ou have listed a series of complaints and criticisms all from the perspective of union organizers: nothing from the other perspective. There is no doubt that the Bush Administration has tried to alter the biases of the NLRB, just as did the previous Clinton Administrations under then Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Both were acting to carry out the policies of the elected President, and doing so generally within the confines of the law.

I find it amazing that you imply that a union election process based on the unsupervised and public collection of "chits" from workers, collected by union organizers themselves, would be a more reliable indicator of the actual will of the workforce than would a supervised secret ballot conducted by an unbiased third party. Our laws still permit employers to campaign against the forced unionization of their employees, and even to fire employees for disruptive actions in the workplace. It is common enough for unions to claim that any employer retaliation for the illegal actions of their organizers and supporters are necessarily merely "anti union activity" by the company. The truth is a bit more complex than that.

As I indicated, I have a great deal of experience dealing with unions as a company manager. The best thing one can say about them is that occasionally they aren't as retrograde & backward as they usually are. It is simply a fact that most unionized American companies and industries are failing, while their non union competitors are thriving. Moreover, even with a very competitive market for employees in this low unemployment economy, the non union companies are having very little trouble in attracting and keeping new workers.

Unions enjoy - and demand - a government enforced monopoly on the representation of workers in companies and industries they successfully organize. Like most monopolistic organizations they become immune to market forces and the actual achievement of the benefits they promise. They tend to prefer visible confrontation to collaboratively working out improvements that may improve both the worker's lot and the economic health of the enterprise on which their jobs depend - this to sustain the illusion that they perform a needed function. They resist adaptive changes - even ones that benefit those they supposedly represent. I have seen all this numerous times - and damn little else.

The class warfare and labor-management struggle concepts on which unionism grew in the early industrial age has become an anachronism in the post-industrial economies of the modern world. It is remarkable that so many folks cling to these outmoded ideas. It must be a result of being stultified in an ancient ideological rigor.
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Reply Tue 29 Jan, 2008 04:08 pm
Yay! Despite it all... Smile


Some good news today as fresh numbers come out showing, for the first time in 25 years, union density actually increased over the previous year, inching up from 12 percent to 12.1 percent. The gains were concentrated among white women and black men, in the West (the story here is partially large gains in California outweighing declines as manufacturing continues to collapse throughout the Midwest), and in the construction, health, education, and retail sectors.

Manufacturing, amazingly, has been so decimated that your average manufacturing employee is less likely to be unionized than another American worker picked at random. Given that the manufacturing sector was once the backbone of the union economy, that's real testament to how ruined the old order is, and how impressive even these small gains are. Now, one year does not a trend make, and the uptick is unquestionably minor. But still: Gains for the first time in 25 years. And centered around the fast-growing, immigrant-heavy economies of the West. That's meaningful, and may suggest that Labor is finally figuring out a new model they can use to move forward. In celebration, here's a link to Chris Hayes' beautiful essay, "In Search of Solidarity."

Posted by Ezra Klein on January 25, 2008
0 Replies
Reply Fri 12 Dec, 2008 11:03 am
Update on the Smithfield unionization efforts:

Smithfield Tar Heel plant votes for union
Thu Dec 11, 2008 10:30pm EST

(Reuters) - Meat cutters at Smithfield Foods Inc's huge pork plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, voted to accept representation by the United Food and Commercials Workers union.

--Located about 20 miles south of Fayetteville, the Tar Heel facility is the world's largest pork plant, opened in 1992, and employs about 5,000 workers, of which about 4,600 would be eligible for union representation.

--The vote follows a bitter 14-year dispute between Smithfield and the UFCW due to latter's efforts to unionize the plant. During that time each party accused the other of unethical practices.

--Smithfield is the largest U.S. hog and pork producer with annual sales of about $11 billion. It produces 31 percent of the U.S. pork and 17 percent of U.S. hogs.

-- Prior to the Tar Heel vote, nearly 51 percent, or 28,800, of Smithfield's 58,100 employees were represented by unions, according to the company's annual report.

-- Tar Heel workers in 1992 and 1994 rejected union representation.

-- May 2006 - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Smithfield must allow another union vote at the plant and to not to threaten workers trying to unionize.

--July 2006 - Smithfield Foods calls for an election on union representation at the plant after the UFCW organized marches and demonstrations.

--Oct. 2007 - Smithfield filed a lawsuit against the UFCW accusing the union of waging a negative publicity campaign against the company.

--Oct. 2008 - Smithfield and UFCW settled the lawsuit as both sides agreed to a plan that would allow plant workers to vote if they want union representation. (Reporting by Bob Burgdorfer; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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