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Unions are the enemy

In the US, the common corporate view is that unions are the enemy, an illegitimate nuisance that should be wiped out. In no other industrial nation do employers fight so hard to defeat, indeed quash, labor unions, writes Steven Greenhouse in his upcoming book, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor and in an article in The Guardian.

Examples abound of companies going to great lengths to keep out unions. One study found that employers fire nearly one-fifth of the rank-and-file workers who lead organizing drives. During a unionization campaign at a Fruit of the Loom factory in Texas, the company hung a banner across the plant saying, “Wear the Union Label. Unemployed.” When an ITT Automotive plant in Michigan faced a union drive, it parked 13 flatbed tractor trailers with shrink-wrapped production equipment in front of its plant and next to those trucks it posted large hot-pink signs reading, “Mexico Transfer Job”.

Menards, a Wisconsin-based home-improvement chain, was so intent on beating back unions that its employment contracts once said that any store managers whose workers unionized would have their salaries chopped by 60%. Imagine what lengths Menards’ store managers must have gone to in order to crush unionization drives.

In its latest offensive to beat back unionization, Delta Air Lines has a new anti-union poster that tells employees, “A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.” Another Delta poster estimates that union dues cost $700 a year and says, “Nothing’s more enjoyable than a night out watching football with your buddies. All those union dues you pay every year could buy a few rounds.”

At times, Delta’s anti-union campaign has been disingenuous. It warns its workers that if they vote to unionize, it could take years – it cites one case that took seven years – for their union to negotiate a first contract (during which the company might not provide any raises). Delta also cautions that if the workers unionize, their pay and vacation time “could be negatively affected”.

Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said Delta spent $38m to defeat a 2010 drive in which flight attendants voted narrowly against unionizing, 9,216 for and 9,544 against. “Unions are the only reason we have any protections at work or any ability to claim good jobs. And management doesn’t like that,” Nelson says. “Union-busting is a multibillion-dollar business because it keeps labor costs low and allocates all of the control to a few in power.”

As part of its anti-union crusade, Delta is essentially telling its employees that unionizing could make things worse for them and bring lower pay and worse vacations. If unions are as bad for workers as Delta contends, then why is Delta fighting hammer and tongs against unionization? The answer is clear: Delta fears that a union will give workers a strong voice on the job and pressure the company – which had $3.9bn in net income last year – to share more of its bounty with the workers who have made Delta such a success.

Economic studies have found that union members earn 13.6% more than comparable non-union workers, after adjusting for education, age and other factors. That means a Delta flight attendant who earns $60,000 a year might see her compensation rise by over $7,000 a year (far more than $700) if her pay rose 13.6% as a result of Delta’s flight attendants unionizing. Unionized workers are far more likely to have employer-sponsored health coverage – 75% of unionized workers participate in employer-sponsored health plans, compared with just 49% of non-union workers. And 83% of union members have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but just 49% of non-union workers do.

Source: The Guardian

Steven Greenhouse is a journalist and author, focusing on labour and the workplace. His new book, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, will be published this August


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