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September 1, 2010

How Companies Turn People Against Unions

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

If you had a company and could make people work for free, keeping all the proceeds just for yourself, you might do that. If you could. What’s stopping you? There are plenty of unemployed people in the country and in the world – more every day thanks to population growth, and computers and machines doing more of the work that needs to be done. So if someone complains, you can just replace them with someone who doesn’t complain. You have the power. So what’s stopping you?

As a working person, how do you negotiate for fair pay, benefits and rights where you work? People in a job can be on their own against a lot of power, taking whatever the employer is willing to trade for their work. Or they can join with the rest of the employees at the workplace and negotiate as a group. Banding together to fight for a fair share is called organizing into a union.

People who own companies think that the company is their “private property” and they can do what they want with it, regardless of the effect on the people who work there or the surrouding community. Their goal is to make as much money as possible and to do that you lower costs as much as possible. Those costs include the cost of disposing of harmful waste products, the quality and safety of the products produced, and the pay and benefits you provide workers. In this equation unions are a problem. They have the power to make you pay more and provide safety and benefits, so they are in the way of keeping as much as you can just for yourself.

Obviously the greater society -- the people who make the rules that companies are supposed to follow -- has very different interests from the people who own companies. Society wants to avoid being exposed to harmful waste products, and wants the people in the society to be paid well and have good benefits. Society wants healthy communities. Society wants good and safe products that don't use up our resources. The people in the society are generally going to want rules that lead to better results for the greater number of people. Unless they can be convinced otherwise.

So the owners of companies try to convince us that unions are bad. They form and fund "business groups" like the Chamber of Commerce, to fight to keep unions from having the right and power to organize their workers. We hear it repeated over and over in our corporate-dominated society, a drumbeat that labor unions are sinister, shady, harmful, corrupt, violent, “raise prices,” ”cost jobs,” and generally hurt the economy and country. We hear they force workers to pay dues (never mind that unionized workers pay the dues from higher pay and benefits.) We hear that "union bosses" tell workers what to do and "union thugs"make them do it. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. The owners of companies have a lot of money to spend on convincing the public to let them have free reign, and they know from selling products how to sell things to the public. Repetition, repetition and repetition. Marketing works.

This Labor Day weekend we can expect to hear even more of this. Business groups plan Labor Day blitz against Senate Dems, candidates,

Local chapters of groups like the National Federation of Independent Business, state Associated Builders and Contractors and other commerce and retail groups will hold events on Monday targeting the incumbents and candidates, particularly on their stance on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, or "card-check").

But you shouldn't expect to see, hear or read on any corporate-owned TV station, radio station or newspaper about the benefits to people from joining a union. Think back and see if you can remember the last time you heard it explained to the public in one of these outlets how members of unions are better off?

How widespread is the anti-labor effort? Here’s a quick, admittedly unscientific check. On Google today there are 54,800 websites that refer to “union thugs,” 154,000 websites that refer to “union bosses” and 200,000 that refer to “big labor.” Please click through and look not only at the ridiculous things being written, but also at who is writing them.

The first page of Google “results for “union bosses” lists anti-union pages from Big Government, The Center for Union Facts , The Washington Times, Human Events, Redstate, Townhall, The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the book “Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics” by Fox News analyst Linda Chavez and Danial Gray of the National Right to Work Committee.

The Center for Union Facts, The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the National Right to Work Committee are anti-union sites funded by corporations and right-wing foundations. According to a report in SourceWatch, The National Right to Work Committee and National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation even share facilities and employees. Big Government, Human Events, Townhall, Redstate, Fox News and the Washington Times are conservative movement outlets that are part of the coordinated Right Wing Noise Machine, or echo chamber, in which a number of outlets appear to be different entities but work as part of a single movement with a shared goal. (P.S. Big Government is the site where the doctored ACORN videos and doctored video of Shirley Sherrod were promoted.)

Admittedly unscientific, but interesting nonetheless. There's a lot of anti-union money floating around out there.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

Posted by Dave Johnson at September 1, 2010 10:09 PM


Comments

I agree with many of the points in the article. However, as a small business owner a union poses a risk.

Me and the other owners of the business are not highly compensated and our profit margins are slim. We do not make anywhere near the multiples of our average workers pay you hear about in the news today.

A union would not allow me the flexibility to control my workforce and my overhead costs which I have always needed throughout the years. My job, and theirs, relies on proper financial management. I find it hard to believe a wage contract for some time period in the future is in my best interest, especially in an unsure marketplace.

There are other considerations as well. We have taken out loans over the years for new construction and operating expenses. We personally guarantee these loans, which means our savings, homes, and other investments may be taken by the bank if we default. This risk is ours, and we cannot afford to gamble with our lives or our families lives.

This being said, we are proud of what we have been able to do for our employees and community. We pay well, treat them fairly, and offer decent benefits. We have low turnover and many employees that have been with us for a long time. If more companies did that, maybe there would be no need for unions in the first place.

Posted by: Bob [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 3, 2010 7:40 AM

Bob,

Having been a small business owner I completely hear you.

You said some things here that indicate that you do not have an adversarial relationship with your employees. That would indicate that you could have a cooperative relationship with any union they might form. That kind of relationship leads to win-win outcomes.

You might not have any need for a union at all, but suppose you need to unionize in order to win certain contracts. You could for a cooperative relationship from the start, perhaps an open-book policy with employees understanding and therefore maybe even contributing to the company's bottom line. Imagine a flexible wage and benefit agreement based on how the economy is doing, or based on the contracts or sales you have. You might even be able to pioneer new kinds of agreements with the bargaining unit.

You can go into it cooperatively instead of adversarialy. You can even be pro-active and ask them to form the union based on ideas of your own about a relationship with the wage workers. There are benefits to employers as well.

Posted by: Dave Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 3, 2010 9:29 AM

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