Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Opening the Tent- Unions and Organized Labor

We’re on the cusp, as a party, of moving into a supermajority in the government, and pushing the Republican party to becoming a strictly regionally-based minority. Of course, everyone remembers Karl Rove’s predictions of a permanent Republican majority, and how well that worked out. Certainly, there’s no hard assurance we won’t end up the same way.

The best way I can see to ensure that will happen is to “open the tent”- and including people of all political persuasions to join ranks with us. Moderates, independent voters, the conservative intelligentsia that was so thoroughly driven from the Republican party. The question is, however, how much are you willing to compromise to make that happen? And what will those areas be?

I am a former Republican. I was driven from the party for daring to dissent, for not toeing the party line and accepting things unquestioningly. For daring to suggest it’s not our damn business what goes on in people’s bedrooms; for railing against suggesting people were “pro-abortion”, and refusing to stop prostetylzing and do something to address the causes of the problem; for wondering why a wholesale attack on our civil liberties was needed to fight this intangible and unending “war on terror”.

I was labeled a great many things. Republican in Name Only! Baby killer! Liberal Kool-aid drinker! Commie! You know the names. All because I dared to not accept everything shoved down my throat. So I left the Republican party… and now I’m here. And there will continue to be people like me arriving at our doorstep, and wondering, where do I fit in with the Democratic party? Do I?

I can’t claim to know all those answers. But what I can do is help foster dialogue and understanding; to help you guys understand where I, and people like me, are coming from.

And the first issue in this series is on organized labor. Please keep an open mind; I’m not trying to be a concern troll. I’m trying to foster discussion, but I’ll be playing devil’s advocate more than one in the course of doing so.

For a long time, I felt like (and still do on this first part) that unions did important work getting us things like overtime, a 40-hour workweek, eight-hour days, et cetera. But the way I saw them was as bloated and corrupt… more concerned about power and the benefit of the union leaders than the members. Much like CEOs in that respect, anyway. UAW, probably the most maligned of all the unions, with their job bank that pays people for not working, or the fact $2000 of every GM car you buy is for the workers’ health insurance, employing secretaries and forcing union members to pass off letters to the secretary to re-write them before they can be sent, “It’s not my job!” and grevance filing if someone tries to sweep the floor of a safety hazard when the floor sweeper’s not there- things like that. Not to mention the bad press about the reactions that can occur when people don’t want to join unions, or may release bad press about the unions.

But guess what, folks- I never was a fan of Rush, or Hannity, or O’Reilly, or any of their ilk. I didn’t get that from the Republican party or right-wing talking points. It’s how my personal experiences and the way unions were presented to me shaped my vision of them.

Obviously, I recognize now that the CEO-level of our corporations are, by and large, corrupt and need to all be strung up. 600x the rate of an average worker- one CEO can provide the corruption, excess, and stupidity of a hundred bad unions. I think we can all agree on that, and most of my fellow former Republicans, moderates, and independents will, too. But a lot of them may carry opinions like this- well thought-out and sound in their mind. So railing on them for “right-wing propaganda spewing” isn’t going to change any hearts and minds.

The backstory on how I became to believe what I did stems from working for Home Depot, and from my father, who was an HR manager with a large manufacturing company that had union workers. The organization efforts I witnessed were at Home Depot stores. UFCW, I believe, was the union. And they were promising everything under the sun to our associates, talking about the possibility of job banks like at UAW, y’know, 20-dollar an hour lot tech and cashier jobs- and it seemed very much like they were trying to turn them against the managers. It got put down by our associates in a huge way, I think at least in part because of this. None of the Home Depot stores I worked at were dysfunctional; ours was no different. We were a family. By and large, the managers took care of the associates.

I was one of those managers. My employees were the most valuable thing I had, bar none, and any smart manager never forgets that, especially in the retail business. They were my family, too, because I sometimes saw them more than my real family! Heh. I was making $15 hourly, plus I had excellent benefits- indeed, I didn’t realize how good they were until I quit. Health, dental, 401(k), tuition reimbursement- I actually got about $6,000 from them for tuition reimbursement, and even part-time associates qualify for that. 80 hours of vacation a year, and 48 hours of sick time (actually, as I left I was just starting to accrue 120 hours of vacation and 72 sick). That’s standard for any hourly employee. I thought it was pretty good.

We had a corporate minimum wage of $8.00/hour, I believe, which means that the lowliest lot tech fresh out of high school got paid no less than that- and an automatic $.50 raise at 90 days. Hourly management pay scale ran from about $12 to $19.50, depending on your position. Head cashiers, freight team (stocking), made anywhere from $9-14. But we paid more for people who knew. I had a retired union electrician, and he got paid $22/hour to stock shelves and occasionally answer questions from customers, because he knew what the hell he was talking about. Another gal made $18/hour to mix paint for the same reason. More than me, but then I couldn’t redraw a circuit from memory, and pfft- I’m a guy, I only know about five or six different colors. We also bonused based off of store performance, called “success sharing”.

I thought it was a great system. Many people feel the same way. They’ve simply never had any association with unions, and have had great employment experiences- or, at least, nothing out of the ordinary, per se. So they don’t see unions as a necessity.

However, even then, I thought the people at places like Wal-Mart could be better off. I think Home Depot had a good system, and Wal-Mart’s, at the associate level, can’t touch Home Depot’s- or anyone’s, for that matter. I mean, I never get asked for help going into a Wal-Mart store, but we’ve been known to fire people who didn’t acknowledge customers at Home Depot. I’ve done it myself, and good riddens to them. That’s our entire edge on the business, is customer service. Hell, at Wal-Mart, you’re lucky the person knows where anything is.

I haven’t seen a Wal-Mart PNL statement, but I was intimately familiar with the ones at my Home Depot store, and I know how all the financials come together- margin, shrink, cost, and especially operational expenses, like payroll. We ran pretty close to the edge as far as profitability went, and Wal-Mart runs even closer. They make more money total than any other company in the world, but their net off that gross is comparatively tiny.

Now, that doesn’t excuse Wal-Mart from treating their associates better- I’m just trying to establish positions. Wal-Mart is one of the most efficiently run businesses in the country. Say what you want about their labor practices, their distribution and operational models can’t be touched by anyone. It saves them a lot of money, which is essential for their business model, obviously. But if they were to unionize, well, they wouldn’t be Wal-Mart anymore. You wouldn’t have the Everyday Low Prices. Which, actually, would be fine with me, I’d pay a little more to know that an American job was being provided for. But not everyone shares this sentiment.

The same with what I saw at Home Depot. I mean, you understand, we sell a lot of our merchandise at cost, or below even! Lumber is always sold below cost, period; most commodity items are. The reason we were fat, dumb, and happy for awhile was because during the housing boom, people would also be buying the super expensive appliances, window coverings, paint, etc, which we did actually make money on. Now, with the market, guess what? Nobody’s buying that stuff, they’re buying the stuff that I might have made a 5% margin on. And if I doubled the average non-management hourly Home Depot wage (which, when I was there, was somewhere around $11/hour or so), we’d go out of business. We’d never be able to compete with Lowe’s. Even if they followed suit, when the price of a 2×4 suddenly doubles, and follows across the board? At least consumer goods have some room to move up and people still buy them. Contractors won’t.

I thought I had a good deal. I never felt powerless. And I’d often scoff at the thought of unions. It’s easy to dismiss something you don’t understand.

What I do understand now, however, after a great deal of discussion with the people in this community, is that unions are the reason I didn’t have to work eleventy hours a week with no overtime; that I was able to take care of my baby girl, that I had health insurance to fall back on and rely on when she was born with complications; that the wages at Home Depot were likely so competitive (at least in a retail framework); so forth and so on. I don’t think anyone truly willing to discuss this issue honestly will disagree on that point.

That begs the question, though, why does it have to be the union framework that provides that? Yes, we owe a great deal to unions… so is that an excuse for not changing anything?

Are unions the best way to address these issues? I don’t really know the answer to that question. I’d say right now, yes, they obviously are in the structure we have set up. However, I don’t see them as perfect, shining models of collectivization, working in unison to protect workers’ rights- and that doesn’t tell me why we should be beholden to them for any other reason than “just because”. I’d like to see unions held accountable for their excesses, just as much as CEOs.

Now of course, as I mentioned earlier, if we look at the problem by proportion, unions are nowhere near the top. The current CEO of Chrysler, Bob Nardelli, used to be my boss at Home Depot. He negotiated a $200 million severance package BEFORE HE WAS HIRED, regardless of performance- and the company took a huge dive in the process. Now, he did fix some things that needed to be fixed (he crushed the “good old boy” network, made sure we were following federal HR practices, reigned in rampant corruption at the buying offices and normalized wages and raises), but for the love of God- $200 million dollars?

The current Home Depot CEO makes a comparative paltry $900,000 a year, with all bonuses and severance based on performance. That I’m okay with. A company the size and scope of Home Depot, I’m comfortable with that. Store managers make 75-125 thousand, I made 30 thousand or so, so he makes, what, thirty times what I did? That’s within the realm of acceptability. When it starts getting 300 or 3000 times that size, however… Hell, yeah, that 200 mill could’ve given everyone at Home Depot $500, or revamped a thousand breakrooms, or funded more tuition reimbursement, or put another 10,000 bodies on the floor for customer service?

And now he’s trying to blame his woes on unions. Bullshit, Bob. Unions may have their problems, but talk to me about running a shitty business model and paying yourself enough money to start your own space program first.

But this doesn’t excuse us from ignoring problems at our level, simply because they exist higher up. My biggest personal sticking points are things like secret ballots- sorry, I understand the point with having open elections and their benefits to unions, but a person’s vote is their own business, and nobody else’s. If we can’t organize without secret ballots, IMHO, it’s not worth being done.

Other things make me frown, too. I don’t like the thought of being forced to join a union to work for an employer; I just don’t like the principle of being forced to do something like that. I don’t like hearing the stories about “it’s not my job”, and job-banks like the ones at the Big Three, and union corruption. But I understand, cognitively, that those aren’t what define unions as a whole. While all of those things may exist and be excessive or unacceptable, it’s not taking in the whole picture.

But it’s going to take education and compromise to get over this issue. I posited some of these points over at DailyKos recently, just to try and see how well my lines of thought stood up to determined attack- and I suddenly became more sympathetic to the plight of the Clintonistas this spring. One of the frontpagers from Kos actually accused me of being racist (a “Dixiecrat”, even!); I was spewing right-wing propaganda, etc, etc. I think you all understand that’s not my intent here. But a great many of people responded passionately and intelligently, and helped me come to an even better understanding of this issue- and hopefully one that will help us convince the moderates and independents and former Republicans we’re the right side to join. A good thing, too. The atmosphere there became quickly toxic, and it’s clear that we have reactionary jerks on our side, too.

But like I said, it’s going to take compromise. So, let’s say EFCA comes to a vote, but it’s filibustered in the Senate. However, we can bring a few votes to our side if we strip out the “card check” provision. Is it worth the compromise to get through?

Or pointing to employers like Home Depot. Where did I have it bad? How could unions

How about on CEO salaries- we impose legislation for some sort of limit, but it’s coupled with an omnibus plane that would on put stricter provisions in place on union accountability, both to the union members and to the Government?

Or Flex Time. I originally thought Flex Time was a great idea- I don’t mind working 60 hours this week if I can work 20 the next- until I realized it would be at the company’s whim, not mine… and especially as a manager, I would be frequently get whipped around in this manner. So say passing Flex Time is part of a compromise, but in the guise of being at least partly employee-controlled?

And confronting people on issues like Wal-Mart. I know, sympathy for them is (rightly) low, but their business model does run on razor thin margins, and they do employ more people than almost the entire US military. Fiscal conservatives will probably use the same points I have illustrated here- that something drastic regarding their associates could end up having huge implications for them running their business, and as un-sorry as you feel about Wal-Mart, is that right to do, simply because they’re such a huge target?

My answer to that last question would be “universal health care”. If we can cover everyone, we can kill Wal-Mart’s, the Big Three, and a lot of other concern on the impact of benefit cost to these companies. If the government has to shoulder that load, then I personally think they had better own up to treating their employees better. But I digress- UHC needs another article like this one.

So, there you have it. Some idea of where I, and people like me, stand. Hopefully, this will help you see where we’re coming from, help you to open your eyes to our viewpoint, and decide where we can compromise to help get things accomplished.


  1. NavyBlueWife

    My one and only experience comes from teachers’ unions.  I was a public school teacher in a supposedly desegregated school in South Carolina where unions have no foothold.  I apologize for not knowing the history behind that, but I vaguely recall something to do with Reconstruction.  Anyhow, public schools in South Carolina are atrocious, at all levels of socio-economic class.  Of course, the predominantly white ones are better, but overall the system sucks.  Then, I moved to Minnesota where teachers’ unions are alive and well.  Low and behold, the school systems were 50 years AHEAD of South Carolina. The major difference in my not very humble opinion at all was the unions.  The unions wouldn’t stand for shit.  Old textbooks had to be thrown out.  Salaries had to go up.  Kids had to have clean, healthy school–all because the unions fought against anything less.  The parents, students, and employees were typically the same as what I saw in South Carolina.  I’ve been all for teachers’ unions ever since.

    Corruption finds breeding grounds in many things, particularly when power gets concentrated in the hands of a few.  We saw that the past 8 years, and the Republicans are already warning against it now with the Dems.  Why be honest and hold yourselves accountable when you can basically do whatever the hell you want?  Sure, unions have had issues, but the corruption on Wall Street right now is far more detrimental than anything the unions have done.

    The one thing I would offer for your diary is to provide some links for discussion.  I appreciate your personal anecdotes very much, but I am too lazy to dig on my own.  The problem with educating the lazy masses (like myself) is that we don’t want to have to do all the work, and we don’t trust what isn’t supported.  That’s what Fox Noise is all about.  Maybe that happened on dKos?  I don’t know because I rarely go there now.  Pure speculation pulled right out of thin air on that one.  But, I’m glad you posted here.  I look forward to reading more!

    As for this statement:

    But if they were to unionize, well, they wouldn’t be Wal-Mart anymore. You wouldn’t have the Everyday Low Prices. Which, actually, would be fine with me, I’d pay a little more to know that an American job was being provided for. But not everyone shares this sentiment.

    AMEN!  I haven’t shopped at Wal-Mart for years and years.  I can’t stand people bitching about jobs being shipped overseas and then heading to Wal-Mart to pick up cereal.  Ugh.  It makes my blood boil.  It’s almost like paying taxes.  No one wants to pay them, but then everyone complains at all the potholes in the road.

  2. GrassrootsOrganizer

    I hope you don’t mind if I chip away at a few misconceptions one per comment.  I don’t mean to pound on you.  It’s just that you’ve compacted alot into one diary that I can’t let go unchallenged.

    I’d like to start with the big one — EFCA and secret ballots.  Full disclosure, I’m an organizer and union management.  I’ve been recommending all along that any EFCA legislation should be tied to new government regulation and oversight of unions — accountability for percentage of members’ participation in union elections; full annual fiscal reports to all members; regular “inspections” of a union’s business practices and a set procedure for challenging a union’s practices from within.

    That would to me best serve the workers.  Make unionization easier (more on that later) with assurances that the union they join will be monitored and held to certain standards.  I don’t expect to see that because all politics is about winning a battle not serving the people.  But that’s another discussion.

    Why is EFCA so important?  Because for decades the playing field has not been level and those “secret elections” are poisoned.  I can best explain it with an analogy..

    Imagine if being the party in power in the White House came with certain perks.  When it came time for presidential elections, only the ruling party could advertise on TV because they controlled all the stations and everything broadcast on them.  Imagine too they could hold mandatory voter meetings, where anyone who wanted to vote was required to attend meetings where only the party in power presented their position.  Imagine too that it is common knowledge that those who report to the government on the activities of the opposition or actively campaign for the party in power receive tax breaks and government jobs.  Imagine now that those who campaign against the government are watched by the FBI looking for any infraction and the IRS goes over their tax returns and for any little mistake they are booted out of the country or at the very least being constantly dragged into court to explain themselves.  On those government owned stations and in those captive citizen meetings, the message was the country will collapse unless we stay in power; we will close down your town if it votes against us; the other party is corrupt and attempting to rob you; here are all the great things we’ve done for you. And if you attend a meeting of the opposition or show any support for it you are constantly harassed.

    Meanwhile, the opposition can only approach you in your home or at “secret meetings” held hoping the FBI hasn’t followed anyone there.  They can’t advertise and have no power to hold mandatory meetings.  (they can however send you things in the mail) The leadership of the opposition is regularly being threatened and harassed by the government with loss of income and citizenship.  And the message of the opposition is, we can’t guarantee you anything, we have absolutely no power to give or take anything from you, but if we all work together and participate and stand up together against the party in power, hopefully we can make change happen.

    Now. I ask you.  How fair would that “secret ballot” be?  As I understand it, they vote secretly in all sorts of dictatorships and one party governments around the world.  Are those elections democratic?

    The current NLRB process is a joke.  Corporations receive a slap on the wrist and nothing more for violating the NLRA and by the time it crawls through the system, the organizing drive has no doubt fallen apart.  Let me explain to all of you what I’ve SEEN in union organizing drives again and again first hand during the NLRB process —

    1. pro-union workers fired without warning for petty infractions

    2. hours cut, schedules constantly rearranged, workloads radically increased, petty rules created and enforced to the letter to push all the employees to quit and kill the drive

    3. managers sent out to follow employees to meetings and make lists of those who attend; attendees called in the next day for “performance reviews” in an obvious attempt to show everyone what happens if you attend a union meeting

    4. unpaid two hour captive audience meetings once a week or more with the promise the meetings will end when the drive ends

    5. bullshit rumors spread about how the union will force the company to cut jobs, close a location, end certain employee perks or create inflexible working conditions

    6. openly anti-union employees promoted, given a raise or given better work assignments

    7. worker organizers threatened with lawsuits or legal action over workplace issues — framed for theft or vandalism

    8. worker organizers told “you’ll never work anywhere in this industry again”

    9. worker organizers followed to their cars or to their homes by strangers who then park outside their homes; who find their trash sifted through or their cars broken into; who receive threatening phone messages or hang-up phone calls throughout the night; whose spouses or children are followed

    10. workers pitted against one another — the union is something “the blacks” or “the men” or “the people with seniority” or “the Latinos” or “the people in (fill in the department)” want so they can “take your jobs” or “get you fired” or “only get raises for themselves” or “get their relatives in here” or “make you do all the hard work” or “give you the crappy shifts” or “turn this into an all Latino shop”

    I could probably go on but I want to vomit just thinking about it.  

    Try to remember, if the union organizer shows up at your door chances are you won’t answer.  But if your manager asks you out to lunch, you won’t say no.

    I myself went through such a drive as a worker for a major retailer.  By the time it was all over they cut a staff of 62 down to 31 with harassment, firings and horrible working conditions.  In another shop, I was fired, with a perfect work record, for organizing a union meeting and leading a drive from the inside.  THIS STUFF IS REAL.

    There are any number of “employee relations” firms out there that specialize in union-busting — how to circumvent the law, the costs in just ignoring the law, what works and what doesn’t to effect that “secret ballot”.

    As for card check, it’s hard enough to get those damn cards signed, given the well penetrated perception that supporting a union will get you fired.  And without a neutrality agreement, the company will find out almost immediately and fire up their anti-campaign the day after the cards are dropped.  If you don’t want to talk to the organizer you can slam the door in his or her face.  (believe me, I know) And so far, I haven’t gotten the memo to get my Louisville Slugger down out of the attic.

    It makes no good GD sense for a union organizer to coerce a card out of someone because they can just request it back.  And if you don’t build a strong union on Solidarity the shop can always decertify.  

    All EFCA will do is give unions a small window to organize some folks who’d really like a union but can’t sustain through the terrors of the NLRB process.  Within a year, our friends at Jackson Lewis will have figured out the perfect process for getting around EFCA.  

    As the law now stands and functions, millions of working Americans would like representation but are stark terrified to pursue it.  EFCA would make things just a little easier for them to organize.  And they wouldn’t be forced into a bad union, they could self affiliate or choose the union they want to join.  If they don’t like it?  they can decert.

    I can’t for the life of me understand why any progressive would work against making it easier for workers to safely stand together and pursue a contract where they can negotiate their own working conditions as equals.  And when you strip away the bullshit, that’s all a union is.

  3. GrassrootsOrganizer

    This is a short one —

    I couldn’t help but notice that the president of the average 10,000 member union local makes about as much as the typical Home Depot store manager.

    I betcha Andy Stern makes as much as the regional manager…maybe.  

  4. GrassrootsOrganizer

    I was one of those managers. My employees were the most valuable thing I had



    I dunno about anyone else here?  But I don’t want to be considered anyone’s property or “resource”. That’s why I like belonging to a union.  That’s why I work to build them for others.  


  5. GrassrootsOrganizer

    When I’m working for you I’m not your “family”.  I don’t want to be your family.  I want to come in, do my job, be treated fairly and paid what we AGREE I’m worth, then take that paycheck home to my family.  Because I don’t bust my ass for you or the corporation, I work for my family.  

    No offense or anything, but if one management phrase makes my skin crawl off it’s that whole “we are a family” thing.  Really?

    Like if I can’t make my rent next month, will you loan it to me?  If I get arrested, will you bail me out?  If my kid gets chronically ill and I’m constantly showing up late for our “family time” because I was up all night with him, will you be cool with that?  How about Uncle District Manager?  Will he mind if the line is out the door and I’m not there for the tenth time this month?

    IF I really really fuck up, will you disown me?  Because even my own fucked up real family doesn’t do that.  There’s no end to their forgiveness.

    Look, I’m a manager too.  I deeply care about the people who work for me, I enjoy their company, I look out for them, I want the best for them, I’ll do anything I can for them, within the confines of my job.

    I still wouldn’t insult them by looking at them as some second “family”.  They aren’t looking to be loved at work and I know that.  They are looking to be RESPECTED and VALUED for what they contribute.  

    Caring for one’s employees is no substitute for treating them as an equal.  And they ARE my equals in all respects except the job responsibilities.  I am responsible for overseeing their work; they are responsible for meeting their job description.  We work together under a CONTRACT which binds us both equally to meet the our responsibilities as outlined in that contract.

    If they mess up, it’s laid out in that contract when and how they are disciplined.  If they deserve a raise or promotion, it’s laid out in there too.  It’s not up to my benevolence or mood or how I feel about them — whether or not they feel or act like “family”.  I can still care about them all I want but my decisions are shaped only my their job performance and the contract.  

    I don’t go into any job looking for a new big brother or someone to watch over me.  I go into it looking to perform a job, be compensated fairly for it and treated with respect at all times so I can support my family.  And I suspect most workers feel the same way too.  

  6. GrassrootsOrganizer

    To be honest, the working conditions, pay and benefits package you described sound pretty decent!  Good to hear and it will cause me to shop more often at Home Depot.

    Now, here’s the question.  

    any objections to putting all that in writing and making it binding both ways?

    So, if you have this or that experience, this is what you get.  Here’s your health care package.  Here’s your sick and vacation time scale.  Here’s what qualifies you for each pay grade. And if you need for some reason to change any of that?  you come and talk to the employees about it first.

    Would that be a problem?

  7. GrassrootsOrganizer

    The biggest misconception about “unions” is that they are all the same in how they negotiate, how they treat their members, how they work or don’t work cooperatively with employers.

    One thing for certain — compared to CEOs and top corporate management?  No one is getting filthy rich off union dues!

    American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

    dedicated to member owned and driven unionism.  “organizing union” with comparatively low dues, few services and member volunteers doing the bulk of the new organizing.  Not typically top heavy.  Second fastest growing union in the country. Strong commitment to social justice and progressive causes.  k-12 and university educators and personnel.  National president’s salary $368K.  membership: 822K

    Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

    Largest fastest growing union in the country.  “mixed model” with average dues, some services and low ratio of member involvement.  Uneven performance among locals.  Top down management from DC. Strong organized internal dissent from some members.  Innovative and “questionable” new organizing technique, particularly in cooperative deals with management and corporate campaigns.  Strong financial commitment to social justice.  Heath care, property services and other low wage workers.  President’s salary 258K. 1.6 million members.

    United Auto Workers (UAW)

    Radical history with accusations of “sleeping with management” in the past three decades.  History of internal member dissent and reform movements.  top heavy “service model” with high dues, extensive services and typically low volunteer participation.  Strong individual locals with on-going accusations of cronyism.  Now willing to organize “cradle to grave” with no limitations on sector or industry.  President’s salary 168K.  538K members.

    Teamsters (IBT)

    Radical history with accusations of past Mafia involvement.  Strong history of internal member dissent and leadership conflicts.  “Service model” with high dues, extensive services and mixed member participation.  Long standing accusations of cronyism.  Truckers and expansion into “cradle to grave” organizing.  President’s salary $335K.  Membership 1.3 million.

    United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)

    Considered most effective at the local level with general disorganization at the national level.  Locals vary in growth, strength, effectiveness, democracy, progressiveness and accusations of corruption.  Impossible to judge as a collective entity for that reason.   Recent reforms at the national level promising.   Retail, food processing.  President’s salary 345K.  1.3 million members.

    United Steelworkers (USW)

    History of strong member involvement and successful internal reform movements.  Recently radically reorganized after mergers with smaller unions. Not considered top heavy or overstaffed.   Now aggressively organizing “cradle to grave”.  President’s salary $171K. 730K members.

    American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSME)

    True “service model” union with high dues, extensive services and little attempt to organize members to greater participation.  Somewhat top heavy.  Slow to evolve and expand — reputation as “carpet baggers” within the union community, hopping onto the drives of others to strip off members.  President’s salary 629K.  1.4 million members.

    International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

    Long tradition of strong internal organizing and member democracy.  functions well as a “brotherhood” with focus on caring for their own on and off the jobsite.  Recent attention to new organizing into technical fields. Good reputation.   President’s salary 339K.  699K members.

    More later.  I have to go out and organize some folks.

  8. GrassrootsOrganizer

    The diarist points out how he doesn’t ever want to be compelled to join a union to get a particular job — the central argument of “Right to Work”.  

    A few things —

    Right to Work legislation typically requires an employer to offer non-union members the same wages, protections and benefits.  It typically also requires the union to represent all employees in a unit, regardless of union membership.  

    Currently, if you have some ideological objection to joining the union you can “opt out” and pay a “service fee” that is traditionally about 75% of full union dues.  That service fee is calculated by the government, based on union books, to cover only the cost of negotiating and enforcing your contract.  It pointedly excludes the costs of political activity and new organizing.  

    Under Right to Work, every worker in a union shop would be asked to voluntarily pay their union dues or a service fee.  Imagine that for one moment.  You are trying to make ends meet, or you just try to grab every penny you can, and your union dues are now voluntary.  And to top it off, the schlump standing next to you is bragging about how he just got his job back and loves his union pay and benies, but would never pay the dues, ha ha.

    And a reminder — plenty of jobs require you join some organization or receive some form of certification to do or keep your job.  Try being a lawyer without joining the bar or practice medicine without belonging to the AMA.  

    Negotiating and enforcing contracts takes MONEY.  You need researchers, negotiators, lawyers, business reps and all the administrative staff it takes to keep them all employed.  They all have travel expenses.  You need organizers to maintain a constant level of shop stewards and organize platform and grievance committees. You have to pay arbitrators and the cost of printing and distributing contracts, maintaining member lists and staffing a call in center.  

    In a Right to Work shop, an honest few bear the cost for the many to receive all the same protections and benefits.  It is generally a death sentence for all but the most tightly organized unions.

    Should they be more well organized internally?  Sure.  But in the meantime, like in Australia, you will see every stinking union save a precious few disappear overnight, there would be no cash for new organizing and millions of workers, including the cheap asses, would lose the union contracts they fought and PAID for.

    you would immediately see union halls shuttered (back to Denny’s with ya’ll, progressive left) along with their call centers.  Gone would be all the union volunteers and staff you count on every election.  But most damaging of all, gone would be the millions poured into progressive organizations and the Democratic campaigns.  No union money for LGBT rights or defense of them in court.  No union money for Affirmative Action and Pro-Choice defense funds.  No America Votes.  No ACORN.  GONE.  In less than six months.

    And for what again?  Because corporations and the politicians they own want to do away with unions so they can pay what they want, fire who they want when they want, obey safety standards as they see fit, pay overtime if they feel like it,  (they just have to reclassify you as “salaried”) give benefits and perks as they need to attract labor and do away with them as they don’t.

    Just think it through.

  9. are only as strong as their members make them. Another thing is that unions are primarily political organizations. Everyone is elected, from the lowest ranking alternate-committeeperson to the president of the union. As with any political organization, incumbency is difficult to overcome. Another problem is that few people actually participate in the process. Unless there is a big issue pending, attendance at regular union meetings is very low. A factory could have 2,000 employees and only have 30-40 people show up for the meetings. That puts a real burden on the union to spread the news to keep false rumors from becoming accepted truth.

  10. If company x has a union and company y doesn’t then company y has to compete for employees against a unionized company. Let’s take Home Depot and Lowe’s for example. If HD has a union and their employees get more holidays, higher pay, and better benefits then Lowe’s either has to offer similar benefits or lose employees to HD. Lowe’s will get entry level employees that only want to get the experience so they can apply for a job with HD. In order to retain employees, Lowe’s has to raise their compensation to near the same level as HD. Unfortunately, the union doesn’t get credit for those increases. If the union at HD were to get voted out then compensation at both companies would go down.

  11. spacemanspiff

    … and info she’s throwing out there.

    I have learned a lot these last few days (thanks to John as well) by reading

    your comments.

    I have never been antiunion but I wasn’t so forcefully prounion either.

    I am now (pro).

  12. GrassrootsOrganizer

    the Morning Joe says we may get a Labor Secretary today.  Of the MSNBC possibles, I’ve got my fingers crossed for David Bonior.  He certainly understands not only Labor, but admires and adheres to the finest of the underlying principles of organized labor.  He “gets it” from a Solidarity standpoint.  

    At the same time, he’s no union tool and capable of keeping his focus on the working person and what’s best for him or her.

    Gephardt?  Meh.  Not so much.

    And Andy Stern?@!  Please God no.  

  13. …and probably not much to add but this.

    Unions were the ideal organisation to fight back against the depredations of capitalists, especially in the high era of capitalism, with its emphasis on assembly line production, mass ranks of anonymous workers, bit part labour and the segmented tasks of industrial production.

    But the big change that has happened, apart from the shift from blue collar to white collar, has been a reformation of capital in the last twenty or thirty years. I forget the exact figures, but capital accumulates and declines to quickly in them modern knowledge industries, that the bulk of the top twenty firms in the US or UK DIDN’T EXIST two decades ago.

    As capital is free to flow around the world at increasing speed, and the profit making industries are more decentred, focused around the knowledge economy and innovation, the worker becomes more multi-tasking and multi-valent, having several careers in a lifetime, and constantly needing to update a portfolio of skills in order to survive in such a competitive environment.

    My feeling is that unions have concentrated on restricting labour supplies (for obvious reasons) rather than working to the other benefits of the workforce – i.e. retraining, reskilling, advice on job hunting, contract negotiation, relocation, legal costs and insurance.

    In the UK, the Unions emphasised ‘free collective bargaining’ in the major industries of car manufacture, mining and steel production for most the second half of the 20th century. I’m not saying these were causally connected, but these were precisely the industries that underwent massive decline and restructuring.

    We can’t go back to mass employment in factoryline production, even if we wanted to. There are no longer armies of labour (mainly male) who engage in On the Waterfront type disputes. The workforce in the UK is now predominantly female, often flexi or part time, and needs to be represented in different ways in the knowledge economy.

    I admire the historical struggle of unions, and think they have a vital role if they can reshape their aims towards productivity, justice and employment for the majority.

    But this needs a major reconfiguration in the leadership and structure of many unions.  

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