FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Union Fights for Its Economic Life

by DAVID MACARAY

When engaged in contract negotiations, it’s illegal for a company to “plead poverty” in an effort to derail the union.  Management is not allowed to say that they can’t afford to give the workers a raise, or to suggest that if they granted the workers the wage increases they requested, the company would risk going out of business.

This prohibition is not only fair, it’s necessary.  Without this rule, unions would have no options, no place to turn.  All a company would have to do is put on their long face and tell the union negotiators that, unfortunately, if the employees were granted the raises they asked for, everybody would be on the street looking for work.  It’s a game-stopper.

True, there are ways around it.  Companies whose healthy earnings are reported in the Wall Street Journal have no choice but to shift tactics.  What they do is pit one plant against another (“whipsawing”), ominously hinting that if “crunch time” ever comes, only the low-cost facilities will have a future.  But companies can’t pretend to be poorer than they are; it’s a violation of federal labor law.

In those rare instances where a company actually does plead poverty, they are required to open their books to either the union or an agreed-upon third party (an independent accounting firm), and this third party, after examining the company’s books and assessing the damage, reports its findings.

I saw this happen once with a local in our International.  Because the tiny, 70-year old paper company was trying to compete in a market increasingly dominated by the conglomerates, it told the union that not only couldn’t it afford wage increases, it would require massive, across-the-board concessions to have any chance of staying afloat.

Although the union knew the company was struggling, it had no idea things were this bad.  When the union asked that outside auditors be brought in, the company surprised them by throwing open their books.  “Here,” they said, “look at the numbers yourself.  We’ve nothing to hide.”  It was bad news all the way around.  They were going broke (alas, they went out of business two years later).

At the other end of the spectrum you have what is currently happening at the Mott apple juice plant in Williamson, New York.  At Mott, owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS), 305 hourly workers, members of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union/United Food and Commercial Workers (RWDSU/UFCW) Local 220, have been on strike for more than three months, having walked out on May 23.  The union is resisting big pay cuts and other concessions.

Despite record productivity and hefty profits, DPS has decided to reward Mott’s competent and loyal workforce by attempting to chisel them out of as much of their wages and benefits as possible—as much as the market will bear.  Why are they doing it?  Why are they ravaging the very people who made these profits possible?  Because they can.

As a publicly traded corporation, DPS is utilizing the classic Wall Street argument, telling the union that the reason it’s screwing the workers out of their money is because it has a greater obligation—i.e., to maximize shareholder returns.  Meanwhile, Larry Young, the company’s CEO, earned $6.5 million in 2009, double what he made in 2007.

And it’s not as if the Mott folks are raking it in.  Seventy-percent of the workers at Mott earn less than $19/hour.  Even at the full $19/hr., if you work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, with no time off, it computes to $39,520 before taxes, which, for a family of four, doesn’t come close to gaining entry to the middle-class.  Even in these recessionary times, $40K is a subsistence income.

Rewarding shareholders at the expense of the men and women who actually produce the goods evokes the Vietnam war.  Americans telling Vietnamese peasants that, while they regret the horrors of napalm, they own stock in Dow Chemical.  Or, as Tom Hagen said to Santino Coreleone in The Godfather, “It’s business, Sonny!”

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail