FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Three True Stories From Union Contract Negotiations

by DAVID MACARAY

Companies beat unions for the same reason an antique wooden chair splits apart when a 350-pound man sits in it. The only genuine weapon a union can rely on is the strike, where workers willingly withdraw their labor, a form of punishing the company by sacrificing themselves. But ever since strikes have fallen out of fashion, unions have been left with little firepower.

One morning, during the 1993 negotiations, held in the Laguna Room of the Holiday Inn, we found a pile of material stacked next to the wall, behind our chairs. Apparently, the hotel rented out the room for evening seminars, and this material had belonged to the nighttime renters. It must not have been too important, because they appeared to have abandoned it. From what we could gather, it was some sort of real estate information.

Because the company always had us so overwhelmingly out-resourced, we came up with the rather juvenile idea of pretending this stuff was research data that we had compiled for negotiations. So we dragged it closer to our table and kept it there for the remainder of the bargain. From time to time, we actually gestured to it, indicating that we were relying on it as source material for statistics.

Weeks later, when the bargain ended, the HR rep and mill manager dropped by to make sure the room (whose cost the union and company were splitting) was left in presentable condition. The business agent and I were finishing up and about to leave. As we headed for the door the HR rep pointed to the pile and said helpfully, “Dave, don’t forget your documents.”

“Actually, that stuff isn’t ours,” I said. She paused a full beat and studied the pile of documents a moment. She was flummoxed.
“It isn’t yours?” she said in wounded bewilderment. “What do you mean, it isn’t yours?”

“We just found it here,” I said. “Somebody left it in the room, and we thought, you know, we’d pretend it was research material, just to fuck with you guys.”

You could see her mind racing a hundred miles and hour, trying to process what I had just told her, wondering how it had or hadn’t factored into our negotiations. But neither she nor the mill manager said anything, not so much as one word. And with the two of still standing there, the business agent and I said goodbye and left the room.

***

The first day always begins with the company and union reading aloud of each other’s agenda. In 1993, we had led the company to believe we were going to be “more realistic,” and not submit our usual, lengthy wish-list. That was the plan. But on second-thought, we concluded that a pared-down agenda would make us look weak and defeatist, so we submitted one of our usual ones. Obviously upset, the mill manager pretended to read it aloud. In a voice dripping with sarcasm, he began, “Dear Santa….” It was funny.

We were surprised to see their agenda items affixed to bullet points instead of numbers. It was the first time we’d ever seen that, and we didn’t like it. For one thing, numbers were more practical, allowing us to say things like, “Could you explain agenda item #3?” For another, bullet points looked trendy and New Age, something a seminar creature had invented. When we asked why they used bullet points instead of numbers, the HR rep said that bullet points were “less adversarial” than numbers.

***

Whenever an American union asks for something socially progressive, such as extended maternity leaves or subsidized child care, the company accuses it of wanting “Swedish benefits,” a mocking reference to the social programs generally believed to be associated with Scandinavian socialism and weirdness, but which, in fact, are found all over the world. Except here. Sadly, there is no western industrialized nation in the world with maternity leaves worse than ours.

At the 1997 negotiations, with maternity leave off the table, we were sniffing around for an additional holiday, maybe Martin Luther King’s birthday or May Day. As expected, the company reacted impatiently, reminding us that our holiday package was as good or better than any on the West Coast. Someone on their side of the table then said sarcastically, “I guess we’re lucky the Super Bowl is on Sunday, otherwise you guys would want that as a holiday too.”

Demonstrating what a devoted professional football fan she was, the HR manager asked in all seriousness, “Is the Super Bowl always on Sunday?” She was the only woman in the room. All the men laughed uproariously.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), is a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail