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

January 17, 2017
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail