“I am still of the opinion that only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mood: sex and the dead.”
—William Butler Yeats
On December 2, the Boston Newspaper Guild, the largest union affiliated with the Boston Globe, expelled Guild president Daniel Totten for violation of union bylaws. A jury of five union members found Totten guilty of improperly signing a check, using a union credit card for personal business, and failing to produce expense report receipts in a timely manner. He was, however, found not guilty of bringing “unfavorable public notice” upon the union.
In addition to being expelled from the Guild (which has approximately 600 members), Totten was fined an amount equal to what he “owed” the union. That princely sum was $254. Totten, who’s been president since 2005, did not attend the hearings, and has already announced he is appealing the verdict, having dismissed the process that led to his expulsion as a “travesty.”
Totten’s supporters depict the proceedings as little more than a political witchhunt, claiming he is being unfairly punished by the Guild for the inferior contract the Boston Globe had forced down their throats earlier this year, under Totten’s watch. Undeniably, that contract was horrible, filled with more than $20 million of concessions.
But if blaming Totten for that bad contract is what precipitated his ouster, the union made a profound error. Anyone familiar with labor negotiations has to know that union bargainers come in only two flavors: “weak and gutless,” where they bring back a less than adequate contract, and “dangerous and militant,” where they refuse the company’s final offer, and put the membership at risk. There is no third flavor.
The Boston Globe was hemorrhaging money. Even though management insisted that, without those concessions, the Globe would have to seriously consider closing up shop, the union couldn’t automatically take their word for it because that’s not how bargaining works. They had to push back, and Totten pushed. Of course, the newspaper’s predicament turned out to be catastrophic. Walter Reuther himself could have been raised from the dead and not gotten the Guild a better deal.
Consider the double standard in regard to the way corporate executives are removed from their jobs and the way union officials are removed. Executives are treated gently and generously (with Golden Parachutes worth millions of dollars), but union guys are made to run the gauntlet—not only forced to leave office but publicly humiliated on the way out. Call it “grassroots democracy” or “populism,” but these purges are all too often the result of mob indignation run wild.
Federal civil rights statutes notwithstanding, everyone knows that African Americans get treated differently. Cab drivers in New York City (even Pakistani cabbies who’ve been in the country ten minutes) avoid picking up black men. Bank loans are refused to black applicants with identical credit ratings and earning histories as white applicants. Police stopping motorists for DWB (Driving While Black) is so commonplace, it’s become a cliché.
“60 Minutes” did a show on discrimination. They telephoned apartment listings using a “white voice,” and were told there were vacancies; but when a well-dressed black man showed up, he was told they’d all been rented. This happened again and again. Mandatory jail terms, which now seem so arbitrary and unfair, were created by well-meaning liberals to address the alarming discrepancy between black and white sentencing for the same crime.
It can be argued that the double standard applied to blacks and whites is not all that different from the one applied to labor unions and businesses. Not only is corporate crime treated far less harshly than union crime, there seems to be a built-in desire to dismiss or ignore it. No corporate deed is too vile not to be forgiven, and no union mischief, no matter how trivial, is too petty not to be vilified.
Undeniably, people see things the way they want to see them. When Theodore White (“The Making of the President 1960”) was asked if the media knew about JFK’s escapades, his answer was mildly vexing. He said yes, the White House press corps was aware of Kennedy’s many women, but they also recognized that this vigorous, young president “had a great deal of sexual energy” that needed to be expended.
How magnanimous! A fry cook or auto mechanic guilty of the same thing would be considered a degenerate horned dog. But a philandering president is not only not condemned, he’s portrayed as having an abundance of “sexual energy” that needs to be dissipated—as if that pesky sex urge were the culprit, and not the man himself.
The double standard applied to business and labor is so obvious, you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb and a presidential candidate not to see it. Which is unfortunate when you compare labor and Wall Street’s respective “decency quotients.” Can anyone even imagine Goldman Sachs filing charges against an executive for the crime of bringing “unfavorable public notice” upon the banking industry? The very notion is absurd.
Unlike labor unions, Wall Street has its snout buried so deep in the money trough, the mere mention of “ethics” makes them gag. Not only do investment bankers consider ethics irrelevant and “exotic,” they view them as an impediment. Only when a crisis occurs, and Congress investigates the banking industry, do they stand on their hind legs and pretend to care about such matters.
Not to throw in the kitchen sink, but this is where Tiger Woods comes in. Personally, I’m more offended by Tiger’s product endorsements than his infidelities. Seeing a rich, young, athlete on TV, sitting behind the wheel of his grandpa’s Buick and pretending, with a straight face, that this boring sedan is the car he drives, and, on that basis, urging me to buy it, gives me hives.
But consider: Tiger’s responses to the public exposure of his infidelities were not unlike Wall Street’s responses to the financial crisis.
Before the crash, Wall Street bankers were supremely confident and aloof; after the crash, they were humbled, but still surprisingly defiant. As was Tiger. Although he confessed to having committed certain “transgressions,” he scolded the media for infringing upon his family’s privacy. This from a man who earns a reported $100 million a year in product endorsements—asking us to “care” enough about him that we buy the merchandise he’s hawking.
Despite Tiger’s somber apologies and displays of contrition, does anyone doubt that if he hadn’t been caught, he’d still be out there alley catting? That if he hadn’t been exposed, he’d still be “transgressing” with cocktail waitresses? And if the world’s financial markets hadn’t imploded, does anyone doubt that Wall Street would still be gambling recklessly, thumbing their noses at Cassandra’s warnings?
On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be too critical of Tiger. Maybe he deserves our unquestioned support. Quite obviously, this man has a tremendous amount of sexual energy that needs to be dissipated.
DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor” (available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org