FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

If You Can’t Trust a Greedy Multinational Corporation, Who Can You Trust?

In the spring of 1997, AWPPW Local 672’s union negotiators sat across the table from Kimberly-Clark management (which on this day included an eager, young cost analyst, already champing at the bit), awaiting their cost presentation.  These exhibitions had preceded every bargain I’d ever been involved with, going back to the early 1980s.

The presentation was all about comparative costs: labor costs, raw materials costs, energy costs, medical costs, tax costs, Procter & Gamble’s (our chief competitor) presumed costs, the paper industry’s costs, California’s costs, and, most importantly, the comparative costs of other K-C facilities, many of which were located in the Deep South, where they were always threatening to move us.

Gloomy and foreboding as these presentations were, we’d built up an immunity to them.  At their conclusion, our standard response was to nod thoughtfully, thank them for taking time to share that information, and quickly move on to other business.  The impression we wanted to convey was one of not giving a rat’s ass about some trumped-up cost statistics.  They had their priorities and we had ours.

While it was true that Local 672 had once enjoyed a “Cadillac contract” (high wages, great benefits, extravagant work rules), those days were long gone.  Even though we’d always considered K-C a good company, three consecutive contracts weighted down with concessions, compromises and discounts had taken an obvious toll.  Mind you, it was still a decent contract, a respectable contract….but not a Cadillac. (A Buick?)

Kimberly-Clark’s cost presentations weren’t unique to the corporation or to the paper industry.  In truth, these things were fairly common.  Most companies like to give apocalyptic cost speeches prior to negotiations as a way of scaring or softening up a union.  Sometimes they actually work.  But common or not, two things made the ‘97 presentation different.

First, the company’s cost analyst surprised us by using a K-C plant we’d never heard of—a paper mill located way up in Huntsville, Canada—as his prime example of a low-cost facility (initially, we thought he was referring to Huntsville, Alabama).  And second, the union responded in a manner that was totally out of character for us.  We exploded with rage.

What sent us through the roof was the company’s audacity.  It’s one thing to bullshit us; it’s another thing to lie to us.  Pretending with a straight face that our costs were way out of line—that we were wildly overcompensated, blah, blah, blah—was a tactic that not only didn’t bother us, it was a form of gamesmanship we’d more or less come to respect.  After all, bargaining is a contact sport, and you expect to get bloodied.  But having their cost analyst pull a stunt like this one, and thinking we would fall for it, enraged us.

Since the early 1980s we’d been deluged with horror stories of runaway health costs.  Medical insurance now dominated all discussions.  We’d heard how much K-C was spending on it, how $1,600 of the sticker price of cars built in Detroit went to health care, how spiraling medical costs were the single biggest threat to the U.S. economy, etc.  As a consequence, we—like millions of other workers—had seen our co-pay go up, our coverage go down, and our paychecks shrink.

So why were the costs so astoundingly low at this Canadian mill—the one they were beating us over the head with?  Because Canada has national health care. Kimberly-Clark wasn’t required to pay a dime for health insurance.  And as we were to learn later, these Canadian mill workers’ wages were actually higher than ours, not lower.

The company not only failed to share this information, they tried to conceal it.  Only after we pounced on it did they acknowledge free medical coverage.  Obviously, they were looking to gain leverage by having us think wages were so high in California that Kimberly-Clark might have to shut us down and move the whole shebang to Dixie (the prevailing threat for last two decades).

To us, this went way beyond gamesmanship.  And it wasn’t just the deceit we objected to; what bugged us was the ploy’s carelessness and naked transparency.  For them to think they could trick a Local 672 bargaining board with a maneuver as amateurish as this one was an insult to us.  That’s why we blew our corks.

I wish I could say our outburst had a salutary effect on the subsequent bargain but, alas, it did not.  In fact, other than being momentarily stunned by our tantrum, the company didn’t so much as flinch.  The way they saw it, they had tried to run a play on us and that play had failed.  Incomplete pass.  Go back to the huddle.

As for the actual contract negotiations that began two weeks later, they ended the way most union negotiations have ended in the post-Reagan era.  They ended like any other bullfight.  The noble beast lies dead in the ring and the donkeys come in and drag it away.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

More articles by:

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

August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Sam Husseini
The Trump-Media Logrolling
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail