FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Collective Bargaining is a Contact Sport

During a union-management contract negotiation it’s illegal for a company to “plead poverty.”  They can’t legally tell the union reps that, as much as they’d like to give them those pay raises and improved benefits, they simply can’t afford it, because, alas, the additional costs would very likely bust them.

Why is that tactic illegal?  For the simple reason that it’s a show-stopper, an H-bomb being dropped, an impossible bluff to call.  What union in its right mind is going to insist on wage and benefit increases that will risk bankrupting the employer and causing the facility to shut down?

Which is why a third party is brought in.  A company that plays the poverty card is required to open its books to an independent accounting firm which, in turn, reports back to the union.  While it doesn’t happen often, in virtually every case where the books are fully (as opposed to partially or selectively) audited, the company is shown to be telling the truth.  After all, no one’s going to strip themselves naked unless they absolutely have to.

This happened in my own International, back in the late 1980s.  A tiny Japanese-owned paper mill (less than 50 employees) announced that it was losing upwards of $100,000 a month, and was only staying in business for the “prestige” that came with owning an American company.  When the negotiators requested an independent audit, the company stunned them by inviting the union itself to inspect the books.  That’s when the Local knew the jig was up.  Even with massive union concessions, the plant closed within a year.

So what does a company do, on the eve of contract negotiations, when the Wall Street Journal reports their profits to be in the tens of millions of dollars?  It puts them in a very awkward position.  Obviously, even if the tactic were legal, they can’t plead poverty—not after their financial health has been exposed—and just as obviously, they aren’t going to get out their check books and give the workers generous raises.

To maintain leverage, a company resorts to what’s called “whip-sawing.”  It’s where they pit one facility against another by ominously suggesting that, while the corporation as a whole is doing quite well, certain high-cost facilities may not be able to say the same.  In fact, one or more of the plants may have to be shut down.  Their unmistakable message:  Don’t ask for too much….you could be one of those plants.

I once sat across the table from a management negotiating team that claimed, with a straight face, that they honestly didn’t know whether or not their plant was making a profit.  Here we were, doing our best to exploit the fact that they were rolling in dough (indeed, the facility was setting production records month after month), and here they were, refusing to admit that the place was even making money.

When we reached the point where frustration trumped civility, we spoke crudely.

“You’re shitting us, right?” we asked.  “You’re going to sit there and tell us that you honestly don’t know if the fucking place is making a profit?”

The company spokesman answered calmly.  “We’re not shitting you,” he said.  “We honestly don’t know.”  After nearly four months of this, the union went out on a 57-day strike.

There’s some truth to that old adage:  Scratch a liberal deeply enough and you’ll reveal a union-hater.  For whatever reason, liberals tend to find lots of reasons for staying clear of organized labor.  While they’ll offer their heart and head to any progressive movement that comes down the pike, when it involves working men and women seeking to improve their economic lives, these same “progressives” express either apathy or resentment.

We saw this in Detroit during the 1990s and early 2000s, and we’re seeing it right now in Wisconsin.  Instead of pinning the blame where it belongs, people focus a jaundiced eye on the workers themselves.  Which brings to mind Gore Vidal’s trenchant observation:  “Unlike Europeans, Americans have never hated the rich, only envied them.”

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

November 15, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Ukania: the Land Where the Queen’s Son Has His Shoelaces Ironed by His Valet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Spraying Poisons, Chasing Ghosts
Anthony DiMaggio
In the Wake of the Blue Wave: the Midterms, Recounts, and the Future of Progressive Politics
Christopher Ketcham
Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve
Meena Miriam Yust
Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?
Karl Grossman
Climate of Rage
Walter Clemens
How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers
Brandon Lee
Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition
Kim C. Domenico
An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego
Elliot Sperber
Pythagoras in Queens
November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail