FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Far We’ve Fallen

How many stockbrokers, lawyers, bankers, accountants, aluminum siding salesmen, rodeo clowns, etc, would turn down a big, fat pay raise if it came with strings attached?  What if accepting that pay raise was contingent upon all future new-hires being denied the opportunity to earn those same wages?  Would they make a personal sacrifice for these future employees—reject a pay raise as a matter of principle—or would they take the money and never give it a second thought?  My guess is that most would accept the money.

And yet we hear the pejorative term “sell-out” applied to union negotiators who agree to two-tier structures.  Under a two-tier wage/benefit schedule, new-hires can never receive the same compensation as those employees already on the payroll.  We hear “sell-out” applied to the UAW.  And, unfortunately, we hear it applied with little or no understanding of how ferociously the union resisted it, or how forcefully the two-tier configuration was crammed down their throats.

Look at the record.  First of all, no one but organized labor categorically opposes the two-tier system.  That’s because no one but organized labor has the ideological and institutional solidarity to generate that opposition.  Second, the record will show that many union locals have risked their own economic well-being by designating the two-tier as a “strike issue.”  And third, even a cursory look at the history of collective bargaining will show that those unions who’ve accepted two-tier arrangements have been dragged to that decision, pissing and moaning, kicking and screaming.

I’ve sat at the bargaining table when the two-tier was broached.  It’s an insidious negotiating device.  To begin with, the company comes at you with a steamroller.  They paint a dreadful economic picture, one colored with dire scenarios of massive takeaways, lay-offs, even plant closures.  In the case of the UAW, the companies’ woes were already public knowledge.  Everyone knew Detroit was getting creamed by Japan, and that the UAW had lost over a million members, reducing it to a shell of its former self.

Management tells you that they’re sinking, that they need help, that they need a lifeline.  It’s terrible news.  The picture is dark; prospects are dark; the meeting room itself seems to grow palpably darker.  Then, suddenly, a ray of light….when they announce that there’s a way out of this mess, a way that won’t require paycuts, or furloughs, or layoffs, or increased medical premiums.

If the union will allow the company to low-ball all future employees, the company will promise not to penalize any existing employees.  Simple as that.  Everyone not only gets to keep all the goodies they currently have, but there might even be a modest pay raise in the piece.  All they have to do is allow the company to change the way they compensate new-hires.  But the company also somberly warns the union:  If we reject this two-tier proposal, those necessary cost savings will have to come out of our own hide.

When we present our standard objections—that these draconian steps aren’t necessary, that they aren’t fair, that they’re un-American, that they’ll be resented and despised, etc.—the company reminds us that no one presently on the payroll, not one single person, will be affected by this arrangement, that it only applies to hypothetical workers, to fictional workers, to workers who don’t technically even “exist.”

They make it sound eminently reasonable.  For example, if any potential new-hire examines the contract and doesn’t like what he sees in the two-tier arrangement, he’s free to walk away and find work elsewhere.  No one’s going to be forced to do anything that doesn’t make absolute sense to them.  In other words, it’s your classic win-win situation.

But make no mistake.  By acknowledging that the beleaguered UAW had its back against the wall, we’re not suggesting the two-tier is defensible, because it’s not.  Indeed, it’s unfair, it’s extortionate, it kills morale, it erodes solidarity, and, ultimately, it betrays you, because even after you agree to it (against your better judgment), the company continues to chip away at your wages and benefits—as if you never agreed to anything.

The two-tier is an abomination.  The problem isn’t how to identify it;  the problem is how to stop it from finding its way into a union contract.

The job declension that exists today resembles something like this (listed in declining order):

Full-time, fully paid and fully benefited workers

Two-tier workers (lesser pay, lesser benefits)

Perma-temps (sufficient hours, no benefits)

Temps (spotty work, no benefits)

Undocumented workers (less than federal min. wage, no benefits, victimization)

Part-time workers (supplemental income, no bennies)

Day-laborers (low pay, no bennies, no guaranteed work)

Panhandlers

Clearly, those who have it best are the men and women employed in full-time jobs at decent pay with good benefits (e.g., union workers in a big-time manufacturing plant).  Correspondingly, those who have it the worst are the guys, usually Spanish-speakers, who hang out at Home Depot looking for pick-up jobs.

That top category, where people make decent wages and enjoyed good benefits, used to be considered standard procedure in America.  No one really felt it was that big a deal.  After all, good jobs were what this country was supposed to be all about.  Today those “regular” jobs are considered a luxury.  That’s how far we’ve fallen.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former labor union rep.  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

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Frank Clemente
The GOP Tax Bill is Creating Jobs…But Not in the United States
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail