FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Debunking the Myth of the “Union Boss”

Among the many myths and outright lies being circulated about labor unions (e.g., union members can’t be fired, they are inferior workers, it was union wages that forced companies to relocate overseas, etc.), one of the most annoying and downright offensive is the Myth of the Union Boss.

Because anti-union propagandists won’t risk alienating the rank-and-file by insulting them directly, they try to portray these people as “victims,” as regular, good-hearted working stiffs who, alas, are at the mercy of their corrupt, overpaid, dictatorial union officials.

Yet if anyone examined the facts, they’d see that unions across the country are not only wildly democratic, they’re more democratic than our own Congress, which is still dragging around the moldy carcass of something called the Electoral College because they’re too afraid to let the people decide via a simple popular vote.

Evidence of just how conspicuously democratic unions are was seen in two recent contract negotiations.  In the first case, public school teachers in Chicago defied their CTU “union bosses” (Chicago Teachers Union) by putting the brakes on and turning down their recommendation.

The teachers’ House of Delegates refused to go along with the district’s offer because they believed they were being “stampeded” toward approval.  While the delegates acknowledged the diligence and hard work of their union negotiators, they believed there were some critical agenda items that needed to be revisited before they brought the contract to a vote.

Unlike decisions made in corporate board rooms, the teachers response was done publicly, out in the open, for all the world to see, and was dutifully covered by the media.  It was your classic three-step procedure:  union leadership brought back an offer, they recommended the offer, their recommendation was ignored. That’s democracy in action.

The second case is occurring right now at the Chrysler plant in Dundee, Michigan.  The members of UAW Local 723 voted down the company’s LBF (last, best and final offer), despite the union urging them to ratify it.  The rank-and-file voted against it because they didn’t like it, and they had no qualms about overruling their “union bosses.”  Simple as that.  Another vote is planned for the first week in October.  We’ll see what happens.

I’ve personally been on both sides of this.  Many moons ago, I was a twitchy, rank-and-file member of an industrial union (one of those “jailhouse lawyer” members who took great pleasure in showing up at monthly membership meetings and doing mischief).  Later, I became president and chief contract negotiator of that same union.

From the International all the way down to the west coast Locals, our union was proudly democratic.  Virtually everything we did was done in the open.  As a union negotiator, I convinced the membership to shut down the plant and go on a 57-day strike.  And a dozen years later, as president, I had the membership overwhelmingly reject my call for a shutdown.

Because they were older and a bit more conservative and cautious, they didn’t have the stomach for another battle.  Clearly, they didn’t want to be clobbered at the bargaining table, but they also didn’t want to go to the mat unless absolutely necessary.  Despite my pleas, I couldn’t convince them.  They were a great bunch of people.  We simply disagreed on a very important decision.  It happens.

One device management occasionally uses at contract time is the sidebar agreement.  Bargaining protocol requires that a record be kept of each formal offer.  The offer is put in writing and initialed by the two parties.  The company submits a language draft; the union acknowledges it by dating and signing it.  Then we present a counter-offer, and they sign it and date it.  Etc.

But let’s say the parties get stalled out on a GWI (general wage increase).  The company won’t budge from their offer of a 2-percent raise each year, and the union pounds the table, insisting that the minimum GWI they’ll accept is 5-percent.   Standard procedure.

After a few hours (or days) of this bickering, the company’s spokesperson will invite the union’s chief negotiator to step outside.  He will then make him a sidebar offer.  For example, he will offer 3-percent each year, along with some other goodies, but only on the condition the union recommends it to the membership.

Without our sworn oath to recommend it, the 3-percent offer never happened.  The 3-percent vanishes, and we’re left with their last (signed and dated) offer of 2-percent.  When it comes to money, companies are cautious.  They won’t lock themselves into this higher figure unless they’re almost guaranteed it will be accepted.

It’s a risky tactic.  If the union refuses to recommend it, the company could adhere to its promise, withdraw the 3-percent, insist that 2-percent is their last, best and final offer, and dare us to go on strike.  It’s happened before.  Unions have lost money by refusing to recommend.  On the other hand, with the cat out of the bag, we could simply use that 3-percent as the new starting point and beat them over the head with it.

I’ve done both.  I’ve told them that we don’t negotiate in secret, that if they have an offer, write it down….but thanks for alerting us to the fact that 3-percent is now in play.  I’ve also told the membership the truth, that the offer we’ve brought back is contingent upon our recommendation.  Union people are generally very savvy.  In most cases, all they want is the truth.  They listened and they understood.  In my opinion, that’s one mistake politicians make:  They treat the voters like idiots.

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 25, 2020
Michael Hudson
The Democrats’ Quandary: In a Struggle Between Oligarchy and Democracy, Something Must Give
Paul Street
The “Liberal” Media’s Propaganda War on Bernie Sanders
Sheldon Richman
The Non-Intervention Principle
Nicholas Levis
The Real Meaning of Red Scare 3.0
John Feffer
Cleaning Up Trump’s Global Mess
David Swanson
How Are We Going to Pay for Saving Trillions of Dollars?
Ralph Nader
Three Major News Stories That Need To Be Exposed
John Eskow
What Will You Do If the Democrats Steal It from Sanders?
Dean Baker
What If Buttigieg Said That He Doesn’t Accept the “Fashionable” View That Climate Change is a Problem?
Jack Rasmus
The Nevada Caucus and the Desperation of Democrat Elites
Howard Lisnoff
The Powerful Are Going After Jane Fonda Again
Binoy Kampmark
Viral Losses: Australian Universities, Coronavirus and Greed
John W. Whitehead
Gun-Toting Cops Endanger Students and Turn Schools into Prisons
Marshall Sahlins
David Brooks, Public Intellectual
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail