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'workers who are "flexible"—that is, dispensable'
May 20, 2013 6:47 PM   Subscribe

"Everyone Only Wants Temps" - My stint doing "on demand" grunt work for one of America's hottest growth industries
It's not a pretty formula, but it works. With 600 offices and a workforce of 400,000—more employees than Target or Home Depot—Labor Ready is the undisputed king of the blue-collar temp industry. Specializing in "tough-to-fill, high-turnover positions," the company dispatches people to dig ditches, demolish buildings, remove debris, stock giant fulfillment warehouses—jobs that take their toll on a body.

Part of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project
posted by the man of twists and turns (120 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
Later, I will come to think of this as the company "look"—unwelcoming and easy to miss—often tucked alongside a check-cashing business or payday lender.

Thank the Invisible Hand for the convenience!
posted by vidur at 6:55 PM on May 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


My favorite is when companies call their workers "independent contractors". They make them set up little businesses and then pay the little businesses. That way they don't have to pay minimum wage.

LiveOps is a company that handles most of the US based call center work. You've never heard of them because F500 companies contract out to salesforce.com who contracts out to them. Their workers make about 3.50 an hour and they have to pay for their own computer and phone. And their servers route all the work to whoever does the most, so you have to be on call 10 hours a day.

I only know about this because one of their MBA types offered me a bean counter job.

As a temp to hire. Like hell. I told that little pissant to take a hike.

This country is pig disgusting.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 7:08 PM on May 20, 2013 [77 favorites]


Every part of this article is appalling.
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 7:11 PM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


And yet..."Whenever I say, "Reversing inequality requires that we revive labor unions," liberals--LIBERALS!--react as if I'd said, "I have herpes."
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:14 PM on May 20, 2013 [60 favorites]


single-page print version of main link.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:17 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


We need to rebrand unions. I propse Corporate Benevolent Society.
posted by feloniousmonk at 7:21 PM on May 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


We the people need to create a Congress that represents individuals to compete with the Congress that represents only corporations.
posted by any major dude at 7:32 PM on May 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's amazing to me, in some ways, in how just a few decades we are letting capitalists unpick the working rights that took literally centuries to win - and no one seems to care or be able to do anything but rage impotently, as the lawmakers were captured long ago. Unions (and any meaningful union activity) are slowly but surely are being pushed up the path to illegality once again.
posted by smoke at 7:34 PM on May 20, 2013 [43 favorites]


And yet..."Whenever I say, "Reversing inequality requires that we revive labor unions," liberals--LIBERALS!--react as if I'd said, "I have herpes."

I don't know any liberals who react like that... Although, we're all in a teacher's union together, so...
posted by Huck500 at 7:34 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anti-union is anti-worker. Period.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:37 PM on May 20, 2013 [60 favorites]


'They were not thinking of him as a human being'
The laborer, assigned to the plant that afternoon in November 2011 by a temporary staffing agency, was showered with the solution after it erupted from the open hatch of a 500-gallon chemical tank he was cleaning. Factory bosses, federal investigators would later contend, refused to call an ambulance as he awaited help, shirtless and screaming. He arrived at Loyola only after first being driven to a clinic by a co-worker.

At admission Centeno had burns over 80 percent of his body and suffered a pain level of 10 on a scale of 10, medical records show. Clad in a T-shirt, he wore no protective gear other than rubber boots and latex gloves in the factory, which makes household and personal-care products.

Centeno, 50, died three weeks later, on December 8, 2011.
This story was partly covered in a previous FPP: Dangerous Work.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:38 PM on May 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Ever since moving to Chicago I haven't met one person who thought unions were more than greedy and corrupt machines for lazy greedy others. On some level maybe there is corruption, but people don't seem to believe they perform any useful function. And these seemed to be educated, reasonable people. Maybe as a child of union medical benefits and a former temp I just get it. Maybe you have to experience it to get it.
posted by bleep at 7:45 PM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Health law could boost use of temp workers, so Obamacare Drives a Bull Market In Staffing Agencies.

Also, if you're interested in the the schism in "the Left," you might find one of my previous posts good reading : "The Left’s Big Sellout – How the ACLU and Human Rights Groups Quietly Exterminated Labor Rights"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:45 PM on May 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


We say rebrand as a joke, but I think the first union to really make a big deal out of training/developing skilled, flexible, reliable workers in a humane way, and that uses data to demonstrate the mutual benefit to employers, employees and society, will be happily received.

Right now, unions mean inflexibility, bankruptcy and future unemployment to too many in labor and capital. Nobody wants those things.
posted by michaelh at 7:47 PM on May 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


At admission Centeno had burns over 80 percent of his body and suffered a pain level of 10 on a scale of 10, medical records show. Clad in a T-shirt, he wore no protective gear other than rubber boots and latex gloves in the factory, which makes household and personal-care products.

And people laugh at me when I talk about guillotines.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:49 PM on May 20, 2013 [32 favorites]


Maybe as a child of union medical benefits and a former temp I just get it. Maybe you have to experience it to get it.

Maybe that helps, but I don't come from a union background (lots of teachers in my family but few in places where unions are strong enough to matter much), and I just can't even imagine thinking unions aren't valuable. So you can also read a lot and still come out on the side of unionization, even without experience.

The way these day labor companies, and big-chain blue collar companies like maid service companies work, as an individual it has never made sense to me to patronize them. I've always hired directly when I've needed a cleaner or gardener. The guys I picked up at Home Depot ten years ago to lay sod in my yard got paid a fortune compared to what these guys in the article got, because they got every penny I paid for them to do the work. When I hired a cleaner for a few months after each of my kids were born, I hired a sole proprietor, I didn't even consider Merry Maids or similar companies.

I'd like to have a business of my own some day and I would like to make money at it, but I'll be damned if I ever do it at the expense of my soul.
posted by padraigin at 7:52 PM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


And yet..."Whenever I say, "Reversing inequality requires that we revive labor unions," liberals--LIBERALS!--react as if I'd said, "I have herpes."

The problem is that unions have gotten a terrible reputation over the last fifty years or so, and not without reason. People associate labor unions with corruption and the mob because people like Jimmy Hoffa used to run the labor unions. They see how adversarial unions can be towards their employers, and wonder if unions may have been to blame for the fall of, say, America's automotive industry. They question how efficient teachers' unions can be if they refuse to fire incompetent teachers.

Unions are a much lesser evil than this kind of exploitative capitalism. But for the American public to embrace unions (at least before things get really bad) they need to see unions as more than just a lesser evil. And for that to happen, I think we may need some kind of broad assurance that unions won't be abused the way they have been in the past.

There are some dark stains on the white T-shirt that is the history of unions, and there are a lot of people doing all they can to magnify those stains. We need some strong detergent to blot it out.
posted by Green Winnebago at 7:58 PM on May 20, 2013 [32 favorites]


Of course unions have had problems, because they are a source of concentrated, active political power. And power can corrupt. But the solution to that problem isn't to step away from unions, because in doing so you're stepping away from the only source of political power, of lobbying, of bargaining chips the working man has.

I don't see businesses stepping away from, I don't know, corrupt chambers of commerce or lobbying institutions, do you? Fuck no. They know which side their bread is buttered on.
posted by Jimbob at 8:02 PM on May 20, 2013 [44 favorites]


I want to get all accelerationist and say we aren't going to see a reaction until things get REALLY bad but honestly The Jungle nowadays would get maybe a week on the networks then another white girl would get kidnapped or something and no one would care.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:03 PM on May 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


We say rebrand as a joke, but I think the first union to really make a big deal out of training/developing skilled, flexible, reliable workers in a humane way, and that uses data to demonstrate the mutual benefit to employers, employees and society, will be happily received.

The slow development of the economy into an economy consisting almost entirely of employers and temps is inherently anti-worker. The entire point of it is to smash the ability of workers to organize and improve themselves, to keep workers in constant struggle against each other and against starvation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:09 PM on May 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


I don't see businesses stepping away from, I don't know, corrupt chambers of commerce or lobbying institutions, do you?

Just as an aside, yes, you definitely see that. It's as rare to find an innovative chamber as it is to find an innovative union, and while many businesses feel obligated to support their chamber, a lot don't want to and some are finding ways out. Alternative, specialized organizations are slowly forming to compete with chambers.

Lobbying is more popular than ever, though, but unlike unions, lobbyists are very effective.
posted by michaelh at 8:11 PM on May 20, 2013


honestly The Jungle nowadays would get maybe a week on the networks

Only if Obama could be blamed for it; otherwise it's a non-starter.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:12 PM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]



I don't see businesses stepping away from, I don't know, corrupt chambers of commerce or lobbying institutions, do you?


So far I've worked only for outfits that have never been part of an chamber of commerce or lobbying body. Plenty of capitalists out there who don't want to sully their hands with rentiership.
posted by ocschwar at 8:15 PM on May 20, 2013


The slow development of the economy into an economy consisting almost entirely of employers and temps is inherently anti-worker. The entire point of it is to smash the ability of workers to organize and improve themselves, to keep workers in constant struggle against each other and against starvation.

And people like you are sitting around at the UAW offices wondering what hit them. Think about how workers can be more valuable to employers who have to compete in a perpetually tough market while also being treated better. Flexible does not have to mean "temp," for starters -- temp actually stands in the way of flexible. Your ideas are quite out-of-date.
posted by michaelh at 8:16 PM on May 20, 2013


I think we may need some kind of broad assurance that unions won't be abused the way they have been in the past.

Sure. And we should suspend all social programs until the Welfare Queens give us a broad assurance they'll stop driving those Cadillacs.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:18 PM on May 20, 2013 [36 favorites]


But yeah, this totally reminds of the time American cars were completely awesome and Toyotas and Hondas were awful, bloated, unreliable hulks no one could possibly want, but then the greedy unions ruined everything.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:20 PM on May 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Think about how workers can be more valuable to employers who have to compete in a perpetually tough market while also being treated better.

We are living in an era of record corporate profits and cratering worker incomes. The problem is not with the workers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:22 PM on May 20, 2013 [63 favorites]


michaelh: "We say rebrand as a joke, but I think the first union to really make a big deal out of training/developing skilled, flexible, reliable workers in a humane way, and that uses data to demonstrate the mutual benefit to employers, employees and society, will be happily received. "

Oh, Fascism 2.0, lovely.
posted by symbioid at 8:23 PM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Chaudary, who was not on the scene the day of the accident — November 17, 2011 — told an OSHA inspector that the “wrong valve opened” on the tank Centeno was cleaning, according to the memo, but insisted that “if Carlos Centeno had lived, the decision to not call an ambulance would have been the right call.”


I have no words.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:24 PM on May 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


If I recall the Original Labor Movement, nobody ever had to "think about how workers can be more valuable to employers" because they were valuable. When I entered the Labor Market in the late '70s, Automation and Free Trade were being sold as a solution to a "sluggish" economy while people with their heads screwed on right tried to warn us that that one-two-punch would destroy America's Middle Class. By the mid-80s, they hadn't (yet), so the prevailing mood buried them. We also didn't believe our industrial waste would ever effect the Climate because the smog in Los Angeles wasn't getting any worse. Well, thank that attitude for the F5 Tornados in Oklahoma today.

Most of the "First World" middle class people, especially in the U.S., are killing themselves with their political attitudes as surely as a cigarette smoker is killing himself. No, more surely... after 50 years there are more living smokers than there will be living middle-class Americans.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:32 PM on May 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


I worked for a temp agency just like this one in 1989 when I was living in the midwest. I ended up with a several month long manufacturing assignment at a well known company. I didn't know it would be that long. Just ended up that way. Oddly enough, it was a union shop. I have no idea how they ever managed that, where about half the workers most of the time I was there were temps.

So I trudge into work every day, just do my job. During that time I was there, exactly one person was hired permanently. Me. A union job that I tossed shortly after, when another offer came up elsewhere, as that factory job was easily the shittiest, most hostile place I have ever worked in my life. Worse than working under-the-table day labor. Worse than fast food. And frankly, even worse than even being that temp worker at the same factory. Sure, being permanent meant benefits and somewhat better pay, but you got your ass ridden much harder.

Yeah, being a temp sucked. It was OK for what it was: temporary work. It was utilized by lots of folks because it was a very easy way to find work, like, right now. The article rings more or less true to what I experienced. It was a check, nothing more. But my experience was a bit puzzling. The employer I left for also utilized temps, hired a few. I met some temps who worked for the agency for years. I don't know if they had some kind of barriers to permanent employment, had no ambition, or just liked it. They always seemed fairly happy with their positions. But most folks were certainly not satisfied with temping, in any way.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:33 PM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And people laugh at me when I talk about guillotines.

Laughing? No, no sir. I don't know about such things. I'm only busy at my knitting.
posted by tyllwin at 8:35 PM on May 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


We are living in an era of record corporate profits and cratering worker incomes. The problem is not with the workers.

I hope I correctly understand you to think that if an employee becomes more valuable to an employer, then they are being abused and have lost something even if the employee is also happier, making more money, etc. You are doing a great service to these corporations by perpetuating this myth because really good employees always shake up the places they work, especially in 'knowledge work.' Look to unconventional companies/orgs like Google, Mondragon, Valve, Gore, Costco, Freelancers Union, Fog Creek, etc., as well as their most intelligent critics, for some ideas and good luck to your efforts in the next few decades.

If I recall the Original Labor Movement, nobody ever had to "think about how workers can be more valuable to employers" because they were valuable.

Just in case it's not clear, workers are still valuable as humans and should be treated well even if they aren't very good at their jobs. The innovation unions should embrace is to help people be treated more humanely, while being even better at their jobs and creating new job definitions that fit the strengths of people better.

Oh, Fascism 2.0, lovely.

I truly have no idea what you are talking about. It's true that some unions in the past have mixed well with fascism but an innovative, humane cooperative movement does not. Please explain; I will happily read what you write though I may not reply as I seem to be posting too much in this thread.
posted by michaelh at 8:43 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope I correctly understand you to think that if an employee becomes more valuable to an employer, then they are being abused and have lost something even if the employee is also happier, making more money, etc.

I can't tell if you're trolling or if you really are this disconnected from reality.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 PM on May 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


The innovation unions should embrace is to help people be treated more humanely, while being even better at their jobs and creating new job definitions that fit the strengths of people better.

I understand that the "unions reward mediocrity" idea is a hard one to shake, but it hasn't fit my experience of union involvement in any workplace I've encountered so far.
posted by asperity at 8:51 PM on May 20, 2013


My point is that fascism, in its original intent, was not "Corporatism" as little moderate-left liberals like to pretend that US Corporations are in bed with Government, but rather, Corporations are various groups... Labor, Industrial, Civic Groups, Youth Clubs, Religious bodies, etc... Corporations as bodies of people, united under the rule of government. Here, you propose a "civic union" in some sense so the Labor Unions can join up to make the spite-ist dying middle class "happy" by being buddies with Capital.

If you mean that Labor fights for all workers together instead of their own industrial fiefdoms, well that's a great idea, and one the Wobblies have tried working for since they were founded, but there's this pesky thing called Regulations (in particular, the Taft-Hartley act) that puts severe limits on just what Unions are allowed to legally do. Unions had the most gains when they rose up and fought bloody pitched battles against the powers that be. Once they were legitimized, they fell into bed with the power system, became entrenched, and love to play this middle-of-the-road-play-it-safe-but-pretend-like-we're-fighting-hard game. Regardless, unless you gut the Taft-Hartley act or have some Unions with the courage to stand up and fight like they used to (putting life and limb on line), we're stuck with the Labor Aristocracy, and nothing's really going to change.
posted by symbioid at 8:52 PM on May 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Say you're 16 years old and want to get a part-time job at a grocery store. A month after you start working, you get hit with a 'union entrance fee' (100 bucks) and have to pay 9 bucks a month from then on to stay in the union, otherwise you get fired automatically as a result of a contract the union has with the grocery store. That fucking sucks.

It's difficult to view a union constructed this way as anything but a mere extension of the corporation itself - the notion of a 'union shop' places the union in a position where it is a mere sock puppet of the corporation. Moreover, you now face the situation where if you try to improve your situation (for compensation purposes, etc.) both institutions (the union and the corporation) will blame each other for not being able to improve your situation.
posted by Veritron at 8:57 PM on May 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Jesus Fucking H. Christ. This country is a hotel room and The Who have checked in.

I just read the article about the gentleman who died, I mean was KILLED, by his employer.
WTF?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:58 PM on May 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Honest question: is it better to pay $12, cash under the table than to use Labor Ready?

I think it is, but it's also completely without workers' comp.

What's a decent wage for unskilled hard labor?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:01 PM on May 20, 2013


Say you're 16 years old and want to get a part-time job at a grocery store. A month after you start working, you get hit with a 'union entrance fee' (100 bucks) and have to pay 9 bucks a month from then on to stay in the union, otherwise you get fired automatically as a result of a contract the union has with the grocery store. That fucking sucks.

You know what really sucks? The working conditions and wages at non-union jobs.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:07 PM on May 20, 2013 [54 favorites]


The people who don't understand the purpose of unions are often the ones whose privilege has thus far prevented them from being in a position to be mistreated by a boss AND not be able to quit. Either they're never mistreated because they're one of the boys, or they are and they just move on. I say this as a white male and a former union member.
posted by axiom at 9:11 PM on May 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


Symboid, that's a good post. Thanks. The tendency of any group in America to love to play this middle-of-the-road-play-it-safe-but-pretend-like-we're-fighting-hard game, especially one so connected with people's livelihood, is horrible. I much prefer to fight hard but pretend to be playing it safe and that's partly why I do not like the bloodier labor tactics. I think that today's inconsequence of unions stems from decisions to fight like that. To me, it seems much more effective to facilitate small pockets of successful cooperation and then stitch them together to form a large movement. Others disagree.

I understand that the "unions reward mediocrity" idea is a hard one to shake, but it hasn't fit my experience of union involvement in any workplace I've encountered so far.

You might have worked at some great places, but I don't think they are representative if you have. My standard is pretty high because it needs to be, and it's not just applied to unions; I think there is way too much mediocrity at non-union companies as well. I do think the rigidity/inflexibility of unions is a big problem, though -- you hopefully see this as consistent since I don't care for the current state of affairs and so see maintaining it as a weakness and not a strength. I think that having a broad base of great employees is very important for everyone in the region/country in which they work and live, and I think unions could play a key role in accomplishing this without sacrificing the health/autonomy of the employees. But, if you're already making this happen or seeing it happening on its own, I'm happy about it.

Pope Guilty, I think you are not actually confused about what you think of me. I know you're at least reading if not responding, though.
posted by michaelh at 9:15 PM on May 20, 2013


After reading the article, this Labor Ready place seems barely a step above "wait at this corner, and hopefully the landscaping guy who shows up around 8AM every day picks you to climb in the back of his truck so you can feed your family today." This is just awful.

The article is really depressing.
posted by King Bee at 9:17 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's only 99 years since the Ludlow massacre.
posted by bukvich at 9:17 PM on May 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is why we need universal health care. Right now people are just under the thumb of corporations for everything: wages, health care, sometimes housing. The workers have zero leverage. Half the people I know would walk away from their jobs if they didn't need the benefits and since we are all in STEM we'd make way more working as contractors than we do now anyway.

I'm in a union and we're being shafted on our wage negotiations currently and then told we're "lucky" because we have good benefits and should take it and shut up. My so-good benefits consist of $130 vision benefit / year, no dental and a medical plan where you easily pay $1-2K per year out of pocket if you do require any medical care at all, up to $5-10k for surgery or, god forbid, a baby. I had a mole removed and tested and it cost me $650. I fly home to Europe for dental work because its cheaper than doing it here. And my employer pays $1300/month for me to have this princely coverage, a cost that increases at a much higher percentage per anum than my salary.

I am thinking of just moving back permanently, I can't see starting my own business here or having kids, both of which I want to do. Maybe you can't get rich quick in Europe but your odds of living in a cardboard box are significantly less too.
posted by fshgrl at 9:18 PM on May 20, 2013 [29 favorites]


What's a decent wage for unskilled hard labor?

$12-25/hour depending on where you live and the job. That is about the going rate. And it makes a lot of sense to use a temp agency to spread the risk for workers comp because that shit is expensive and workers deserve to be covered. As someone who has done lots of manual labor (farm work) in my youth and was often not covered under anyone's workers comp I sometimes want to go back in time and smack my younger self silly for taking that risk.

The problem is that the whole American system is predicated on your work also covering lots of other things like comprehensive medical care etc. that employers who need casual labor cannot cover logistically, even if they could do so financially.
posted by fshgrl at 9:23 PM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


A month after you start working, you get hit with a 'union entrance fee' (100 bucks) and have to pay 9 bucks a month from then on to stay in the union, otherwise you get fired automatically as a result of a contract the union has with the grocery store. That fucking sucks.

This view only makes sense to me in some idealized world that's not this one. To take the obvious one, hypo grocer also has to pays x cents on the dollar for FICA and SSSI. Hypo certain professional field person has to get Y expensive certification/join Z expensive trade group.

I mean I guess you can say all those examples fucking suck and while I might not disagree with you I don't fundamentally see that as a fruitful line of analysis.
posted by PMdixon at 9:23 PM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And people like you are sitting around at the UAW offices wondering what hit them. Think about how workers can be more valuable to employers who have to compete in a perpetually tough market while also being treated better. Flexible does not have to mean "temp," for starters -- temp actually stands in the way of flexible. Your ideas are quite out-of-date.

And this sort of obnoxious concern trolling you're doing here is what is keeping workers from being organized.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:23 PM on May 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


And this sort of obnoxious concern trolling you're doing here is what is keeping workers from being organized.

I had to look up that term. You think that I am pretending to want cooperation and humane working conditions so I can hobble the movement from the inside? I think humane working and living through cooperative, mutually beneficial methods is more important than organization if I had to choose, but I don't think I do. We live in a brittle environment politically and I completely understand that you don't want to encourage any action that improves a situation if it does weakens the likelihood of accomplishing complete improvement (and I apologize if you disagree with this; it's just my interpretation of what you said.) I think the same about some other things. Here, though, I think that it's the wrong approach.
posted by michaelh at 9:33 PM on May 20, 2013


Say you're 16 years old and want to get a part-time job at a grocery store. A month after you start working, you get hit with a 'union entrance fee' (100 bucks) and have to pay 9 bucks a month from then on to stay in the union, otherwise you get fired automatically as a result of a contract the union has with the grocery store. That fucking sucks.

It's difficult to view a union constructed this way as anything but a mere extension of the corporation itself - the notion of a 'union shop' places the union in a position where it is a mere sock puppet of the corporation. Moreover, you now face the situation where if you try to improve your situation (for compensation purposes, etc.) both institutions (the union and the corporation) will blame each other for not being able to improve your situation.


It's all tied up in the question as to why it's illegal for adults to have sex with minors. It's because there's no way for there to exist an equal relationship between the adult and the minor, even if it is consensual, because of the huge imbalance of power and authority between them. Same goes for relationships between teachers and students.

There is no way for individual workers to engage in a relationship with corporations on equal grounds. A union representing workers, and negotiating on behalf of all of them, might have enough power to enter into an equal and fair relationship with the employer.

Unions can bring productivity benefits. Pay raise negotiations are often partially conditional on productivity increases. Individual workers have no way of negotiating this, or even any incentive to do so. Unions leverage the power of the group: many problems and optimizations can only occur from the ground up, improvements that would only be discovered by the workers and supervisors and would never be dreamed of by the "suits" who manage in a top-down manner.

There are just as many completely dysfunctional unions as there are productive ones. The worst of them would be like the ones you've described, and the best, like the ones I've described.

But they're all better than letting individual workers negotiate with large corporations who wouldn't hesitate to squash them if they could squeeze out 0.01% more profit that year.
posted by xdvesper at 9:35 PM on May 20, 2013 [24 favorites]


Say you're 16 years old and want to get a part-time job at a grocery store. A month after you start working, you get hit with a 'union entrance fee' (100 bucks) and have to pay 9 bucks a month from then on to stay in the union, otherwise you get fired automatically as a result of a contract the union has with the grocery store. That fucking sucks.

Say you're 16 years old and want to get a part-time job at a grocery store. A month after you start working, the assistant manager's cousin needs a job. You're fired. That sucks more.
posted by tyllwin at 9:39 PM on May 20, 2013 [29 favorites]


Also, losing a finger in a deli slicer as a teenager at a part-time job that doesn't provide benefits in a country that doesn't provide health care to its citizens sucks.
posted by XMLicious at 9:45 PM on May 20, 2013 [17 favorites]


How do unions prevent that, tyllwin?
posted by jacalata at 9:51 PM on May 20, 2013


You know what really sucks? The working conditions and wages at non-union jobs

You know what? That depends on the job. I'd rather work a non-union job at Whole Foods than a union job at Safeway, whose union exists only to extort union dues out of employees it does fuck-all for.

I agree that unions need a big fat reboot. I was raised super pro-union rah rah rah and since then I've seen a lot of them turn into whiny entitled badly run organizations, not that they were ever run wonderfully- that was part of their charm. But now- "oh we can work with this new labor force- they don't speak English!" WTF? What do you think all those Polish and Estonian people were speaking at the start of the 1900s when unions gaining power? "Oh, we have to hire outside administrators instead of people who've been on the damn floor, because ..." why was that again? I never quite caught it, but the people representing the blue-collar workers aren't actually blue collar anymore- they're white collar and overpaid and hired just to represent them. They turn into their own upper class, complete with contempt for the people they're representing.

That doesn't even touch the BS of the union often not doing what it promised to do: provide SKILLED & RELIABLE labor in exchange for exclusive contracts. I am shocked to hear people say they've never run into lazy union workers. For real? Go work a booth at a fair in the Moscone Center and try to carry your own box of books. Nope. You just broke a contract. You're supposed to call the union, and eventually they'll send some assholish man (always a man ime, btw) for whose services you're charged a ton, and for whose surly and glacial assistance you're supposed to act grateful, all so they can do something you (read: 40 year old, out-of-shape woman) could do yourself without breaking a sweat.

And, having worked with a couple of union boards of trustees, the trustees could stop acting like high school packs of mean girls towards each other- it's just unseemly in a 60 year old man.

So yeah- the unions could do themselves a favor. They could:
1) Stop making excuses for not lifting up people who don't look/speak like their current members.
2) Provide the competent workers t they say they will instead the old guard protecting their own, even if they're incompetent.
3) Have people representing them at the table who've actually put in a day's labor themselves, instead of hiring some white-collar parasite to represent them.

I agree that we need unions as desperately now as we did when they came to power 100 years ago, without exaggeration, but it seems like unions are waiting for the nice companies to step back and let them back in. That's not how it works. They need to show people, including disillusioned commies like me, that they're going to go back to being useful, and stand up for the least of theirs/ours. And then they have to step on some toes.

I regret that it's gotten this bad. Anyone who's known some of the people who helped the unions back in the 1930s knows how scary and dangerous and violent it was, and before that was more so. I suspect we're back at that point again. People are going to get injured and people are going to die. But then they already are, aren't they? Terrifying if we do, terrifying and inevitable worsening if we don't.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:07 PM on May 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


How do unions prevent that, tyllwin?

Lots of individual unions have prevented shit like this for well over a century. So much so that I'm willing to bet the unions have a much better track record than the market does in this particular arena.

Unions aren't perfect—especially here in the states—but the alternative is not really anything to applaud either. This is a dirty fucking fight.

edit: ALSO: most of the child labor laws that prevent minors from working with industrial machinery at places like mcd's and pizza hut are direct results of early 20th century labor organizing by orgs like the IWW. Also fruits of that struggle: the 40 hour workweek, and the weekend. You're welcome.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:09 PM on May 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


I worked as a temp at a car factory in Indiana when I was in college and I didn't really realize at the time HOW kind the union workers were being to me. They were very kind, and I was a stupid temp, taking work from the union workers. No temps got hired as permanent workers while I was there, which was only for a summer.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:10 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what really sucks? The working conditions and wages at non-union jobs.

...heh


It's all tied up in the question as to why it's illegal for adults to have sex with minors. It's because there's no way for there to exist an equal relationship between the adult and the minor, even if it is consensual, because of the huge imbalance of power and authority between them. Same goes for relationships between teachers and students.

There is no way for individual workers to engage in a relationship with corporations on equal grounds. A union representing workers, and negotiating on behalf of all of them, might have enough power to enter into an equal and fair relationship with the employer.


Ok, now you guys are getting really bullshitty. Enough with this ridiculous union fetish already. It's like talking religion here. If only unions were everything you claimed they were! Just like if only Christians were like Christ, if only real communism had been tried, etc. I think the only reason people feel free to extoll the utopian virtues of universal unionism with such abandon is the deep down belief that it will never actually come to pass. The anger expressed is amusing in that it feels like the anger expressed by a religious person faced with the possibility that God doesn't exist. Or when one's favorite humanitarian cause is run by swindlers. These pro union platitudes look like defense mechanisms or prayers deployed to cover up the world around around you, not deal with actual problems.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:10 PM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


A month after you start working, you get hit with a 'union entrance fee' (100 bucks) and have to pay 9 bucks a month from then on to stay in the union, otherwise you get fired automatically as a result of a contract the union has with the grocery store. That fucking sucks.

What? No, it doesn't. The unionized food service workers in the article make $6/hr over non-union minimum wage. In that case, the monthly fee would pay for itself after an hour and a half of work. If you calculate the entrance fee over a year of higher wages, it's less than 2%. You'd have to be crazy to not take that deal.
posted by AlsoMike at 10:14 PM on May 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


The sniping back and forth in the comment section of that Mother Jones article is interesting.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:23 PM on May 20, 2013


[Comment deleted; let's have this discussion without namecalling and "fuck off"]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:23 PM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, now you guys are getting really bullshitty. Enough with this ridiculous union fetish already. It's like talking religion here. If only unions were everything you claimed they were! Just like if only Christians were like Christ, if only real communism had been tried, etc. I think the only reason people feel free to extoll the utopian virtues of universal unionism with such abandon is the deep down belief that it will never actually come to pass. The anger expressed is amusing in that it feels like the anger expressed by a religious person faced with the possibility that God doesn't exist. Or when one's favorite humanitarian cause is run by swindlers. These pro union platitudes look like defense mechanisms or prayers deployed to cover up the world around around you, not deal with actual problems.

It's also the living reality for many of us. The world is a wide place, but many people assume if something doesn't work in one place, it cannot possibly work anywhere else. As mentioned in a previous thread, I'm happy to have worked in a unionized shop at a Safeway several years ago. With no prior retail experience, I was taken on at A$21 per hour on weekdays and A$32 per hour on weekends, to man the cash registers and sell alcohol and cigarettes, and this at a time when $A was above parity with the $US. This at a time when white collar entry level accounting jobs weren't paying much more than that per hour. If you went across the road into Chinatown and wanted to be paid cash only, the going rate on labour was as low as $A4 per hour (and I know people who were working at that rate at some popular restaurants). Union at $21 per hour versus non union at $4 per hour? I would take union every time.

Everyone worked hard, we worked efficiently and kept the place running with a bare minimum of staff, and we had to, because management couldn't afford to hire more. We'd literally get chased out of the shop EXACTLY when our shift was supposed to end, because if you stayed on the premises beyond your shift you were entitled to be paid. It's my experience that necessity is the mother of invention, and expense the driver of efficiency. We were a damn efficient shop because our labour cost so much, while if you were hiring people for $A4 an hour across the street you could afford to have people standing around not doing very much.
posted by xdvesper at 10:26 PM on May 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Is this the part where I get to watch the subproletariat bark and growl at each other over the scraps of capitalist decline?

*checks comments*

Right on time it seems.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 10:29 PM on May 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ok, now you guys are getting really bullshitty. Enough with this ridiculous union fetish already.

The reference to statutory rape gave me pause at first but that's actually a pretty good analogy. Why not answer the point? Is it just fine and equitable for a worker to face off against the company in an employment relationship or does the worker need an advocate of comparable size and power to the company to ensure fair treatment?

Are you saying that nothing like a union is needed to obtain fair treatment from workers from the employer, or that it's needed but there is a better way than unions to put the worker on more equal footing in negotiations with his or her employer?
posted by XMLicious at 10:31 PM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sorry, A$8 an hour in Chinatown. I was confusing the rate in a different city. It's A$10 an hour at a particular Malaysian restaurant, and A$8 per hour at a particular Chinese restaurant. And it's technically illegal, because minimum wage statewide is around A$16 per hour. Which brings up another point that government regulated minimum wages aren't going to be as effective as union worker protections.
posted by xdvesper at 10:31 PM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, now you guys are getting really bullshitty. Enough with this ridiculous union fetish already.

Unions are literally the only way forward. Employers have the money to bribe politicians and get the laws bent in their favor. Without unionization workers have nothing but their numbers, which employers have worked very, very hard to make difficult to leverage (mostly by making sure that the money and time which are needed to leverage those numbers are in short supply).

Without worker organization, the word for which is unions, it's only going to get worse and worse. Watching employers get more and more work for less and less pay, all the while whining about how workers demand to paid enough to live on, is nauseating. Parasites should be excised from the body, not indulged.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:39 PM on May 20, 2013 [24 favorites]


edit: ALSO: most of the child labor laws that prevent minors from working with industrial machinery at places like mcd's and pizza hut are direct results of early 20th century labor organizing by orgs like the IWW. Also fruits of that struggle: the 40 hour workweek, and the weekend. You're welcome.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:09 AM on May 21 [+] [!]


See, I had planned to stay out of this discussion because my views here tend to go against the Metafilter Orthodoxy, but I just can't let this go unchallenged. Sorry, but if you have to go back before the lifetime of anyone currently in the workforce to find an accomplishment worthy of convincing workers of your organization's value, you're fucking irrelevant. This is the rhetorical equivalent of the idiotic Republicans who have to go all the way back to Lincoln when trying to convince black people that they're on their side.

Oh, and before I get my ass torn apart for this, I was a union member for 5 years across two different jobs, both my parents were union members for almost their entire careers, and my brother still is a union member. I've seen the rot from the inside with my own two eyes.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:50 PM on May 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Sorry, but if you have to go back before the lifetime of anyone currently in the workforce to find an accomplishment worthy of convincing workers of your organization's value, you're fucking irrelevant.

It's almost like there's been a systemic effort over the last several decades to castrate the political power of labor!
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:54 PM on May 20, 2013 [38 favorites]


> So yeah- the unions could do themselves a favor. They could: 1) Stop making excuses for not lifting up people who don't look/speak like their current members. 2) Provide the competent workers t they say they will instead the old guard protecting their own, even if they're incompetent. 3) Have people representing them at the table who've actually put in a day's labor themselves, instead of hiring some white-collar parasite to represent them. I agree that we need unions as desperately now as we did when they came to power 100 years ago, without exaggeration, but it seems like unions are waiting for the nice companies to step back and let them back in.

Thisthisthis this this.
posted by desuetude at 10:56 PM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


How about guilds, not unions?

To me the difference being that guilds ostensibly kick you out if you suck at your job or if you're an embarrassment in some other way.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:59 PM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wanted to flag this as Fantastic, but I fat-fingered it:


Of course unions have had problems, because they are a source of concentrated, active political power. And power can corrupt. But the solution to that problem isn't to step away from unions, because in doing so you're stepping away from the only source of political power, of lobbying, of bargaining chips the working man has.

I don't see businesses stepping away from, I don't know, corrupt chambers of commerce or lobbying institutions, do you? Fuck no. They know which side their bread is buttered on.
posted by Jimbob at 8:02 PM on May 20
[12 favorites −] Favorite added! [Flagged]

I wish I could fix that the way I wanted it.

I'd rather join a union of thugs as long as they thug for me.

I was suckered into 'independent contracting'
All I can say is people who con their workers into that are just like men who cheat on their wives... Lying scum who should burn in Hell,
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:01 PM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok, now you guys are getting really bullshitty. Enough with this ridiculous union fetish already.

I'd be curious as to what you see as the alternative. From my reading of history, the only period in which laborers were treated with anything resembling fairness was the period when unions were strong in this country. Strangely, business actually did pretty well during that time -- perhaps it helps that unions don't only provide for their members, but also tend to encourage a continuity of skilled laborers that tend to ensure quality products. And perhaps also because a living wage meant that people could actually go out and spend money on things, instead of the millions in this country currently paying billions to creditors and declaring bankruptcy because of an unexpected illness or injury.

And this idea that unions breed mediocrity is bizarre to me. You want mediocrity, spend a day with the ranks of middle level management.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:30 PM on May 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


What a difficult subject. Unions are desperately needed. True.

But oh dear, there are things to be said that go against the liberal grain. While it's perfectly clear that employers will do most anything to increase profits at workers' expense, so too, workers do learn to play the system for rewards that aren't rightfully theirs. And there's your rot, right there.

I'm from Flint. I grew up around folks who regarded GM as a cash cow, to be milked for everything for which you could manage a claim. It wasn't your employer whom you wished well. It was an adversary. Never ever did I hear any factory workers discussing who might do their job better. No. Instead I constantly heard shit about who knew a good doctor that would get you time off you didn't deserve, or other such nonsense.

I approve of unions today, I really do. But the discussion is incomplete unless you include this sort of illness on the labor side where the employer gets no more regard than a flea has for its dog.

But even more seriously: It's vastly worse when employers have no more regard for labor than for the paper towel they use to wipe up a spill. When liability is something to hide and deny, rather than something to rise to and accept with honor.

But there you go, right there. Corporations aren't working for honor. It's all about profits. So should I be surprised when labor is more interested gaming the system when management is gaming the whole fucking planet? I don't think so!
posted by Goofyy at 11:56 PM on May 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm from Flint. I grew up around folks who regarded GM as a cash cow, to be milked for everything for which you could manage a claim. It wasn't your employer whom you wished well. It was an adversary. Never ever did I hear any factory workers discussing who might do their job better. No. Instead I constantly heard shit about who knew a good doctor that would get you time off you didn't deserve, or other such nonsense.

...

But yeah, this totally reminds of the time American cars were completely awesome and Toyotas and Hondas were awful, bloated, unreliable hulks no one could possibly want, but then the greedy unions ruined everything.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:05 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had planned to stay out of this discussion because my views here tend to go against the Metafilter Orthodoxy

Before you drown in a flood of your own tears, you might be cheered by reading the thread, which in fact contains a broad range of opinions on the topic at hand
posted by ominous_paws at 12:14 AM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


The fingerpointing at unions in this country (and, yes, even a little bit on this thread, too) strikes me as naive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics only 11% of Americans were in a union in 2012. Opensecrets.org estimated that "together, all corporations and organizations invested $3.47 billion on lobbying" in 2010.

Yes, granted some of that money came from unions. But only 1 in 10 Americans is part of a union, and yet the hew and cry is that they are the Big Bad Wolf. You've got to be kidding! This article speaks to working class Americans; among middle-class and educated Americans the 40-hour work week is long gone, and so is most labor law. You can be fired for nearly any reason at all; you can be bullied into working endless hours; you can be censured for things your write on your private social media accounts, on your own time, about things that don't necessarily pertain to the company. You can be pressured to use your own "networks" to market stuff on social media. Your credit level has recently become a criteria for hiring. So have your smoking habits. You can be so overworked you don't have time to exercise, or eat properly, or see your kids at home. Email you write on your computer at work, in your own account, at lunch hour, actually belongs to your employer. Your employer can monitor your typing speed, too. Your productivity level can be judged by crazy-making criteria if they don't like you. Your benefits can be taken away at a drop of a hat. You can be downsized, with little notice, after decades of service. Your job can be given away to an exploited intern.

Look at the want ads recently? What used to be entry-level work is now reserved for interns. Temps, and other "independent" contractors make up a lot of the rest of the employees, including in middle management ranks. Every man for himself hasn't really worked out that well.

Are there problems with unions? You betcha. Are there problems with corporate America? Absolutely. There are problems, and there is corruption, and there are politics, and there is nepotism in any "organized" organization. That's human nature. And that needs oversight, for both unions and corporations. Certainly, Europe, which has always had far more humane labor laws than the US, offers many examples of unions so powerful they crater all new employment. That will fuck up the economy, no question. But the way "we" do it here in the States fucks up the economy, too—not to mention what it does to civilized society as a whole.

Yet all I hear much of the time is lots of folks pointing fingers at unions. This is much like giving parents flexible hours but not returning the favor to nonparents. So what happens? They fight among themselves, and who benefits? Big business.

You fight power with power. And despite the tired rhetoric of every man for himself, hanging tight to his bootstraps, and other forms of near-sighted, politicized, tired, unreflective, underanalyzed rhetoric, power is only possible when large groups of people have something to barter, and not just a few.

Unions need regulation just as much as corporations. But to render them toothless because of their corruption while allowing big business to lobby with little restriction is why the 99% is suffering so much, and why we, as a country, have such a poor, distorted standard of living where so many of us live for our jobs when, quite often, the companies don't return the favor.

And who the fuck will stand up for you when you suddenly find yourself on the wrong end of the company stick? Too old, too tired, too unimportant to fight back? A random politician? The courts? Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. A good union, on the other hand, will fight for you because a good union is made up of people with similar needs and interests, so they're the folks it will benefit most to fight for yours.

Think about that the next time you see an exploited intern, or watch a middle-aged man bullied into working overtime without compensation week after bloody week. Think about that when you consider whether you or a woman you know wants to retain a foothold at the workplace while also taking even just a modicum of time off for childcare, or eldercare. If you're lucky, your boss will help you out. But I wouldn't count on it. Most Americans aren't special snowflakes, but all too many of us are mindf**ked into thinking we are.

And that's why we live the way we do.
posted by Violet Blue at 12:57 AM on May 21, 2013 [48 favorites]


Unions make it harder to tear people down to our level, or to keep them down if they're below us. That's unamerican.1 We used to believe that a rising tide raises all boats, but now it's all about poking holes in your neighbor's boat because you can't bail your own fast enough.
----------

1. It's rare now to hear people say, when they learn of a decent union job with fair pay and good benefits (not that many exist any longer), "that sounds great--how can we organize and gain a similar advantage for ourselves?" It's always "what did they2 do to deserve that? That's some bullshit."

2. "They" being blue-collar folk, generally, the most likely to have an opportunity to join a union. After all, there's no way a person assembling tractors in a factory deserves even a fraction of what someone sitting at a desk in a clean oxford shirt makes, eh? After all, the desk job will lead to riches.3

3. I find it interesting that becoming "rich"4 now mainly takes the form of a lottery of sorts. The easiest route is still the old-fashioned way, of course, to be born rich or in the upper class. But the other routes now typically involve dreams of being in the right place at the right time--the person who creates an online bloggy thing that sells to another online bloggy thing for 3.7 jillion dollars, say.

4. I also find it interesting that we, as a society, have no personal outrage about CEOs making $100,000,000 a year while firing thousands and exploiting people as interns and temps. It suggests that those who see nothing wrong with that would do the same thing themselves, given the opportunity. That it's so important to hold onto that extra 10% of an already unbelievable amount of money that actively cheating the rest of the people who share our society is a moral imperative.5

5. If you do believe these type of things, you're a piece of shit. Sorry.

posted by maxwelton at 3:46 AM on May 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


For everyone to prosper, there has to be a balance of power between corporations and workers. The only way workers can approach equivalence with corporations is through unions. If you know another way, speak up, because your way hasn't been implemented anywhere yet.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:03 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


You fight power with power.

This, this, this, 100 fucking percent this. It utterly galls me every time I see somebody getting down on the powerless to use tactics that don't involve the gathering and leveraging of power against the powerful. If I never hear the phrase "speak truth to power" again it'll be too fucking soon.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:33 AM on May 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Business types using a winner takes all, fuck the consequences approach = business as usual, and a-ok.

Workers doing the same thing = oh no Jimmy Hoffa and shit.

All this talk about cooperation and all is nice, but I, for one, am seeing it all go one way. Cooperation: it is a word with actual meaning, and it doesn't mean that labour gives up its rights and then says thank you. Please sir. etc.

And that kind of thing can actually work, it really can. But not when managements arguing points are constantly to do more with less, somehow.

I'm in the middle of a pay dispute at the moment. It's not pretty, but if you don't stand up for your damn rights who's going to do it for you? And it annoys me just a little that some of my colleagues, that aren't members of the union, will end up getting the same conditions I've paid for through my weekly contributions, but what can you do but try to convince them of their own best interests.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:12 AM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Outrage is fine, but considering we have all assisted in this every single step along the way (how many of you adore the "self-checkout line"?) this is the world we've asked for and have been provided. There's no reason for American companies to act any differently. They've been rewarded handsomely every step along this path.
posted by Legomancer at 7:36 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


huh, i was just listening to barbara ehrenreich on the radio yesterday: "Barbara Ehrenreich spoke about poverty in the U.S. and her new project for journalists, Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and then engaged in an onstage conversation with David Barsamian."

also btw Discussion on Inequality and Economic Growth - "Tony Atkinson and Paul Krugman discussing inequality and growth at CUNY. The dialogue will be moderated by Chrystia Freeland."

Organised labour: Unions, Inc.
Some unions, however, are adapting. Scandinavian ones start with an advantage; as in some other European countries, they administer unemployment insurance. But they also shun the confrontational approach of unions in places such as America. Mr Jarvklo’s thriving outfit, IF Metall, is one such example: its success comes from “caring deeply about Scania’s competitiveness”, he declares. Indeed, 67.7% of Swedish workers belonged to a union in 2011 (the same figure as in 1970)—one of the highest levels in the OECD. Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, president of the blue-collar labour organisation, LO, is confident that it will rise in the coming years. He also plans to bring together Sweden’s businesses and unions to reaffirm their commitment to co-operate, known as the Saltsjobaden Agreement, on its 75th anniversary this year.

Sweden’s labour relations, says Christer Agren of Svenskt Naringsliv, the employers’ group, are a competitive advantage. Unions understand the value of free trade and globalisation. Downsizing rarely brings rows; even the more truculent unions are moving “in the right direction”.

That means appealing to a more consumerist audience. The fast-growing Unionen lets its white-collar members opt in to any of a range of protections and benefits. It markets its services through witty television adverts. It offers insurance and courses for members who want to be retrained. It resolutely avoids party politics. Its success, reckons Mr Agren, is that it “stands alongside its members, it doesn’t interpose itself between them and their employers.” Mr Jarvklo praises this style, too, and trains his shop stewards to communicate with prospective and existing members accordingly.

More than most, Sweden’s unions know the difference between protecting a fixed job and protecting the long-term interests of their members. To keep Scania competitive in the economic maelstrom of 2008, for example, IF Metall agreed to redundancies and “time banking” of unworked hours which can be paid back when demand picks up. Erik Ljungberg, a senior vice-president, says that unions help create an innovative environment. The firm made three trucks per employee year 20 years ago. Steadily shaving seconds off production processes through methods spread with the help of shop stewards has raised that to eight. Through such practices, says Hakan Tribell of a free-market think-tank, Timbro, they have wisely made themselves “indispensable”.

Unions also want to break into new markets, by recruiting labour-market “outsiders”. For example, LO is working with the government and business to create training places for unemployed youths. In return for paying a lower wage, employers will provide new recruits with formal training, easing them into the workforce. In New York state, by contrast, a new attempt to improve the pay of fast-food workers is led by community groups, not unions.

Even fans of the Swedish model concede that it is not perfect: the consensus between unions and bosses can inhibit entrepreneurship. It relies on a costly welfare state to bridge social fissures. But it works. The contrast between this happy picture and that of most other rich-country union movements is striking. It shows that if unions want to prosper, they need a modern, consumer-friendly approach. As any good boss knows, that means following the customer, finding new markets, offering choice and acknowledging that economic change will not just go away.
What has caused this epidemic of joblessness? And what can abate it?
Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth...

Companies used to try to bridge that gap themselves by investing in training; today they do so less. Peter Capelli, of Wharton business school, argues that companies regard filling a job merely like buying a spare part: you expect it to fit. In 1979, he notes, young workers in large American firms received an average of two and half weeks of training a year. In 1991 only 17% reported receiving any training during the previous year. By 2011 only 21% reported gaining any during the past five. Accenture, a consultancy, says that only 21% of the 1,000 American workers they surveyed gained new skills from company-provided training over the past five years.

Mismatch and training gaps may explain why over the past five years youth unemployment in flexible economies like America and Britain has risen more than in previous recessions and stayed high. Britain, which has one of the world’s most flexible labour markets, has around 1m NEETs [not in employment, education or training]. More than twice as many young Britons (11.5% of the labour force) are unemployed as young Germans (3.9%) (see chart three). Some blame the minimum wage, but Britain also has a long-standing prejudice against practical education. In 2009 only about 8% of English employers trained apprentices compared with up to four times that number in the best continental European countries. 29% of British employers say work experience is “critical” but the share of British children who get a shot at it has been falling for the past 15 years. Only 7% of pupils say they had any mentoring from a local employer and only 19% had visited one...

Many countries are now trying to bridge the gap between education and work by upgrading vocational schools, encouraging standard schools to form closer relations with local companies, and embracing apprenticeships. In 2010 South Korea created a network of vocational “meister” schools—from the German for “master craftsman”—to reduce the country’s shortage of machine operators and plumbers. The government pays the students’ room and board as well as their tuition. It also refers to them as “young meisters” in order to counteract the country’s obsession with academic laurels. In Britain some further-education colleges are embracing the principle that the best way to learn is to do: North Hertfordshire College has launched a business venture with Fit4less, a low-cost gym. Bluegrass College in Kentucky and Toyota have created a replica of a car factory, where workers and students go to classes together.

But it is not enough simply to embrace the German model of training and apprenticeships: you need to update it. Some policymakers want to transform unemployment systems from safety nets into spring boards, providing retraining and job placement. The Nordic countries have been to the fore in this, introducing “youth guarantees”—personalised plans to provide every young person with training or a job. When Germany liberalised its labour market in 2003-05 it also created new ways of getting people back into jobs. For example, to make someone who has been out of work for a long stretch more employable, the state will pay a big chunk of his wages for the first two years of a new job.

Practicality constrains poorer countries’ ability to implement such active labour-market policies. The well-to-do Nordic countries found that they could hardly cope with the surge in unemployment after the crisis, despite spending up to 2% of GDP on training. Countries like Spain and Italy, with millions of unemployed people, could not hope to follow suit in a time of boom let alone one of austerity. Culture matters, too. Britain’s Labour government raised the number of apprenticeships but diluted their quality in order to keep unemployment figures down. The coalition government has tried to improve quality—but some firms have merely relabelled existing training programmes in order to obtain taxpayers’ money.

A deeper worry is that business is going through a particularly dramatic period of creative destruction. New technology is unleashing a storm of “disruptive innovation” which is forcing firms to rethink their operations from the ground up. Companies are constantly redesigning work—for example they are separating routine tasks (which can be automated or contracted out) from skilled jobs. They are also constantly redesigning themselves by “upsizing”, “downsizing” and “contracting out”. The life expectancy of companies is declining, as is the job tenure of chief executives. Policymakers are finding it more difficult to adapt their labour-market institutions quickly enough.

However, some firms are taking more interest. IBM has sponsored a school in New York. McDonald’s has an ambitious new training scheme (see article). India’s IT giant, Infosys, plans to train 45,000 new employees a year, including 14,000 at a time at its main campus in Mysore. Americana Group, a regional food and restaurant company with headquarters in Kuwait, allows trainees to spend up to half their time at work and the rest in college.

In addition, technology is also providing solutions as well as exacerbating problems. It is greatly reducing the historically high cost of vocational education. “Serious games” can provide young people with a chance to gain “virtual” experience at minimum cost: McDonalds uses competitive video games to teach people how to use the till and interact with customers, for example. Mozilla, the creator of the Firefox web browser, has created an “open badges” initiative that allows people to gain recognition for programming skills. Technology is also making it easier to take work to people who live in work-deprived areas or who are shut out of the market by cartels. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an internet marketplace, enables companies to hire workers to perform simple tasks such as identifying people in photographs. They can take part from anywhere.

It is hard to be optimistic about a problem that is blighting the lives of so many people. But it is perhaps time to be a bit less pessimistic. Policymakers know what to do to diminish the problem—ignite growth, break down cartels and build bridges between education and work. New technology gives them powerful tools too. Countries that make the investments and choices needed to grapple with their unemployed youth could see some dramatic improvement ahead.
re: "Policymakers know what to do"

The Unstarvable Beast - "too little attention has been devoted to how to make government spending more effective"

Deep thoughts on civilisation - "There are vested interests who are mindful to defend the status quo, rather than progress forward. And many people prefer to bury their heads in the sand."
posted by kliuless at 8:12 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


deadmessenger: "See, I had planned to stay out of this discussion because my views here tend to go against the Metafilter Orthodoxy, but I just can't let this go unchallenged. Sorry, but if you have to go back before the lifetime of anyone currently in the workforce to find an accomplishment worthy of convincing workers of your organization's value, you're fucking irrelevant. "

Again, this has to go back to the political structural issues due to the legalities of Unions. The greatest gains were made before Unions were absorbed into the system, first via the NLRA, which co-opted the unions, then Taft-Hartley which weakened them. The rest has been a historical downturn via the process of technological progress, globalization, free trade, a shift towards a white-collar/services economy... The fact you can't legally have a general strike tremendously weakens unions. There is an issue with unions, but that doesn't meant the concept of Unions are wrong. Rather, they need to be more radicalized and go the illegal route. That is the only way they can start achieving more. But we are not far enough near the bottom of the barrel to push back (hence, "Labor Aristocracy" -- we can exploit the third world for our gain...) But things are getting to the point where pushing is going to come to shove soon, the lost gains are becoming ever more apparent, the question is - who controls the message? Will the bosses keep wildcat strikes down? Will the workers take control for themselves. Blame that on the legal structure and strictures in place against the unions. Not the concept of Unions themselves. They don't HAVE to be dead or irrelevant as a concept, but shit has to be flying from a high-velocity fan to really make a difference.
posted by symbioid at 8:25 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


oh and coops & bcorps previously...
posted by kliuless at 8:26 AM on May 21, 2013


Rather, they need to be more radicalized and go the illegal route. ... But things are getting to the point where pushing is going to come to shove soon, the lost gains are becoming ever more apparent, the question is - who controls the message? Will the bosses keep wildcat strikes down? Will the workers take control for themselves. Blame that on the legal structure and strictures in place against the unions. Not the concept of Unions themselves.

Yes, this. People should keep in mind that there are other options than playing on a field so obviously tilted against them. I'm not saying they shouldn't play on that field, but they should keep in mind that they have other options.

I'm not wild about the other options. I am old enough and middle class enough to be cowardly about the fallout- the inevitable violence, and whole families that will suffer. But it's time.

Another thing that we have that they didn't have 100 years ago is the internet. Twitter. Cell phones. These are amazing tools for organizing. They're also amazingly easy to infiltrate and subvert the message of, but that's always been a problem in organizing.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:24 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


My boss keeps reminding me that in the 1960s, his movement viewed the establishment left as just as much of an enemy as the right. The Democratic party was the enemy, too.

I have lost that, although I had it from my parents. I have fallen for the idea that I should try to work within the mainstream left. That doesn't actually work. It's getting farther and farther to the right. The current religious infiltration of the Republicans has worked for the Democrats no matter how far into the pockets of the corporations that they get because all they have to do is point at Jim Inhofe and say, if you don't support us, it means you support him!

I will still vote Democrat in elections, if their policies are less despicable than the Republicans', which seems likely in the current radical religious climate, but I need to stop thinking of them as allies, because they aren't.

I feel the same way about the big, established unions. They're looking out for themselves. They're only allies in the way that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," (And we all know how well that turned out for the US with the Taliban, for instance.)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:37 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The American left - which I consider myself a member of - really has a problem with cargo-cult unionism. Hint: the unions aren't the thing about the 50's and early 60's that caused widespread prosperity.

Anyone that seriously posits avoiding self-checkout counters as a remotely effective ameliorative measure to the widespread replacing of human workers with machines is delusional.
posted by downing street memo at 9:54 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I happen to be working at a meeting today where I got to listen to reps from Dow Chemical and other corporations involved in the energy sector describe in glowing terms the cooperation and innovation, the business creativity, they regularly get from their union pipe fitters and electricians. No begrudging the unions their wages and conditions. Quite the contrast to this discussion.
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 9:55 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a little pathetic how happy that makes me to hear, Shotgun Shakespeare.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:00 AM on May 21, 2013


Unions are imperfect and can be subject to greed and corruption. The same is true of businesses. But everything I've seen still shows me that unions make it better for workers. Better pay, better working conditions, better safety, protection from abuse. I really wish I had union representation.
posted by theora55 at 10:27 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Right, downing street memo, because the big gains that the unions made in the US happened mainly in the 30s and 40s and by the 60s, the labor movement had already begun running out of steam--which was why MLK planned to refocus his career on rekindling the US labor movement just before he was assassinated.

The hey-day of the Labor movement in the US happened under Woody Guthrie's watch, not Arlo Guthrie's. In many ways, the 60s activist culture was a poor imitation of the much more effective and powerful populist solidarity movements from those earlier periods in US history.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:42 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


My company's form of this is to try to make everyone a "consulting employee." No benefits, no promise or requirement for regular work hours, but also no eligibility for unemployment, which one of my friends found out the hard way. We lost a contract and the company didn't find her coverage on another. When she tried to file for unemployment, she was told that technically, she wasn't unemployed; as long as she worked a certain number of hours in a year (not very many), she was considered an employee and ineligible for unemployment. And the company wouldn't let her go. She finally found other work and gave her notice, but not before going several months without income and no recourse. She was lucky; her husband is employed and carried the family's health insurance and other benefits, but others aren't so lucky, and it shouldn't matter anyway. It's unconscionable, but certainly profitable.
posted by jennaratrix at 11:02 AM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Roosevelt's famous Bull Moose speech, which placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of labor unions in the future of the US shows just how much more powerful the labor movement was even further back in US history, setting the stage for the broad economic gains that followed. Of course, Roosevelt's support for organized labor led his own party to reject him and led to him taking a bullet in the gut only minutes before he delivered the speech, but people were made of sterner stuff in those days, I guess, because he wasn't deterred from delivering his message.
When the Republican party - not the Republican party - when the bosses in control of the Republican party, the Barneses and Penroses, last June stole the nomination and wrecked the Republican party for good and all - I want to point out to you that nominally they stole that nomination from me, but it was really from you. They did not like me, and the longer they live the less cause they will have to like me.
A shame Roosevelt lost his bid for office on the Bull Moose ticket anyway.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:05 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


deadmessenger: Sorry, but if you have to go back before the lifetime of anyone currently in the workforce to find an accomplishment worthy of convincing workers of your organization's value, you're fucking irrelevant.
Pope Guilty: It's almost like there's been a systemic effort over the last several decades to castrate the political power of labor!

So, in other words, unions are irrelevant. Excuses like yours only confirm deadmessenger's point. Why would I, as a worker, want to waste my time with organizations that have shown that they can't even protect their own interests from their adversaries, let alone mine?

symbioid: There is an issue with unions, but that doesn't meant the concept of Unions are wrong. Rather, they need to be more radicalized and go the illegal route. That is the only way they can start achieving more.

I agree. Organized labor (in the US, at least) needs to adopt new paradigms if it wants to survive, but depending on skill level those will probably either be more militant or more cooperative and Scandinavian-style. I can't see the day-laborer type being helped by anything but the more militant kind, though.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:38 AM on May 21, 2013


Why would I, as a worker, want to waste my time with organizations that have shown that they can't even protect their own interests from their adversaries, let alone mine?

Maybe to empower them enough to be in a position to protect themselves from their adversaries again? The lack of popular support for unions is precisely why they aren't better able to protect those interests. Your reasoning is self-justifying and circular here, to a degree that I have to assume is deliberate sophistry.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:44 AM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


The lack of popular support for unions is precisely why they aren't better able to protect those interests.

That may be part of it, but it's not all of it. I do agree a lot of these things are circular, though.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:48 AM on May 21, 2013


> > It's almost like there's been a systemic effort over the last several decades to castrate the political power of labor!

> So, in other words, unions are irrelevant. Excuses like yours only confirm deadmessenger's point. Why would I, as a worker, want to waste my time with organizations that have shown that they can't even protect their own interests from their adversaries, let alone mine?

Workers had a thing - unions.

Business and government colluded to take this thing away from them.

Now less than 5% of Americans (11% of workers) are in a union - and at the same time things are worse for workers than they have been in generations.

From this you somehow conclude - that unions are bad? Because when they were destroyed, things got worse for workers?

Really, your argument is breathtaking.

Tell me - what is your suggestion for improving the lot of working Americans? Are you fine with the conditions described in the original article?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:33 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with the "why can't we all just cooperate and get along" argument against (modern) unions in the US is that the economic system in the US is just not set up that way. Fundamentally, structurally (economically, legally, and culturally), labor and management have competing interests under capitalism. Under those circumstances, it absolutely makes sense for factory workers in Flint to scheme about how they can get the most out of their benefits - those sick days were hard-won concessions, and you'd be a fool not to use them, and in fact you may potentially be putting your union on difficulty footing in maintaining such benefits in future rounds of negotiations if they can't show that members use the benefits at a high enough rate.

It's like the health care insurance industry in the US - the entire structure of incentives is set up poorly, in a way that ultimately harms people (with health insurance and health care costs, due to the struggle between insurance companies and health care providers over costs of services and what will or won't be paid by the insurance companies, where regular people get caught in the crossfire with prohibitively expensive health care costs or denials of coverage by insurance companies).

The Scandinavian countries with high union membership and union-employer cooperation seem to moderate this fundamental conflict of interest between labor and capital - employees and employers - somewhat through both legislation and cultural values/expectations (on both employers and employees).

In my opinion, a better option in the long run would be moving to an entirely different system that avoids this conflict of interest. One where all businesses are employee-owned and democratically managed, for example; or one where economies are more local, and economic decisions are made through directly democratic decisions of small, local communities. The link to the thread where worker cooperatives were discussed is in another comment up-thread; it was a good thread, that I highly recommend.

One issue, however, is how to get from our current economic system to one of these options that are more humane, with better decision-making structures and better incentive structures that avoid such harmful systemic conflicts of interest, given the extremely skewed distribution of both economic and political power that characterizes the US currently. Going off with your neighbors and starting your own worker-coop is a fabulous tactic, but the down side is that it requires that the group of you have at least some initial assets to start your business with. And wealth distribution in the US is so skewed as to effectively remove this option for most people. Basically the only other option is for workers - those who do not own wealth of any significance, and their allies - to organize together to gain more power. Both economic and political power will be necessary, thus unions, as well as social movements on the more political side.

It is certainly far easier to support unions such as the IWW or such as my university faculty union that are run democratically by the members, rather than by a cadre of professional organisers. And easier to support unions such as the IWW that envision themselves in this broader context, rather than restricting their activities, discussions, and concerns to a very narrow and immediate realm dictated or suggested by the restrictions imposed by US labor law. For those of you who are workers rather than employers but who feel some conflict over supporting less democratic unions, perhaps your time and concern would be put to most efficient and effective use by working to make your own unions more democratic and responsive to the needs of their members, rather than by attacking the idea of unions, or defending the interests of employers against the less democratic, less responsive unions. "Unions can potentially be a powerful and important organizing tool in helping us advocate for ourselves as workers; here's what we need to do to make our union better and more effective!" as opposed to "Our union's policies, procedures, and/or organizational structure are getting in the way of it being useful and responsive to members, so let's ditch the whole idea of a union entirely!"
posted by eviemath at 12:52 PM on May 21, 2013


Hint: the unions aren't the thing about the 50's and early 60's that caused widespread prosperity.

What caused the companies to share that prosperity with their workers? If there is something other than unions, I'd be curious to hear it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:54 PM on May 21, 2013


> Hint: the unions aren't the thing about the 50's and early 60's that caused widespread prosperity.

OK, I'm not getting your "Hint:" and wondering if there's anything there.

US companies are far more profitable in 2013 than they were at any time during the 50's or 60's, even allowing for inflation.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:11 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


From this you somehow conclude - that unions are bad?

I did not say that, and you obviously didn't read the second part of my comment. What I said was I agreed with the statement they have been ineffective (and ineffective for a long time). How else would you describe a cluster of organizations whose job it was to protect and empower workers, but has failed at that task?

I have to assume [your reasoning] is deliberate sophistry.

It's not. Also, it's not helpful to start questioning motives off the bat.

The lack of popular support for unions is precisely why they aren't better able to protect those interests.

The point I was trying to make was, if present-day unions (and their supporters) want popular support, then they need to convince people that they can be effective in the face of adversity in the present day. Pointing to successes from 100 years ago doesn't do that, and complaining about how their opponent hasn't given them easy wins doesn't do that either.

I'm not a true-believer activist, but I'm not hostile either. I'm just not going to throw my support behind something that looks like a loser (because supporting something isn't cost-free). So if you want it, get some recent wins to point at, even if they're small, even if that means you have to fire the team and start over with new players.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:18 PM on May 21, 2013


even if that means you have to fire the team and start over with new players.

why would you use this metaphor
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:39 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


why would you use this metaphor

You could give them a different job, maybe management consultants? Players = unions in what I write above.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:50 PM on May 21, 2013


I apologize for impugning your motives, but honestly, isn't it obvious that unions depend on popular support to be effective? That's what solidarity movements are all about: the more people unified behind them, the more power they have. The idea that "Divided we're weak, but united we're strong" is the whole basis of unionism. Popular support is all that ever made or could make unions strong enough to fulfill the role we need them to fulfill in society.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:57 PM on May 21, 2013


Players = unions in what I write above.

I understood. It just seems comically tone-deaf to use a metaphor in which you fire a bunch of people in a thread bemoaning the state of a class of workers that is easy to fire and otherwise mistreat. That's all.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:58 PM on May 21, 2013


One reason why there aren't as many stories about the successes of unions as there are about the failures is the same reason that you rarely hear about cases where a car accident almost happened, but was averted due to ABS, etc. It's a success every time a corporation wants to lay off staff just so that they can make a profit margin number but can't because the staff is unionized.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:59 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm not getting your "Hint:" and wondering if there's anything there.

To me the story is fairly simple:

World War II destroyed much of the world's industrial base outside the US and Canada. It also, sadly, destroyed much of the rest of the world's manpower (as in men of working age), and much of what was left of the world's scientific and industrial research capacity left war-torn areas and came to the US (Wernher von Braun being a famous example).

The result was that for a period of 20 years or so, the United States (and Canada) received the lions share of benefits from the industrialization of basic science, producing goods for most of the rest of the world, which was at the time engaged in rapid catch-up growth (the German Wirtschaftswunder, for instance) which fueled the export market. At the same time, a global manpower shortage, thanks to the millions of deaths before, during, and after WWII, and labor-intensive industrial practices contributed to rising wages at American firms.

In other words, it was a world hungry for stuff, only America could feed it, and it needed lots of men (and only men) to do it. The reason that unions were powerful is that labor was scarce.

To me this is pretty well summed up by the fact that the decline in unionization is correlated very well with foreign share in the US auto market - an indicator of the competitiveness of global heavy industry. For a few decades, Japanese (and to a lesser extent, European) automakers couldn't compete at parity. In the 60's, that changed.

The problem is that, for the medium term at least, the things that have made labor relatively abundant - and wages low - aren't going back in Pandora's box. We're not going to shrink global supply chains, we're not going to reverse automation, we're not going to simplify the machines that have become so complex as to necessitate significant education to operate.

I've droned on about this at this length only because I actually do care quite a bit about what the future looks like for people not able or not willing to do the kinds of high-octane, resistant-to-automation-and-outsourcing jobs that will probably be OK in the medium term. That future does not look good, and I do not understand how waving the magical wand of unions will solve anything when the labor is not needed in the first place.

To me the goal of the left should be the articulation of a different vision of society, not one where everyone has work, but one where work is not important.
posted by downing street memo at 2:11 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


One reason why there aren't as many stories about the successes of unions as there are about the failures is the same reason that you rarely hear about cases where a car accident almost happened, but was averted due to ABS, etc. It's a success every time a corporation wants to lay off staff just so that they can make a profit margin number but can't because the staff is unionized.

That's probably true, so they need to figure out way to publicize the hell out it when it happens, or at least tell that story somehow.

It just seems comically tone-deaf to use a metaphor in which you fire a bunch of people in a thread bemoaning the state of a class of workers that is easy to fire and otherwise mistreat.

I suppose it could be seen that way, but I put firing someone in order to hire temps or to pad the bottom line in a completely different category than firing someone because they're bad at their job. The former is a dick-move, but he latter is actually a good thing.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:30 PM on May 21, 2013


You know, the more I think about it, that Deadspin article I linked helps illustrate why it's so hard to report on those kinds of successes. First off, though, I definitely agree that unions should be trying to spread a benefits-focused message. It makes no sense to me that they don't. Anyway, the reason why it's hard for this sort of thing to be reported is that it usually goes down in boardrooms. Someone says hey, if we cut staffing costs by X%, we hit Y profit margin benchmark, meaning the executive team gets $BIGMONEY bonuses. In the most fortunate cases, someone says "but the union will never let us do this." In the case of ESPN, it looks like their answer was to to turn to the non-unionized technology people and lay them off based on seniority. I work in technology and this has happened to me in the past, and it definitely wasn't a situation where they were cutting deadweight. They laid off the entire technology group, the execs got huge bonuses, and the company was sold for scrap in bankruptcy within a year. This kind of thing happens everyday in all kinds of industries. I don't know why there isn't a smart union out there making a case about this.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:47 PM on May 21, 2013


US companies are far more profitable in 2013 than they were at any time during the 50's or 60's

Companies are more profitable, but people are no longer prosperous.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:50 PM on May 21, 2013


Chaudary, who was not on the scene the day of the accident — November 17, 2011 — told an OSHA inspector that the “wrong valve opened” on the tank Centeno was cleaning, according to the memo, but insisted that “if Carlos Centeno had lived, the decision to not call an ambulance would have been the right call.”

So I googled Rashid Chaudary, curious whether that death resulted in any fines, any settlements, any changes of any kind at Raani, any later remorse on Chaudary's part for this callousness and cruelty. What I found was some real estate for sale.

"It may not be to everyone’s taste, but give this Bethesda mansion its due: At 35,000 square feet, with four stories, a 700-square-foot screening room under the garage, 5,000 square feet of storage and a huge finished basement with a pool, hot tub, sauna and changing rooms, it is the largest single-family house in Montgomery County.

At the start of 2013, it was also the biggest empty house. Owner Rashid Chaudary, a Chicago cosmetics executive, had the house built in 1995 ...
"
posted by chalkbored at 3:34 PM on May 21, 2013


The reason that unions were powerful is that labor was scarce.

After World War 2? They passed the Taft Hartley Act in 1947, which was fairly explicit in curbing union power, and, coupled with a number of scandals and some very deliberate red bating, unions were actually a lot weaker in the 50s and 60s than they had been in the 30s or 40s.

In fact, if anything, the low unemployment post WWII helped undermine unions. I am curious as to the source of your history of unions, as it flies in the face of every history I have read.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:18 PM on May 21, 2013


Bunny Ultramod, this:

The reason that unions were powerful is that labor was scarce.

is basically to say that unions were not powerful at all, in their own right; they were powerful because they represented a scarce resource. In other words, the dominant progressive narrative of the 20th century is that "the fifties and 60s were nice because unions"; I disagree and maybe you do too?
posted by downing street memo at 4:41 PM on May 21, 2013


I've worked this kind of unskilled industrial temp job off and on throughout my adult life. I'm working one now, am just about finished my one-year term for minimum wage in a warehouse. When I was younger I found them a good way to get inside places I'd never think to apply, and if you were a good worker they'd offer you a job after your three-month indenture to the agency was completed. That seems to be less common now, and in many places I've worked in the last ten years the majority of the workers on the floor are temps, who are let go after a specified time (9 months, a year) has passed.

I don't see the union discussion as all that relevant. We had unions, and they allowed this decline in social standards to happen. What is a union going to do for me, a 51 year old guy with a spotty unfocused resume, poor social skills and a defeated attitude, right now? People so disenfranchised that they're dependent on employment agencies are a long way from union shops.

I was working in an auto-parts place where a union was running a membership drive at the edges of the parking lot. When I drove in one of the canvassers stopped me.
"I'm a temp, I can't vote," I told him.
"We don't allow temps," he said, "if there was a union you'd have a full-time job."
"If there was a union, I wouldn't have a job here at all," I said (since union jobs are a lot less accessible given my backward way of trying to find jobs).

Maybe I'm not the best person to judge, given that my work history might make me a walking example of someone who operates against their own best interests, but from my perspective unions just seem like another clutch of people who don't really give a shit about me. I'm as much a cog to them as I am to the management. At least management wants something out of me and will attempt to motivate me. Sure I'd probably get more money and benefits in a union place, if I could get into a union place, but I get that just because I've become a member of the club. They're more gatekeepers. They exist now to keep their members from becoming one of us.
posted by TimTypeZed at 5:57 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other words, the dominant progressive narrative of the 20th century is that "the fifties and 60s were nice because unions"; I disagree and maybe you do too?

I have never heard that narrative. But what gains there were in workers rights that happened in the 50s and 60s happened as a result of unions, and I'd be surprised if somebody can create an alternative history where that isn't the case.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:14 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Caterpillar's Doug Oberhelman: Manufacturing's Mouthpiece
Oberhelman’s activism has also made him a target of criticism from those who say Caterpillar is thriving at its workers’ expense. Last year, as the company racked up a record $66 billion in sales, generating $5.7 billion in profits, it repeatedly landed in the news for clashing with production employees. In January 2012, Caterpillar locked out union workers at a locomotive factory in Ontario after they rejected a pay cut of about 50 percent; the company shuttered the plant and moved production to Muncie, Ind., where workers accepted lower wages. Last May, Caterpillar took a hard line during negotiations with employees at its Joliet (Ill.) hydraulic-parts factory, insisting on cuts to health care and other benefits. After striking for three months, employees caved at the end of the summer. Senior workers’ wages were frozen for six years. Caterpillar is currently battling union workers at its Milwaukee plant.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:48 PM on May 21, 2013


Caterpiller sounds shittier every time I read about them. What a shame. When I was a kid we thought they were pretty cool.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:12 PM on May 21, 2013


We had unions, and they allowed this decline in social standards to happen.

You may have had 'unions,' but I'd guess you're talking about company unions, which 'represent' the workers at only one company. They function as an arm of the company, and serve to deflect any impulse toward organizing an affiliated local. I worked for a company where we were represented by an International union, then later for one with a company union (in the same industry). The difference was striking. The second company's management was free to do whatever they wanted; contract negotiations were a sham, and I never saw any action by the union to protect workers in any way.

I also worked at one place (in a different industry), with an International union, where we worked without a contract for a couple of years. At the strike vote, the national union's negotiator came up from NJ in his polyester suit and advised us to take the company's crappy offer, because it was the best he could get. The membership bought it, pay lagged ever farther behind inflation, and conditions got worse. My belief is that Mr. Polyester was bought.

Not all unions, even affiliated ones, are actually working for the benefit of employees. In the last case, the outcome was our own fault. We were already organized, the national union supposedly had a strike fund to support us, and we held as many of the winning cards as workers ever do. Failure of will.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:15 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Going Underwater in the Long Recession, by Barbara Cerson
If you had to date the Great Recession, you might say it started in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers vaporized over a weekend and a massive mortgage-based Ponzi scheme began to go down. By 2008, however, the majority of American workers had already endured a 40-year decline in wages, security, and hope -- a Long Recession of their own.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:33 AM on May 22, 2013


As Common As Dirt: In the fields of California, wage theft is how agribusiness is done.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:27 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lynn Parramore: Half Lives – Why the Part-time Economy Is Bad for Everyone
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:44 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


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