"If They Could Pay Us Less, They Would"
April 30, 2017 11:00 PM   Subscribe

Melbourne-based cartoonist Sam Wallman examines the the minimum wage debate for May Day. Sam Wallman previously and previouslier...
posted by prismatic7 (73 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was floating around on twitter recently. I was left speechless.
posted by hippybear at 11:36 PM on April 30, 2017 [26 favorites]


Wow. That is brilliant.
posted by valetta at 1:21 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


I mean the Sam Wallman megatoon is brilliant. Not the ugly thing in hippybear's link, which is a tweet from the LA Times highlighting Citi bank's reaction to a pay rise recently gained by pilots and flight attendants at American Airlines :
"This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get the leftovers."
WTF? That's how it's supposed to be.

But the cartoon, the long and winding cartoon, is superb and makes great points.
posted by valetta at 2:13 AM on May 1, 2017 [14 favorites]


This is good. Thanks Sam. And join a union, if and when you can. Don't be a scab.
posted by wilful at 2:43 AM on May 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses' way, sir

The Union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a union

The Union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union

- Billy Bragg
posted by Thella at 3:41 AM on May 1, 2017 [24 favorites]


Today is my day to join Freelancers Union.
posted by tilde at 3:47 AM on May 1, 2017


There's a Freelancers Union?
posted by harriet vane at 3:55 AM on May 1, 2017


And join a union, if and when you can. Don't be a scab.

Why do people not join unions?
posted by pracowity at 4:10 AM on May 1, 2017


Freelancers Union. It's been on my to do list a while. But I'm also floating along with the enormous protection of a currently reasonably employed spouse as I build a series of gigs into survival.
posted by tilde at 4:12 AM on May 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


"How about $12?"
posted by indubitable at 4:16 AM on May 1, 2017


Some traditional unionists say that Freelancers Union is an association, not a union, and so it will not be able to achieve significant gains for workers. Freelancers Union does not negotiate contracts with employers or represent freelancers when they have grievances.
posted by lalochezia at 5:04 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Why do people not join unions?

I worked for the federal government, and I didn't join the union. The union had no power over compensation. The main thing they advertised doing was helping people who fucked up.
posted by Monday at 5:13 AM on May 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


Why do people not join unions?
There's a lot of propaganda around unions: people think they're only of value to low performers, have the mistaken belief that capitalism means only one side should negotiate as a group, or – perhaps most annoyingly – people look at union jobs with better pay & benefits and conclude that the union is overpaid rather than asking whether their own work deserves better compensation.

I don't know where Monday worked but I think that comment also shows another common belief that it's just about pay. Where I work, collective bargaining was used to end discrimination for promotions (race, gender, orientation) and a number of quality of life issues (i.e. not punching a time clock, getting the ability to telework, better options for parental & medical leave, etc.). No more perfect than any other human institution but there's a lot of value in fairness which doesn't show up as a line item on your paycheck.
posted by adamsc at 5:32 AM on May 1, 2017 [44 favorites]


Why do people not join unions unless obligated to do so? My personal observation as a member of two unions are:
unions do not offer value for money paid i.e., visible financial gains or do not appear to help the membership; union protects the lowest common denominator i.e., the screw-up and suppresses ability; it is an entrenched group of cronies and rent seekers; if you belong to a large union like the teamsters your particular group may be the minority and feel that the union has different masters; unions are extensions or proxies for management anyway, creating an illusion of advocacy; resentment that unions give privilege not earned e.g., whining about minor work conditions and I could go on. But in essence, it is the union's lack of outreach, the intensity of local politics, poor communication skills and in general, of "that is my money." Quite frankly, how the union's local functions have a profound impact on how unions are perceived by the membership. My personal experience has been a land o' contrasts with how each union functions for its membership. I pay a ridiculously low amount of money for one union which vigorously advocates while the other union takes a chunk of change and a percentage on top of my salary but I get crickets on issues.

This is the thing, a contract is not because I think you are a jerk, it is a reminder of what we were thinking of at the time. The contract can have the words but how it is interpreted, enforced and the weight of its application has a big impact on the lives of its members. The local needs to be visible fighters and communicators otherwise, management will take credit for all the good things like pay increases or professional development. I wish people understood that the contract is not about justice it is about process, in many cases. My grievance work falls into two main categories: contract nuance and "would you be a freaking human being". The second category is fun and makes me grateful that there is a union.
posted by jadepearl at 6:05 AM on May 1, 2017 [14 favorites]


Whoops. https://nwu.org/ then.
posted by tilde at 6:07 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, programmers are Exempt Employees. Exempt from labor protections, because we're 'professionals'.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:24 AM on May 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


Why do people not join unions?

I once worked briefly at a private ambulance company whose members were debating unionization. It was an enlightening time - as a long-time lefty, my stance was basically "everyone should join a union, and if they don't want to they've just swallowed the bosses' propaganda". Actually seeing the debate happening up close shattered all kinds of assumptions I had, though. The people who were on the fence weren't on the fence because they thought that unions were evil, or that they protected the lazy, or because they were temporarily embarrassed millionaires. They were on the fence because the union would cost already-limited money out of their pockets, and they just weren't sure if it was worth it.

Keep in mind, these were people who in many cases were only just barely making ends meet - ambulance work, especially in private companies and at the lower levels, doesn't pay all that well. So you're basically taking a bunch of people who are already meticulously budgeting their every penny just so they can keep afloat, and saying "hey, how would you like to throw this one more expense on top of that for the possibility - but not guarantee - of a better situation at work?" I think it's easy for a certain kind of more financially secure leftist to talk about how great a union is from a certain theoretical remove, but when someone is trying to decide between joining a union or being able to pay for childcare, the math becomes very different.

(What's frustrating, of course, is that the general precariousness of the ambulance workers' situation is all the more reason they do need a union. But once again you're talking about theoretical benefit versus real loss, and that's an understandably hard situation to untangle)
posted by Itaxpica at 6:40 AM on May 1, 2017 [42 favorites]


At my work, union workers don't have a shop floor - I am usually the only person in my area who is qualified to join the union. There is a great deal of conscious and unconscious pressure from non-union higher-ups to avoid the union - people will directly tell you that the union is no good, make remarks if you take legit vacation or union-paid time to do union stuff, look at you funny, crack wise about "union rules*", etc. My current boss and area are supportive of the union and I have worked with people who were genuinely neutral, but many, many people in my old unit (including my first supervisor) were really negative on the union.

What has the union done for us lately? Well - and this is just lately - everyone starts at $15 now, no exceptions. Union workers now get as much paid parental leave as civil service, when we used to get 1/3 (because our kids are virtual animals, of course, unlike the preshus flowers of the middle class; also, workers have no finer feelings, so we don't really care about that stuff anyway). We have some workplace bullying language in place. Unlike civil service, when we leave our accumulated vacation is paid out in cash - theirs gets put into an HSA, which gives them a lot less flexibility. (And honestly, I think it's horribly unfair. They probably don't even realize this doesn't happen to us - they tend to assume that they have everything better than we do.)

*People complain here about how they can't, like, put in screws and hang up their own stuff because "union rules", and you know what? I have seen non-trained people totally fuck up a whole wall that has to be expensively repaired because they thought they knew better than, like, the carpenter who will come to your office and work for free. Union rules FTW, frankly.
posted by Frowner at 6:45 AM on May 1, 2017 [34 favorites]


How dare those upstarts get to make 15$ right out the gate. You know, when I was their age, I had to prostrate myself before the employer-lord just to get my paycheck! What has the union done for me lately?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:54 AM on May 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


Who doesn't join a union?

I considered leaving my previous union because they were unable to secure health insurance subsidy for the non-teaching staff, despite requiring health insurance. (The school district preferred to take the federal fines.) They were also unable to equitably distribute some t-shirts at a potluck, and that's a level of disorganization I'm unwilling to support. However, I figured the overtime and discrimination protections were worth $20 a month.

Unfortunately, programmers are Exempt Employees. Exempt from labor protections, because we're 'professionals'.

Only if you don't join a union. Legally, they don't have to pay you overtime if you're a professional...but if you unionize, as a group you can make it happen. I'm technically a professional, too, but we have a union (DC37 Local 1321 represent!)

The IWW has a professional division or there is probably someone in your state who can help you get started...at least look into it, you might not be able to do it today, but who knows? Maybe today is your day!
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:56 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


The main thing they advertised doing was helping people who fucked up.

I'm in my union (well, professional association) not because they help people who fuck up, but because they help people who are accused of having fucked up, and I have seen what happens to people when accusations are lodged, HR wants to make it all go away, and there is no one in the accused's corner.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:02 AM on May 1, 2017 [27 favorites]


In re unions and people fucking up: Something I observed was that "fucking up" was used against people who faced other discrimination. Someone who was white/straight/cis/attractive/college educated/etc could "fuck up" and not get fired; someone from a marginalized group would do something similar and, without the union (and sometimes with, if the knives really came out) they were gone.

It's a bit like how people talk about "oh protests are so disruptive" while treating exploitation and discrimination as normal and hence non-disruptive because they don't disrupt the lives of non-marginalized people. Everyone talks as though unions protect the fuck-ups and somehow everyone else is totally fired the minute they make a mistake, when really unions just get people equal protection for their mistakes. But seriously, haven't you noticed how people close to the boss or otherwise privileged can be total screw-ups and nothing happens? I personally prefer that people get helped to succeed rather than fired regardless of whether they are the boss's kid or the mailroom newbie, but it should be equal lawlessness or equal law.
posted by Frowner at 7:08 AM on May 1, 2017 [49 favorites]


My union is super expensive, and it represents the interests of two rather different groups with different problems and different desires. I'm not convinced they usually negotiate in my best interest. I'm a member only because I strongly believe in unions and I can afford it. If I didn't have a partner with an income and no children, I probably couldn't afford to pay that much money per month in support of an abstract principle.
posted by lollusc at 7:10 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


I can tell you that I was real pissed when family members were telling me that I should form a union when I was complaining about the long hours and ridiculous demands at my last job: I was a data analyst. All of my coworkers has business degrees or an MBA. Getting those guys to see the purpose of forming a union was less likely than someone literally just offering me a better job. It would have been less insulting to tell me to just quit.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:22 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm one of those lefties who is all in on collective action and unions in the abstract, but as unions grow bigger and represent more disparate populations and industries, you end up in weird quis custodiet situations. Who ensures that the union is operating in labor's best interest, and what remedies are available if they fail in that duty? There have certainly been cases in which the so-called "union" was really just another arm of capital.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


As a child and young adult, I would have told you unions were outdated and unnecessary. As a middle-aged man, I recognize and generally support their role.

I have to tell you, though, I remember the Hormel strikes of the early 80s and that wasn't a high point for the union movement. My dad crossed the picket line for 18 months. He drove to work with a gun and pepper spray, all of the windows were broken out of the family van, graffiti was spray painted on the side of the laundromat we owned, obscenities were scratched into the washing machines, anonymous callers would threaten to kill my dad and rape my teenage sisters, and I watched my older brother (who worked as a scab in the summers to pay for college) get chased by a pickup load of guys with baseball bats.

So, yeah, that experience as a 7 yo kid tempered my enthusiasm for unions.

Big organizations - unions, corporations, churches, governments - are not to be trusted in my book.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:35 AM on May 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


When the steward calls an "emergency" meeting off site at the union hall for "union business" in the middle of assembling a multi-million dollar order, it has the effect of damaging their reputation. especially when it leaks out that the real reason was so that they could all go watch the Daytona 500. [true story]
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:38 AM on May 1, 2017


Who ensures that the union is operating in labor's best interest

The union is an institution like any human institution and thus subject to all forms of subornation, but I can tell you one thing: there's a 100% likelihood that management won't be operating in labor's best interest.
posted by praemunire at 7:47 AM on May 1, 2017 [48 favorites]


Yeah, "unions are sometimes corrupt and inefficient" is like the "but science sometimes gets it wrong" of vaccination arguments. Examples of science making mistakes is an argument for investing in better science, not ignoring science and going with your gut. Examples of unions screwing up is an argument for working to make unions better, not throwing unions out and hoping management will treat workers better out of the kindness of their hearts.
posted by straight at 8:10 AM on May 1, 2017 [42 favorites]


Back when I went to a hippie church as a child, we had a song which went "the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place - the church is the people", which I always liked. Similarly, the union is the people. I'm not saying that there aren't corrupt and power-hungry union leaders (or "pie-cards" as they are called in the IWW, because their union card just gets them money for pie...mmmm, pie) but in terms of day to day betises, if you don't like what your union is doing, you and your dissatisfied co-workers can get involved and push back.

I don't always like what my union does, honestly, although I think they've changed in the past few years, but I basically just figure "hey, I very rarely go to meetings, I hate debating this stuff, I have not built the experience....if I wanted to train with the union, I could pretty quickly be working with the team that negotiates our contract; if I wanted to make a ruckus, I could stand up in the meeting and make one". I used to blame the union for making what I still see as a couple of very, very foolish moves around the time I was first hired. I still think those were foolish moves, and I do still kind of blame people, but I have also noticed that a lot of people sit idly by when activist union members are acting.

If you have really determinedly bad or corrupt leadership, this won't work - I'm not saying that getting involved is always the solution. But I have definitely observed that if I were willing to put in about five hours a month, I could have a lot of voice. I have other stuff to do, plus social anxiety, plus I basically trust my reps, so I don't...but it's on me that I don't.

Not many things in middle class life work like unions, IME, so it's difficult to realize that the union isn't them, it's you. It has to be you, or it's nothing at all, really.
posted by Frowner at 8:17 AM on May 1, 2017 [17 favorites]


I mean, the other piece is that I also very rarely like what management does (although honestly my employer has stepped up on the "we will support immigrants and we denounce hate" front much more boldly than many since the election, and I feel like that's sincere) but management is much more likely to be like "your insurance will cost a million dollars and have a bigger co-pay, also here are ten new processes which we designed without sitting down with people who do the work, and each will lengthen your day and we're not hiring anyone else either".
posted by Frowner at 8:25 AM on May 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


Just to clarify, I never meant we should write off unions. They do work, sometimes, and they're the best available option. But unions shouldn't be necessary, because the duty of ensuring labor's rights are protected from the predations of capital should be the role of the government, which is also ostensibly made of people. But of course government is captured by the same capitalist interests that have captured some of the unions.

In the words of Douglas Adams, people are a problem.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


My union is great. When I compare my pay, workload, and benefits to people doing similar work, but who don't have a union - I come out way ahead. My union has made some big differences for my quality of life.

They also stepped up when someone represented by the union was screwed over, big time, by her department; their mistake was potentially going to ruin her career, but she had a union powerful enough to negotiate on her behalf and make the administration follow our contract. The provision the administration violated, by the way, was also negotiated for by the union.

So, I get that unions can have problems too. But every time I see a thread filling up with "this is how my union is bad" stories I do like to point out that they have definitely made my life better...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


I'm in my union (well, professional association) not because they help people who fuck up, but because they help people who are accused of having fucked up, and I have seen what happens to people when accusations are lodged, HR wants to make it all go away, and there is no one in the accused's corner.

How to fire someone without paying unemployment compensation in four easy steps:

1) Meeting with employee to suggest they aren't Meeting Goals
2) File "Personal Improvement Plan" (PIP) with HR
3) Create records in the PIP accusing employee of Doing Things Wrong
4) Fire employee for "cause"

There was a management change at my wife's workplace about 18 months ago. They are "cleaning house" so to speak. They have already driven out two of the VPs who had been with the company for a long time, and my wife is currently on step 2) of the above. She has no union to help because she is an Exempt employee. It really sucks.
posted by Fleebnork at 9:00 AM on May 1, 2017 [6 favorites]


...especially when it leaks out that the real reason was so that they could all go watch the Daytona 500. [true story]

So, the company had them working overtime on a Sunday? Sounds like they need a stronger union.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2017 [7 favorites]


Ha, Prolier than thou on the mug.

I am mandated to pay dues to my union, but haven't bothered joining. I genuinely appreciate the negotiations they do and the perks and salary I receive because of them. I probably should look into joining because there have been a few times where I disagreed with their focus (eg: We used to have about a week unpaid vacation in late December to cover the time between December 25th and January 1st. The lack of pay was spread out over the entire rest of the year, so it wasn't like we just didn't get a paycheque. The union negotiated to get us paid for that week instead. I'd absolutely rather the time off than the money, so I am worried that this change makes it more likely to go away.). Still, I'm happy to be included and paying dues, overall. They do keep sending me reminders to join as well, so it's 100% on me.

The union is an institution like any human institution and thus subject to all forms of subornation, but I can tell you one thing: there's a 100% likelihood that management won't be operating in labor's best interest.

As the son of a small business owner it's hard not to bristle at this. Management is made up of people just like a union is. Of course a lot of them (most? nearly all?) are going to operate this way, but there are exceptions.
posted by ODiV at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2017


As the son of a small business owner it's hard not to bristle at this. Management is made up of people just like a union is. Of course a lot of them (most? nearly all?) are going to operate this way, but there are exceptions.

Sure, some managers are better people than others. Some are downright angelic. But the value of your labor will always be greater than your compensation. That's an immutable law of economics.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2017 [27 favorites]


If we eat the rich, we can feed the world.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:49 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


So, the company had them working overtime on a Sunday? Sounds like they need a stronger union.

They have a standard (unstated) practice of slowing down work and/or purposefully screwing up just enough units and/or delaying inspection until the run is done so that they have/get to come in on the weekend and get their 4-hour mandatory minimum overtime (even if it's less work). It just happened to bite them in the ass this time. Obviously that's a contract stipulation that is ripe for exploitation and probably not a good idea and whoever didn't put controls on it didn't think it all the way through.

I'm not opposed to the idea of unions.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:18 AM on May 1, 2017


As the son of a small business owner it's hard not to bristle at this. Management is made up of people just like a union is. Of course a lot of them (most? nearly all?) are going to operate this way, but there are exceptions.

The best interest of labor would still be to control the capital itself rather than allow the capitalist to capture the excess value. Regardless of who management is related to.
posted by praemunire at 10:34 AM on May 1, 2017 [10 favorites]


pracowity: "And join a union, if and when you can. Don't be a scab.

Why do people not join unions?
"

From what I've seen (in a well compensated trade union so not much in the way of concerns about marginal living conditions) two reasons: 1)They think they can negotiate a better deal on their own and 2) They think working union means working with someone who can't be fired. Maybe 1 is true occasionally; 2 almost never is short of maybe cops (Ironically one of the acceptable by members unions).
posted by Mitheral at 10:48 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


The best interest of labor would still be to control the capital itself rather than allow the capitalist to capture the excess value. Regardless of who management is related to.

Yeah, I buy it in theory, I just have no idea how that works in practice. A lot of small business starts as labour controlling the capital itself. Then the idea is if a tradesperson who went off on their own to work needs some help they set up a collective instead of hiring someone? Or instead of hiring an accountant they only contract? Or?
posted by ODiV at 10:50 AM on May 1, 2017


Just dropped in to say that salaried "exempt" employees are only exempt from the FLSA overtime and minimum wage provisions, with certain caveats. That doesn't mean they can't unionize. NLRA, not FLSA, governs that.
posted by radicalawyer at 11:00 AM on May 1, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry, what? There are people in North America being paid $2.13 an hour? Outside of prisons? WTF.

[Can someone please confirm because I am in real disbelief here.]
posted by kitcat at 11:25 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


If that amount plus tips does not add up to the minimum wage, then the employer must make up the difference.

I think this happens in a few places in Canada still, though I don't think it's quite as low as $2!
posted by ODiV at 11:28 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


kitcat:

"The American federal government requires a wage of at least $2.13 per hour be paid to employees that receive at least $30 per month in tips.[4] If wages and tips do not equal the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour during any week, the employer is required to increase cash wages to compensate.[5]"
Tipped wage in the United States

About a decade ago I was a waitress earning the princely sum of $2.40 an hour before they subtracted $0.36/hour for food costs (which would pay for your 'free' meal during your shift). That made my wage $2.04/hour. It has been more than 10 years and I have never forgotten those precise figures.
posted by matcha action at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


If an employee regularly receives tips, they can be paid as little as $2.13/hr, depending on state law. But if the tips don't bring the employee up to at least the regular minimum wage ($7.25/hr or more), employers are obligated to make up the difference.

That said, most tipped employees would feel...uncomfortable asking for such compensation and employers don't go out of their way to make it available.

And THAT said, you really have to be a poor employee to not pull in $6/hr in tips. I'd bet that less than 5% of people in America making the $2.13 minimum would trade it for a guaranteed but completely untipped $10/hr.
posted by Hatashran at 11:33 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the information. I feel like I want to cry, or vomit. Especially at this:

That said, most tipped employees would feel...uncomfortable asking for such compensation and employers don't go out of their way to make it available.

I was a waitress over a decade ago. Small diner, well-liked but very low end. There were certainly days when I took home about $40 for an 8-hour shift. So that's $5/hr in tips (but being in Canada, at that time I had about $6.75 min wage).
posted by kitcat at 11:39 AM on May 1, 2017


I'm a professional/exempt worker at a small software company and there's a clause in my contract that essentially makes organizing a fireable offense. I don't have the exact language but it talks about the importance of individual negotiation and that collective action will not be tolerated. I actually like my job and my boss quite a lot, but I have no doubt that if I tried to rock the boat I would be gone, and I don't think I would have the capacity to try to fight back through the state labor commission or similar. I don't know what recourse there would be but I know I'm not in a position right now to be unemployed.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:51 AM on May 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


That said, most tipped employees would feel...uncomfortable asking for such compensation and employers don't go out of their way to make it available.

One of my brother's first jobs was working for a shady valet outfit. The valets were all paid $2.13/hour and had to surrender their tips to the manager, who pooled and redistributed them at the end of the night to make up minimum wage. This probably wasn't legal, but who's going to risk getting fired challenging that? You'd be out of a job AND your old boss could tell prospective future employers that you were fired for making trouble.

Something else to keep in mind about the tipped wage in the US is that some systems estimate tips and tax employees accordingly. When my SO was waiting tables a decade ago the system added something like 12-15% to his sales per shift and subtracted withholding. This is how I learned that 1) tipping below the system estimate can mean your server gets taxed for phantom income, and 2) it is possible to receive paychecks for $0.00.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 12:11 PM on May 1, 2017 [12 favorites]


I don't have the exact language but it talks about the importance of individual negotiation and that collective action will not be tolerated.

In my state (Iowa), firing someone for organizing is illegal. It is also legal to talk about salary but our management has a strong policy of discouraging such talk.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 12:18 PM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


Firing someone for organizing is illegal throughout the US, under the National Labor Relations Act, although the penalties are fairly weak. Contracts and employee handbooks that ban unions are illegal/unenforceable, although they usually have enough of a chilling effect that they serve their intended purpose. For more on this, read about yellow dog contracts (illegal since 1932 in the private sector), the wikipedia entry is pretty good.
posted by cushie at 12:34 PM on May 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's *technically* illegal, so smart employers hire labor and employment law specialists to design and implement the process Fleebnork outlined above. Then the onus is on the fired employee to prove they were fired for organizing -- for that matter, for challenging any questionable practices -- and not for deficient performance. Given the choice between finding a new job and having their whole life made a matter of public record*, most people (understandably) choose the former and the cycle continues.
*At least, this was a strategy I saw while working at a labor and employment firm; I imagine it's an industry-wide practice. One of the first defensive steps was to investigate the plaintiff and find as many ways as possible to challenge their credibility and/or make the process too humiliating to pursue.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 12:47 PM on May 1, 2017 [9 favorites]


What happens is that you get fired for organizing, you wait eighteen months (probably longer now with our great new government) for the NLRB to rule, they rule that you should get your job back, and....at best you get your job back with your boss ready to plunge a knife in your back. Be thoughtful and careful when you organize. You might think you have nice, lefty bosses, but some of the most hateful, dishonest anti-union actions I've seen were taken by "left" orgs. It is probably way easier to organize in a big, high-profile, skilled place because they are big enough to have to follow the rules and it's still tricky to find skilled workers.
posted by Frowner at 12:49 PM on May 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


Why don't I join a labor union? All things being equal, half of employees are better than their jobs than the average average employee, and hence, should get paid higher than the average employee. Collective bargaining is a way of subsidizing the lower-performing half of employees at the expense of the higher-performing half of employees. You can imagine that a decent number of people would object to that.
posted by saeculorum at 1:14 PM on May 1, 2017


All things being equal, half of employees are better than their jobs than the average average employee, and hence, should get paid higher than the average employee.

And whom will you trust to ensure that workers are compensated fairly and proportionately to their productivity, instead of just giving raises to all the white men and short-changing everyone else?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:48 PM on May 1, 2017 [21 favorites]


All things being equal?

All this economics talk seems very spherical, frictionless employees in a system of perfect information and rational, amoral actors. Management doesn't, literally can't squeeze every cent of productivity out of employees, a lot of them aren't even trying to, believe it or not. Collective bargaining is usually made up of individuals trying their best to improve things for all their members, not to "subsidize the lower-performing half". I'm having trouble imagining what that union meeting would look like, to be honest.

All things being equal? When are all things ever equal?
posted by ODiV at 1:50 PM on May 1, 2017 [12 favorites]


My mom was an executive assistant who was not eligible for the union because of the confidential nature of her job. She always reminded us that the only reason she made the wages she did was because the secretarial union had fought long and hard and negotiated decent wages for its members, and management used those union wage rates as a floor when setting the executive assistant wages. We have all benefited from unions whether we are in one or not--think of the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, and safety protections.
posted by a fish out of water at 1:52 PM on May 1, 2017 [20 favorites]


And whom will you trust to ensure that workers are compensated fairly and proportionately to their productivity, instead of just giving raises to all the white men and short-changing everyone else?

Or just short-changing everyone, period.
posted by praemunire at 2:22 PM on May 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


All things being equal, half of employees are better than their jobs than the average average employee, and hence, should get paid higher than the average employee. Collective bargaining is a way of subsidizing the lower-performing half of employees at the expense of the higher-performing half of employees.

I find this especially funny because in my life (and i am not young) all the cases i have dealt with of incompetent sacks of shit getting jobs they were not qualified for and keeping them for a long time (while drawing good wages/benefits), despite their incompetence becoming obvious and causing problems for others, have been in completely non-union organizations/companies.

By contrast, the very unionized large orgs i have dealt with have tons of obnoxious red tape surrounding hiring and contracts, but those rules kept those situations from happening in the first place. They also have tiered job classes that make it easy for talented employees to get promoted to higher pay grades, while the marginally-okay employees are stuck in the lower grades (while still getting a fair livable wage + benefits because hey, they are unionized).
posted by D.C. at 2:37 PM on May 1, 2017 [13 favorites]


That said, most tipped employees would feel...uncomfortable asking for such compensation and employers don't go out of their way to make it available.

It's a real good way to get fired for unrelated reasons.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:20 PM on May 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


I'm not against unions, but I am against police cartels unions.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:05 PM on May 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


All things being equal, half of employees are better than their jobs than the average average employee, and hence, should get paid higher than the average employee.

It's like Dunning-Kruger, but for wages!
posted by maxwelton at 6:24 PM on May 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


How to fire someone without paying unemployment compensation in four easy steps:

1) Meeting with employee to suggest they aren't Meeting Goals
2) File "Personal Improvement Plan" (PIP) with HR
3) Create records in the PIP accusing employee of Doing Things Wrong
4) Fire employee for "cause"


Hah, from what I've seen, companies / management are overly reluctant to engage an employee in a PIP (due to the sheer amount of work it requires) and it's more common that employees that would benefit from being on a PIP get rated higher than they should be, and instead of spending time developing their personal behaviors and skills their manager tries to "sell" them to another department by saying how good they are.
posted by xdvesper at 6:57 PM on May 1, 2017


I'm not against unions, but I am against police unions.

The important distinction here is that police aren't labor. They have badges and guns -- they're management.
posted by JackFlash at 10:15 PM on May 1, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm an upper middle (or maybe lower upper) class white professional who worked once in a union shop, and then only briefly.

I had no opinion on it back then. But currently I'm convinced that only if workers have political power will we ever get another shot at semi-decent inequality, for many reasons but all circling the "benefits for the poor become poor benefits" idea. Things need to be demanded, not granted.

So I wish had more experience with unions, because that's the only realistic path I see to improving things. But as a manager type these days I will say one thing I'm sure of: The typical managers are as lazy and finger pointing as any stereotypical worker. Any time a business writer quotes a management type (from middle management on up to the CEO) complaining about how hard unions make their jobs they are playing the roles of useful idiots. They'd be scapegoating other people if it weren't managers, like short-sellers, hedge-fund traders, government subsidies (either too high or too low), or passengers who want to arrive at their intended destination.

(Also, nice May Day post.)

Why don't I join a labor union? All things being equal, half of employees are better than their jobs than the average average employee, and hence, should get paid higher than the average employee. Collective bargaining is a way of subsidizing the lower-performing half of employees at the expense of the higher-performing half of employees. You can imagine that a decent number of people would object to that.

That is no doubt the thought process.

Obviously this assumes that the unions can't get better overall salaries, benefits and working conditions. So statistically you are way more likely to benefit from the union than be harmed, especially since companies still have ways to reward exceptional employees.

Or perhaps it's not obvious. People mouth "A rising tide lifts all boats" with the mindlessness of a benediction but "A victory for one is a victory for all" is gone from our dialogue.
posted by mark k at 10:18 PM on May 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


The most ridiculous thing about the 'rising tide' mantra is that the reality of tidal forces is a local phenomenon with an equal and opposite reaction on the other side of the planet. Tides are actually zero-sum, so the saying is itself a demonstration of people's blindness to externalities. What frustrating irony.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:51 AM on May 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'd like to correct my physics: the low point of the tides is on the sides of the planet, and gravitational force is not equal-and-opposite. The externalities are closer than I originally proposed, but it's still a zero-sum system.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:28 AM on May 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


You know what does lift all boats, though? Sea level rise from global warming!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:46 AM on May 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


As the son of a small business owner it's hard not to bristle at this. Management is made up of people just like a union is. Of course a lot of them (most? nearly all?) are going to operate this way, but there are exceptions.

I've worked for a few small businesses where the owners are active in the labour part of the job - down in the trenches with the employees, doing the work that brings in the money in the first place.

They have been, without a doubt, the most whip cracking, demanding, unreasonable bosses I've ever had. They expect the same selflessness and devotion to their business and their profit margin they put in themselves, expecting the staff to act like they have a stake in the business while at the same time taking full advantage of their status as staff to hire and fire them as they please, to remove them from decision making processes that would benefit them (and often the business, too) and generally treat them as disposable. The owners put in unpaid overtime? So should the staff. The owners don't get sick leave? Neither should the staff.

So, you know, bristle all you like. I don't know what your parent was like as a small business owner but I doubt their employees have the same rosy view of the process you do.
posted by Jilder at 7:47 AM on May 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


I own a small business and don't even like working for the owner. I know he cheats me on my wages (mostly because he cannot estimate for shit even after 20 years.)

On a real note, the only place I've worked where the business actually out-and-out cheated their employees was a small business. Jilder is exactly right. Owning any small business where any of the employees make minimum-wage like amounts is nothing to be proud of.
posted by maxwelton at 10:10 AM on May 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I like using "ownership" rather than "management", because I feel that terminology better reflects the real power disparities. Middle management is very, very often complicit in exploitation, but in many ways they're as vulnerable to the whims of the ownership as labour is.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


So, you know, bristle all you like. I don't know what your parent was like as a small business owner but I doubt their employees have the same rosy view of the process you do.

Yeah, it feels like if I tried to provide examples like you had done or tried to argue specific points I would come off as overly defensive and if I got thoughts from someone who used to work for him to relay then that would be weirdly personal and out of line. And even if I did, then it would just be a single, meaningless datapoint. I guess when it comes down to it, I was just trying to put across #notallbusinessowners, which I suppose isn't that useful, because nothing is ever 100% true, but we have people saying #notallunions and etc, so I don't think it's completely unreasonable to bring up.

And "rosy view"? I think that's a little uncharitable based on the words I actually wrote.
posted by ODiV at 11:41 AM on May 2, 2017


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