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The Mechanics
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Labor & Worker Rights Tue Feb 10 2009

"Waah, I won't become fantastically richer by opening another restaurant."

Sorry, that's a little harsh, and not very reasonable, but I'll admit it was my first reaction when reading this Crain's Chicago piece about the likely "targets" of new union organizing drives if the Employee Free Choice Act (or EFCA) is passed and made law.

I understand that by opening a new restaurant, Glen Keefer would be creating jobs. But the way the free marketeers and their conservative enablers talk about "job creation" they make it seem like a charitable act. "I guess I'll create some jobs for the little people, rather than make gold coin angels on the marble floor of my portico."

But, of course, the reason people "create jobs" is because they generate profits for themselves with every job they create. They don't create jobs as some kind of favor; they ask people to come work for them in order to profit off those people's work. There's no getting around that; there's no way to "spin it" or "narrative it." That's a stone-cold, irrefutable fact. In the private sector, you create jobs to make a profit off the person's labor, not because you are a Dickensian aristocrat with a heart of gold.

Keefer goes on to quote directly from Cliched Management Union-Busting Arguments:

"We don't need a third party in between us and our employees who is extracting money from our employees for services that, frankly, they don't need," says Mr. Keefer, who says his workers get health care benefits and paid vacation time. "A third party could disrupt our working relationship and would raise costs for our employees and for us."

First of all, who cares what you need? This isn't about you. This is about the employees who are motivated enough by your mistreatment of them to undertake an organizing drive, an invariably painful and difficult (but highly rewarding) process.

Second, the union is not a "third party." The union is the employees themselves, who now, protected by a contract, can't be cuffed around, be forced to work off the clock, or cloy for the boss' favor to avoid being mistreated. Of course, this argument would be easier to make if some of the biggest unions in the country had more democratic control by rank-and-file membership. But there is more democracy in almost every union in this country than there is any workplace.

Finally, union contracts generally don't raise costs over the long term, and for many industries they actually stabilize or lower costs, due to lower burnout, lower turnover, and higher productivity (yes, union workers are more productive, whatever the zombie corpse of Reaganomics wants to tell you). It's never been about higher costs or third parties or whatever -- its about employers wanting always to be able to treat their employees arbitrarily. Without the constant threat of a loss of job, with the evaporation of systems of favoritism, employers lose their control over employees.

The Crain's story also mention Shirley Brown, a support staffer at suburban Westlake Hospital who has been working to organize a union at her hospital and across Resurrection Health Care for 6 years.

"Give us a choice and a voice....You should not be subjected to fear, harassment and intimidation because we want a voice," says Ms. Brown, 50, who's worked at Westlake for 13 years.

Tell it.

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Good Luck / February 10, 2009 2:26 PM

You make a strong case for never opening up a business at all. Or growing an existing business.

If there is more democracy in labor unions, then why do they need to resort to a decidedly undemocratic tactic of taking away the right to a secret ballot in order to achieve their aims?

Isn't it funny how socialism has to be forced compliance?

Oh Please / February 10, 2009 3:33 PM

EFCA will put the decision of whether or not to unionize in the hands of the workers instead of the owners, exactly where it should be. Enough with the boogie man - "Socialism! Boo!" Doesn't seem to be a problem when it's being used for the benefit of corporate interests.

Good Luck / February 10, 2009 4:28 PM

Moral relativism is a poor excuse for bad policy.

Enjoy Life / February 10, 2009 6:39 PM

EFCA puts unionization firmly in the coercive hands of aggressive organizers. BTW Ramsin, I think a full disclosure of your employment by Big Labor is in order here. You are not an unbiased observer. You earn a living as a union spin doctor, according to a quick Google search.

Ramsin / February 11, 2009 12:52 AM

You know what is almost as quick as a google search? Asking, "Ramsin, do you work for a union?"

To which I could have replied, "No, Enjoy Life, I have not worked for a union since January of 2007, up to which point I was working for AFSCME. Sorry the 'Gotcha' moment you were so proud of is, instead, an embarrassing mistake it would have taken thirty seconds to correct."

But, why bother seeking fact when hurling partisan accusation is much more fun/lazy?

You have standards you must meet for your argument to survive: it isn't enough to repeat spin from an anti-EFCA front organization funded by Big Business; you must demonstrate a history of "aggressive organizers" who resort to coercion--and then, what's more, to demonstrate that organizer "aggressiveness" is somehow more demonstrably efficacious than employer intimidation and/or thuggery, when employers hold the ability to feed and clothe and house your family.

If we use the history of the labor movement as our frame of reference, a history sopped with the blood of workers trying to organize would quickly reduce your argument to exactly what it is, repetition of spin: if we condense the frame of reference to the years since the National Labor Relations Act was amended in 1948 (Taft-Hartley), then we'd still end up with a history weighted to the side of employer intimidation of union activists, firing of activists, threats of closure, and otherwise the use of the economic death sentence--sudden loss of income and benefits--on employees.

There is a wide and deep academic literature on the use of intimidation and threats by management to squash organizing drives, and an even longer history of outright employer violence.

You have presented no evidence of analogies of intimidation by union organizers, particularly in the last few decades or on anything of the scale of intimidation tactics by employers (do unions ever call in immigration officials on their own employees? Oh yeah, no, never). Contrary to offensive stereotypes in popular media, most unions are not run by organized crime figures and you are more likely to come across Adrian Brody than Johnny Sack in a survey of union organizers.

Sorry to expose your repetition of talking points and literally baseless accusations against me for what they are. Actually, nevermind, I'm not sorry.

Enjoy Life / February 11, 2009 6:27 AM

Thanks for clearing that up.

Do you still do any paid work of any kind for organized labor?

Good Luck / February 11, 2009 8:36 AM

"If we use the history of the labor movement as our frame of reference"... then you'd be recycling partisan talking points as well.

I'm still waiting for an honest reason on why the unions need to take away a basic democratic right from american citizens.

Ramsin / February 11, 2009 12:52 PM

No, EL, I do not and have not for over two years.

Ramsin / February 11, 2009 1:01 PM

GL, I'm tempted to think you do this on purpose for the attention.

How is the history of the labor movement a "partisan talking point"? Are you actually pretending that the history of the labor movement since the 19th century, is not full of instances of workers being beaten by private armies such as the Pinkertons, or actual armies, or National Guards? Not even the most conservative, anti-labor historian on the planet would deny that up until the Wagner Act, labor organizing was a difficult and violent ordeal where workers and organizers were often subjected to at the order of the employer.

So, nope, you're wrong there, enormously, wrong, diametrically across from being correct.

As for your second point, read my column today, that should address it.

ML / February 11, 2009 3:44 PM

Enjoy Life and Good Luck, maybe you didn't get the memo, but making inflammatory statements about socialism is currently unfashionable. Unregulated capitalism just crashed, burned and sent America into recession, so it is best to avoid any mention of capitalism or socialism.

It is probably better to just call EFCA-supporters undemocratic. After all, everyone knows that democracy is government by the people--and most people are business owners!, most Americans are workers. I guess it is better not to bring up democracy either.

Instead, you should probably just keep calling EFCA-supporters un-American. Don’t try to back up your insult with an argument though—for some reason most people have trouble understanding how supporting workers’ rights is Un-American.

Oh, and unlike Ramson, I do work for a labor union, but I figure you won’t mind since I’m just trying to help. :)

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