Look for the Union Label

The Missus ganked the iTrip out of the truck and as such I
was stuck listening to regular radio the other day. Rather than run the risk of
hitting the CD button and accidentally turning on The Midget’sLaurie Berkner CD,
I let the radio play.

Charlie Sykes, resident conservative curmudgeon, was
blathering on about something before he shifted to the hot-button topic of the
Mercury Marine company’s demand for union concessions and the union’s most
recent vote to reject the proposal.

The union has said it will not vote on the package again
without drastic changes and the company has said it has offered its best
package possible. If the concessions are not met, the company will transition
the jobs out of state to Stillwater, Okla., where it has operated a facility
under much better tax laws for about 30 years.

One of the key sticking points is a pay cut that would
reduce the called-back workers and new hires from $20 per hour to $13 per hour.
To say that’s the only issue would be overly simplistic and reductive, but here
are some of the deeper looks the issue.

For once, though, I managed to tolerate Sykes, who is
usually so over the top and full of himself it’s impossible to hang in for more
than six minutes, unless you’re the kind of person who thinks Glenn Beck is
right on, Rush is God and an embryo’s life begins when the man unhooks the
woman’s bra.

He made several points I couldn’t dismiss out of hand, which
made me shudder, considering that it felt a lot like the early stages of how
they hook you into a Hitler youth rally. It starts with the old “Don’t you feel
like you aren’t getting your fair share?” or “Don’t you believe people should
be judged on their merits?” Then, wham, you’ve got no hair, a swastika tattoo
and you’re humming Wagner tunes at work.

In any case, here’s what he said that seemed to make sense:

– A job at a lower wage is better than no job in a lousy
economy. There are a ton of people without jobs right now who would beat your
ass to take $13 an hour. Families are being propped up by Dads driving for
Domino’s and Moms working graveyard shifts at diners. You’re not going to have your
pick of jobs if this job goes away.

– These people make boats, boats require people with money
to buy them and last time anyone looked, we’ve got a pretty shitty economy.
Even if the economy recovers by the time the union contract runs out in 2012,
the company might not last that long if it doesn’t start transitioning to

– Wisconsin has a comparatively shitty tax structure for
businesses when put up against Oklahoma. (Obviously, a race to the bottom isn’t
going to help anybody, because Mexico will win, but still.) The company is
still keeping the jobs in America and isn’t carpet bagging, as it has a
presence in Oklahoma.

– For all the people in the Fox Valley who are screaming at
the union to take the deal so Mercury can remain a key financial engine and
keep all of their businesses humming along aren’t offering the Mercury workers
a discount or something from their businesses if they take the deal. (A call
brought this up; Sykes asked if other businesses should be subsidizing another
business. No one came to a conclusion. Par for the course.)

Many of the
callers kept talking about “sticking it to the fat cats” to which Sykes noted
that most of the fat cats will survive. They’ll be on a golf course in
Stillwater. The people you’re sticking it to are your coworkers who want to
work and other people who need you to work so you can buy stuff from their
places of business and keep the economy moving.

What I kept waiting for was the Sykes rant. I was waiting
for the shift to “this is Jim Doyle’s fault as a liberal governor scumbag”
argument so I could turn off the radio. (Even Berkner would have been better…) I
wanted to see the moment he shifted from the “calm guy” recruiter tothis guy.
It didn’t happen. In the 20-minute car ride, this is what I got. The closest he
came was the argument that the union mentality was driving people toward a bad
decision that in the end was going to do more harm than good.

I spent my life in and out of a union family. Dad was in one
and eventually he ended up in management, so he saw both sides of the strikes.
Mom is still in one and sees the good and bad of the process. I’ve never been
able to join as a prof, although the recent budget flips at the state level
will now allow professors at the U to unionize. (It’s unclear how that’s going
to work, or if it will create a pure union shop.)

The question I have, especially for those of you in unions
or those of you who deal with unions is this: What’s wrong with those
arguments? Other than the slippery slope argument in which we go from
concession X to concession 2 times X to we’re moving to Mexico, what am I
missing here? (BTW, I hate slippery slope arguments in general. It’s always
what people break out when they’ve got nothing else. I hear it all the time
about “civil unions.” It’s how we have idiots who would have us believe that if
gay people are allowed to marry, the next thing you know we’ll have guys
banging corpses and farm animals while violating a cross Linda Blair style at
the service counter at Hardee’s.)

What is it that I’m not seeing here?

10 thoughts on “Look for the Union Label

  1. What you are not seeing is that 13 is 65% of 20. That is quite the cut. Do you know any white collar workers who take a 35% pay cut to stay at the same company doing the same job? Do you know anyone who would ask them to?

  2. It’s always a bad time for workers to get concessions from management, isn’t it? The managers have one of three arguments:
    1) Times are tough. You have to take cuts. Look, you could have no job at all, right? So you certainly can’t have a salary increase, oh no.
    2) We’re in a recovery. You can’t have a salary increase. That would threaten the recovery!
    3) Times are booming. But a salary increase now would result in a business slowdown. Sorry, but we just can’t increase wages at this point.
    And on and on. The greedy-wealthy and their enablers make the same arguments about health care reform, or any other social program, by the way.
    Also, it’s not a slippery slope for the people in Fondy. The management has told them: Cave, or we’re going to Oklahoma. Keeping the jobs in America doesn’t mean shit to a destroyed town in Wisconsin.
    You’re right about this: A job at a shitty wage is better than nothing. But, once times improve, you’ll be stuck at that shitty wage. See the classic management arguments above.
    Mercury Marine could afford to stay in Fond du Lac and do right by the people there, but they’re using the bad economy as an excuse to pack up and move to Oklahoma, and thereby increase their profit margin.
    Mercury Marine is owned by the Brunswick Corporation (yes, the bowling ball/pinsetter people), following a 1961 merger. It’s true that they havetaken a bath lately.
    But they make goddamn marine motors. There will always be a demand for marine motors, because water is where the fucking fish live, and fish are fucking tasty. They don’t just provide engines for pleasure craft. They make commercial and government shit, too.
    I just can’t disagree with the union here. If management was shedding jobs, or reducing their packages, then maybe the union could find some room for further concessions. But I’m sick and fucking tired of working people acting like they’re stealing for demanding a decent living.
    I know you said you don’t like slippery slopes, but how many times do we have to see the pattern repeated? Company moves to non-union state. Company moves to Central America. Company moves to East Asia. Fuck, man. It’s the story of the last forty years. Capital is mobile; labor isn’t. Unless and until we make protecting workers a priority, we’ll keep sliding down that goddamn slope.

  3. But I’m sick and fucking tired of working people acting like they’re stealing for demanding a decent living.
    I should have said “I’m sick and fucking tired of some people treating workers as if they’re stealing for demanding a decent living.”
    But it’s Friday, and I’m tired and pissed off. Forgive the poor phrasing.

  4. As a union worker whose union just voted on a contract, I think that the main issue is hope for the future. My union rejected an earlier contract that called for no wage increases for 4 years,(some of the language implied there would never be an increase again), plus changes in work rules and other concessions which would save a profligate management $100,000,000 over the next 4 years. We came within hours of striking when a new contract was agreed to. This was virtually the same as the first contract except that for the 3rd and 4th years of the contract, we have the possibility of wage increases based on saving from one of our major concessions.
    All union workers want is a chance to keep up with inflation and the improving economy. I didn’t see anything in the Mercury Marine contract that offered any hope to those workers. In bad times the workers must make sacrifices. In good times, management keeps all the goodies.

  5. If the pay cut were temporary, and the contract could be renegotiated in a year, the reduction argument would make sense. But everyone reading this knows that once the union agrees to $13/hour, GW Bush will receive his Mensa membership card before it ever gets back up anywhere close to $20/hour. The result of free trade is to turn the U.S. into a paradise of capitalist labor blackmail: take our shitty pay or we’ll just close up shop, and then you’ll have nothing. Hello, corporate feudalism!

  6. Yeah, I have to say I agree with those who think the $7 cut is untenable unless there were something in the contract which would restore wages once the company was in an improved situation.
    The bad economy, imo, is just an excuse to bust union contracts. Sure a lower paying job is better than no job, but to agree to a pay cut so some shithead can keep his bonus is criminal.

  7. Is management cutting their wages by 35%? If not, then it’s bogus. Unless upper echelon earners in that company are dramatically cutting their own wages first, then their just using this as an excuse to go after the union. The fact of the matter is that cutting wages from $20 to $13 an hour moves a family from middle class to lower income. At $13 an hour, people are going to lose their home, and not be able to afford even essentials. How about co-pays on health insurance? How many co-pays can you afford on $13 an hour when you have a family? What about COBRA when someone is laid off?
    Unemployment insurance will probably allow those people to bring the same amount home for a while. I say let ’em go to Oklahoma, if that’s what they want. They’ll have to train new workers, they’ll have the cost of moving and well, they’ll be in sensory-deprived Oklahoma. And the employees you hire at $13 an hour won’t be as good as the ones you hire at $20. If that’s the course the company is on, they’re a dead man walking anyway.

  8. The thing is, in addition to the serious problems caused by a 35% pay cut, making reliable engines is not actually a simple job. I’ve read way too many stories of companies moving operations like this and then finding that it was the hourly people who actually knew how to make the product properly. Market share collapse, layoffs, rinse, repeat, and somehow top management never seems to be the ones losing their jobs.

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