Thursday, May 21, 2009

A flexible labor movement

Jonathan asked me to explain what I mean by the flexible labor movement described in my last blog. For me that means using what ever organizing and bargaining model that is sustainable and leads to an increase in union density

A good example is SEIU 925 who organizes both workers and owners to work in partnership to advocate for high quality child care. SEIU's home care division has broken new ground by creating a new framework for organizing and bargaining for a large number of home care workers who work as sort of independent contractors. Many unions have been successful with regional industry bargaining where the union signs a contract with employers but don't bargain over the contract till a majority of employers sign up. This ensures that employers who are union don't have a competitive disadvantage with nonunion employers.

A bad example might might be the IAM strike last Fall. While the objections of the union to the proposed Boeing contract might be justified, the strike in the midst of a deep recession cost the company billions and may have turned Boeing against Washington state as a location for future expansion.

1 comment:

  1. Citing the September 3rd 2008 IAM strike as a “bad example” of labor flexibility at time we were “in the midst of a deep recession” is revisionist history. Hindsight is great but when 83% of the IAM membership voted against Boeing’s last, best and final contract offer the Dow was over 11,600, there was a brokerage house called Lehman Brothers and a bank called Washington Mutual. Additionally Boeing had over 7 years of backlogged orders, had booked a $13 billion after-tax profit during the previous 3 year contract with the IAM. Yet Boeing wanted to shift 6% more of their healthcare costs onto their workforce and had during these negotiations, proposed eliminating pensions and retiree medical for new hires. The last two proposals would have split the union membership and signaled the eventual destruction for the IAM 751 union. Flexibility should not require negotiating partners to bend over backwards but rather to listen to those sitting across the table. The IAM bears responsible for its actions and as such will continue to look for new and creative ways to strengthen its relationship with Boeing. Boeing is also responsible for these outcomes. But to quote my grandfather, “Now matter how thin you slice it, bologna has two sides.”