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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Is Today's Out-of Touch Labor Movement Committing Suicide?

The Hostess Story is not unique. In the case of Hostess it was the baker's union which went on strike despite the wishes of many of its members and despite the fact the company was already in bankruptcy. In the end Hostess liquidated and the bakers along with everyone else who worked for the company joined the ranks of the unemployed.

Little by little, union members are losing faith in their leadership which in many cases care more for their personal political goals than the long-term needs of the workers.   This is now a global market and American workers are competing (and losing jobs to) those overseas.

The biggest lost of jobs is in the manufacturing sector which has lost 4.7 million positions and one third of its union members since 2001. Numbers which would be even larger if president Obama didn't allow the UAW to "steal the investor's share" of GM and Chrysler as part of the auto bail outs. Overall, private-sector union membership stands at just 6.9 percent nationally and 10.6 percent in Illinois.

As organized labor loses leverage in a race-to-the-bottom global market, some workers are becoming so disillusioned by what their unions can, or rather can't, do for them that they want out. The disaffected include dozens of machinists at Caterpillar Inc.'s plant in Joliet, Illinois, who crossed the picket line during a strike last summer and are planning unfair labor practices complaints against the union.

"Unions lack sufficient power to get their way," says Mike Zimmer, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago. "It is a period of concession bargaining."

Many rank-and-file employees have opposed unions all along, of course. Despite organizing drives, workers have turned down collective bargaining at automobile plants across the South. Legislatures in 23 states have enacted "right-to-work" laws that allow employees to opt out of dues-paying membership at union shops; Indiana joined this camp early this year.
Even union-friendly state governments are losing their patience with their friends in the labor moment, and rank and file members are beginning to challenge their union bosses.
In Kansas City, Missouri, a Honeywell Inc. employee filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board this year against an International Association of Machinists local for imposing a $7,361.36 fine for working during a strike, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an organization backed by businesspeople and individuals who oppose labor contracts mandating membership. In Los Angeles, three employees at a Boeing Co. plant brought complaints against the United Auto Workers in 2010 after it tried to discipline them for refusing to give up their jobs during a strike. The three claimed to have resigned from the union before the walkout.

Similar charges have been filed and settled in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and Connecticut, with unions including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Steelworkers of America named in complaints.

In Illinois, the latest intra-union conflict—and potentially the biggest yet—is in Joliet. Last May, after contract negotiations stalled, nearly 800 IAM-represented employees walked off the job at Caterpillar's hydraulic-parts factory. After a few weeks, more than 100 returned to work, fed up over the lack of progress in the talks and pinched by the union's $150-a-week strike pay, some workers say.
When an agreement was reached in mid-August, the contract provided less than the one before it: The IAM gave in to an hourly pay freeze for veteran employees, an end to pensions, a doubling of health care premiums and a one-time ratification bonus of $3,100 instead of $5,000 under the previously proposed pact. The terms were almost identical to a Cat contract ratified by the UAW a year earlier.
But rather than blame company management for the give-backs...people are blaming their unions who they say are living in their own world, void of any current knowledge or understanding that their power just isn't what it used to be.
"They are not effective," says Steven Olson, 54, a former IAM member who crossed the picket line last summer. "With high unemployment and companies willing to relocate, you just don't have the options that you did 30 years ago. The whole world has changed."

This month, Olson and another Caterpillar worker filed an unfair labor practices charge against the union local with the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, saying it's illegal to punish them for returning to work. Mark Mix, president of the foundation, says 61 other Caterpillar workers who also crossed the picket line have called the organization looking to lodge similar complaints. "I suspect we will have some more charges here shortly," he says.
Labor expert expect this type of "revolt" to happen more often as workers are now competing in a world-wide labor market. 
"The longer workers are on strike and the harder the economic conditions are, you're going to have some dissentions and some defectors," says Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Workers in each country are really now competing with workers all around the world," Loyola's Zimmer says.
Even the number of right to work states are expanding.  The latest battle ground believe it or not is Michigan where the Chamber of Commerce and the GOP-controlled legislature will attempt to pass a right to work bill before the end of the year.

According to the Detroit News:
GOP lawmakers are said to be lining up votes to possibly introduce a right-to-work bill as early as today and quickly pass it before the Legislature's lame-duck session ends Dec. 20.

The chamber is pushing for the legislation in response to Indiana becoming a right-to-work state in February and Michigan voters' defeat last month of the union-backed Proposal 2. The ballot issue aimed to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution to block a right-to-work law.

A recent survey of Michigan Chamber of Commerce members found 85 percent support the legislation, Holcomb said.

"It should be up to each employee to determine whether they want to financially support a union," he said.
...Political activities of unions are supposed to be funded by the difference between agency fees and full union dues, but some union members are not so sure that's the case.

Bowman said the proposal seeks to make union leaders accountable to members for their political activities.

"What does that say about your organization if the only way you can be effective is by forcing people to support you?" said Bowman, who works at Ford's Rawsonville parts plant in Ypsilanti Township.
 This is a whole new world. Corporations have learned change to compete in today's marketplace (the ones who haven't no longer exist).  Labor better lean to change also, to concentrate on their members instead of politics and to understand the global labor market, because if they don't their rank and file will be unemployed. 

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