John Logan is professor and director of labor studies at San Francisco State University. Between 2000-2008, he was an assistant and associate professor of management at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Now that a second BART strike is upon us, let’s be clear about one thing: this strike is absolutely unnecessary and could easily have been prevented. In the final days of negotiations, the unions had accepted management’s demands for higher employee healthcare contributions. They had already agreed to a pension deal that was favorable to management. They had in place a framework for a deal on pay that was acceptable to both sides and which represented a further reduction – after several significant reductions in the previous two weeks – in the unions’ wage proposals. And contrary to what has been reported in the media, the unions had made important concessions on work rules and were prepared to submit the few remaining of disagreement to expedited voluntary arbitration.
The sixty-day cooling off period in the BART dispute has resulted in a temporary break in contract negotiations – we don’t yet know when the parties will meet again – but it is less likely to end BART management’s relentless P.R. campaign against its own employees.
If one believes BART management’s media campaign, the problem at the heart of the contract dispute is straightforward: its employees are overpaid, greedy, strike happy, inflexible, uneducated, and unworthy of middle-class wages and benefits.
The truth is considerably more complicated. BART employees do not relish strikes. Unlike BART management, they are not paid during strikes. Contrary to the claims of management, they are not the highest paid transit workers in the country – transit workers in several other jurisdictions are better compensated, even though the Bay Area is one of the most expensive areas of the country in which to live
For several weeks now, BART management has mounted a sophisticated PR campaign, stating that its workers are overpaid and unreasonable. But its evidence on employee pay and benefits has been misleading at best; its estimates of average pay include many highly paid managers, thus exaggerating significantly the pay of frontline employees. Likewise, management’s statements on employee contributions to health benefits have failed to account for the significant out-of-pocket expenses incurred by many BART employees.
Denigrating your workers in the media may be a winning strategy in the battle for public opinion, but it’s a foolhardy one for senior management running an organization whose success depends so heavily on employee commitment and flexibility.
For several weeks, BART management has run a sophisticated media campaign telling the public that the lack of real progress in negotiations is solely the fault of the unions' unreasonable and uncompromising economic demands.
When it comes to wages and benefits, however, management has presented a highly misleading picture: it has failed to mention the enormous concessions that BART workers accepted in 2009 at the depth of the economic recession. BART President Thomas Blalock stated that he was “extremely pleased” with that cost-cutting agreement. BART employees were much less pleased, of course, but they recognized the need for significant sacrifice in the dismal economy.
Under the guidance of their highly paid, out-of-state chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, BART management is misrepresenting key economic and safety issues.
Last week, non-union Wal-Mart employees began the first “prolonged” strike in the 50-year history of the nation’s largest employer. Last October and November, Wal-Mart employees across the country participated in a series of one-day strikes and walkouts against the company in support of a minimum $13 per hour wage, more predictable scheduling and an end to management retaliation against employees who speak up at work.
Wal-Mart has grown accustomed to isolated protests in the past, but has always believed that they would quickly die out, given workers’ understandable fear of management retaliation. But this time it may be different.
On Tuesday, Michigan became the nation's 24th state, and the most unionized state, to enact right-to-work legislation. Thousand of protesters failed to dissuade Republican governor Rick Snyder from signing a law that will likely weaken unions and lower wages, but do nothing to help the state's economy. Along with anti-union legislation in other Midwestern States, however, it could transform the national political landscape.
For the past two years, the Governor had publicly stated that “divisive” right-to-work legislation was “not on his agenda.” Then, at the last minute, he endorsed the bill because it would protect “worker choice” on union membership and help to grow the Michigan economy – both highly questionable claims.
So the day of action at Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has passed at least for the time being. And it turned out to be much larger than the company's executives in Bentonville had predicted or care to admit.
Thousands of Wal-Mart workers and their allies protested for better wages, affordable healthcare benefits, full-time jobs and an end to management retaliation for speaking out in at least 100 cities, including in Dallas and Lancaster, Texas, Miami and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and several other locations not know for their activism. Although the final tally will not be clear for some time, “open-source” actions of some kind took place at Wal-Mart stores in 46 different states across the nation, with major demonstrations in California, Washington, New York and Massachusetts.
The past 15 months have seen a remarkable assault by the GOP on federal labor rights.
Republicans have introduced numerous bills designed to undermine the National Labor Relations Act, all with wonderfully deceptive names suggesting they would strengthen the rights of ordinary workers: Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, Employee Rights Act, Jobs Protection Act, Employee Workplace Freedom Act, Secret Ballot Protection Act, National Right to Work Act, Truth in Employment Act, National Labor Relations Reorganization Act, and others.
Starting in early 2011, the GOP has launched an all-out attack on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) the likes of which has not been seen in six decades. In the latest development, Hill Republicans are promoting a bill — the ludicrously misnamed Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (WDFA) — the culmination of several months of sustained GOP attacks on the NLRB.
Since June, Republican proposals have included the following: slashing the agency’s funding, preventing new appointments when it is reduced to two members (out of five) at the end of the year, subpoenaing all documents related to the controversial Boeing complaint and interviewing career NLRB employees about the case, undoing a NLRB decision allowing “micro bargaining units” and another on voluntary recognition agreements between employers and unions, diminishing its already weak remedial powers to combat illegal relocations and outsourcing, reversing a new rule on notice posting to inform employees of their workplace rights, blocking a proposed new rule to streamline the current antiquated union certification process — Republicans believe in streamlining the voting period for presidential elections but not for union elections — and, most boldly, abolishing the agency and dividing its powers between the Labor and Justice Departments.
These are strange times in U.S. labor relations, and they are getting stranger by day. The past two weeks have seen several important developments in the bizarre on-going saga between the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and Boeing, which has become a cause célèbre for conservative politicians and pundits, even forming part of the discussion during the New Hampshire Republican presidential debate, with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich calling for abolition of the labor board.
So what happened?
First, after more than a year of construction, Boeing opened its new billion dollar facility in North Charleston, South Carolina, which will act as a final assembly plant for the 787 Dreamliner, widely considered the future of commercial aviation. Then, NLRB started its administrative law judge hearing that will decide the fate of the complaint issued by the acting general counsel, which accuses Boeing of breaking the law by moving work from a unionized plant to a non-union plant.