In Memoriam: Homer Cordle

We lost a good person last week. Union leader, community service enthusiast, and Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee Board member Homer Cordle passed away after a battle with cancer. He will truly be missed.

It is difficult to list all of the things Homer did for the community. From coordinating charitable campaigns to generating support for military families, coaching youth sports, and providing assistance through the United Way (and often out of his own pocket), Homer helped countless adults and children in Franklin County. He clearly made a positive difference in peoples’ lives.

I was told once that no one had provided clothing for more children than Homer. For over 20 years, his tireless efforts on behalf of the Charity Newsies campaign helped to raise funds to clothe needy children and provide assistance to their families. He took great pride in being able to ensure no child would need a winter coat or school clothing. He was also instrumental in the One New Toy campaign to be certain children could enjoy Christmas.

Homer received numerous awards for his work, including the Recognition Award for Community Service from the United Labor Leader Council, the John Maloney Award at St. Stephen’s Community House, numerous recognitions for Community Service, along with citations from the American Red Cross for organizing blood drives. He was also named Charity Newsie of the year and received the prestigious George Meany Award from the Central Ohio Labor Council in recognition of his efforts on behalf of workers. He was a member, officer, and International Representative for the United Industrial Workers for over 45 years.

Homer’s community involvement included work with the VFW, AMVETS, the American Legion, membership on the American Red Cross Disaster Services Team, the Central Ohio United Way, and membership on the board of the St. Stephen’s Community House. He spearheaded the giving boxes at Hollywood Casino for United Way.

If you didn’t know Homer, you truly missed out. As a member of the CALMC Board he was always supportive of our work and helped us spread the work to other unions and their members. We will miss his positive nature and good humor, but especially his desire to help others.

 

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Is Free Always Good?

Like most people, I love a good bargain.  Taking part in sales and promotions can really save me some money and, if I learn of something being “free,” that’s even better!  A lot of us really like those cheap prices and freebies but are they benefiting all of us economically?

We have all probably shopped and experienced Wal-Mart and Amazon where we can get the lowest price possible.  As consumers, it’s great, but are we helping fellow workers, or any of us, to increase wages?  The Center For Economic and Policy Research doesn’t think so.  Economist Heather Boushey says the model Wal-Mart has used may have helped temporarily but we all know how Amazon is competing against Wal-Mart and pushing prices even lower.  The problem, Heather Boushey says, is the demand Wal-Mart and Amazon place on their suppliers for the lowest cost only ends up hurting workers.  She says it causes the suppliers to have difficulty paying decent wages and benefits.  In addition, because we love those great bargains Wal-Mart or Amazon, it ends up hurting other retailers like the brick and mortar ones that employ our neighbors and friends and other small-businesses that eventually close because they can’t begin to compete with Wal-Mart and Amazon .  Jobs are lost which hurt not just individuals but the communities in which they reside.

In addition, Heather says there have been stories about Wal-Mart and Amazon employees having to rely on subsidies and our cheap shopping habits are contributing to it.  Even though Wal-Mart has been pressured to increase wages, they still do not begin to pay enough.  In January of this year, Wal-Mart started raising wages to $11 an hour after receiving a tax cut from the recent congressional tax cut measure.  If you look at it from a 40 hour week perspective, that’s a gross amount of $22,800 annually which, according to the 2010 U. S. Census, is poverty level for a family of four.   It’s also unlikely most Wal-Mart employees receive 40 hours because most retail establishments don’t rely on 40-hour weeks.   A Forbes article said, too, it was important to look beyond the raise Wal-Mart provided to entry level employees.  While providing an increase is good, says the author, the $11 an hour is actually way less than what the average hourly rate is today and much less than a comparable $5 an hour wage from 1983 when you add inflation into the mix.  All of this comes from a company that just made $130.9 BILLION in revenue for 2017.  Last week, Amazon warehouse employees in European countries went on strike to protest working conditions.  Fulfillment Center employees in Europe receive about $14 U. S. an hour with Amazon saying they will be raising wages 2.5 to 5.6 per cent.  Please understand that 2.5% they will be raising entry level workers is just 35 cents based on $14.  Last week,  Business Insider, reported Jeff Bezos is worth about $150 Billion.  A far cry from the $14 or $14.35 an hour he is paying individuals working for him.

Low prices and free isn’t just about hurting retail workers.  This week I read about a free service that involves a small local community.  A local landscaper decided he wanted to provide free service to a local park as a gesture of goodwill to his community.  The landscaper said he would provide trimming, mowing and other tasks.  That sounds great on the surface but what happens to the local municipality workers who already perform the job?  They have other parks to take care of but what happens if another landscaper or another volunteer decides to follow suit in another park and then another and so on?  That becomes less and less work which eventually means local municipality workers will no longer be needed.  This is what unions call outsourcing or contracting out. It causes workers to lose their job which is why unions are very sensitive to this type of issue.  Once outsourcing or contracting out is started, it can be very difficult to stop it.  The good paying union jobs that this local community so desperately needs will probably disappear because it’s doubtful the landscaper can pay as well as the local municipality especially when he’s doing free work.

The other problem that’s created from this is what’s called a “trickle-down effect.”  The landscaper as a  small employer can’t pay as much for employees doing the work so that means fewer dollars going into the community’s economy and it also means it comes back to the local government as they don’t have the tax dollars they once had to provide services to citizens.  Eventually it even comes back to the landscaper as residents can’t afford the services he provides or they leave the community for other jobs.  And one other thing, what happens to the park if the landscaper becomes too busy with his paying customers?  I doubt he will ignore them to provide free service to the park.  Does the park then get ignored?

What about other existing landscapers?  Free service puts all of them at a disadvantage if they would ever want to provide services because free is hard to beat.  Not all landscapers can offer free service.

Again, “free” sounds great but we need to think beyond the term and what it means for all of us.  It may be a great way to advertise business but in the landscaper case, he needs to be held accountable and so should the local government officials that made the arrangements for the free service.  There’s also something else that pertains more exclusively to public sector entities and that relates to ethics.  Volunteering by groups from local churches or other non-financial groups is fine.  They usually don’t make a living on their good efforts but when a business is providing free service, it’s a little different.  It can open the door to bribery or kickbacks and that truly is unethical and illegal.  That becomes a very fine line that needs to be considered.

And lastly, here is another example of what happens when we buy “cheap.”  In November of 2012, 112 workers were killed in a horrible fire in Bangladesh.  In April of 2013, less than six months after the fire, another tragedy occurred at a garment maker in Bangladesh.  A building collapsed killing and injuring over 1,000 workers. Bangladesh makes much of the world’s clothing for retailers like Wal-Mart, Gap, H&M, and so on because it can be made so cheaply.  Garment workers in Bangladesh are some of the lowest-paid workers in the world.  Many said Wal-Mart and other retailers should demand better working conditions for those who make the clothes we love to buy at low prices.  Little has been done since those tragedies occurred.  A report from NPR in 2017  said of the 72 apparel companies, only 17 had agreed to help make changes.  As consumers, we can help make that change but we also need to be willing to do it.

As a society, we need to decide what buying “cheap” or receiving “free” means.  Do we want to buy so cheap or accept more freebies that we put people out of work or put employers out of business or enable employers to provide less than safe working conditions?  There’s lots of talk going on now about raising the minimum wage to $15.  Some people complain that if wages start to go up, prices on those cheap products and services we like will go through the roof.  That’s been proven to be false as locations where wages have been raised have not seen large increases.  And if the prices on goods and services would go up would it make that much of a difference to us since prices are so low now?

We can act.  We can encourage vendors who promote “cheap” or “free” to start doing the right thing and we can also stop buying from them.  We also can support local business people by buying from them.  We may pay a little more but we’re also putting money back into our communities and saving jobs.  We also can support unions.  They’re being attacked by those who see them as bad, use propaganda to persuade people they’re evil and are working very hard to make them disappear.  This hurts all us.  It’s time we decide what we want because eventually it will come back to bite us.  Maybe it already has.

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Some Thoughts on Leadership from a Shortstop

Those who have been reading our blog for a while know I like to draw analogies between business situations and baseball. The comparisons are intended to offer different perspectives, even if it seems like they come out of left field.

This week, I want to focus on a presentation made by Derek Jeter, retired shortstop of the New York Yankees and current part-owner of the Florida Marlins. I have great respect for Derek not just for his on-field accomplishments, but for the leadership he displayed both on and off the field. He is also one of the classiest athletes I have ever met. He continues to show his commitment to others through the work of his nonprofit charity, the Turn2Foundation, which helps kids in three different cities stay drug- and alcohol-free.

In his presentation, Jeter mentioned, “A pet peeve of mine are athletes who talk about their injuries before a game to give themselves an excuse.”

We often see this when working with labor-management groups, where members have already decided a cooperative process will fail. Instead of physical injuries, they cite reasons ranging from past issues between labor and management to doubts about the willingness of parties to work cooperatively.

As Jeter mentioned, these are excuses to rationalize the potential failure of a process. It is an attempt to absolve themselves from a negative outcome. It may be because they lack the willingness to put the time and energy into the process or feel the problem is beyond their abilities.

This attitude can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone believes a process will fail they may not provide the initiative necessary for it to succeed. Team members need to believe that while the process in front of them may be difficult, they can trust their abilities to succeed. Making excuses before the process stars offers no help.

Jeter went on to state, “You can’t succeed without experiencing failure.” There is no shame in failure, problems arise when we do not learn from it and use that knowledge to improve our work in the future.

Jeter also said, “Leadership means different things to different people,” but “transparent communications equals trust.”  This is a trait we encourage all leaders, labor and management, to practice. It will help the labor-management team build the trust needed to solve difficult problems.

Jeter’s thoughts are relevant to labor-management relationships and all types of leadership. It is essential the leaders in any process demonstrate these characteristics and are committed to helping the group achieve success.

 

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Employee Involvement, Labor-Management Committees, Labor-Management Cooperation, Worker Voice | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gig Economy May Not Be Good For Workers Or Employers

The gig economy has received a lot of attention within the last few years because of the creation of Uber, Lyft and some of the other technology driven enterprises.  This has raised awareness about workers being misclassified or not being classified as actual employees.  The California Supreme Court recently imposed criteria on businesses to determine whether or not employees should be classified as employees or contractors.  What’s going on with non-employee status?  Is it growing and is it beneficial for both employees and employers?  And what about the misclassification issue?  Is it just Uber and a few other technology organizations that have created misclassification issues?

First of all, media sources have made it seem like this is a brand new style of work.  It isn’t.  Non-employee work status has been around.  There have been many occupations that have had this type of status.   Think about  actors, musicians and other artisans who have worked for themselves for many years.  Barbers and hairdressers, media workers and computer people have also been independent workers.  In fact, just about in any profession you could find independent contractors.  But why is there so much talk about it now?  Is it really gaining in popularity?

The U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says it’s hard to say if non-employee status jobs are growing because there are different types of workers such as contingent or alternative employment arrangements.  Plus, the data isn’t real current to really determine if an increase has occurred. The number of workers classified under either as contingent or alternative employment was less than 10% in 2005 of all the workers BLS counted. So if you’re reading headlines about the huge increases for the gig economy, they probably are not accurate because there is no real way to tell.  There has been somewhat of an uptick of this since the Great Recession as people have had difficulty finding jobs.  That could be the reason for all the talk about it.

National Public Radio did a series on the gig economy.  In one of the episodes, they looked at  workers who had non-employee status.  Workers  told about their experiences with non-employee status.    Many expressed the freedom and flexibility they enjoyed to chose when to work.  Some realized it could be feast or famine as far as the work.  Some were able to work long periods at a time while others were not.  Most of them admitted it wasn’t the best type of work for the long term so they couldn’t afford to buy homes or purchase their own benefits.  A few were doing fairly well as contracted workers.  Some said they had been laid off and it scared them enough they didn’t want to work where that could happen again. There were some, too, who couldn’t find work and working as a non-employee was what they had to do to make a living.

In another show, NPR looked at the gig economy from the employer’s perspective.  One example they cited was a law firm that contracted with legal workers to do repetitive daily tasks so the law firm’s employed staff could work on the larger caseloads.  Employers said contracted workers provide the flexibility when they need it.  In a joint report, Marketplace.org and Business Insider said employers are  rewarded for not having so many employees.  The stock market responds  more positive to lower employee levels.   As they mention in the article, a corporation’s stock will rise if there’s a layoff.  Having fewer employees brings greater profits and shareholder return.  Hiring contract workers helps with that because it reduces the labor costs of employees that can impact the bottom line.  That raises some other financial concerns.

While  independent, contract, alternative employment arrangements and other similar work styles may help the bottom line for employers, it doesn’t always help the worker.  Wages can be much lower.  The law firm from the NPR report paid the contracted workers lower than the employees because of the type of work they were doing.  The workers may have been lawyers but that didn’t determine their pay.   It may have been a way, too, for the law firm to provide higher wages for their employees but, as Brookings Institute pointed out, the lower wages for non-employee staff could have a detrimental effect for all workers because it can  suppress wages especially if the non-employee market grows.  The other issue is workers may receive a flat fee for the work they’re being hired to do and when broken down into an hourly rate, it may be less than minimum wage. It’s important non-employee workers watch the amount of time they provide their services and overtime pay is also not usually included in the flat fee which also reduces the worker’s earning potential.

It’s also not just about wages.  Under current labor laws, non employees may not receive benefits such as unemployment or workers’ compensation.  Health insurance is usually not included either.  The money earned for the work performed by non employees may not be enough for a health insurance policy especially if the amount of work changes. Again, the lack of benefits puts ALL workers in a precarious situation as it sets the precedence for employer benefits of the future and diminishes the leverage workers would have.

Many non employees can also end up with owing back taxes either because they didn’t think about the obligation of paying taxes or forgot about taxes.   This can become a huge financial strain especially if their wages are low and the penalties and interest are included in back tax payments which only increases the amount.

The employers who willfully misclassify workers are looking at savings.  They don’t have to pay benefits or their share of taxes.  In addition, by classifying workers as non-employees, they don’t have to spend time and money managing labor laws and regulations.  The consequences for misclassifying can be huge.  Again, back taxes, interest and penalties can all add up.  It also creates an unnecessary burden on those employers who actually classify their workers correctly.  They may be the ones who have the brunt of paying tax increases because of employers misclassifying workers.  This isn’t to say that all the employers who misclassify their workers are doing it on purpose because it can be a mistake.  But both federal agencies, IRS and Department of Labor, have guidelines to help employers determine non-employees and employees.

While some employers may view non-employees as being more of a savings and allowing greater flexibility, it may not be a good alternative.  Non-employees, depending on the status, may not have to answer to management at the company they are contracted through.  This can cause several problems that can be improper work being performed, not working  when needed, not getting along with others, not being productive and the list can go on.  In other words, those type of problems can eat up the savings of having contracted workers as more time and money is spent to resolve those issues.   Although some would say loyalty is hard to come by now, there still can be some issues when it comes to non-employees.  Contracted employees usually are not as committed and loyal as regular employees which can reduce productivity. There also can be a loss of continuity as non-employees doing a single job can change quickly.  This can cause problems with customer service as the experience and knowledge isn’t available.

As far as workplace flexibility and some of the other reasons to have contact workers, those can be great issues for workers and employers to work on together.  Other alternatives may be identified as both sides can utilize problem solving strategies to help them.  Yes, training may be needed, even a facilitator but it may provide the organization with a much better long-lasting and sustainable solution.

Unions, too, can help non-employee status and misclassification issues. They are great sources for knowledge of labor laws and regulations.  Non-employees can also be good organizing opportunities and that can help with suppressed wages that only hurt everybody.  Actors, writers, and other media people are great examples of how unions have helped them wages and benefits and workplace issues within a non-employee environment.

For some people and some workplaces, contracted working  may work but it’s important both workers and employers really look at the issue before deciding.  We as a society also need to look at what we want and value.  More current labor laws are needed to address issues workers and unions have in addition to those of  workplaces.  We need to address the value of shareholder return over workers.  Why are companies rewarded for fewer employees?  Why should they be rewarded for laying people off?  Is shareholder gain so much more important than the lives of everyday people?  All of these things need to be considered as we look at how we work.

In a Harvard Business Review article, a former U. S. Labor Department  official writes of his concern about a possible trend on non-employee status.  He says it could hurt the overall economy as income inequality broadens and wages continue to be suppressed.  In addition, employers, he says, should not shirk their responsibilities as employers.  If they do, other problems will follow.  Is that what we value?  Is that what we want?

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What is Behind Wage Stagnation?

Last time, we wrote about the positive impact on wages created by unions, even for non-union workers. This time, we will look at a less positive trend involving earnings.

We will start with some good news. In Ohio, as in many areas, we have reached a point where the number of available jobs exceeds the number of job seekers. This is obviously good news for job seekers and is typically bad news for employers.

Traditionally, when employers have difficulty finding new employees, wages tend to increase. It is a basic example of supply and demand. Unfortunately, this is where the bad news for workers comes in.

According to the Paychex/IHS Market Small Business Employment Watch, hourly earnings growth in June fell to a gain of 2.47%, the first time it has been below 2.5% since early 2016. Both values are below the 3% economic growth goal of the administration.

Why are workers lagging behind economic growth? Studies point to a reduced interest on the part of workers to move to a different area where jobs are more plentiful, declines in productivity in some jobs, and the people no longer looking for work. The biggest single factor they list is the decline in unionization of the workforce which limits the power to bargain for higher earnings.

One thing that is clear is employers cannot blame weak profits for stagnant wages. A study by Yardeni Research reveals operating and reported margins have doubled since 1994, at least for the S&P 500 companies. A report from Harvard Business Review states total wages account for 57% of total revenue today compared to 65% in 1975. While the US economy has expanded over the past decades, the portion earmarked for workers has declined.

It appears often the reason for wage stagnation is the refusal of some employers to pay more. Without a driving force for higher wages such as a bargaining unit, this trend is likely to continue or even worsen. Keep this in mind when considering the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision on union dues which certainly has the potential to damage unions and workers.

There is one group appears to be winning: CEO’s. CNBC reports the compensation for top executives at the 350 largest US corporations has skyrocketed, with the average CEO in 1978 earning 30 times the salary of a typical worker versus a hair-raising 271 times today.

The stagnation of wages has many impacts on the workforce, including difficulty in meeting basic needs. The National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio reports only 2 of the 10 most common jobs in Ohio pay enough for a worker to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

They reported the hourly wage a renter needs to earn to pay for a basic, two-bedroom unit is currently $15.25. The coalitions said the average Ohio renter earns $13.32 an hour, nearly $2 less than needed. Only registered nurses ($30.59) and customer-service representatives ($15.34) had median hourly wages that topped the amount needed for housing.

We wish the news was better for workers this week. We hope the need to work together cooperatively to address issues, including wages and productivity will continue to be recognized.

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For Organizations To Be Successful, They Need to Help Employees Be Successful

In Bloomberg this week they wrote about Amazon’s plan, Pivot, to help with employee performance.  Pivot is to help employees placed on PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) and also help them remain as Amazon employees.   Apparently, PIP did little to help improve performance or maintain employment at Amazon.  Amazon admits they probably weren’t using PIP as they should have and stories from employees placed on the internet validate it.  In his 1997 shareholder letter, Jeff Bezos warned the Amazon workplace could be difficult and that appears to be true, also.

Performance improvement plans are used by a lot of different workplaces.  They can be a good tool to help resolve misunderstandings and correct behavior.  The problem is some use them in a negative way and that appears to be what happened at Amazon.   The stories from employees are fairly consistent .   Employees tell the improvement plans have happened too often and are used whether an employee is performing well or not.  Some employees also say it’s a way for Amazon to terminate employees and that created the need for executives to develop Pivot.

While most managers dislike situations escalating to a performance plan, it can sometimes be absolutely necessary and many times they can provide a remedy to a difficult situation.  The problem can be it can cause resentment from the employee but it also depends on why the plan is needed, how it is done and how it will be used.  When performance plans are done correctly, it requires some work and follow-thru not just on the employee’s part but also on the supervisor, too.  The purpose behind any performance plan should be to help the employee succeed and that’s also why regular meetings need to be held while the performance plan is in place.  Both the employee and supervisor should meet together to develop a plan both think will work.  Any goals established should be realistic and obtainable.  It also provides the employee with an opportunity to have some feedback so they know whether they are doing something right or an adjustment is needed. It did not appear Amazon supervisors were applying PIP effectively.

Amazon added Pivot to give another dimension to performance plans.  Executives said employees needed to be able to respond to the issues being raised when being placed on a performance plan.  In addition, executives realized employees also needed the chance to maintain their employment since so many appeared to fail.  That sounds like a great approach but, unfortunately, especially for employees, it hasn’t always worked out.   As with the PIP process, there have been issues with Pivot, too, as both Bloomberg and Business Insider articles point out.  Both articles describe the process.  When an employee receives a performance improvement plan under Pivot, they have three choices they can make.  They can quit and obtain their severance pay or they can work on some performance goals set by their manager or they can meet with a panel of their peers and tell their side of the story and the manager will give their argument.  A fourth person, called a career ambassador, helps the peer panel with their decision and later informs the employee of that decision.  The career ambassador is someone experienced in team and employee matters according to the job openings on Amazon and other job placement sites.

Again, the idea of allowing employees to respond to their performance improvement plan is important and should be part of any improvement plan such as with Pivot.  Even though employees may show resentment, supervisors need to allow and listen to the concerns and issues the employee raises.  There may be some reasonable counter arguments by employees that need to be taken into consideration.  A good supervisor will do that and it can provide some help with the plan development.  It also may be best to meet a day or two after the plan has been given to allow the employee to think about what happened, maybe to help eliminate some raw feelings and work on a rebuttal.  It’s critical for supervisors not to wait too long from giving the performance plan because the behavior or issue needs to be addressed and it also is important to give the employee the time to work on improving the situation.  This will allow the employee time to succeed.

The problem though with Pivot is it didn’t really make any improvements for employees or the performance plan process.  It has been a band aid for the old process, PIP, and  is one plan on top of another that has its own set of issues.  For instance, the panel is supposed to listen to both sides of the story, from the manager and from the employee.  They are then, with the guidance of the career ambassador, supposed to make a decision just like a jury.   The panel members don’t know the employee and may not know the job the employee has done but can represent the employee. Even though they may represent the employee, it doesn’t mean they will decide in the employee’s favor, which apparently happened frequently.  It also doesn’t mean the decision reached will actually result in an effective process that will lead to clear expectations or change of behavior.   Another issue with Pivot is having peers decide the fate of a fellow employee is never a good idea because it can cause division, resentment and trust issues among employees which create a bad workplace environment.  The culture becomes “us versus them.”  In addition, it puts a burden on the employees on the panel of having to decide what happens to a fellow employee, and they, in turn, may be concerned about their own fate if in the same position.

Pivot is also a bad communication tool between everyone.  When meeting with an employee to put them on a performance plan, it should be done in private without interruptions.  There was no guarantee of privacy on at least two of the three choices.  Having peers involved is not a good idea because it’s uncertain if they will keep the matter confidential.  For most employees this can be an embarrassing situation and shows lack of respect for them.

In addition, video conferencing was used with the panel choice and that’s not a good way to resolve serious issues such as performance.  No reason was given why video conferencing was used but meetings regarding performance should always be face-to-face situations.  It demonstrates the seriousness and concern of the problem.  It also helps to convey the sincerity of trying to resolve the issue, too, and can be a way to show a supervisor wants to help the employee succeed. Plus, there’s less of a chance of miscommunication problems. There are too many occurrences of technology breaking down which reduces the ability of everyone to actually listen and comprehend during the session.  It also can mean important information could be left out.

There are other issues with Amazon’s performance plans but both plans show a much bigger underlying problem that occurs within Amazon culture and some other companies as well.  That issue is the lack of understanding of the important role employees play in the success of the organization and why it’s necessary to help them succeed, too.  It helps to establish the culture of an organization which can determine the fate of the organization.  There have been stories of Jeff Bezos throwing out insults or criticizing employees.  It’s not an example of good leadership and it doesn’t help the culture as that behavior will trickle down to others.   This is not a critique of Jeff Bezos because he’s not alone.  There are plenty of CEOs out there that exhibit similar behavior but it only hurts the organization.  It may be okay for a short period of time but it will eventually drag the organization down if that continues. If an organization wants to be a success for both the short term and the long term, then they need to help employees be successful, too.

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Even in the South, the Benefits of Unions for All Workers is Recognized.

When I read newspapers from my home in South Carolina, rarely do I look for articles about the benefits of unions. After all, the state has one of the lowest levels of unionized workers in the country. Most employers and elected leaders actively oppose unions. This probably contributes to the low ranking of employee earnings (45th among the states) and higher than average occurrence of workplace injuries (44th).

One of the employers actively opposing unions has been Boeing. Employees at their North Charleston facility make less than their unionized colleagues in the company’s facilities in the northwest. Whenever union representation elections have occurred, strong anti-union campaigns have contributed to the union being rejected.

You can imagine my surprise when a recent article in the Charleston Post and Courier reported the results of a recent representation election, which was won by a union, could benefit all workers at the North Charleston plant.

A small unit of flight-line workers voted 104 to 65 to be represented in collective bargaining by the International Association of Machinists. As the article pointed out, “Employers typically raise wages and benefits for all workers – not just those covered by union contracts – whenever a labor union is successful in organizing part, but not all, of a business.

“Whatever the union contract provides, employers will typically extend that to non-union workers in order to avoid further unionization.” They noted when a union has a strong workplace presence, the average pay of non-union workers is 5 percent higher.

These increases also tend to spread to other area employers who must compete for workers from the same labor pool. Even though they may not be union members, they will benefit from the presence of the local at Boeing.

Do not expect workers to receive these increases anytime soon. The company has already promised to challenge the results, contending the composition of the unit is prohibited by federal law. This will undoubtedly make its way through the NLRB and into the courts before it is resolved. In the meantime, Boeing could delay the start of negotiations with the IAM until after the appeal is decided. Since initial contracts for a new unit take longer than other agreements, a long process lies ahead.

CALMC encourages both Boeing and the IAM to begin their relationship by pledging to avoid traditional labor-management behaviors. If the parties agree to work cooperatively, they will have the opportunity to build by working together, not against each other. The outcome would benefit both parties.

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In a couple of weeks, we plan to explore the issue of the impact a shrinking pool of candidates is having on worker earnings. The result may not be what you think for most workers.

In the meantime, check out our first Podcast. You can listen by clicking the On-Demand tab on our website and selecting Podcasts.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Conflict Resolution, Right to Organize, Workplace Health and Safety | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Time To Start Working Together

I ran across a U. S. Chamber of Commerce report on worker centers in America.  The Chamber appears to be worried worker centers are increasing and they look at them as  comparable to a union, which they are not, or a way to organize workers against an employer or group of employers in a particular industry.

In their report, the U. S. Chamber admits there is a key difference between worker centers and labor unions.  That difference is worker centers do not negotiate labor contracts.  Labor unions may help worker centers because they have expertise in helping all workers with workplace issues and they also know how to campaign and raise awareness for social causes.  Some worker centers have affiliated with a union but not all of them do that.

According to their website, the Chamber sites labor as one of their issues.  They say many positive things about U. S. labor but they also say they want to keep wages at current levels instead of narrowing the wage gap.  In fact if you do a search on their website about income inequality, the Chamber will lay blame on many other issues instead of CEOs receiving enormous pay increases from their boards.  But according to Forbes magazine,  income inequality is directly related to those pay increases.  CEOs and business owners,  the people the Chamber represents, make 270 times more than the average worker according to the Forbes article and they also say CEO pay has increased 930% since 1978.

In addition, the U. S. Chamber is fighting safe working conditions.  They argue against      U. S. Department of Labor regulations that would require federal contractors to disclose violations in regards to regulations.  The Chamber feels this imposes a hardship on companies because it costs them more and takes more time to report any problems. On the other hand, Liberty Insurance says they will identify on a regular basis the top 10 most common non-fatal injuries and accidents to encourage and help U. S. employers have safer working conditions.  They say the $50 billion cost to employers for those injuries and accidents obviously impacts their ability to be profitable.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of fatal accidents that occurred in workplaces during 2016 increased by 7% from the year before.  In other words, over 5,000 worker deaths happened that didn’t need to happen.  That may explain why tighter regulations are necessary.

One community in Colorado started a worker center because there were so many day workers staying in homeless shelters.  The center was started to help workers understand their rights and to help them find a job with a livable wage instead of relying on others or public assistance for support.  Another worker center in Florida helped tomato pickers have safer working conditions.  Many of the workers were working in extremely hot working conditions and were not permitted to take breaks.  The worker center helped them change work rules so that they now take regular breaks under shade.  I think most people would agree safe working conditions including heat related protections are absolutely necessary.

In 2006, Cornell University under their Industrial Labor Relations department wrote a report on worker centers.  Worker Centers:  Organizing Communities at the Edge of a Dream by Janice Fine tells about the benefits worker centers provide not just for workers but for communities and employers. In addition to helping workers find jobs with livable wages, they also help those who are having problems finding assistance in an already convoluted system.  Some centers also provide legal assistance for possible wage theft issues.  Centers can also be an organizing location for campaigns or drives to raise awareness on certain social issues.  This  helps to teach workers  leadership skills which can aid an employer. Some worker centers help with safety training which can help prevent accidents and injuries from occurring. Workers can also learn  English which also helps employers as they show new workers what’s expected of them.

The AFL-CIO supports worker centers because they help ALL workers.  They joined with  several non-profit organizations including the Ford Foundation to provide grants for worker centers.  On their website, the AFL-CIO says workers who are not represented by collective bargaining rights may need other types of assistance.  They also list the 17 worker centers they help.  Unions would be wise to continue to provide assistance to worker centers.  It demonstrates their commitment to helping all workers and to social justice issues.  It also provides a positive image and can help build relationships with workers who are not currently organized but may seek assistance in the future and this is why the Chamber is uncomfortable about worker centers.

The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives lists over 3,000 affiliations across the U. S.  The UCLA Labor Center report lists 250 worker centers across the U. S. so why are worker centers really a threat?  Does the Chamber see them as a threat because they found out in their research other organizations see a benefit in worker centers?   The Chamber lists many different organizations in their report who are providing financial support in addition to the support unions are also providing.  And let’s not forget the Pew Research poll of how Americans view unions and corporations.  Not all Americans are as happy with corporations as they are unions.  Abothree-fourths of the young adults polled  favored unions over corporations.  It’s time the Chamber and corporations start providing a more favorable impression.

Instead of complaining about worker centers and unions, why not  collaborate with them and also get some benefit.  Some of the ways worker centers and  employers could collaborate have already been identified but it also would allow employers  to show a positive image, too, as they provide good community support.  Some employers complain about training costs.  Maybe by partnering with a union or worker center employers could lower their training costs and at the same time allow their distinct needs to be met.    Some  worker centers have already formed alliances with employers to help them find new employees.  Training would actually go a step further.

So, again, why is it so necessary for the U. S. Chamber to worry about the number of worker centers or labor union memberships?  Why is it so important  to eliminate worker centers and unions?  There are so many other ways chambers, unions and worker centers could all partner to save costs, provide expertise and create competitive workplaces but it starts by one side not looking at the other two sides as the enemy.  In other words, why can’t we just get along?  Why does everything have to be a fight?  Think how much could actually happen if we all just work together.  Enough is enough!

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Saluting a Champion for Labor-Management Cooperation

This month marks the retirement of Walt Workman, Executive Director of the Central Ohio Labor Council, AFL-CIO. After 53 years in the labor movement and 20 years as Director of the CLC, Walt will be moving on.

Walt (L) listens to the presentation at a CALMC Membership meeting

As CLC Director, Walt also served as Labor Co-Chair of the Columbus Area Labor-Management Board of Trustees. I first met Walt following his election and was immediately struck by his commitment to labor and management working together. He related stories of his time working with the United Food and Commercial Workers union where the two sides had been at odds over issues in a food manufacturing facility. By winn

Walt Workman checks his shot at a CALMC Golf Outing

ing the support of upper management, a joint problem-solving process replaced traditional behaviors and piles of grievances as both sides strived to find lasting solutions to problems in the facility.

Walt Workman (second from the left) discusses details with CLC President Theo James at the Worker Memorial Park ceremony this May.

As leader of the CLC, Walt helped unions do the best possible job of representing their members, promoted labor in the community, worked with local leaders and politicians to promote issues that impact workers. He is widely respected by political leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Walt as honored this week at the annual CLC Golf Outing. Among the gifts he received was a quilt/tapestry depicting an American flag. On the white stripes were the logos of the various unions that make up the Central Labor Council.

The tapestry presented to Walt at the AFL-CIO Golf Outing this week. The white stripes are logos of CLC member union locals. Photo Courtesy of Judge Eileen Paley.

Walt was a strong supporter and an advocate for CALMC. His efforts to win the support of local leaders for CALMC has been instrumental to our continuing our work. Over the last 20 years, he has been my valued colleague, supporter, and friend. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and everyone at CALMC, we will truly miss him.

Walt’s successor at the Central Labor Council is Mark Fluharty. Mark, who is also a veteran labor leader, will serve as Labor Co-Chair of our Board. We are looking forward to working with Mark to continue to build opportunities for employee engagement.

Thanks, Walt! We’ll see you on the golf course.

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Jobs and Communities Are Not Disposable!

Like many other small communities across the United States, a community in southern Ohio will be devastated when their largest workplaces with good paying jobs are closing.  Two coal-burning power plants are being closed because the cost of both coal-burning and nuclear plants have become too expensive  thanks to low natural gas prices and alternative energy sources.  In addition, EPA issued strong guidelines for clean energy which resulted in an agreement reached with environmental groups. More communities in Ohio and other states with power plants face a similar fate as many of these types of energy producing plants are becoming obsolete.   The sad part with this closure, as in many small communities like Adams County, Ohio, has very little industry which means the  impact to the community will be huge.

Whether it’s power plants or manufacturing plants closing or other jobs lost, communities have to make adjustments.  Depending on the size of layoff or closure, it can be a big adjustment especially for smaller communities.  In Adams County, local government officials are slashing budgets.  Residents’ safety is at risk because the sheriff’s department is already spread too thin for the sprawling territory they have to monitor.  The school system, too, is concerned how children will receive their education as the tax base the power plants provided helped with school funding.  And then there’s the trickle-down effect as car dealerships furniture stores, and restaurants have to prepare for lower sales and that also can mean more layoffs or no hiring.

Every day a worker or community goes through this.  While the economy appears to be doing fairly well in some places, the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of mass layoffs that continue to occur.  March had  the lowest number of mass layoffs in the last year but that make it good.  There were 1,564 layoffs during the month.  That means over 1,000 people lost their job.  Imagine the affect if that was in one community.  Half of that number will be the amount for the layoffs in Adams County, and, if you take the average of the first three months of the year and multiply by 12, that’s 20,000 jobs impacted.  These numbers are for mass layoffs.  The number of layoffs grows when you add in smaller layoffs.

It’s been said we have become a disposable society and it seems like jobs are a part of that.  Every day people have to be prepared for the worst.  Closing plants and layoffs have become a way of life.  That secure, economic well-being that we all want and crave isn’t always there.  Our lives, homes and communities can be transformed as quickly as day and night.  Just like the people in Adams County, workers and their families have to make decisions, and sometimes motivated by fear and anguish, as to whether to stay or move.

Both local leadership and the union that represented the  workers at the power plants, Utility Workers of America, tried to obtain assistance.  They looked for a buyer, talked to politicians, even came up with an alternative plan but nothing happened.  The only response workers received was to look for jobs elsewhere and move.

All the people wanted was to maintain their livelihoods in a place they called home but everybody turned their backs on them and Adams County.  Some families moved even though selling their homes was going to be difficult because of the surplus of homes on the market.  One family did try to relocate to the state of Washington but they returned within a year because they were homesick and missed family members.  But did any of this need to happen?

In 2014, EPA held an energy hearing about the need for clean energy which really was the impetus for the shutdown of coal and nuclear power plants.  Many voiced concerns, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW.   They questioned the reports from EPA on emission problems with coal and nuclear energy, how electrical demands would be met especially during the winter time, and they also mentioned other countries being contributors to air quality problems. They warned 400,000 jobs would be impacted as the transition would occur and there wouldn’t be enough time to make the transition to avoid the loss of jobs.  There simply wasn’t enough planning time.

That hearing was four years ago.  Nothing, or very little, was done to  plan for the job loss.  Instead of preparing for the power-plant shutdowns, other energy job creating possibilities were shut down.  In May of 2014, the Ohio legislature put a two-year moratorium on the growing alternative energy field.  Governor John Kasich, who now touts the need for alternative energy as he gears up for a presidential run in 2020, signed the bill the next month that killed an industry that was to produce more than 30,000 jobs in Ohio by 2025.  There is nothing to guarantee those jobs would have gone to Adams County but it may have been a possibility as the transition for the closure of the power plants.

Everybody loves to talk about jobs, especially jobs that are created but what about the number of jobs that are lost and the response when people cry out for help?  Training for workers in transition is always the usual response but what does somebody do until they’re trained?  It can sometimes take up to two years.  Unemployment insurance barely covers average expenses and it’s humiliating for most people to rely on public assistance.  Training is okay but in the end, will it replace a good-paying job with another good paying job?  Had those alternative energy jobs been available at the power plans, there would have been little break in service time and the community, too, would be have been able to plan as well.

The Center for American Progress also recognizes the need for alternatives to happen when workers and communities are faced with closures or layoffs.  In their plan, A Blueprint For the 21st Century, they recognize the economic differences in different areas of the country and acknowledge some communities need assistance quicker than others with jobs.  They propose a guaranteed jobs program that would be tailored more to the community and area instead of a “one size fits all” approach.  Communities could apply for assistance but certain criteria would also have to be included.  This would allow not just training but a job that can help keep people working.   By creating these jobs it may help to keep younger people in communities.  That sense of community and rural life appeals to many young people.   Having employment opportunities for young people helps communities grow and sustain themselves for the future.

It’s time for ordinary people and their jobs to be put first instead of coming behind the needs of  corporations, governments and special interest groups. Lives are not and should not be disposable.   What’s wrong with wanting to live in the community you grew up in and knowing the people that have grown up with you?  As one of the power plant workers said it was great to know he could send his child to the concession stand at a game where his friends were working because he knew they would take care of his child or that it was nice to be able to call a family member when last-minute assistance was needed.

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