Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Blog Home

This blog is now located on JayAndrewAllen.net. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

NEW LOCATION: JayAndrewAllen.net

I'm shutting this space down and moving my writing activities to my Wiki. The Wiki allows me to spend more time crafting (and revising!) individual articles. I'm hoping that this approach to my craft adds up to a more thoughtful, lasting contribution to the world. Time will tell, no?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Union-Busting, Wal-Mart Style

At this crucial juncture in America's history, progressives are working to roll back some of the damage done to unions over the past several decades. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would make it easier for workers to unionize by replacing secret ballot elections with majority sign-up. If a majority of employees sign a declaration of their desire to form a union, their company must immediately recognize their chosen representative. The legislation aims to squash union-busting tactics by employers, who almost always use the interim period prior to the election to intimidate workers and fire organizers.

Who opposes this legislation? Just about every business interest and conservative think tank you can imagine. While the bill enjoys big support in the Democratic-controlled Congress, it obviously won't survive Bush's veto stamp. But what if Obama wins the White House? That nighmare has perennial union-buster Wal-Mart so worried that they're telling their employees not to vote for Barack Obama. They won't admit that's what they're doing - but their employees didn't just fall off the turnip truck:
"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.
Years ago, I would have agreed with this editorial by Harris Miller, who opposed the formation of Washington state technology union WashTech. High tech workers are well paid; if they don't like their job, they can vote with their feet. This Myth of Individual Negotiation is still prevalent in the high tech industry, where high salaries and rapid growth have shielded many of us from the worst effects of declining real wages.

What Miller won't tell you is that, even if employees do foot-vote, they'll find that the basic conditions of their former bosses reign at their new job too. Health care benefits will be compromised in the name of cost-cutting. Flexible work options will be limited in practice. Foreign workers will be exploited to pad the bottom line. Overtime without pay will be mandated. (Many high-tech companies I talked to in my last round of interviewing consider 45 to 50 hours to be a minimal work-week. And these are self-proclaimed "family-friendly" companies!)

Individual employees may be able to negotiate slightly better deals for themselves. But where does that leave their co-workers? Where does that leave other workers in the industry? I may have mine - but why shouldn't you have mine as well? Every working American deserves decent wages, humane treatment, quality health care, and time for family and leisure. These ought to be enshrined as basic rights, not treated as the victory spoils of the privileged. Historically, unions have been a driving force for such univeral change. (How do you think the eight-hour workday became standard?)

Miller's Horatio Alger "bootstrap" philosophy is the cultural cancer that is killing America. It's convinced us that we can "negotiate" with multi-billion-dollar multinational behemoths - a joke in theory, and an obscenity in practice. Business leaders have effectively bought our silence with real wages that decline year after year, and have silenced the rest of the country through union-busting. All this, while the value of their own indefensible bank accounts continues to bloat. The Employee Free Choice Act is a welcome first step in cutting the capitalists down to size, and restoring the power of the individual laborer.