Personal Experiences With Labor Unions Here In The U.S. Both Good And Bad

 

 

A couple of days ago I read an article from another Blogger concerning his experiences with Labor Unions, it was his article that gave me the idea to write this article to you today. The Author’s name is Dan Antion and you can find his article on his site at http://nofacilities.wordpress.com/

 

I was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia back in the mid 1950’s, this was an area where there simply were no Union jobs. All of the jobs in the area all paid what ever the Federal National minimum wage happened to be at the time. None of the factories, silk mills or saw mills paid anything to their employees that was not mandated by law. Besides the people being paid the minimum wage there were no benefits at all for the employees, no health insurance, not dental or vision insurance, no paid holidays, no vacations or vacation pay, no overtime pay when you had work on a holiday, unless in doing so put you over the 40 work week. Another big thing was there was no job security at all, you could have been at a job for 20 years and the foreman or “Boss Man” as most were called could come into work one morning in a bad mood and fire you for any reason, or no reason at all and there was nothing at all that you could do about it. Needless to say my Mom and Dad whom were both factory workers were in favor of Unions but it was something that they had to keep quiet because you would definitely get fired if the Bosses ever even thought you were talking pro-union even if you were not at work when they heard that you were condoning the concept of a Union. The reasons are pretty simple, if the Company was forced to have a Union then the bosses would have to have a real reason to fire you or to suspend you. The company would be forced to pay much higher wages and be required to pay for benefits like vacation pay, health insurance, paid sick leave. To me I believe that there are two main financial reasons for a company to treat their employees this way. One is pure greed from the ownership stand point. If you own a company what you don’t pay out in wages and benefits you get to put into your own pocket. Two, competition, you as an owner had to be able to keep the wholesale prices of your product in line with what other companies whom made the same products as you were charging. When you paid more out for your costs than your competition then the customers would buy from your competition and not you, thus putting you out of business. Back then competition was mostly all domestic, now days everything is international. This is some of the reasons why so many factories have closed here in the States and moved overseas, competition and cheaper production costs.

 

Now to the crux of this article to you today. I was a long haul truck driver from 1981-2013, I drove all over the lower 48 states and all of the Provinces of Canada. Most of my driving was here in the U.S. so I am only going to speak of my Union/non-Union experiences here in the States. I my self do believe that the concept of Unions is a very good thing for the working class poor people but as a truck driver I really did not like having to go to Union customers. Companies simply want to get employees to get as much product out the door as possible for the least amount of cost. Unions want to make companies pay the employees as much as possible and they want the employees to have to do as little as possible for that higher pay. Also Unions want to have as many members as possible so their theory is if the employees of a company do less and less than the company will have to hire more Union employees to get the finished product out the door. This in turn creates more revenue for the Union via the employees Union Dues. The problem between the companies and the Unions are just like the problems we all see in American politics between the Republicans and the Democrats, they are total polar opposites.  The only way to make things work whether it is in politics or with companies and Unions is if both sides of the issues will decide to ‘meet in the middle’.

 

Examples of why a driver does not like to go to Union companies: There was a large Paper Mill in Lamar Louisiana that I went to several times, once you backed in the dock to get loaded you walked about 200 feet back into the Mill to the Shipping Office to sign and pickup the paper work for your load. By the time you walked to the Office then back to your trailer, it was loaded. These are big rolls of paper that are loaded with a clamp machine (adapted forklift). This Mill is non-Union and you could always hear the tires squealing on the forklifts as they were loading the trailers and your trailer was only in a dock for a total of about 15 minutes and you were ready to leave. One time I picked up a load from this Mill and the load was an (in-house) move, meaning that it was going to their own warehouse in Indianapolis Indiana. The difference here was that the warehouse in Indianapolis was a Union Shop. I got to the Receiver about a half hour early and was given a door assignment to back into which I did. This warehouse had about 40 dock doors and I was the only trailer in any dock. I waited for two hours and they still had not entered the trailer for the first time so I went back to the Receiving Office to ask when they might start, about another hour and a half passed before they pulled the first roll out. From that point it took them two hours to unload the trailer, my total time in their dock to get unloaded was 5 1/2 hours. Remember, at their non-Union Mill they loaded this load in 10-15 minutes.

 

One time I picked up a load of car fenders that were on either 5 or 6 racks that took the loader literally no more than about 5 minutes to load. This load was going to a General Motors Assembly Plant in Michigan. General Motors is very strict about incoming freight and they only give you a half hour window in which to be arriving, if you are late the company that you drove for gets a big fine so you don’t dare be late. My appointment was for 5 AM. I checked in at 4:30 and was told to pull in front of door #5 and to stay there until someone comes out and tells you to back into the dock. All of the dock doors had trucks lined up waiting just like I was. A couple of times during the day I went in to check with the Receiving Supervisor to see when they might get started as my dispatch had me a reload to get picked up and that customer was wanting to know when I might show up. Turns out that all of the Receiving Department employees were sitting in the break room doing things like reading newspapers and books, playing card games and watching TV. When the Supervisor asked them to please go out and unload these trailers they cursed him quite badly and told him to go F-off. The Supervisor one time even got a hold of the Union Representative who showed up on his little three-wheeled power cart and he asked the employees to please go unload the trailers, he got cursed just as the Receiving Supervisor had before him. Turns out that at about 6 PM I finally got to back into my dock door and they did get me unloaded in about 10 minutes. That was the one and only load that my company ever hauled into or out of a U.A.W. (United Auto Workers) location. Is it any wonder why the Company built factories in Mexico to get away from the Union here in the States?

 

Twice I had to pick up a load of flooring tile at a manufacturer in north-east Illinois. Both times I had gotten appointments for about 10 AM. The Shipper had a good-sized parking lot for the trucks to wait in until they were called to back into a dock door. Both times the company I worked for ended up canceling the load and the reason was simple economics. This was a Union Shipper, after waiting for a couple of hours past my appointment time I went inside to see what was going on as no trucks had moved from the docks yet. Just like at the GM Factory the shipping department employees were all just siting around in their break room. I was told that the Union had gotten a deal where the employees only had to load 4 trailers per shift, figuring 2 hours per trailer x 4=8 hour shift. Reality was that when the day started at 7 AM the employees would hustle to get their 4 trailers loaded. But, it actually only took them about 30 minutes to load a trailer so, 4 x 30 minutes =2 hours. Then the employees would just go to the break room each day until their 8 hour shift was finished then they would check out and go home. The reality was that they had a whole lot full of trucks waiting to get loaded that they didn’t give a damn about.

 

Folks, here is my take on this issue. We all know that all companies are in a global economy, if your company makes a product, lets say widgets, you are not only competing with other Widget Companies in your State or even just in your home Country. If I have a company here in Kentucky, Union or not, and I make Widgets at a cost to me of 48 cents each and another company in lets say China and or Indonesia comes into the market selling Widgets for a total cost of 35 cents each having a production cost of 20 cents per Widget then I have a tough choice to make. Either I get my production cost down to no more than 20 cents per unit so that I can stay competitive, or I close my factory before I go bankrupt. The other option is to close up my factory here in Kentucky and to open up a factory in a place like China or Indonesia where I can be competitive. Either way, I must close up my factory here in Kentucky.

 

My Mom instilled in me a major ‘work ethic’, the concept that when you are at work, you bust your behind, you work. It has long been my belief that if you are an employee and you are lucky enough to have a Union job then you should always work as hard as you can and to always put out the best possible product for you employer. If you are  employed in a Union Business I have always believed that you need to produce at a higher level because you are being paid at a higher level than your non-Union neighbor. Getting contracts where you can work for two hours and sit on your butt in the break room for the next six hours is how companies either go bankrupt, or move away to a non-Union location, like China. Either way, you now have no job at all.

Judge rules against Trump’s attempt to weaken federal unions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)

 

Judge rules against Trump’s attempt to weaken federal unions

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WASHINGTON – A federal judge struck down significant sections of three executive orders on government workers, dealing a blow to President Donald Trump’s attempts to curtail the power of labor unions representing federal employees.

In an opinion Saturday, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said Trump exceeded his authority because Congress has established collective bargaining rights for federal employees through the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act.

The three executive orders, signed in May, were an attempt to make good on a promise in Trump’s State of the Union address to make it easier for the government to reward good workers and fire bad ones.

Earlier: Trump signs executive orders aimed at loosening clout of federal labor unions

But four labor unions representing federal workers sued, arguing that Trump was attempting to unilaterally dictate new terms to labor contracts they had already negotiated.

Specifically, Trump’s orders attempted to cap the amount of time union officials employed by the federal government can spend on union business, speed up disciplinary procedures and unilaterally adopt performance-based pay plans.

Jackson said presidents do have the power to sign executive orders on federal employee-management relations – but only as long as they don’t conflict with the law. On balance, the judge wrote in her 122-page decision, “this Court has decided that the unions have the better of this argument.”

Federal employee unions celebrated the ruling.

“The judge rightly found that the president is not above the law and cannot, through these blatantly anti-union and anti-worker executive orders, eviscerate employee rights and undermine the collective bargaining process established by Congress,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

“Federal employees can return to work on Monday knowing that their rights are intact, and that presidential overreach targeting career civil servants was curbed,” said Suzanne Summerlin, a lawyer for the National Federation of Federal Employees.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

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Rebuilding the employment security system for the Rust Belt that created it

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

Rebuilding the employment security system for the Rust Belt that created it

John C. Austin and Richard Kazis

Industrial transformation, brought on by global trade, new digital technologies, and changes in the structure of work, have hit Rust Belt communities hard. Some places, such as Pittsburgh and Kalamazoo, have gone through painful transitions and come out the other side. However, the majority of the Rust Belt’s older industrial cities continue to struggle with job loss and weak economic growth.

Authors

The collapse of the region’s labor-intensive manufacturing-based economy took its toll on the employment-based safety net protections that Midwestern employers and unions forged after World War II. Today, employer-based systems of health insurance, pensions, and unemployment insurance serve fewer and fewer Midwestern workers.

For Rust Belt workers and communities today and in the future, economic security policies must become more flexible and suited to a fast-changing economy. This will require balancing support for technological innovation with concerted efforts to reduce the costs of dislocation for people and places bearing the brunt of change.

THE MIDWEST BUILT AMERICA’S EMPLOYMENT-BASED SECURITY SYSTEM

In the years following World War II, the manufacturing industries of the industrial Midwest, together with their unions, hammered out a set of economic rules and policies that became the foundation for America’s subsequent economic prosperity and security.

Wage controls imposed during World War II set the stage for this system. Unable to increase worker pay, employers began to offer pensions and health insurance to attract and retain workers. The federal government assisted by exempting health insurance benefits from taxation for companies and individuals.

The transformation accelerated in the wake of the 1950 General Motors-United Auto Workers contract. Dubbed the “Treaty of Detroit,” it traded labor peace for wage gains based on productivity and cost-of-living increases. Large employers shared prosperity with their workers by providing them with health insurance, pensions, and other benefits. State and federal unemployment insurance policies that took shape during the Great Depression worked well for an economy in which periodic layoffs were temporary and skills were fairly transferable from one labor-intensive manufacturing sector to another.

The resulting system spread across the nation, in both union and non-union settings. The percentage of Americans covered by private pensions jumped from 3.7 million in 1940 to 19 million in 1960—nearly 30 percent of the labor force. By 1975, 40 million Americans were covered by private pension plans. The pattern of employer-provided health insurance coverage forged in Midwest industries became almost universal, rising from 10 percent in 1940 to just under 30 percent in 1946, reaching 80 percent of all workers by 1964.

Public sector employment systems, too, began to copy the agreements negotiated in the region’s private industries. In 1951, Wisconsin created the nation’s first stable statewide pension system for public employees and became the first state to allow public workers to participate in Social Security. Other states soon followed suit.

THE MIDWEST’S ECONOMIC DECLINE ERODED EMPLOYMENT-BASED ECONOMIC SECURITY

By the 1970s, global competition facilitated by technology-based innovations in communications and transportation began to challenge U.S. manufacturing dominance—and the employment-based safety net that had matured with it. In successive waves of industrial restructuring, employers shuttered inefficient factories, moved production to cheaper locales, automated where possible, and pushed costs and risks onto employees and suppliers.

Across the Rust Belt, between 2000 and 2010, this trend turned into a tsunami. Across six Great Lakes states, manufacturing employment dropped by 35 percent in 10 years—a more dramatic decline than during the Great Depression—eliminating 1.6 million jobs.

By 2015, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 firms offered defined benefit pension plans, down from 50 percent in 1998.

The wider impact on employer-provided benefits and the safety net protecting workers was devastating. The number of working-age Americans without health insurance jumped from 24 million to 37 million between 2001 and 2010, before the Affordable Care Act. Employer-provided defined benefit pension plans largely disappeared in the private sector, replaced by defined contribution 401(k) plans that shifted the burden for funding retirement onto workers. By 2015, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 firms offered defined benefit pension plans, down from 50 percent in 1998. Public employee agreements were harder to dismantle, but the underfunding of these state and local plans hit $1.4 trillion in 2016. Access to unemployment insurance (UI) diminished: In 2016, only 27 percent of all unemployed workers qualified for and received UI benefits, the lowest proportion in 40 years.

THE DISRUPTION WILL CONTINUE

As employers adapted to survive, their strategies to cut costs, enhance productivity, and shift risk heightened the instability of many Americans’ employment arrangements. They also set the stage for more disruption in the years ahead—change that will continue to hit Midwestern workers and communities particularly hard.

First, improvements in process automation, robotics, and machine learning are destabilizing employment. The McKinsey Global Institute projectsthat as many as one-third of U.S. workers may need to change occupations and acquire new skills by 2030, as robotics and artificial intelligence eliminate routine and repetitive jobs and create new jobs that require more and different skills.

The Midwest is at the epicenter of these shifts. Auto manufacturing uses half of all industrial robots in this country. Robots on the shop floor are concentrated in about 10 Midwestern and Southern states, led by Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.

Where the robots are

Second, low educational attainment among the region’s industrial workforce could exacerbate employment dislocation due to automation and digitalization. A comparatively high proportion of Rust Belt working-age adults have only a high school diploma. Such workers may face greater difficulty making the transition to new kinds of occupations that demand higher-order cognitive skills.

A third destabilizing shift is the movement away from long-term, stable, full-time jobs toward contingent, alternative work arrangements. According to one study, nearly all net employment growth between 2005 and 2015 came from contingent work. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office estimated that contingent workers, including independent contractors and freelancers, part-time workers, on-call workers, temp firm employees, and self-employed workers, accounted for 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, up from 30 percent 10 years earlier.

The growth of more flexible work arrangements is a welcome development for many, particularly those working at the higher end of the labor market who have more skills and greater control over their work. But for Midwest workers with relatively low levels of formal postsecondary education and training, part-time work, being subcontracted out and paid as a “1099 worker,” or working in the “gig economy” have increased insecurity and reduced access to benefits and protections.

TOWARD A MODERNIZED ECONOMIC SECURITY SYSTEM

As our colleagues Mark Muro and Robert Maxim have outlined, America needs a new economic security system that is de-coupled from the once-dominant model of full-time, long-term employment with a single employer. This is particularly the case for Rust Belt workers. Policymakers seeking to rebuild economic security in the Midwest and across the nation should follow these principles:

  • Design for an era of economic instability and disruption—of frequent job and career switches—by increasing benefit portability.
  • Promote innovation, technological change, and risk-taking, but also prioritize effective supports for those who bear the brunt of the resulting changes.
  • Extend benefits to serve part-time workers, contractors, and those employed in multiple jobs.
  • Provide support not only during temporary dislocations, but also help individuals adapt and advance in the new economy, with both a safety net and a trampoline that accelerates return to the workforce and expands access to higher-skill, higher-paid jobs.

Policymakers and advocates are advancing a number of proposals that could be scaled to build a modern economic security regime:

Portability: Health care and pension benefits should be portable, universal, tied to individual employees, and delinked from full-time work and single employers. Benefits should be pro-rated for part-time employees based on hours worked. To finance this, some have suggested a Social Security-like mechanism of payroll deductions. Others have proposed more modest multi-employer or sectoral plans like those in the construction industry. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has proposed legislation to fund a set of pilots testing different approaches with different mechanisms.

Pro-ration of benefits: Too many benefits are tied to full or almost full-time work with a single employer. Work-related benefits that can reduce family stress and keep people in the workforce—including paid sick leave, family leave, and vacation days—should be extended to part-time employees on a pro-rated basis based on hours worked for a given employer.

Unemployment insurance reform: Eligibility requirements should be made more flexible so that more individuals can access unemployment insurance, including intermittent workers, those with low and variable wages, part-time workers not working enough hours, and entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. Experiments should combine benefit receipt with training, work preparation, and support for pursuing postsecondary credentials.

More aggressive adjustment assistance: Current Trade Adjustment Assistance is too modest, short-term, and tied to specific industries affected by trade. It is not nearly as strategic and proactive as labor market adjustment policies in other advanced industrial countries. More generous relocation assistance can support worker mobility and help people go where the jobs are. Retraining opportunities and support for programs with proven labor market value can help those needing to make significant mid-career changes.

The growth of more flexible work arrangements is a welcome development for many, particularly those working at the higher end of the labor market.

Rust Belt communities, industries, and workers created and benefited greatly from the old system in its prime—and they have arguably suffered the most from its collapse. In turn, they have the most to gain from a needed remaking of employment security and safety net policies that recognize and respond to today’s economic realities. To the degree that these new policies put solid ground beneath more people in Rust Belt communities, they can help shift the political conversation in these places from one based on nostalgia, anxiety, and resentment to one lifted up by greater hope and optimism.

Ganduri

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