Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Labor, reprised

This might violate some "Heloise for Bloggers" etiquette book, but I'm going to respond to comments to my last post with this post. Mostly because my responses are longer than a comment should be.

A'sB: I understand the logic behind moving the convention to Vegas instead of keeping it in Pittsburgh--Unions have to stick together. It's how they gained power. It wasn't a single union doing it's own thing. It was a single union doing it's own thing with support and sympathy efforts by other unions. Sure, that makes sense. But it doesn't reflect reality today. Like you said, Pittsburgh isn't going to get more union members until hotel-workers see some benefit to unionizing--and that's not going to happen with conferences moving to Vegas because of a lack of HERE members in Pitt.

Alektra: "Our generation doesn't see the benefits with a union...". I agree-but as usual in an inside-out sort of way.

Our generation doesn't see the benefits to unions because unions haven't figured out a way to survive in the modern economy. I mean, since Detroit started requiring it's engineers to design crappy cars that broke easily, used a ton of gas, and cost too much, how many young people have jumped into a job and said, "This is a good job, I'm going to stay here for the next 40 years"? Judging on rough union membership numbers, I think it's happened about 11 times. And most of them were teachers, not assembly-line types.

I'll take people I know as an example. (note, people I know are not a statistically valid sample of the U.S. workforce). Just a quick, off-the-top-of-my head count of some of my friends and family members (11 people) comes up with an average of 7.1 jobs per person. They range in age from 23 to 59, averaging 32.7 yrs old. That's a lot of change.

Until unions can figure out a way for a person to change jobs, and I mean from computer programmer to engineer to teacher, without "losing" their benefits, there's nothing in it for the modern workforce.

There's another issue that's come up in the last couple of days: better vs. good. Why does it seem like union debate is always about getting "better" wages, instead of "good" wages. I mean, when someone is making $6.50 an hour, it's easy to use "good" and "better" interchangeably. When a mechanic is making $36 an hour (like at Northwest), "good" has been left behind, and striving for "better" starts to look greedy to me. I'm not tossing myself into the executive/labor debate here, but the labor/labor debate.

I mean, if I'm a U AFSCME employee pulling in $30,000 a year, what incentive is there for me to support NWA mechanics pulling in twice that? Or if I'm a teacher earning less than $30,000?

My recommendation to organized labor: before your next big strike, get your priorities figured out, and hopefully they'll reflect helping the least supported in the working class, not the most.


The Old Man said...

Ah Grasshopper, you keep harping about the issue of wages, but alas that is but one piece of this labor/management puzzle. This is realy a calculated move by NWA mgmt to break the union. The main stumbling point has been the proposed elimination of approx. half of the positions in the union. How does labor get a majority vote in favor of eliminating ~half of the jobs of it's members? Sounds like a catch 22 for the union membership.
NWA has spent the past year+ and some 20 million dollars preparing for this strike, by hiring and training replacement workers. Many of these are not even mechanics, but cleaners and these are the positions on the chopping block. This would never have happened 10 years ago when there weren't sufficient numbers of licensed airline mechanics puttering about looking to get back to fixing planes. Based on the news ticker, I saw earlier this week, there will probably be more mechanics looking for work... United anounced that they are moving many of their mechanic positions to China in a cost saving move.
Now the NWA mechanics have a choice to keep on striking or cross the picketline and try to reform a new abeit smaller union with reduced wages as well.

alektra said...

Here's my small point to you, sir: (What the hell do we call you, btw? Not Wonkette, that's for sure.)

Do you know anyone who has been in a union? I, unlike many people in our collective social circles, do know a lot of people who AREN'T teachers in unions. Welders, mechanics, painters, electricians, and plumbers, to name a few. Also, garbage men. And honestly? Those guys (and they were all guys) aren't changing jobs unless they have to. Your data pool looks at people who aren't necessarily happy with the status quo or don't mind moving away from home. And that's not who I've met, majority-wise, in unions.

Chinahand said...

Old Man: that's what I'm saying. The union signed it's own death certificate by striking.

Alektra: I know there are a lot of people who fall into the "union guy" demographic you're talking about. But they're a rapidly shrinking part of the population. Until unions find a way to reach out to other demographics of people, they're going to keep choking on their own history.

alektra's boy said...

my point about the unionized hotels was this...the union that helped so many in pitsburgh when the mills were open, will now show more allegiance to other unions then it will towards the former members of the unions left here in pittsburgh, who are now working random non-union jobs. Since the economy of pittsburgh is down the toilet, and those former union members are stretching to make a living now with the mills shut down, wouldn't it be better bring some money into Pittsburgh, than to claim union solidarity and head off to Vegas?