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First Impressions from Conference Call with SEIU President Andy Stern
A full transcript or link thereto of the conference call in which I just participated with Service Employees International Union
President Andy Stern will be available on Monday, but I wanted to provide a brief follow-on from my post
of December 14, 2007, "Friday Teleconference Questions for SEIU President Andy Stern," to give readers here a sense of my take on what Mr. Stern had to say.
The call began in earnest with Mr. Stern giving a few opening remarks principally addressing a central concern of his, which is the income inequality in the United States and the relationship between closing the widening income gap and the effectiveness and pervasiveness of unionism in the country. He is, of course, correct that income inequality is a serious problem: after the disparity between the wealthiest and poorest Americans peaked in the year 2000, the income share of the top one percent of Americans again hit a high in 2006
, matching its 1929 level. Going even further with the point, while median income in the United States has risen a paltry 17 percent since 1980, income of the top 0.1 percent (that's one-tenth of a percent) has quadrupled
; and to continue hammering on the matter, according to Harper's Index
, the percentage of people living at or below half
of the federal poverty level has jumped 32 percent since 2000.
Point taken: income inequality is large and growing in the United States. Andy Stern believes that unions are part of the solution, but he also holds that the federal government must support workers, and politicians must be more responsive to their concernsprojected, at least to some extent, through union representationand less accountable to corporations and their executive interests which benefit so greatly from this ever-increasing income disparity.
To that extent, the last question I asked Mr. Stern was whether or not he would support my idea of a President-appointed Labor Czar to oversee labor issues in the United States. It is one thing to promote new lawsand I argued that we have quite a substrate, old as it is, of pro-labor law in this countrybut it is quite another to bring under the authoritative portfolio of one federal official the mass of wide-ranging, unequally enforced regulatory infrastructure that turns those labor laws into real action at the level of workers and their workplaces. Mr. Stern, if I may be so bold as to state this, agreed: he suggested a position from the Office of the Vice President, an idea I think has merit, given that OVP has acquired under Vice President Dick Cheney substantial power that is largely robust to Congress and even the President.
Returning to the earlier part of the conference call, Mr. Stern fairly thoroughly (given the time frame in which we were operating) responded to my question concerning the erosion of union power in the United States. It is his contention, to quote him, "Let workers make their own choice." In other words, removing barriers to unionization efforts is the best way to ensure that workers will make the choice that it is in their own best interest. To the extent that unions have lost the esteem of American workers, Mr. Stern made the pithy comment, "The best way to change your image is to change reality."
I had a chance to plug Part Two
of my series, "The Economics of Wreckage," wherein I graphically demonstrated (indeed, I virtually flogged) the point that the erosion of real wages in this country is not something that has suddenly occurred under the Bush Administration; it is, instead, a decades-long phenomenon that I did my best to show was the result of sustained neo-Keynesian policy: as long as the average price level rises at a rate faster than that of workers' wages and salaries, those people have to work harderthat is, continually increase their productivityin order to maintain their standard of living. My graphs clearly, unarguably show that this is exactly what has been going on for years and years: average wages have unquestionably lagged overall price increases, and that's why productivity has been going up while wages, themselves, have never actually made any inflation-adjusted headway.
I'm not sure I fully understood that Mr. Stern had addressed this point in his opening remarks and in responses to questions before mine. He is surprisingly mindful of the do-nothing Congress of the present era, describing policy as "hopeless, clueless, and planless," but he is also knowledgeable of the long-term problem that this economy does not reward the common workers nearly as much as it does the executives of corporations and the generally wealthy. He believes that part of the answer, although not a panacea, is essential change in tax policy as well as legislative action that strengthens the hand of unions in bargaining for better wages and benefits.
Mr. Stern seems to be of two minds insofar as the current Congress is concerned. He charitably notes, perhaps reasonably, that the Democrats' "skills are a little rusty," which goes to some length in explaining why they have been so unable to wrest control of the legislative agenda from the minority Republicans, especially in the U.S. Senate. On the other hand, he distinguishes between the many Democrats on the Hill who show little initiative and those like Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) who are far more forward-leaning not just in their rhetoric, but also in their legislative agenda.
I should at this juncture suspend further attempts to sort through my notes on the conference call and allow the transcript, which will be published Monday, to speak for itself. In summary, it was more interesting than I had expected: the SEIU president's answers were framed to stay on-point, but he was extemporaneously able to field a variety of questions dealing with everything from immigration to education. Whether or not he is, as SEIU promotional literature asserts, a new kind of labor leader remains to be seen in the years ahead. For my own part, I would be delighted just to see an old
kind of labor leader make a comeback.
Then again, I'm sort of a romantic when it comes to the occasional knock-down, drag-out fight between strike-breaking corporate thugs and union guys on a picket line.
The Dark Wraith looks back fondly on a by-gone era.
I have been a life-long union kinda woman. I remember when unions had clout to affect change. The last experience I had with them a decade ago left a bad taste in my mouth. Which union it was I don't recall but it was one my husband belonged to.
They negotiated a crappy contract that did not give the members anything better but took away several keys factors..like a decent health care package for starters.
The unions now seem, to me at least, to be toothless remnants of their former selves..but I could be wrong about that.
Morning to you, Dusty.
I don't know the what the dealeo was with Hubby, but I shore do feel yer pain. 15, 20 years ago, the International came on down to Az. and shoved a 50% pay cut across the board down our throats. They soon afterward made an ill-considered threat to suspend our cards, should we attempt traveling to a better paying job out of state. Our attorneys were able to convince them that they'd be smart to STFU.
Once things settled down a bit, and the contractors saw that they had an ample supply of suckers, those who stayed home, for whatever reasons, (Though mostly it was involuntary.) the Big Boys saw a good thing turn into possible Cha-Ching!, and started bidding on more and bigger jobs. To get their foot in the door, for example, they'd bid under cost! You know what happens next, don'tcha? That's right...they call the union, and then put pressure on the International to get more concessions from the workers so that they can eke out a bare break-even. Being true Democrats, the PTB of our local felt that the multi-national companies must be in dire straits, and we should do whatever we can to aid and assist them.
Longer story shortened; The pay scale is now up to what it was in the late '80's-early '90's. Whoopee!! Let's go buy the Taj Majal, It's on me! (I admit to ditching my brethren in their hour of need; The siren of $30.00 an hour working 7-10's for damn near a year was too much to turn down. Man, those were some nice checks. AAAnnnddd, once we left Arizona, (You can't travel very efficiently by yourself. Make sure your co-traveler doesn't quit his job at the drop of an insult. My buddy was more of a tightwad than me! Perfection.) we found out that states without right-to-work laws usually have contractors that actually appreciate a job well done! And let you know about it with more than just talk! Unheard of here in the SW, I assure you.
The moral is, nothing's perfect. All in all, I'd rather be collectively bargaining with a company than try to face them alone. If you're lucky enough to have good leadership at the local, contractors AND workers can come out ahead.
Well Good Morning to you trog69;)
I have lived in AZ twice during my adult life. Both times my pay was far less than I would receive doing the same job in many different cities across the US. Right-to-work laws are basically just another way to bust the unions balls in my humble and uninformed, but arrogant none the less, lil mind.
The unions that I personally belonged to as a young adult saved my bacon on numerous occasions and I will always try my utmost to support them. Hell, if it wasn't for unions this country wouldn't have many of the laws pertaining to employment rights on the books!
But that said, the neocon agenda has been to break the unions backs and Ronnie Rayguns started that ball rolling down the damn hill when he screwed with the air traffic controllers union way back when..and it has been steamrolling unabated since.
It's too bad companies don't realize they both they and their employees can make money by being good to each other.
Now, people that are union-hating freakazoids always pop off with how dirty the unions top brass were..they love to toss Hoffa's name into the mix. But frankly, thats a ridiculous argument to me because it doesn't address the true meaning of the union..taking care of the lowly worker. Hoffa and his ilk did become rich by skimming and stealing, but they also watched out for the folks that made them rich because they knew they wouldn't get anywhere by screwing over their membership by caving into the pleas of big business. They played hardball and sometimes..that's what it takes when your facing off with an evil nemisis who has the full power of big money supporting them..
I think I need to get a cuppa..I am rambling..must not be awake yet ;p
I catch yer drift, Clift.
Yes, the brainwashing of the blue-collar class in regards to unions has been a roaring success. It is unreal to hear so many guys working their asses off, (I have never called a non-union worker a "rat". They work just as hard and long as we do. The contractor is the RAT.) and believing that the unions are so corrupt and the conditions set by the contracts so unhinged from reality, that they think the unions are their ENEMIES! I promise you, this is no exaggeration, as I've heard it from many of the guys I've worked around through the years.
Greetings again Trog,
My ball and chain is a vehement non-union freak. When I have taken the time to explore his reasonings, he can not for the life of him explain how corrupt Union leaders affects their overall ability to get decent wages and decent benefits for their membership.
Yes, there were corrupt Union leaders, but that has very little to do with the negotiation of contracts.
He then gets highly pissed and leaves the room.
Good afternoon, Dusty.
I was under the impression that you were going to do something about that ball and chain.
Not that I would encourage, support, or otherwise provide material assistance or how-to manuals on various means of dispensing with talking hemorrhoids, but it seems to me that the very least you could do is trick old B&C into getting into a great big FedEx box with overnight delivery tags bound for Jupiter.
The Dark Wraith should start doing relationship counseling to make a little extra money on the side.
My dear Dark Wraith,
The B&C is coming around. As a dyed in the wool Rethug, he now says he wants..wait for it..
OBAMA for Pres..I shit you not sir.
I have educated and continue to educate the B&C, because I consider it a worthwhile cause..and not only that..but it's my ticket to good karma ;)
Its hard to deal with a person of such narrow-mindedness..but I will fight the good fight as long as I am able. Currently I have the opinion that if he fell into a large hole, I would do nothing to help him out..but thats only because he pissed me off today when it came to taking one of my many cats to the Vets.
I did win that argument, as I usually do..just took more bitching and brow-beating than usual.
Dusty, perhaps your kismet, already colored in, precludes putting up with any more shit from anyone ever again? In that case, you will not gain karma from "suffering the fools gladly"; merely gray hairs!
My wife thought little of the union until I was found to be disabled by Social Security, and my pension kicked in. NOW she gets it!
In all honesty, I had to look up Kismet just to be sure of it's meaning. I know absolutely nothing about any of that stuff. Boy, I sure do spread some mighty fine BS, huh?
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