December 13, 2008

Down With Unions - The Auto Bail Out

The Congressional Republicans are trying to make the auto workers take a one third pay cut in the negotiations for the auto industry bailout. It seems that the discussion on capital hill about whether to loan General Motors, Ford Motors, and Chrysler- bedrock of the American auto industry-monies so they can have some purchase power and meet payroll recently turned on whether the auto workers should take a pay cut. Republicans claims this is necessary to equalize salaries with those working for Toyota and Nissan, two foreign auto companies whose employees are non-union.

The republicans have been including in their calculations all benefits received by Union Workers as part of their salary, like health and pension benefits. That’s what companies do when they want to make it seem like employees are receiving more than they actually are, they count the legacy benefits-those monies received by people no longer working for the company even though those people may have given twenty, thirty, even forty years of their lives to these companies. These are the people who allow these companies to succeed the people who are actually doing the producing.

Workers, Laborers, or hourly employees, call them whatever, whether they are union are not are doing the real work behind a successful corporation, and even when the company is not successful the "grunt workers" are the ones that are usually holding the company together by consistently producing, doing what they are instructed by the managers (field agents for the corporation). I watched several news coverage about the situation with the auto companies and in every shot of auto workers they are doing their jobs--they are producing the cars they are told to produce. Most of these cars on monstrous gas guzzling SUV’s--Escalade, 4runners, suburban, expeditions, some of the biggest cars on the road.

SUV’s have replaced the family car even though they usually don’t seat more than the average car and are not any safer. Even the cars these companies are producing are almost twice the size of the average European car; minis are more popular in Europe. So I ask who is responsible for the vision and the direction these companies have chosen to take. Is it the worker who is simply carry out the direction of the management team? Workers are not talking to company executives on a daily basis, they are not asking the average employee what they think and where they company should go. company executives are concerned about market share, profit margins, and stock holders. If the vision set forth is one whose foundation is greed we are going to get just what we did, a market that is only focused on the bottom line no matter what the detriment to the company in the long run and the country as a whole.

What freedom does the average worker have to be able to say to their employer we shouldn’t make this item or we should have this price point, or we should not practice this habit? Sometimes workers are performing the task given to them against their own sensibility because they just need to work. No one is asking the average worker what their opinion is and if it is offered they are told they are there to do a job, so just do it. These companies are so large that they control the lives of their employees.

I have to confess and say that I work for a major corporation, one that employs Union Workers, not the auto industry but a significant American enterprise. So I am watching these recent events closely and have to be careful of what I actually write here. In my company we market a service and convince people they can’t live without it. We charge an enormous price for it. When you purchase the service we offer you are in it for the long haul, you have bought into a lifestyle and will do anything to maintain it. When you think you have gotten away from us you haven’t you have only gone to our associate or affiliate. The company executives make a ton of money, with all the perks---stock options, jets, marbled executive suites. Can I tell you that this corporation doesn’t even supply its employees with the necessary training and equipment to carry out their job functions? Can u imagine worker on a computer system with fonts so small you would need bifocals just to see them. How about being forced to work on holidays and weekends and for ten or twelve hours a day with up to one and a half hours commuting each way even though you have a family? What about being made to feel guilty or even punished when you take time off because you are sick or to care for a sick relative?

What about being chastised and forced to push a product or service that the company decides they want to push even though the worker might think that the product or service is inferior or overpriced. How about witnessing the company committing unethical acts but not able to say anything because that will take the bread off you table, and the times that you do they brush you off as crazy or trouble maker. What is it like working for one of these companies? Well-- they promote group think so that should tell you something. The worker is dependent on the corporation in the sense that they believe they people making the millions of dollars know what they are doing and are going to lead them in a direction of success for the company and opportunity for the employee, they just have to keep producing and they do. Some suffer injuries from the job because of the repetitive nature of the job function, others, many very young suffer and even die from cancer.

Union Workers don’t just walk in off the street making “top dollars”, they spend years working for the company earning these “benefits”, they have often had to fight with the company to get these benefits even when the company is paying its top executive ten to twelve million dollars. I would like to see our CEO do my job for one day, truth is they couldn’t. I am sure my CEO spends most of his days in meetings, flying around the country, and playing golf. I get a one hour lunch and the rest of my time is spent working. I have about eight systems to log into, I solve problems and am also expected to meet a sales objective every month, if I don’t I will be ridiculed, written up and even “suspended”--sent home without pay for multiple days. I happen to work in the same building as my CEO and I have seen him once—he happened to come to my floor with a political celebrity during the primaries--he was giving a tour and that was the first time I had seen him after working for the company for eight years, I had been working in his building for three of those years.

We are encouraged to meet our sales objectives because of promises made to Wall Street, and are told to offer to little old ladies and babies, whether they can afford it or not, doesn’t matter try your best to lock them in. The company can force you to give up half your lunch hour, they can make you work on national holidays and we are not saving lives just pushing a product and service. When the company is doing poorly they blame the workers and say they are not offering the product, even though the product does not excite consumers because there is much competition offering better product and more services at lower prices. My company also cut the wages of the current workers but because of the union they had to cut management’s wages and that’s how it should be because management is part of the “vision” team and that is where the cuts should come from. The union workers are just trying to make ends meets and in a sense the company has failed them too.

For those who say “down with unions!” unions make sure people are treated fairly in the workplace and the company doesn’t make you work twelve hour days because they would if they could. This is evident by the way American companies conduct themselves over seas. They exploit foreign workers paying very little wages for long hours of work and offer no medical benefits. The benefits workers receive are not because the company wants to be nice and is looking out for their workers. Every single benefit is fought for and earned through sweat and labor. The company gives nothing for free. Should someone who lives in this country and works forty to sixty hours per week, whose work and products generate billions for a corporation still live in poverty? When they get sick or injured should they have to worry about paying medical bills? What about the sacrifice they making to their to their families, sometimes hardly seeing them and having to chose between the kid sports game or work, having to chose work over quality time, why?

Work keeps the kids in private school which offers a better education because the public school system is a joke. All the worker is asking for is the same opportunity and piece of mind that the CEO gets with his salary. The top salary for my position is around $55-60k per year, my CEO makes around $6million per year(without bonuses), that’s more than one hundred times $55k salary, not to mention the CFO, COO, presidents, vice-presidents, etc. These people are also costing the company exorbitant amounts of money, from the conferences, car service, hotels, catered meals, business and first-class tickets, high tech equipments.

The hourly employee are the ones who are performing their jobs with minimum comfort, hundreds working in office the size of the CEO’s waiting area. We are purchasing our own pens and desk supplies, we have to beg for basics, like a decent chair, we don’t even have a place to hang our coats, and just about everyone has gotten carpel tunnel or wrist surgery. So I am down with the unions!!! I don’t think for a minute that the Union Workers should take a pay cut under any circumstance, they have earned their pay. If the company wants to renegotiate salaries let them look at the salaries of management and company executives.

The hourly workers already sacrifice enough. This is a clear attempt to union bust, and if you belong to a union, you could be next. My company has outwardly said its goal is to de-unionize, and I fear what it my corporation would look like if they did. They are already one of the major outsourcers in the country, and if you have dialed a US number but gotten the Philippines you have experienced what I am talking about. It is more lucrative for the bottom line if half of the company’s work force is off shore.

These workers are paid a fraction of what someone in the states makes. If the Congress and auto companies are able to get away with this what is to stop them from equalizing salaries globally and pay their American workers the same salary they pay those in India. That is what is at stake, with this piece of legislation and the demands that are being put on the united auto workers union. No doubt there are problems with the union, there is corruption in the union, but that is not the fault of the workers.

Corruption comes from a blurred line between the union and the corporate heads. But that should not stop us from standing behind unions, if you want the return of sweat shops, and child labor factories, and an influx of undocumented workers, then yes “down with unions”. But if you want a clean working environment, a fair living wage and not just minimum wage, health insurance, paid vacation days, and sick time, and job security, and a written commitment from the company to you-- then you’d better get down with a union.

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