24
Wed, Jul

Unions Push for Direct Negotiations and Collective Bargaining in the Face of Corporate Dominance

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Before each side’s lawyers in labor negotiations “did lunch” on sizable expense accounts as they plotted to sell Joe Q Employee down the river, workers routinely sat across the table from the bosses to talk, perhaps not always successfully but at least each side knew where the other stood.  

Before there were digital manuals and YouTube how-to videos, there were apprenticeships and workshop trainings. Before there was posting and texting, there were actual conversations and cordial discussions. 

Can we revitalize such a more direct, more human approach? 

Can owners and managers have the courage to go mano-a-mano with their employees instead of hiding behind a wall of corporate protectionism? 

Can we encourage the workers to speak for themselves without the intermediaries who so often feed off the largesse of those they are supposedly paid to demand concessions from? 

What does an employee really need to enjoy life… just a little? 

Working people may watch Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous but most don’t need a mansion in Beverly Hills, a getaway in the Caymans, and a yacht docked in Monte Carlo to be happy. 

They want family and friends, good health, and the satisfaction of being appreciated for a job done well. 

When capitalists denigrate the workers, it only enhances a sense of grievance; it blows both sides’ concerns out of proportion and erects barriers to compromise. 

Unacknowledged grievances reduce people with whom we disagree to caricatures, so we end up arguing in black-and-white with sharply defined boundaries, always either-or instead of win-win. 

And after layoffs, it’s not just loss of income workers face. Their mental and physical health suffers, making them less employable in challenging job markets. 

 

In the words of UAW President Shawn Fain, who wrung major job security concessions as well as significant financial and retirement improvements from the Big Three auto makers last year: 

“This contract is about more than just economic gains for autoworkers, it’s a turning point in the class war that has been raging in this country for the past 40 years. For too long it’s been one-sided and working-class people have been losing.” 

Fain called on more unions to align their contract expiration dates to April 2028, positioning more American unions to threaten simultaneous strikes in conjunction with International Workers’ Day on May 1, 2028, and “begin to flex our collective muscles.” 

“If we are going to truly take on the billionaire class and rebuild the economy so that it starts to work for the benefit of the many and not the few, then it’s important that we not only strike, but that we strike together.” 

Perhaps now is the time for all unions to band together, to rise above individual differences and make the necessary structural changes to topple the system that maintains the status quo. 

Address what people really want. Enhance the common good. Build a virtuous economic cycle, where the government invests more in its citizens but has those resources because so many now have satisfying well-paid careers instead of juggling multiple minimum wage jobs. 

If companies have to pay their employees appropriately and forego relying on subsistence-level part time work with no benefits to pad profits, benefits and below subsistence-level pay that the government has long had to subsidize with WIC, SNAP and Medicaid, that money is returned to the public purse. 

Then companies, freed from being forced to pay executives unreasonable wages, can then pay their fair share of taxes, benefit from improved infrastructure, develop workforce loyalty, and enjoy a vastly expanded consumer base with increased disposable income. 

No more bargaining in secret. 

More crucial than concealing the guilty and their machinations, is the transparency and publicity of a clearly articulated set of goals and a well-understood plan of action demonstrating self-awareness of nuanced collective power and how to use it to benefit all Americans. 

Companies don’t exist in isolation:

  • they are dependent on the government for infrastructure including public safety, community healthcare and the basic education of their employees 
  • they are dependent on their employees for labor and management 
  • they are dependent on their suppliers and the supply chain 
  • they are dependent on marketers and salespeople
  • they are dependent on investors 
  • and, above all, they are dependent on customers  

Customers who can’t afford to buy goods if they aren’t paid a living wage themselves. 

Customers who are often employees of those selfsame companies.

As President Biden said in the wake of the UAW win: “Wall Street didn’t build America. The middle-class built America, and unions built the middle-class.”  

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the umbrella organization known as IATSE, could become the next posterchild of union power bucking the Wall Street Shylocks. 

IATSE officially represents artisans and skilled labor in movies and television across the country, the men and women whose work transforms the written word into the director’s vision. 

For months, its leadership has been posturing – building up power to bring the industry to a screeching halt at a time when it has yet to recover from the one-two punch of the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild strikes. 

But will it leverage this power on behalf of the rank-and-file membership... or continue to play footsie behind closed doors with the power brokers of the multinationals that now have an iron grip on the creative industries? 

In recent months CREW (iatsecrew.com) convened an online caucus in order to solicit the IATSE members’ opinions on both the content of their contracts and the way those contracts are bargained for by their union locals. 

The event was national and, for some IATSE members, was the first ever opportunity for individuals to weigh in on how they’d like their contracts to change. 

“Dignity and respect are won when unions have the ability to demonstrate that they can credibly use all the tools at their disposal in pursuit of better conditions for the members. As workers, our labor and our ability to withhold it is our greatest leverage – keeping our wants and needs secret from our surrounding communities does nothing to further our cause.” 

Has this grassroots rebellion in the ranks developed a strong enough following to bring the real workers and their real interests to the table? 

Or, better yet, join together to stand up and deliver stronger worker-oriented demands, empowered by an educated and activated membership and reject obeisance to their own management? 

This approach would be an entire re-framing of how union leaders and members interact with each other and with all the crafts under the IATSE umbrella. Separately, the multiple compartmentalized locals can easily be played off against each other with inconsequential offerings continuing the divided-they-fall trajectory that has hurt the workers and artisans in the past. 

If they can join together, stand together, raise their voices together, not segregated by craft or region, but as one union equally and deeply impacted by stagnant wages and unacceptable working conditions, the studio negotiators will have to listen. And act. 

A limited number of their legitimate demands include improvements in remuneration – yes, that’s important especially as so many live in high cost-of-living cities to be near their work. But where do the corporate bean-counters get off denying fair compensation when studio executives take home millions for cushy jobs with unlimited expense allowances? 

And when people retire, their costs don’t stop. They still have rent or a mortgage and taxes and insurance. They still need food and transport. Perhaps a trip once in a while. Doctor bills and the need for medications is probably on upward trajectory far steeper than cost-of-living increases. 

Given the obscene take-home pay for upper-level management – Amazon’s Andrew Jassy makes 6,474 times the company’s median pay – and that worker pay does not even keep pace with inflation at one-third of the 300 top American companies, requests for raises that make workers whole again after losing out to years of inflation do not seem unreasonable. 

Nowhere near Amazonian excess but despite strikes and plummeting stock prices, box office fiascos and more layoffs, David Zaslav as Chief Executive of Warner Bros Discovery still made out like a bandit last year; his $49.7 million compensation package reflected a 26% increase over 2022. 

Of course, that pales in comparison to the $246 million Discovery bestowed on him the previous year, designed to keep Zaslav in place through the merger with Warner Media. 

And as for those who labor to create Warner Bros Discovery entertainment product – what do they want? 

Being able to work a 40-hour week and make a decent living, and instituting punitive pay for punitive hours to end the overwork that too often leads to accidents and injuries does not seem unreasonable. 

Addressing how best to integrate changing technology to improve both profits and morale, adhering to staffing minimums, enforcing worker protections and safety improvements, and protecting people against harassment and discrimination – none of that seems unreasonable. 

Reducing stress and improving work/life balance with more time to spend with family as well as adequate sick pay and health benefit does not seem unreasonable. 

To the movie mogul wanna-bes on Wall Street and all other corporate profiteers: 

Workers are not interchangeable cogs in a widget; if companies – all employers including governments – offer people sustainable careers and humane conditions, they will generate a loyalty and dedication that will limit demands for pay increases from the exorbitant to the reasonable. 

Moreover,  a more heart-based approach by companies to their employees will sharply reduce costs to replace and train their replacements. Again and again and again. 

And it’s win-win all around, for workers’ pride in happy and fulfilling vocations cannot help but increase productivity.

 

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)

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