Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Unions: Lets Just Be Friends


This will not be something my friends want to hear and most likely be something my opponents will look at to prove their points, but it needs to be said. Are Unions a universal good?

I believe the answer is not any more. For more than 100 years, labor advocates have been fighting for the rights of workers. This week the Forward published its 110th Anniversary edition with a wonderful editorial about the connections between the Jewish left and the American laborer. Articles and editorials memorialize and celebrate the paper as a bastion of liberal, progressive, and socialist thinking.

Yet times have changed just a bit. As progressives we should be able to look upon the work of our forefathers and mothers and be proud that we all have a weekend, access (not enough but some) to health care, medical leave, maternity (and paternity) leave, worker’s comp, and many other advantages that were absent 100 years ago. While all working conditions are not where they should be, many people —even corporate big-wigs— believe in these progressive values as their own.

The labor unions have a place in hotels, garment factories, administration, and service positions. This is the perfect example of the use of Unions today. The idea of a Union fits wherever the cooperation is taking advantage of its power over its employees. But do Unions always make it better for their members?

So when marginally progressive companies, such as Starbucks, come under attack for not giving their workers enough hours, payment, or something else, the Unionization process is tainted.

Starbucks gives their fulltime employees health care. They use high percentage post-consumer products. They say the work with local growers to insure sustainable coffee growing practices. They offer profit sharing in the form of stock options to baristas. They sell even more expensive bottled water and donate some of its profit to provide drinking water to those with out it. They are on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For (2007) and publish an annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

So why does a fight to Unionize make sense? What can a Union get the workers in this case? Why don’t the Unions fight for people who need the help? We see people cleaning hotel rooms for very little money and UNITE HERE seems to be the only Union fighting for this one. http://unitehere.org/ What about food service workers at Sodexho? What about people working in underground slave labor in our cities? Nope, the Unions can make much more money and score bigger headlines when they fight Starbucks than actually standing up for the little guy.

It seems that the Unions (not all but some) are turning into what they were fighting against 100 years ago. Power to the people, not the Union.

In the News: I will take a Lite Latte san-Organizing

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