Author Topic: American style industrial relations?  (Read 1389 times)

Offline Eral

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American style industrial relations?
« on: October 11, 2005, 04:57:27 AM »
Little Johnny Howard is introducing legislation here that severely restricts union activity and gives employers a lot more control of the working conditions and pay they will offer employees. A letter to the editor suggested this would be a model of the American IR system. Is that really the case? Is the union movement in America nearly dead, and individual bargaining is the go?
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Offline Veloxyll

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2005, 05:45:43 AM »
Yeah. Not happy with the new system. Oh well. I'll just shamelessly abuse it and demand a 50% pay increase n stuff when my introductory period is over. and if they try to get me to go to The Falls, my fee is $500,000/hr.

I'll get tomorrows paper too, and see what it has to say about the new legislation.
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Offline jcompton

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2005, 09:31:41 AM »
Union enrollment and influence is way down in the US, yes. But organized labor is one of those things that I'm quite sure works out better in theory than in practice. As an example, one need only look at the utter horseshit the US auto industry has churned out decade after decade, spurred to chronic mediocrity largely because their labor costs were essentially fixed no matter how many cars they chose to manufacture, as some UAW contracts called for stratospheric nonsense like 90% pay to laid-off workers. Under those conditions, you may as well just crank out crap since you're paying the same amount, regardless.

Good for auto workers. Bad for auto buyers.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2005, 09:34:03 AM by jcompton »
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Offline Joe

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2005, 03:42:27 PM »
Unions sometimes seem to be one of those "necessary" evils.

Offline Bons

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2005, 07:06:52 PM »
There are certain industries operating in the US where collective bargaining with unions is a significant part of labor relations. Automakers as JC mentioned, entertainment, airlines, intermodal transportation and shipping are biggies. The prevalence of a union to represent workers can also be a regional feature, such as teachers' unions in certain larger metropolitan cities, or hotel and restaurant workers in California and Las Vegas.

The majority of American workers, however, do not have union representation or interact with members of organized labor on a daily basis.
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Offline Eral

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2005, 07:11:37 PM »
jc, are your feelings as a car afficionado embittering you here? Has the total downhill slide of the American car after the Cadillac and the Corvette Sting Ray really been caused by workers getting good working conditions? I think it could be more to do with design flaws. My grandfather felt the same way about Australian cars - and he worked for the Ford car company for many years. He would only buy English sports cars. He insisted this was because they were the only reliable well-made cars in the world. If there were other factors influencing him, he didn't mention them.

Well it sounds like unions are not dead. The drop in membership is happening here as well as more people are hired as casuals. What are the working conditions of the un-unionised? Are they the low-paid workers getting $2 an hour we keep hearing about?

We have had a system where employers could negotiate an agreement that covers all workers with union reps, or offer a contract stating conditions that the worker accepts, rejects- and doesn't get the job- or allegedly negotiates. (Needless to say, the only people negotiating their contracts are CEO's.) This came about because of the bad old days when the main purpose of a lot of unions appeared to be screwing over the employer and slowing down production. Unions now are very well behaved. Despite this, Little Johnny wants them to vanish altogether.
Is there union-busting legislation today in the US or is it a thing of the past?

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Offline jcompton

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2005, 08:59:14 PM »
jc, are your feelings as a car afficionado embittering you here?

You're talking to a man whose primary vehicle at the moment is a 1993 Subaru Legacy station wagon purchased last summer for $800 and affectionately known as "The Dragon Wagon." This is not a matter of snobbery. This is a matter of looking at the lineup of cars from the Big Two and a Half and saying "Jesus, this makes no sense whatsoever." There are lots of factors contributing to their nonsensical designs, but a big one is that labor costs are essentially fixed (and fixed high) so they may as well make as many stupid cars as possible.

I also simply don't believe that "Union On the Label" means that my interests as the customer are automatically that much more protected. Craft guilds and unions are by nature incented to restrain trade, artificially prevent the entry of new providers, set higher prices, etc.

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Well it sounds like unions are not dead. The drop in membership is happening here as well as more people are hired as casuals. What are the working conditions of the un-unionised? Are they the low-paid workers getting $2 an hour we keep hearing about?

The federal minimum wage in the US is $5.15/hr but many states and even cities set it higher still. Of course, there's always the underground, cash-based, unreported economy, largely associated with migrant and/or illegal immigrants or day workers in agriculture, where I imagine lower than federally mandated wages are paid. There's also the rather nonsensical lower minimum wage rate for certain occupations like restaurant wait staff, which has given rise to the socially mandated 15% gratuity that always makes foreign visitors say "What, are you crazy?"

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Is there union-busting legislation today in the US or is it a thing of the past?

Perhaps someone else has a different take on it, but my interpretation is that a lot of the union "busting" has been going on in the marketplace itself--Japanese automakers setting up non-union plants in the US, Wal-Mart undercutting other discount chains and grocers who have unionized (i.e., more expensive) labor forces, etc.
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Offline Eral

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2005, 04:45:31 AM »
jc, it was because of the Dragon Wagon I thought perhaps you were a car afficionado. St. Jo mentioned it once, affectionately. I am not talking about snobbery- would I cast nasturtiums on you? I am talking devotion. The fact that you drive a car with a name suggested to me a man with High Ideals when it comes to cars. That and your obvious annoyance about the kind of cars they are making. As I know nothing about the kinds of cars they make in America I can't comment on whether labour costs affect design.

I believe that the purpose of unions -when they are doing their jobs properly- is to make sure workers do not get done over. Not to restrict trade. I can see how allowing imports from countries where people get paid 30c a week means cheaper prices, but I don't see this as really benefiting anyone and I support the idea of a decent living wage for workers. So often, when people talk about competition in business, what they really seem to be talking about is "More Money For Me and Stuff Everybody Else". There has to be a balance between profits for companies and businessmen and quality of life for the people making the profits for them. As a customer, you want the cheapest price. Does this mean that the person providing you with the product has to suffer? This is the basic conflict of capitalism, it seems to me - consumerism vs citizenship.

There have always been individuals/companies who fancy a bit of union-busting. It just doesn't seem right to me that the government of a democracy should do it.

The minimum wage here is about $14 AUS. I think.   
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Offline jcompton

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2005, 10:14:13 AM »
jc, it was because of the Dragon Wagon I thought perhaps you were a car afficionado. St. Jo mentioned it once, affectionately. I am not talking about snobbery- would I cast nasturtiums on you?

Sure, if you thought you'd get away with it!

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I am talking devotion. The fact that you drive a car with a name suggested to me a man with High Ideals when it comes to cars.

High ideals when it comes to $800 cars, anyway. And sadly, it's my brother who named it. It stuck.

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I believe that the purpose of unions -when they are doing their jobs properly- is to make sure workers do not get done over. Not to restrict trade.

Well, yes, but the one tends to follow the other. "I want to make sure Jim keeps getting $X per hour, but if Joe enters the labor market, he and Jim will likely end up making $X-Y. Jim's paying me dues to do what's best for Jim, so let's keep Joe out."

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So often, when people talk about competition in business, what they really seem to be talking about is "More Money For Me and Stuff Everybody Else".

That's true. The thing is, that's usually what they mean when they talk about eliminating competition, too.

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Does this mean that the person providing you with the product has to suffer? This is the basic conflict of capitalism, it seems to me - consumerism vs citizenship.

That's a fine way of putting it. But unions are playing the same "optimize for my interests" game.

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There have always been individuals/companies who fancy a bit of union-busting. It just doesn't seem right to me that the government of a democracy should do it.

Well, that's the ever-threatening tragedy of democracy. If you can convince 50.1% of the population of a thing (or, more frequently, game the system so you can convince far less than that), you can pretty much do whatever you want and feel justified in doing so.

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The minimum wage here is about $14 AUS. I think.   

I found AUD$12.30, which is about US$9.25.
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Offline Bons

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2005, 08:40:11 PM »
Does this mean that the person providing you with the product has to suffer? This is the basic conflict of capitalism, it seems to me - consumerism vs citizenship.

An ILA clerk with a high school education makes one-and-a-half to two times what I do per hour as a multi-degreed systems analyst. Unlike them, I do not get paid additional time and a half for working past five o'clock, all weekend, or getting up at 3am to resolve an issue. Some would say, "Obviously you need to organize and have representatives look after your interests." Lovely, but the rational part of me knows that its fiscally unrealistic for all workers to be compensated at the scale I'm familar with seeing.

This is not to say providing a living minimum wage and basic health care to citizens is not an important goal. I'm saying that these ideals inevitably get corrupted.
I think the real basic conflict is humanity vs. self-interest.  Is any lobby really after equality, or are they after the biggest slice of the pie they can get?
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Offline Ghreyfain

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2005, 08:48:19 PM »
What's an ILA clerk?

And $9.25 an hour, wow, communists or what?  (No, I'm not serious.  I expect the cost of living is high there or something.)

As a unionized worker who's overpaid (by market standards) for what I do, I'd like to say I'm pretty happy with it.  Also very bitter at assholes who shop at Wal-Mart.  I must also remind myself to avoid this thread in the future.
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Offline Bons

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2005, 09:01:18 PM »
What's an ILA clerk?

Longshoremen's union.
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Offline Eral

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Re: American style industrial relations?
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2005, 09:46:18 PM »
My brother in law is a courier. He left school in Year 11. He gets paid more than me and I have a university degree. Still, I can always be a courier if I want more money.

Since the early 1900's we have had a system in place which set the minimum wage at the rate "a working man with 2 children and a wife to support could live frugally."
The idea of wage rates being set at what people need to live on, and not what an employer wants to pay has been long held here. We call it wage justice. (Insert Billy Bragg tune here.) Employers don't all like it, but it has prevented the growth of the working poor. Middle class people like bank tellers living in shelters and all that.

If my grandad was here, I could ask him if we're communist. He hated communists. He was convinced our Labour party and  the media were hotbeds of Reds. Yet when I told him I voted Labour and was a communist too, he laughed, patted my hand and said "Of course you're not, gertie." [gertie=girlie in Grandadspeak.]This lead me to suspect he based his judgement on factors other than political affiliation.

The introduction of enterprise bargaining in the '80's drastically reduced anti-competitive behaviour from unions. They had to accommodate the employer, in order to reach an agreement. And the system worked. It cut down strikes and stop-works and increased productivity. Win-win.  

Undoubtedly, humans act selfishly. Lobby groups are after what is good for them. Therefore, it seems imperative that governments keep fair systems in place, not ones that are skewed to favour one group in society. The fact that Little Johnny is happy to do this suggests to me that he is planning to retire by 2007 and not have to face the backlash in the polls.

You wound me, jc. Or you have insight into my personality.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2005, 01:49:41 AM by Eral »
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