Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Corporations Should Be Corporations — Unions Shouldn’t Be

Membership is down. Members’ wages are down. What are UFCW bosses doing about it? They’re taking the questionable road of attacking companies’ reputations and merging their small locals into larger units. But as longtime UFCW members know, this latter route is not the one that leads to success.

Bill Pearson, a retired UFCW local president and an activist hoping the union will better represent its members, recently penned an article at the reform-focused website. He recounts the fallout from a merger that – like the recent one in California – benefited the “leadership” much more than the membership:

If we go back to those early days, back to the late 70’s, we would find salaries for union leaders not so far askew from what members were making. The clerks and the cutters routinely fought over members; they didn’t have a monopoly on workers. Local union democracy was still an important aspect of running the local.

After the merger everything changed. Bigger locals and a bigger international meant bigger salaries. Bigger staffs with bigger buildings meant higher dues and more per capita to support the bureaucracy. Bigger really meant more largess: The international per capita has increased from $4 per member per month at the point of merger to $12.54 as of the end of 06. A mere 175% increase.

But Pearson doesn’t just single out his scorn for UFCW. He also notes the role played by SEIU president Andy Stern. Pearson writes of Stern’s corporate-minded tactics, which rely on seizing power from members and forcing them into larger units:

He saw bigger as being even better. He had waged several successful campaigns against employers by getting them to become partners. He saw an opportunity to consolidate the number of internationals and to use the larger size to leverage agreements to gain members.

His policies were akin to what the carpenters were doing; limiting or dismantling democracy and forcing a bigger is better mantra on those who wanted to play along. The Change To Win (ctw) was formed and the ufcw readily joined. It was a decision that has shaped where we are where and where we are headed …

By embracing Stern’s concept of the corporatization of labor, we are in essence doing much the same in our unions. We have given the power of the union over to the boys in DC to decide what we are worth; the value of the work we do.

The practical effects of the Change To Win-SEIU-UFCW strategy on members, and current union staff, are already being felt.

Categories: News