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Worker Truths and Management Lies

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Autoworkers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennesee, celebrate their union-confirming vote this month.

Two current labor stories illustrate the push and pull of the worker market we’re in today. One portrays the truth of workers struggling to achieve parity with management. The other reveals the hidden lies that management mouthpieces lean on to manipulate the arguments.

Representing the pro-worker side is the story about laborers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They voted to unionize and join the United Auto Workers, which just this year won unprecedented concessions from the Big Three automakers.

UAW Win

In that epic labor battle, the auto workers’ union took on the management of Chevrolet, Ford, and Stellantis, and argued that workers were due fair wage increases since vehicle sales had skyrocketed, as had CEO and executive compensation, while the neglected men and women on the production lines had fallen behind the rising cost of living.

The union’s argument was simple. If the managers of these manufacturers could benefit from company success, then why was that uplift denied to the people who built the product? The UAW showed the value of collective bargaining when they struck all Big Three manufacturers at once. One by one, each company compromised with the union and the members saw the wage increases and other benefits they had long been denied.

Union Influence Grows

That success led the workers at the VW plant in Tennessee to vote for unionization. Some analysts say that the vote, in which 73% chose to join the UAW, represents a major turning point in recent workers’ struggles. It is the first time that workers for an automaker in the US, other than the Big Three, agreed to organize.

Many labor market experts see the vote at VW as a milestone in the country’s continued march toward greater unionization. The past few years have seen more strikes by workers than at any time in the previous four decades, and today unions enjoy the highest rate of approval since 1965. Considering all the good that unions do for American workers, the vote in Chattanooga seems like a positive sign. Opinions are turning into action.

The appropriately acronymed ABCES gleefully states that 80% of New York state’s construction work force is not unionized. And then complains that the rules are stacked against non-union.

Management Crows

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the labor argument, comes a post from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Empire State (ABCES), the New York faction of the nationwide pro-management coalition that serves as a mouthpiece for powerful business interests.

The appropriately acronymed ABCES gleefully states that a full 80% of New York state’s construction work force is not unionized. The president of ABCES, Brian Sampson, moans that laws that favor unions written by elected leaders are “exclusionary” to what he calls “merit shop construction” (aka, non-union). [How exclusionary these laws are is unclear when the group that he says is being locked out makes up 80% of the work force, as he had just bragged.]

The “exclusionary” practices Sampson is whining about are laws that require contractors to stick to some basic rules of fairness if they are to be considered for bids on taxpayer-funded projects. Some of that fairness includes serious adherence to established safety laws and paying workers the accepted living wages and benefits for all positions.

Lancing the ABCES

What Sampson and his ilk never say out loud is that many non-union contractors find these working stipulations to be unfair because they aim to evade basic safety standards and to underpay their workers so more money will go into the pockets of ABCES’s wealthy benefactors.

It is these exclusively non-union tactics — low pay, lax safety, wage theft — perpetrated at the expense of workers, that explain the sorry statistics on their side of the labor market. Non-union work sites experience over five times more safety violations than union jobs. More than 80% of all on-the-job fatalities happen on non-union sites. And virtually 100% of all recent wage theft claims by workers have come from non-union employees against their bosses.

It’s exactly that sad record of worker abuse that has made New York legislators argue that tax-payer funded projects — construction jobs that you and I contribute to — should adhere to some basic societal rules. And no surprise, the side that breaks those rules with regularity screams that lawmakers are being unfair.

Two ongoing labor stories. One reveals American workers’ fighting for fair consideration as they toil to produce products and profits for American companies. The other portrays management’s whiny position when they’re told they’re not allowed to abuse their workforce.

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