Life

Workers vs. Employers: Battles of Arrogance

After reading a story about a planned protest among Walmart employees on Black Friday, I scanned the comments and noticed an interesting jab: someone attacked someone else for speaking out against the workers’ plans with this interesting take:

“Another moron who thinks that corporations should own you and have 100 percent of the power and the workers zero percent.”

Too often, it seems, what organized labor has become is a glorified power struggle in which workers and their employers sometimes seems more interested in being in control than in doing what’s better for the organization as a whole.

Should employers “own” their employees? Of course not. But corporations do have the power and should. They’re the ones who have to make the decisions that ultimately keep the workers working.

A few readers criticized — by comment or private message — my take on the Hostess strike that left the company seeing liquidation; it wasn’t the workers’ fault, she said, citing outrageously high bonuses from executives and various other types of mismanagement. I don’t disagree that there were contributing factors. However, when a dozen individuals each push a car a bit closer to the edge of a cliff — for their own reasons — the car doesn’t go over the cliff until a bit more pushing happens.

The workers, no matter how far others had gotten the front tires to the edge, pushed it the rest of the way. Does it mean that the workers are solely to blame for the Hostess shutdown? Of course not. But were their actions the last nail in a badly constructed coffin? That one’s a lot harder to deny. If the car’s already near the edge, you have to decide how much you want to push it.

The workers either believed that they had more room than they actually did, or assumed that someone would come along and push it back at the last second.

Either way, they miscalculated.

Obviously, the company miscalculated as well, creating a situation in which the workers were unhappy enough to stifle any chance of moving forward.

But miscalculation occurred on both sides.

And late Tuesday, word came that last-minute mediation efforts failed. This pretty much dispels the notion that the workers really didn’t believe the company was serious about liquidating: by then, the liquidation was already sought and the mediation was the absolute last chance to keep the jobs.

So what’s likely to happen now? It appears there’s a chance that not only will the brands be sold, but the union representation that wouldn’t come to agreement with the company in a last-ditch effort won’t be part of the operation when a new owner takes over.

Not only does the union members lose their jobs, the union itself loses its hold. The only people likely to be pleased with the latter are the business owners who no longer have to deal with them.

What I see more and more is a workforce that seems to have forgotten a simple principle: when everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge. There’s a reason we have managers and employees.

There are bad managers. There’s no question about that.

But there are bad workers as well. A lot of those who are so militant about the labor movement, as well as the Occupy movement, are far too quick to forget that fact.

All evil is not held on those in positions of authority.

There are lazy workers, dishonest workers, even malicious workers. Sometimes, it’s the workers who are the problem. And once in a while, union workers are the problem. Not always, but once in a while.

Anyone who paints unions as angelic are about as correct as those who paint corporate America as angelic.

Until more people are willing to work as a team and drop the “we vs. they” mentality, there will be these unnecessary stressors for everyone. Who wants that?

7 Comments

  1. Unfortunately I believe we are going back to the age of the Robber Barons. Just look at the last election and how much was spent by outside PAC [http://www.opensecrets.org/overview/topcontribs.php] and the majority of the money came from individuals and corporations (Yes, unions also had their own PAC money but nowhere near what was spent on the conservative side. Conservatives PAC out spent Liberals PAC by 3 to 1. [http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/08/20/Conservative-SuperPACS-Outraised-Liberals-3-to-1.aspx#page1]). Look at who is behind the efforts to disenfranchise municipal unions in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, the Koch brothers.
    They are using “Free Trade” as leverage against the unions and my prediction is that we are heading toward a global least common denominator and will eventually be working 12 hour shifts with no benefits.  Before the multinational corporation shut down the factory and I was laid-off, they laid-off most of the engineering staff and hired them all back as temp-workers with no insurance and lower wages. They work only 51 weeks a year so they can be considered temps and not full-time employees.
    I have a friend who is working 3 jobs over 60 hours a week six day a week. She works 15 hours at Wal-Mart when she is not working there she goes to work as a janitor. On Friday and Saturday nights she works at the casinos parking cars. She earns a little over $600 a week; it is the parking car where she makes the most money because she gets tips.
    When I was interning for my Masters in Social Work I was working routinely with clients where both the husband and wife worked 40+hr weeks and they were still earned below the poverty level four a family and was getting food support and rent subsidies. One family the husband was working as a machinist for an aerospace company as a unionized employee. The union offered 10% pay cut, pension and health care cuts which the company rejected and they closed. He was hoping to get retrained as a NC machine operator.

    1. DianaCT I think unions are quite capable of accomplishing great things that benefit the workers. Unfortunately, unions often attempt to establish this antagonistic “we” vs. “they” that polarizes everyone to the point that it becomes a “my way or no way” proposition on both sides. Much like politics have become.

  2. The Hostess reaction was one of the best examples of Confirmation Bias I’ve seen lately. If the reader had a preexisting disdain for unions, they immediately jumped on the story as a perfect example of the evil of unions. If the reader had a preexisting disdain of corporations or big business, they immediately jumped on the story as a perfect example of the greed of the executives hurting the common man.
    More than the facts of the case, it was the person’s preexisting bias that determined how they read the story. The facts didn’t change, only the reader’s own beliefs. Everyone saw the story as confirming their preexisting bias.

  3. I think what is missing in today’s corporate climate is ethics. Now the focus is on the bottom line. Nothing else counts and also it is not really the bottom line for the shareholders but the bottom line for the executives. I don’t think we will ever know all the facts in the Hostess labor dispute. We hear that the executives got raises while they were asking the workers for give backs. I think that labor has been saying that the executives got 300% raise while news reports say it was more in the 35% to 50% range, but either way it does look like that they did get some raise at the same time they were asking for wage cuts. My guess is that the only ones to come out ahead will be the investors and they will end up buying the brand name at a fire sale price after milking the company.The first company that I worked at after college made medical equipment, it was a spinoff from a large company that sold their medical division and the person who bought it was the former VP of that division. He then got investors to go in on the company to develop the product line and he gave himself a nice salary. After the company came out with the new product line and was getting a name in the business it went bankrupt. Guess who bought the business at a huge discount?  He did. And guess who got stiffed? I did and the investors, I lost a month’s wages. It was then that I found out the pecking order on who gets paid, the creditors are first inline, the employees are next and the investors last. Every time I see an ad for the company my dander raise a little on the back of my neck because the company became a very large supplier of medical electronics and I read that the owner just retired and sold the company for millions.I have worked in only three companies in my life and each time they were sold and the employees got the short end of the stick (I have to say the last time we were bought out the new owners gave us a pretty good package that included a good severance package, tuition reimbursement and for those that qualified early retirement with insurance.).

    1. DianaCT Bottom line and nothing else is actually quite old, and remarkably even the worst treated workers in America have it much better off than their predessors. You should talk to someone (they aren’t alive of course) who worked in the time of Carneige, Vanderbilt, Rockerfella, or Morgan. Going to work meant risking your life, and you worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week for peanuts. (The History channel special “The Men Who Built America” did an excellent job telling this story.)

    2. DianaCT I’m not sure that the focus was ever on anything but the bottom line, at least from the business owners. Perhaps what is really different is a louder voice of workers complaining about a lack of ethics, whether those complaints are entirely valid or not.
      But regardless of why you go into business, if you’re going to be successful, you MUST focus on the bottom line at some point.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.