Post-Mortem of a Strike
The recent PPG strike was fought not only because of the two-tier issue, but also because this contract was an all-out assault on the union itself. Once new hires have been brought in and the second tier is a reality, then the next contract negotiations five years down the road will be even tougher.
But many of the union membership don't see this as an issue, because they believe, that given the current state of the economy, the company is highly unlikely to be taking on any new hires. They point out that PPG is asking for 33 of the employees to take early retirement by March 2006 and another 33 to do the same by the following March, offering huge incentives for them to do so. PPG shut down one department of approximately 33 employees and since the strike began, it appears that about 20 have likely retired or quit, so the company is asking for about another 13 or so to retire in order to avoid a layoff. So the thinking is that if the company is actually reducing its manpower, then a second tier of new hires is unlikely to materialize.
However, there is a very different and real possibility that these workers are in danger of overlooking. This alternate possibility is even more credible when one considers that PPG would not likely be willing to suffer a five month strike over a non-issue. Sure, the company is happy to get rid of 33 positions because of a department shutdown, but why would they want to get rid of another 33 positions over the next year when it is clear that almost every department is understaffed, and only manages to run thanks to the workers' willingness to put in huge amounts of overtime, resulting in as much as approximately $20,000 in extra wages for some. The deduction to be made is almost obvious, the company is happy to unload its well paid senior employees, because even though it may be costly in the short term, they can be replaced with more than enough cheap second tier employees prior to the next contract, with the added bonus of creating a huge division in the union.
There is another bonus in the offing for the company. The PPG Natrium's sister location Lake Charles, LA (with about 1400 union members as opposed to Natrium's 470) is ready to begin negotiating its contract. Having rammed the two-tier language down Natrium's throat, PPG will have considerable leverage with the Lake Charles facility.
Lake Charles is a potential soft touch; having been hit by one of the big hurricanes a few months ago, the plant treated them like gold. The company puts out a quarterly magazine which has a section talking about each plant. Last month the entire magazine was dedicated to the Lake Charles facility, talking about how PPG was treating everyone down there like family, helping them to repair their homes, paying them for time that they weren't able to work because the plant was down, etc. An entire magazine devoted to propaganda as to why they should feel guilty about saying anything against the company. And now, because Natrium choked, they have the added leverage of saying that "your sister plant passed it".
At Natrium many of the younger folks are not worried about the two-tiers, having been conditioned to be just glad to have a job, it's the older workers who stood firm. But it's not a pretty picture for the future economy of Natrium, with incentives for tier 1 employees to move on so they can be replaced with low cost 2nd tier employees.
For the short term, the situation is settled, but my thoughts are that this gives us the next 5 years to educate ourselves, and to try and learn how to put the genie back in the bottle.
In the contract that was ratified at PPG there is a "non-discrimination" clause that reportedly says that neither union or salary people are allowed to comment on the unions' right to strike and/or the scabbing that took place during the strike. It makes one wonder... What happened to free speech?
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