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The Rainbow's End.


In my last article 'The Million Dollar Heist' I talked about the dollar value of the benefits of the two-tier system to the boss, using credible estimates to show that the immediate financial benefits to the company are not as great as one might imagine, and concluded that the erosion of union solidarity is the prime motive that drives the corporate desire to breach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, equal pay for equal work clause. But in this article, I want to address the other side of the coin, i.e. union acceptance.

Why do unions accept two-tier contracts? Why do union members ratify agreements that tend to destabilize their own organization and consequently threaten their own future financial stability and job security?

The answer ironically is because of a lack of security.

During these times of increasing productivity resulting in declining manpower needs and an ever increasing concentration of wealth into the hands of the few powerful and wealthy. During these times of declining real incomes and looming higher mortgage rates, we are all running scared for our job security and financial stability. Nobody wants to take a pay cut and neither should they have to.

When we were children, we were told about the pot of gold at the rainbow's end, and employers today would have us still believing in it. When it comes time to negotiate a contract we are told that there's only so much money in the pot, and that the pot itself is not very big, so that it is not so much a matter of how much the union can negotiate for its members, but rather a question of how this rather limited pot of money will be distributed amongst the workers. But this is a crock!

At no time in the history of mankind has the productivity of workers been so high as it is at the present, and yet our reward for all this productivity is restricted to a little crock pot, in order that the wealthy shareholder, whose only contribution is investment of the capital that he steals daily from the workers, can consume from an endless horn of plenty.

It has always been the strategy of the powerful to destabilize the solidarity of the masses by playing favorites, and this has often been achieved by inseminating and utilizing prejudices associated with race, religion, country of origin, citizenship and even sex.

But today, if corporations wish to take advantage of this sort of discrimination, they have to make some cosmetic changes to the language, and most importantly they have to pick on a new kind of minority, one that hasn't been fighting back over the last century, and preferably one that is not yet well organized or represented.

So let's think real hard and figure out the ideal vulnerable candidate, a minority without a voice.

Bingo! - That's it! - Future employees!

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Future employees are in such a small minority, that they don't even exist yet, (at least not on the job site) so they are hardly in a position to complain. But they are real; the company can actually start hiring them the day after the ratification. Since the current bargaining unit consists only of 'present' employees and no 'future' employees, this future minority will have essentially no representation and no voice, and by the time they have a voice it will be too late, the deed will be done, and of course we will all be bound by the sacred contract.

Negotiating a decent contract is not necessarily an easy task, and can be an unenviable one at a time of increasing layoffs, declining job markets and high unemployment. At such times it is all to easy to make sacrifices on behalf of silent helpless future victims in order to placate the demands of those who are vocal, but thoughtless and unheeding of the future, those who may have put aside the maxim "an injury to one is an injury to all" and settled instead for an easy going... "I'm alright Jack!"

Of course when the victims eventually find a voice, like most victims, they will have to patiently listen to kind, easy words of denial.
        "It was a democratic decision."
        "This is what the membership accepted."
        "This is what the committee presented us with."
        "We are bound by the terms of the contract."
That last line in particular is something that can slide easily off the tongue of middle managers or H.R. people, who can make it sound like: "We would love to give everyone a fair wage, but [because of the union] we are bound by the terms of the contract."

So how much, if anything, does each worker get, for selling their future brothers and sisters down the river? Let's work it out!

We can do this by continuing with the Molson example from the article 'The Million Dollar Heist'. In that example it was calculated that 29 non-benefit employees were robbed of a grand total of $2,001,600 over an eight-year period.

For simplicity, let's assume that the mythical fixed pot of gold really exists, and that every dollar saved (by not paying the non-benefit employees their full earnings) goes to benefit and bolster the wage packets of the regular employees (Its an unlikely scenario, but nevertheless its an interesting exercise).

At the time of the signing of the last Molson, Vancouver contract there were 155 "regular" employees at that operation. Now if the amount that the non-benefit employees were deprived of was equally shared amongst the 155 "regulars" it would amount to a whopping 81 cents an hour ($2,001,600 ÷ 8 years ÷ 2000 hours ÷ 155 employees = 81 ¢). Of course this would be 81 cents stolen from the disadvantaged, insecure non-benefit/seasonal employees who actually earned it, and need it the most.

But such is the nature of fairy tales, for it is not in the nature of for-profit-business to give anything away, or to transfer wealth between employees, without benefit to itself.

It is a sure thing then, that the entire 81 cents would remain in the company coffers to eventually finish up in the pockets of the significant shareholders.

So how much is forty pieces of silver?

Like the gold at the end of the rainbow, it is little more than an ever-receding carrot on a stick.

In Solidarity,
John Barker


Mathematical footnote:
If 'Peter' is being robbed in order to pay 'Paul' 10-cents more than 'Peter', and then later a decision is made to equalize the wealth between them, then it is only necessary to transfer 5-cents from Paul's account to Peters account to achieve equity while at the same time maintaining the same "communal pot". This fact suggests that the 81cent figure is too high. At the same time it must be born in mind that in the Molson example the Paul group is a significantly larger collection of individuals than the Peter group, and that also the Peter group are contributing about half the hours of work (per individual) that the Paul group are.

When all of these factors are taken into consideration it turns out that the regular employees can gain at most (in the unlikely event that the employer does not directly benefit from the transaction) only 74cents/hour at the cost of bearing the moral responsibility of stealing $8.63/hour (on average) from each of the non-benefit employees.

These calculations are based on assuming, that negotiation are about the distribution of a fixed pot of money, which is far from being a demonstrated reality. The point of the exercise is, that it demonstrates that even given a "best case" scenario, the amount to be gained from a two-tier system by "regular" employees is extremely trivial. Of course it is always nice to earn a few cents an hour more, but it should be clear to anyone that the sacrifice (in terms of honor) in this case, or any other, is too great.

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Nov 2004