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If something is yours by right, then you fight for it or shut up. If you can't fight for it, then forget it.
-- Malcolm X

The Million-Dollar Heist.

million

Since the inception of NoMoreTiers I've written a fair amount about the injustices of two-tierism, but I haven't yet addressed what two-tierism costs the working people of this country or the damage it does to the economy, and I'm not talking about the economy of Wall Street or Bay Street, I'm talking about the economy of ordinary working folk who struggle to pay rent or mortgage and feed their young children at the same time.

So I want to touch a little bit on the dollars, about how much the rich are stealing from the working community through the mechanism of two-tier wage discrimination.

Now, I'm neither an economist nor an accountant. My parents couldn't afford to put me through university, so at 15 years old I was pushed out to work, into the textile mill as a "bobbin boy" and when I got my puny pay check, most of it went to my parents as rent. But I know my own experience and I can get some idea from that and extrapolate from there to include others and try to give you some idea of the magnitude of the problem.

I worked full time at Molson brewery in Vancouver, British Columbia from May 1996 till Feb 2004 at which time I finally got my grievance settled and was placed on full benefits. But up until that date (nearly eight years) I was not considered to be within the "core number" and so I was unfairly deprived of benefits. The "core number" is now called by the scientific sounding term "employee complement number" but it has nothing to do with science, in fact it is meaningless jargon designed to befuddle workers and occupy the time and attention of union negotiators while companies cheat and steal wages and benefits from their employees, from the people who create their wealth.

Because I'm a skilled tradesman I was paid full wage scale from my first day at Molson, but as mentioned, I was deprived of the security of the benefit package that is otherwise a normal part of ones remuneration. I don't know just how much that package costs, or is worth. But if I had to guess, I would say about $6.00/hour, but let's be cautiously conservative and say about $4.00/hour. Now over those past eight years I worked about 2,000 hours a year, so if these figures are about right that would amount to being cheated out of a total of $64,000 and that's just me.

Over these same eight years there has usually been at any given time about seven other "temporary" trades people on the seniority list, working anywhere from a few weeks of the year to practically most of the time. In order to arrive at an approximate estimate we can guess that the mean average amount of employment would be about 6 months or 1000 hours per tradesperson per year. This would amount to a total of $4.00 x 1000 hours x 7 persons x 8 years or a total of $224,000 taken from the back pockets of the skilled working class other than myself.

Again over the same period there have, at any given time been about 21 temporary production line machine operators on the seniority list, and similarly, for the purposes of this very approximate estimate we can guess that the mean average employment would be about 6 months or 1000 hours per operator per year. Now these operators in addition to not getting benefits have also suffered from a reduced wage that amounts to about $6.20/hour less (averaged over the 8 years) than the "regular" operators doing exactly the same work, so that the total penalty for the stigma of not being "regular" employees amounts to about $10.20/hour. Now, $10.20 x 1000 hours x 21 operators x 8 years amounts to $1,713,600.

So that makes a grand total of $64,000 + $224,000 + $1,713,600 = $2,001,600.
(About $8,630.00 per non-benefit employee per year)
And that almost certainly a very conservative estimate.

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Now it's worth bearing in mind that this is just one operation at one brewery. This same company has operations across Canada and in Brazil so you can be sure this is happening elsewhere. And Molson isn't the only brewery guilty of this practice; Labatt is doing the same thing. And then there are all those grocery supermarkets organized under the auspices of the UFCW, such as Safeway's and others like it across Canada and the United States. And whole sections of the Automobile industry organized under UAW.

This breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whereby the rich propertied class steals from our country's hardest working citizens, has to be a billion-dollar industry.

But if a brewery worker steals a can of beer from the production line, or a retail clerk steals a loaf of bread for their hungry kids, they are canned; they are deprived of their very livelihood.

Think about it.

You know, one or two million dollars is a lot of money to a working stiff. But corporate CEOs routinely take home five, ten, twenty, and sometimes as much as a hundred million dollars a year, in pay and benefit packages (In 2003, the average CEO of a major company received $9.2 million in total compensation, according to The New York Times).

So why do companies engage themselves in this, what must be to them, penny-ante, petty theft?

Perhaps part of it is the thrill a bully gets when stealing candy from a baby, the sensual sadistic frisson of oppressing helpless victims from a position of seemingly invulnerable power. We can only guess. But we can be sure that matters like this are not real economic factors when considering whether to close down this factory, or that, instead of some other one. Of course closing down a factory for spite is a different matter. The only rational reason of significant substance that is therefore left to consider, is that the introduction of two-tier wage systems erode away the last obstacle to unbridled profiteering at the workers expense, the Union. Any other gains, financial or otherwise, along the way to this objective are pure gravy.

In Solidarity,
John Barker

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Oct 2004