Union job is to protect employees and their jobs

October 7, 2012 

Lockout: the refusal by an employer to allow employees to come to work until they accept the employers terms of a labor dispute. Most Americans relate a lockout to professional sports. The NHL owners have currently locked out their players, but most Americans probably are more familiarly the NFL owners’ recently lifting the lockout for game officials. The biggest issue involved in the NFL lockout was the owners demand to end the defined benefit pension program for the referees and replace it with a market based 401(k) plan. Public opinion during labor disputes is always mixed, but I think it’s safe to say that the majority of Americans usually side with management during these disputes. Having no factual knowledge of the dispute, most Americans base their opinion on what they hear through the news media. And with no shortage of union-hating media types named Glen, Rush, Bill, or any other clown you can find “educating” Americans on Fox News, it’s really no wonder how many people come to their conclusions. But the reality of labor disputes is usually quite different than they are made to sound in the media. Some in the media portray labor unions as overzealous socialists who want to bankrupt corporations and redistribute American wealth. They call us communists, unpatriotic or any other term they think will invoke fear or rage in their audience. But the bottom line is this folks, unprofitable companies do not stay in business long and if a company closes its doors or relocates to another country, then workers lose their jobs. Unions rely on their members paying union dues to function. No job, no money, no union dues. It is inherently important to unions that the companies our members work for are profitable. Measuring the profitability of a company, however, is usually where the argument begins. Every negotiation session I have ever been in bears the same message. The company is broke and the workers make too much and must make concessions. Sometimes this is actually the case, and the union can usually find a way to make the company successful again. Far too often though, it is simply a negotiating ploy. And when pressed for facts or to open their books to prove the shortcomings, our requests are met with a blank stare and silence. The NFL officials weren’t asking for anything new. They simply wanted to keep their defined benefit pension program. The owners wanted to push them out of that into a 401(k) and pocket the savings. It took a blown call that directly changed the outcome of a game and its $300 million impact on the Vegas betting institution to get the owners to come back to the table and get serious. Even the union-hating governor or Wisconsin, Scott Walker, joined the deafening roar of outrage to bring back the refs, albeit only after his beloved Packers got hosed. The sad thing in all of this is lockouts are not unique to professional sports. Companies lockout their employees every day, all over the country. They all chirp the same tired old song about profitability yet can’t back up their song and dance with facts or real numbers. They scream about being broke and yet when they do get concessions from workers the CEO gets a 400 percent raise. Where is the public outrage and demands of fair play? Sadly, many Americans believe what they hear in the media and think, “I don’t have a pension so no one else should either.” Instead of striving to join the ranks of those who have, they want to bring those with pensions down to their level. Where are our priorities as a nation, when we’re willing to take a stand over the outcome of a football game but remain silent over the onslaught on our workers? Misplaced, that’s where. Fred Rumsey is the political committee chairman for the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council.

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