Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Sure, my headline is inflammatory, and over-the-top.

It's not accurate to say the entire membership of a union says it does not want the jobs it currently holds.

But it may be more true than inaccurate due to the vote taken last weekend to reject a new contract with Olin Corporation - a contract which was filled with concessions that union members are said to not be happy with having been presented after weeks of negotiations between union officials, company officials and state and local politicians involved in trying to hammer out a compromise agreement. Armed with the knowledge that the corporate entity is looking at cost savings and possibly moving approximately one-thousand jobs to Oxford, Mississippi, the union members were presented a contract that their own union officials AGREED TO with the company. This is to say that the heads of the union made concessions in the language of the contract proposal they deemed necessary in order to get a contract they believed union members SHOULD AGREE TO because of the potential loss of ALL of their jobs over a period of time.

But, whether it was due to rumors because someone did not like a particular concession and spread it, whether it was due to rumors because someone misread part of the contract, whether it was due to rumors due to --- who cares what the reasons were because there were rumors floating about at the time of the vote? Members got a contract, probably had it explained to them by their union head, their union shop stewards, their friends, and people they just sat near when the pieces of paper were being glanced at or combed through or --- again, who cares how I interpret how they read it --- they looked, listened to whatever extent they listened and decided they did not want the contract. In essence workers who make an above-average wage voted against a contract that would have allowed them to continue to work at their jobs for at least another year without the potential that the company would change its mind and close up the centerfire operation in East Alton before the end of 2011.

Well, ya blew it. And everyone but the union members who voted against the contract realized that it was setting up this scenario: Olin will take the centerfire operation out of the area because the union costs the company bottom line too much.

BEFORE you union people get all upset with me, let me explain some things to you about ME.

I have been a voting member of a union. My father was a voting member of a union. My grandfather was a voting member of more than one union. I have a work history with union representatives, do work with a group SPONSORED by a union. In short, I am not dissing having a union. Unions were formed, historically, to ensure workers safety and allowed for contractual obligations to be negotiated faithfully for decades. And in many cases the unions in the United States of America played a great part in making our economic engines purr right along. But - times have changed, legislators made the laws tighter on some areas and looser on other areas which have led to corporate giants having the upper hand. Unions, weakened over time, no longer hold the winning cards. Union members do not have the right attitude for the times. Union members who think "we need this, that and more" when looking at a contract that has language filled with concessions must not be looking at the overall picture when it is much more important to see the overall picture than the one in their own mind. This truly is "you can't see the forest for the trees" mentality I am talking about. The honest truth is that union members who voted against the Olin contract were not seeing the impact it will have WAY PAST their own home.

Let's go here: how many jobs will be lost when Olin pulls its centerfire operation out of East Alton in however many months or years it takes to be fully gone?

Starting point: approximately 900 "current" jobs will be lost at Olin's centerfire operation. This is because the number of retirees will be up before the company actually pulls out of East Alton --- and they won't be replacing those workers with temporary workers.

Secondary work - completely guessing on my part: those who currently do simple jobs but are not under union rules or contract will number around 100 or so - these are people who do not do what the union can control, such as directly working for Olin in the part of the plant where packing the packaging takes place, or in peripheral areas such as administrative assistants, safety and loss prevention personnel, and other administrative functions which will be lost to the Riverbend but may be shipped off to Mississippi. These jobs are just as necessary for our economy as those 900 to 1000 union workers jobs. But, for the trees in front of their faces, the union membership didn't realize there was a forest. The trees are their own paychecks in the economic stream of society and the forest is the overall money exchange in the economic stream.
From being uncaring about others or being ignorant of how huge the impact of their "no" vote, the union members who voted down the contract made a loud and clear statement last Sunday:

This mindset, frankly, is completely unproductive when it is the opinion of one small segment of society. And --- I remind all of you who are related to or are members of the union membership who said "no" to those concessions --- you are not the majority opinion of the public at large in times such as these. Not only are you not the majority opinion, but you're so much in the minority opinion that when you lose your jobs and cannot find a replacement job at anywhere near the $20 per hour or more than you WERE making (see, it is no longer ARE making once you lose your jobs, guys), you'll wish you had listened to everyone who told you that the only way you would save your job is to vote "yes" on the concessions even if it hurts your pride.


I had a job with a company in the 1990s and was unfairly dismissed by a new boss. When that boss was gone, my old boss was back and rehired me. By this time the company had a union contract in place with my co-workers. The union had wiggled its way into the company between times I had worked there and was getting some good things out of the contracts. My wage when I came back to work at the company was much improved, and I liked that fact. Over a few years, I got raises, my co-workers got raises, and the company was bought by a bigger corporation - a conglomerate who has a powerful attorney. The rumors that went around during contract negotiations were many. We weren't the biggest union nor the tightest union, but we were a union and had a good attorney of our own negotiating on our behalf. Negotiations kept going for months and our good attorney was replaced by a better attorney. We had high hopes that we'd be able to get a contract hammered out and keep our jobs safe for the period of the contract. But by the time the contract was negotiated and to be voted upon, our members were unhappy because of some concessions - but the company was every bit as unhappy with the union. It took place in the 21st Century when times are different. The weakened contract was ratified, the union members were actually happy to have the jobs we had. The company, however, made sure the union didn't have enough power. Terms had weakened the position of the members --- not because of how our attorney negotiated, but because we all knew by this time that the company was going to start closing offices --- starting with offices where there were union contracts in place. This (at the time) was a nationwide company with more than 250 markets being served by this company. The corporate greed lovers said "we must have a better bottom line, and if you have that many employees to pay, you're not keeping our bottom line good enough for the stockholders. You must do something to make the stock prices good enough." And so a few months later, with many of us sitting there knowing how the climate was changing, I again lost my job, thanks to the corporate attorney and his way of figuring out how to eliminate positions one by one. This was followed by more workers losing their jobs. And eventually the entire office was closed in St. Louis. As far as I know, there are fewer than ten jobs remaining here --- but they are not paid from an office in St. Louis because that office is closed. I'm not even sure they are under a current union contract. But it should be noted that more than 15 people lost jobs because that company had the upper hand in this economic climate --- legislation allowed them to close offices due to "cost overruns" they probably brought on themselves. The union --- well, I haven't had to pay any dues since I lost my job. I don't have a job related to that union, and since the union did not exist in my life long enough for me to have any kind of investments I can say without reservation that I hope they are doing well without me. I can also say that I have seen the company wither after closing office after office across the country. Someone at the corporate office couldn't see the forest for the trees, either. Eventually the corporate attorney will leave that job and retire in his 40s for all the bonus money he made by closing offices and killing thousands of jobs. The company will be weakened because it could not continue to profit with fewer employees working. The union --- well, it was only in a few markets and doesn't have the power it once had --- will continue to negotiate from a weakened position and, hopefully, its members will still have benefits and good wages. But it is possible that "good" wages aren't even what I was making for the company ten years ago, and "benefits" are pretty much a joke now anyway, so why bother? The members wouldn't be able to afford insurance at the prices being offered or at the "good" wages which aren't as good.
This is the 21st Century plan --- work for less money, beg for insurance that you can afford (and not get it), and watch the corporations weaken themselves all the while the stockholders beg for more out of their pieces of paper.


The big picture is this: if you want things to continue in a positive manner, you never do something as rash as voting down a few concessions that will keep your jobs. Also, from the corporate standpoint, if you disarm yourself by closing plants and moving jobs, you'll suffer losses.

This, my dear union friends at Olin, is what is called a LOSE-LOSE proposition. You have voted down a contract which would have kept your jobs and the jobs of others here. Olin will move its centerfire operations and many of those jobs but, meanwhile, will be losing business a few years from now after they find out that they made a bad decision in moving because it will, overall, eventually cost them too much to rebuild what they had here.

I just wanted you to know, in case the reason you voted "no" was that you felt corporate greed was overtaking everything you worked so hard in achieving. All will lose because of your "no" vote.

No comments:

Post a Comment