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NLRB on Walmart: It’s Complicated.

10:17 am in Uncategorized by Anthony Noel

I really, really wish I were not so consistently correct about just how little Barack Obama and his corporatist cronies care about the working class.

Walmart workers protest in October. More worker walkouts and protests are expected on Black Friday.

Alas, as I foreshadowed in the comments here yesterday, it’s looking more today as if the Obama-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is trying to give itself room to grant an injunction to Walmart, stopping (theoretically, at least) what any scholar of the American Labor Movement (yes, boys and girls, there actually was one, once upon a time…) - which is exactly what members of the NLRB claim to be – can instantly recognize as the completely legal (and quite necessary) job actions planned for Friday (you know, the BLACK one) at Wals across the country.

ABC News is now reporting that the NLRB is calling a decision on Walmart’s request “complex”:

“The legal issues — including questions about what constitutes picketing and whether the activity was aimed at gaining recognition for the union — are complex,” the labor board said. “Also, there are many distinct factual circumstances at stores across the country to consider.”

While the rose-colored-glasses, in-the-tank-for-Barack set will doubtless try to put a positive spin on this clearly negative turn of events, I’ve seen this M.O. too often in the past four years. Barack makes a statement favoring something (say, a public health insurance option), even as (or worse, after) he is engineering a result he considers much more favorable to “the economy.” (Read: the rich.)

Walmart’s request should have already been tossed based on the principles of the NLRB’s founding: To investigate and settle charges of unfair labor practice.

Few decisions in life are starkly black and white, but this is one of those decisions. The fact that the NLRB is claiming otherwise does not bode well for  Walmart’s clearly victimized workforce.

Anthony Noel is a facilitator of the New Progressive Alliance.

Photo by Neon Tommy under a Creative Commons Share-Alike License.

Walmart to NLRB: “Whaaaaaaaa!”

11:31 am in Uncategorized by Anthony Noel

We’re about to find out exactly how little Barack Obama cares about working men and women.

Walmart workers at an October protest

We already know the answer is “not much,” but a job action planned by employees of the world’s largest retailer on the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday, just three days away - may bring into sharp relief just how far down the river this president is willing to sell the working class.

Walmart – that destroyer of small-town Main Streets, receiver of corporate welfare, and beneficiary of third-world slave-labor - has gone crying to a government watchdog which, if it holds true to the principles of its founding, should not merely toss the Walton clan out on its ear but laugh heartily as it does so.

Though you, dear reader, may not yet have heard about it, the WalMucketeyMucks have gotten wind of plans by their “associates” (hah!) across the country to walk off the job this Friday in protest of crappy wages, non-existent benefits, intimidation, and management stifling of attempts to organize themselves into a what Walmart should already be treating them as: A force that can force the planet-raping retailer to its knees.

Walmart workers would likely have unionized many months ago if this White House – at the urging of the Clintonite now-mayor of Chicago - hadn’t backed down on EFCA (that’s said with tongue firmly in cheek, of course - since this White House never really got its back up over it).

And now Walmart - the world’s best-known purveyor of goods produced in offshore sweatshops, and considered by many to have gone into groceries so its American workers could “spend” the food stamps those workers still require to make ends meet in Walmart stores - is asking the National Labor Relations Board, a body charged in 1935 with enabling the union movement and ending unfair labor practices, to protect it? Really?!

Let’s see the silver-tounged leader of the free world talk his way around this one.

Photo by Neon Tommy under a Creative Commons Share-Alike License on Flickr

Obama Won’t Stand With Teachers? JILL WILL!!

9:21 am in Uncategorized by Anthony Noel

I got a note yesterday from the Stein campaign by email, one I assume many here did as well, asking for information about high-profile events for the candidate to attend. I responded, thinking I’d never get a response, just hoping to put it out there: “Jill needs to go to Chicago! NOW!”

Much to my surprise, the coordinator mailed me back within hours: “She’ll be picketing with teachers Thursday morning.”

THIS is what supporting workers looks like!

Any questions, Mr. President?

What of Honor Rolls for the Rest of Us?

6:04 pm in Uncategorized by Anthony Noel

It airs most nights, the photos and names superimposed against an aural background of staccato Souza-esque fourishes. The "honor roll" of Americans who have fallen in "the conflicts" in Iraq and Afghanistan is a fixture of PBS’s "The News Hour," and as I drove along the 101 a couple of days ago, I couldn’t help wonder why.

A close colleague of mine served as a corpsman in Vietnam. Mike saw it all, lived to tell about it, and maintains he is no different – and most certainly no better – than any other American who toils daily, in any other vocation, be it stateside or overseas.

"People work hard every day to make this country what it is, just by doing their jobs. Soldiers are no better than anyone else, and until we can let go of our glamorization and romanticization of warfare, we are doomed to continue fighting."

So where are the other honor rolls? Those for coal miners who toil – and die – in unsafe, unregulated mines to keep electricity coursing through our society?

For drilling rig operators who die needlessly – unless we consider the quest for still-higher profitability of oil companies a worthy death?

For window washers and crane operators and factory workers and painters and farm workers and salespeople? Whether they die suddenly as the result of a workplace accident or plane crash during a business trip; or incrementally, from the combined effects of years of hard work, noxious compounds and the stress of making ends meet, what makes their lives any less important to the reality – and mythology – of America than the lives of men and women who willfully enlist and put themselves in harm’s way in an overseas military theater?

And what makes the harm those warriors face any more respectable than that to which other working men and women expose themselves daily?

What indeed – beyond some editor’s choice to perpetuate the glory of war?

What EFCA Really Does

4:53 am in Uncategorized by Anthony Noel

I’ve been a business management consultant for over 20 years, and have just begun my 17th year as management columnist for a national trade magazine serving a tiny little piece of (what’s left of) American manufacturing. It’s an industry I broke into in my early 20s.

In the nearly 30 years since, I have (1) founded and owned a successful business in that industry; (2) held management roles at two others, (3) held sales and/or management roles at companies which distribute manufactured goods to professional contractors, and (4) managed the day-to-day operations of another company in a completely separate field.

In short, I’ve hired, fired, and evaluated the performance of people – and crunched the numbers – at for-profit companies for most of my life.

The conventional wisdom is that owner/manager types like me are strongly anti-union – and I am.

But I strongly support the Employee Free Choice Act, known more briefly as EFCA.

Much has been said and written – nearly all of it vitriolic – about this proposed change to the National Labor Relations Act. If passed, EFCA would make it easy as pie for workers at any company to organize.

(Read the bill, without spin from one side or the other, here.)

So why would a pro-management, anti-union, all-for-profitability guy like me support EFCA?

Because I understand what EFCA would really do.

This update to the NLRA, a statute that has served this country’s workers well for 75 years, would once and for all put employees at non-union companies – and that is the critical point – on an equal footing with company management. And for American businesses, that can only be a good thing. Here’s why.

The union movement was, of course, born in response to unfair labor practices and poor working conditions. While many believe the problems which unions sought to correct have been largely addressed, one still remains: At any moment, a non-union company can unilaterally and drastically change the terms under which its workers are employed. There is absolutely nothing, at present, stopping a non-union company from immediately slashing employee pay and benefits.

By allowing workers to unionize immediately, EFCA would match, on workers’ behalf, the unilateral power now held exclusively by management. With that possibility looming, poorly managed firms – and take it from a management consultant, they are everywhere – would get a game-changing moment of clarity, an opportunity to truly partner with workers – or become unionized.

Such management/worker partnerships are the key to any company’s success.

At the core of any successful business is people. Not its customers, but its workers.

If the people on the front lines of the company are not doing good work, it doesn’t matter how many customers that firm’s promotional efforts attract. The poor quality of the product will ultimately send those customers elsewhere.

So, how do successful business owners keep their workers happy?

They pay employees what they’re worth instead of as little as possible.

They make employees integral to the company’s success, not tangential, like easily replaced parts of a machine.

Most critically, they make communication with employees their top priority.

This is not management-consulting mumbo jumbo. Time and again, year after year, I see the difference between companies that put their people first and those that don’t. That difference, in two words, is mutual concern. Without it, short-term success is possible, but growth is limited and longevity – well, forget it.

The Opposition
Business interests, from small business owners to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have a laundry list of reasons for opposing EFCA. Most familiar is the complaint that it is un-American, for it “does away with the secret ballot.” If you’ve read the bill, you already know that is bullshit.

Yes, EFCA allows employees to organize immediately by petition, but it preserves their right to hold secret-ballot elections. So this objection is a thinly veiled distraction from businesses’ real problem with EFCA, namely, they will no longer be able to coerce employees against unionizing for the 30 days preceding an election (if they opt to unionize by petition).

Other objections from the business community are nothing more than off-topic diversions. To wit:

- Business owners like to say they are the ones taking all the risks, and should therefore be free to run their businesses as they see fit. I sometimes hear it from consulting clients: “I’ve got everything on the line here. All employees need to do is come in, work hard, and collect their paychecks.”

I tend to sever the consulting relationship right there, because it’s clear I’ll be wasting my time.

We all know American workers don’t save anything anymore, and not for lack of wanting to; the ever-increasing cost of living has forced workers to live paycheck to paycheck. When they take a job, employees therefore put everything on the line, as surely as their employers have. They’re counting on that job to pay the rent or mortgage, pay off student loans, buy the health insurance that fewer and fewer employers do.

Any employer too dim to see the opportunity presented by such circumstances for real team building – not the ersatz variety preached on motivational posters with which too many employers paper their walls, then roundly ignore – is in need of help far beyond my capabilities.

- Business interests love to warn that unions are corrupt. As if to imply no businesses are.

- And then there’s old reliable: “If my employees don’t like the way they are treated, they can get another job!”

Or, they can organize. The decision to do so – or not – and how to do so, should be theirs – entirely.

The Need
So why now?

As our economy continues to founder, employers are more – not less – inclined to take chances with their employees’ futures. We’re not hearing so much these days about “the jobs Americans don’t want to do,” an erstwhile selling point for guest-worker schemes. The phrase implies that Americans are above certain types of work, while would-be immigrants are not.

Translation: It’s okay to pay undocumented housekeepers, farm workers, and day laborers a less-than-living wage. They’ll take whatever they can get, so why not take advantage?

Well how’s this for starters?

Be careful, the day laborer you’re screwing just might live next door. (A tip of the hat to Jim Moss).

Of course, I’m not alone in knowing what EFCA really does.

The pro-business Right – those claiming utter commitment to accountability in all things – they know what EFCA really does, too.

It brings employers into the real world, making them just as accountable to their employees as they insist their employees be to them.

That’s only fair.

It’s only right.

It is maybe as far as you can get from “un-American.”

EFCA’s opponents have only one hope for stopping it, then: By scaring small businesspeople witless.

Based purely on the witless nature of the arguments I’ve heard against EFCA, it would seem they’re succeeding.

But with EFCA in place, owners and managers too self-interested to see the prudence in building partnerships with their workers will have good reason to change their ways – and American business will get the push it needs to start innovating again.

One more thing.

You might be wondering how can I support EFCA and be anti-union. The reason is simple: I will always prefer paying employees handsomely for their work over having a union come between a company’s owners and workers. I sincerely believe most owners and workers would prefer it, too.

There’s an old saying: Companies that are unionized always deserve to be.

Truer words were never spoken.