Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hey Hostess union: how about those principles now you no longer have a job?

I once had a very wise man tell me: never let your principles interfere with your labor negotiations. It's a tenant the Bakery, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers (BTCGM) at Hostess never learned.

Let's go back in time a bit.

It was December 1993 and I'd just been elected Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court. Since I was filling an unexpired term, I took office right after the votes were certified.

On my first day I found a 'lovely' parting gift from my predecessor: a signed union contract covering all supervisors and management staff and a union petition for recognition covering everyone else. Oh - and the recognition petition had never been posted as required by law, so I was in violation the minute I took the oath of office. And one more thing - clerks of court offices in Ohio had never been unionized before.

Things eventually worked out with me getting the wish-list contract thrown out, my managers excluded and a good contract for everyone else which included the first-ever requirement for performance appraisals. But I had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way.

Fortunately, I had a very good labor attorney, Jim Burkhart, who helped me. He's the one who gave me the good advice that I instantly rejected upon first hearing it. How in the world, I wondered, do you ever set aside your principles in your labor negotiations? Isn't everything you bargain for based upon those principles?

The short answer is both yes and no - but in case you're wondering how that works, a look at the BTCGM and their now-unemployed members gives you a perfect picture.

BTCGM is the union that went on strike and put Hostess, maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread (to name a few), out of business resulting in the unemployment of more than 18,000 workers.

BCTGM International Union President Frank Hurt issued a press release when the company announced it was going to liquidate - and one comment encapsulates the point perfectly:

"Throughout this long and difficult process, BCTGM members showed tremendous courage, solidarity and devotion to principle. They were well aware of the potential consequences of their actions but stood strong for dignity, justice and respect."

They were so busy standing for their so-called principles that they put their company out of business and not only lost their jobs, but the jobs of all other employees - including other union workers - as well.

BTCG and their wage and benefit demands are not the sole reason for the company failing, but there were the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. They were so intent on 'standing up to management' that they eliminated the management and the company entirely.

Clearly, they let their principles interfere with their negotiations and you can see the disastrous results.

But that's not all. Labor Union Report took a look at the union management, including Hurt, and, sadly, what they found won't surprise you.

Here are the main points:

* 18,500 Hostess workers unemployed

* BCTGM boss Frank Hurt encouraged the strike (knowing it could shut down the company)

* As BCTGM membership has fallen 30% since 2000, Hurts salary has gone up nearly 45% to over $260,000

* The bakery industry union pension fund is less than 50% funded ($10 billion in liabilities), yet bakery union bosses have their own fully-funded (100%) pension plan -- funded by members.

* Bakery union bosses Hurt and the Sec.-Treasurer both have their kids on union payroll.

Here is the post (the links to the info are embedded):

Let Them Eat Cake: As Hostess Workers Get Hurt, Bakery Union Bosses (& Their Kids) Do Well

When I was doing a regular radio show on WSPD (Eye On Toledo), I had Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, as a guest at a time when the city was threatening layoffs of police and fire. I asked him a question and got a surprisingly honest answer.

Q: It it came down to every member police office taking a small pay cut or most of them maintaining their current pay while some of their fellow union members lost their job through a layoff as a result - and in light of the union mantra 'all for one' - what would your members choose?

A: Sadly, I think they'd opt for the layoffs of some and keep their current wages/benefits.

BCTGM took that to an extreme. Can you say 'stuck on stupid'?

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