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PORTSIDELABOR  October 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDELABOR October 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Rise Of The Lockout: Another Sign Of Labor's Slide

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

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Date:

Mon, 1 Oct 2012 09:32:45 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (162 lines)

Rise Of The Lockout: Another Sign Of Labor's Slide

NFL refs are back to work, but lots more American
workers remain locked out.

by Josh Eidelson

September 28, 2012

Salon.com

http://www.salon.com/2012/09/28/rise_of_lockouts_another_sign_of_labors_slide/

Last night, three day s after a blown call that had
even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pleading to
"#Returntherealrefs," football's union referees were
back on the field. Just before midnight, management
announced a deal had been reached on a new contract,
ending a lockout marked by questionable calls and —
worse – unsafe but unpunished hits. As the
"replacement" refs depart the field, talk of lockouts
will fade from the news — but they'll remain a growing
trend in labor struggles across the country.

The refs' lockout was not a strike. In a lockout, union
members are out of work not because they've walked off
the job, but because management has refused to let them
work. (Of course, plenty of bona fide strikes are
intentionally provoked by management.) This distinction
was lost on most national media outlets this week, as
demonstrated by a string of corrections on articles
that had originally referred to "striking" referees.
CNN correspondent Jim Acosta even asked Mitt Romney
what he would "do about those referees," and whether he
would "order them back to work." Under U.S. labor law,
when union contract negotiations break down, management
can lock workers out until they reach an agreement. In
other words, if you won’t give up as much as your boss
wants at the bargaining table, he can put you out of
work until you come around.

As workers lose ground to management, strikes are
losing ground to lockouts. In the 1990s, just 4.1
percent of work stoppages were lockouts, according to
Robert Combs of Bloomberg BNA; in the first quarter of
this decade, 8.3 percent were. In the same period, the
number of strikes has plummeted. In fact, as the New Y
ork Times reported in January , the ratio of lockouts
to strikes hit an all-time high last year.

The reason the ratio of strikes to lockouts is
shifting, say s Columbia political science professor
Dorian Warren, is that "workers have seen a decline in
their bargaining power for the last 30 years, while
employ ers have seen an increase." The weakness of
labor law and the aggressiveness of employ ers, he
adds, have reduced the strike to "a weak weapon" for
many workers. Lockouts "are symptomatic of a broader
trend of employ er militancy," say s Gary Chaison, a
professor of industrial relations at Clark University.
"The lockout," he adds, "even though it's probably the
strongest, most anti-union act an employer can do, is
increasingly seen as a pragmatic decision about
bargaining strategy."

At the start of 2012, 2,607 workers were already locked
out. Most of them still are. Among them: Becki
Jacobson, a 30-y ear employ ee who's one of 1 ,300
workers locked out by American Cry stal Sugar in
Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa. In summer 2011, the
sugar beet cooperative forced union members to train
their own replacements and then, after 96 percent of
workers voted to reject deep concessions on healthcare
and job security , locked them out. "Every time we went
to negotiate," Jacobson told me in a March interview,
"the company refused our proposals and kept going back
to their first and final offer." The company's CEO,
Dave Berg, was caught on tape telling shareholders that
the union contract was like cancer, and the lockout was
the treatment: "At some point that tumor's got to come
out. That's what we're doing here." But Crystal Sugar
hasn't been convicted of breaking any laws.

Like the NFL's and Crystal Sugar's, lockouts often go
hand in hand with another trend in Great Recession-era
bargaining: demands for new concessions from workers,
like shifting healthcare costs to employees or doing
away with pension plans. Indeed, while the NFL's owners
may have permanently damaged their brand in the
lockout, a statement issued yesterday suggests they
succeeded in phasing out the workers' pension plan over
time.

Some lockouts are a response to union strength, say s
Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University, as employers
try to get the upper hand against unions they worry
will become strong enough to strike. "If it looks like
the union's going to fight back, then they beat them to
it," she told me. In other cases employers lock
workers out because they sense a union's weakness, and
want to go for the kill.

As employers threaten to throw workers out of their
union jobs unless they sacrifice their union benefits,
a union member's fight to renew his or her contract can
look more and more like a non-union worker's struggle
to win one. In both cases, workers can't count on the
law to secure them justice (a multimillion-dollar fine
against a California country club – awarded to locked-
out members of a union affiliated with my former employ
er, UNITE HERE — is the exception, not the rule). Faced
with employers on the warpath, some unions turn to
disruptive activism or consumer, media and political
pressure. Some still end up agreeing to painful cuts.

When Republic Services locked out sanitation workers in
Indiana, fellow Teamsters in other cities went on
strike in solidarity . When Sotheby's auction house
locked out its art handlers, Occupy Wall Street
activists crashed art events with chants and banners.
And over the past several months, workers have tried a
range of tactics to pressure Crystal Sugar, including
targeting a bank that invests in the company , raising
awareness with a multi-state bus tour, and picketing
outside of recruitment fairs. On Tuesday , hours after
the referees' lockout cost the Packers a rightful
victory, 37 members of Congress released a letter
calling for a resolution to the Crystal Sugar strife.

Unlike the NFL's returning refs, other locked-out
workers can't count on governors like Scott Walker to
take their side. But in each of these cases, just as in
the NFL, the balance of power between labor and
management depends in large part on the public. Do
customers let themselves become accomplices to union-
busting? Or – whether out of fears for safety ,
concerns over quality , or loyalty to local workers —
do they rebel?

Josh Eidelson is a freelance journalist and a
contributor at The American Prospect and In These
Times. After receiving his MA in Political Science, he
worked as a union organizer for five years.

____________________________________________

PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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