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A Striking Dissimilarity

Once again, "James H" has given me a sharp poke in the cerebrum. (He's awfully good at that. And quite annoying about it. And he called it "food for thought," which would have made a pretty good title.) He sent me a link to this story, and invited me to opine on it.

Short version: Workers at a Mott's Apple Juice plant in upstate New York are on strike, fighting a proposed wage cut.

No big surprise, right? It's a tough time. Companies are facing shortfalls, and they need to cut spending wherever they can. In rough circumstances, everyone's gotta make sacrifices. Better to lose a little pay than jobs.

The only catch here is, things ain't so rough for Mott's. The company's making record profits, and the plant is quite financially successful.

The reason they want to cut workers' pay? Pretty much because they can. As it stands now, Mott's pays somewhat above the average for their industry in that area. They're trying to bring their pay rates more in line with the standard.

And that's their right.

As it's the workers' right to say "hell, no!" and go on strike.

What Mott's is doing is incredibly stupid. They've got a profitable plant, and they're trying to wring more profit out of it at the expense of the people who are, in a large way, generating that profit.

I don't talk much about my "day job," but I identify with the workers here. I work for a Very Big company, but I'm one of the revenue-generating employees. And every day, it seems, some of the parasites (that's my term for the middle to upper management idiots) come up with new, stupid policies and guidelines and procedures and rules that get in the way of my being able to generate revenue. (Some day, when I get fed up with the place, I'll post here a link to the unofficial message board where we employees engage in sedition. I'm rather active there, and me and my colleagues can be quite... creative.)

The Mott's management seems to think that their employees are overpaid, and want to correct that. I sincerely hope they've looked very carefully at the situation, because I'd wager that there is a direct relationship between the above-average pay the workers receive and the above-average performance of the factory in question.

My employer is an even bigger company than the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the owners of Mott's, and I think I can extrapolate from my own experiences and knowledge to get inside the corporate mindset.

They're probably thinking that with the economy the way it is, they can afford to cut back on pay a little. They're thinking that the workers will look at it reasonably, realize that they will still have jobs, and suck it up. Eventually.

There are two flaws with that theory.

The first is that the move will anger the workers, and angry people often do stupid things. Stupid things against their self-interest. Including saying "screw this" and quitting a job that is still well-paying in a time when finding a new job is a dicey option. This would hurt both the worker and the employer, but as I said, angry people do stupid things.

The other flaw is that they have forgotten that "loyalty" is a two-way street. If an employer wants to have loyal employees, they need to show loyalty to them. They need to prove they're worthy of the loyalty they need.

I don't know how this strike will end specifically, but I'm quite comfortable on answering how it will end generally: badly, for all parties concerned. And the idiots who proposed this pay cut for no other reason than "we think we can get away with it" needs to be pelted with apple cores.

But James' story brought back another story I'd meant to write about at the time -- one that shows the current reality of unions. Not like the Mott's case, which harkens back to the days when unions occasionally did right by their workers, but one that's far more typical of unions today (and why, when I hear rumblings about attempts to unionize my own company, I see red).

It seems that this worker was trying to unionize his fellow workers. He notified his employer that he was trying to do so, and in response he was fired.

The employer in question? The United Federation of Teachers.

The UFT case is far more typical of today's unions than the Mott's case. It is nothing but rank hypocrisy. Had any other company fired someone for trying to organize a union, that company would be the target of so many protests it'd make their heads spin. But when it's a union that is doing the discriminating, that's different.

Today's unions are no strangers to hypocrisy. They've even resorted to "outsourcing" their picket lines -- instead of union members walking the line themselves, they hire temporary workers to carry the signs. And, in some cases, the temps work under far worse conditions, for less pay, than the striking workers are protesting.

If unions today wanted to be true to their original principles, they'd be looking for more cases like the Mott's case -- and stop pulling the kind of bullshit they've been pulling for years (such as sinking millions and millions of their members' money into trying to buy the Democratic Party, and setting up cushy resorts for themselves, and whatnot).

But I don't hold out much hope for that to happen. The Mott's case isn't a sign of the unions' revival of their original principles, it's the deviation. It's a throwback. It's the aberration. It's the exception.

It's the last gasp of the original purpose and need for unions.

And that's a damned shame.

Update: Link added. Doh!


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Comments (18)

Unions are a dwindling frac... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Unions are a dwindling fraction of the workforce and this is the reason why. They have long since ceased being about supporting the rights of the worker and advancing the rights and welfare of workers and have become focused on the growth and prestige of the union itself. The union is more about itself than the people it supposedly represents.

Jay you didn't include a li... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

Jay you didn't include a link to the story James H sent you. Without reading that and seaching for more info on this, I'm still willing to bet that the reasons behind the companies actions a way, way bigger than "Pretty much because they can".

Frankly you're thinking like a Democrat/Marxist here and most big companies don't operate like that. They may have been profitable up to now, but companies don't base decisions on what's happening right this second, or what happened in the past-- they base them on the future.

Right now the future looks pretty bleak. I happen to work in the food industry and I'm seeing it every day. Companies must restructure for the Obama economy which not only includes tax increases in the near future, but other masssive increases in the cost of employing someone, including but not limited to, health insurance costs and unemployment insurance costs. Its getting to the point where if a company has to lay someone off the government is going to charge the former employer for the rest of that persons life. (Yeah I know it's only two years right now, but give them time.)

Also we're seeing a big decrease in the demand for specialty foods. As Obama continues to fundamentally transform our country things that we used to be common place are becoming luxures that few except lawyers and politicans can afford and the food producers are reacting to this trend.

As I said, I'd like to see the orginal article cause I'd bet it's baised to the point of being untrue and that there is a lot more to this story.

I agree for the most part. ... (Below threshold)

I agree for the most part. But, since you are only guessing why the company is trying to persuade their employees to work for less, I'd like to throw a guess out there as well.

Over the years I've noticed that the pendulum swings back and forth. Today the pendulum may be in the favorable part of its arc for Mott's but it's just a matter of time before the pendulum will swing back towards the not-so-well part of the arc.

If I owed a company I may want to try to prepare for the economic down turn. I'd want to try to level out the fluctuation in prosperity - making it easier on the company and their employees. Don't get too excited when things are going good and don't get too down when things are going poorly. Keep an even keel. Rather than giving out 6% raises one year and 0% in another, keep things even by giving, say, a 3% raise year in and year out. And/or, rather than hiring a load of people one year and then having to down size the next - which makes everyone nervous, I would prefer to use bonuses as a method of rewarding my employees for working their ass off during prosperous - busy - times. That way keeping the core group of workers the same and maybe giving them a better sense of security.

Then again, what do I know?

As for Unions, they piss me off. They seem destructively greedy and more than willing to bite the hand that feeds them. I understand their importance, much like a country having nuclear weapons. It's the threat of using it that keeps people in check, but you never really want to use it.

I was a union member for 20... (Below threshold)

I was a union member for 20 years and hated every minute of it. The only reason it and the company I worked for survived was because the company is a defense contractor. It isn't vulnerable to market forces. The union had little to do with worker rights and more with throwing its weight around and making it more difficult to get anything done by forcing stupid work rules that had far too many of us standing around waiting for another union worker to throw a switch or move a trolley or turn a screw.

In regards to Mott's plans for pay cuts, I'd have to say that if those pay cuts were across the board, including management and the Board of Directors, there might be support from the rest of the workers (but not likely, under the circumstances).

The company where I am employed did use a temporary across-the-board 10% pay cut when we hit a rough patch. Every one from the CEO on down felt the pain. After 3 months everyone's pay was returned to their original levels. But permanent pay cuts for just the employees actually making the money for their employer seems stupid. It's well within the rights of Mott's to do so, but it only makes sense on a spreadsheet. It's those intangible factors that don't fit on the spreadsheet that will have a far greater effect on the company. Decisions made purely on the basis of a spreadsheet almost always leads to employee dissatisfaction, lower productivity, and lower earnings in the long run. There will be a short term boost in profit but more often than not they won't be sustainable.

As my Dear Old Dad has told me more than once, bean-counters are the worst people in the world to run anything other than an accounting firm.They don't understand the human factor, don't understand that loyalty is a two way street, and that employee morale is something that can't be factored on a spreadsheet.

From a fairness standpoint,... (Below threshold)
James H:

From a fairness standpoint, Mott's comes out looking like class-A d-bags in part because at the same time they cut workers wages, they paid out a nice dividend to shareholders.

It's a marked contrast with Ford. There, CEO Alan Mullally earned merely $13.6 million in 2008. A substantial sum to be sure, but it was a step down from 2007. And he did this at the same time that Ford sought concessions from workers.

If your company faces bad times or needs to retrench, a good manager will take a pay cut himself to demonnstrate that he is not demanding a sacrifice from workers that he is not willing to make himself.

Contrast that with Mott's in Rochester, where management lectures the striking employees that they are a fungible resource just like any other commodity.

I'm not saying that a CEO should earn what a lowly machinist makes. But a good leader or manager works to build a sense of trust and commonality between himself and his team.

Loyalty is a two way street... (Below threshold)

Loyalty is a two way street?!?

There is little or no loyalty between employees and employers anymore. Yeah, maybe at the mom & pop, but not at the Fortune 500 level. No way, no how. I've watched a CEO who came up through the ranks from the bottom wonder why his engineers can't be a commodity and berate his managers for not farming MORE work out to India. I've seen employees literally blackmail their employer for more $. I've seen them scoot to a direct competitor for next to nothing more than spite. Loyalty? Phbbbt...

From the information you present, Mott's decision seems hard to justify, but I would want to know more before passing judgment. Note that it may not be Mott's call. This decision could be coming down from the corporate mount. $hit rolls down hill you know...

"As my Dear Old Dad has tol... (Below threshold)

"As my Dear Old Dad has told me more than once, bean-counters are the worst people in the world to run anything other than an accounting firm."

Unfortunately for American businesses, the bean counters moved into "management" beginning in the 70's. Ever since is seems that 'long range planning' became nothing more than "increasing profit in the next quarter".

Interesting article:

Mott's comes across as slig... (Below threshold)
James H:

Mott's comes across as slightly more reasonable in that Syracuse article, but not by much, IMO. I can understand wanting to get employees to contribute more to their benefits and scaling back the corporate contribution. But taking a stand on a $1.50 an hour pay cut is insulting to the workers and basically tells them their contribution to the company is considered worthless.

Not sure James, but I'll be... (Below threshold)

Not sure James, but I'll bet running the numbers on the concessions the company wanted, re: medical coverage and retirement contributions, the figure would probably be in the area of $1.50 an hour. Just wait until ObamaCare really kicks in.

Just to muddy the waters; locally the radio wags are calling for a cut in the wages/benefits of government (union) employees. No one appears upset about that. While not apples=apples, the sentiment is "different".

Garand:Gov't pay i... (Below threshold)
James h:


Gov't pay is a whole 'nother can of worms. I honestly think some gov't employees aren't paid enough.

(I'll let that one hang out there for a while).

Devils advocate time... (Below threshold)

Devils advocate time.
The wages were going to be unchanged and the employees would have contributed 5 % to health care. Sounds good to me most people are seeing any where from 10-t20% increase someone said it gotten as high as 20%.
Freeze in Pension plan sounds good many companies have completely done aways with them and only have 401K and a few companies are not providing any matching.

the moving to a lower paying job seems to have occurred across the board now.
So if they take the 1.50 pay cut all their current benefits remain the same?

This seems like an old story Company tries to manage benefit cost Unions say no way and 10 years later you have GM and people say upper management should not have given away the store.

Does the Union manage any of the benefits for the employees?
What do the dues go towards?

Part of the problem is that... (Below threshold)
Mike G in Corvallis:

Part of the problem is that in many industries upper management no longer works its way up through the ranks, but consists of people who went to school with the intention of becoming Professional Managers. Harvard Business School promoted this concept -- supposedly a well-trained Manager can just step into any industry and Manage the peons. But often the clowns in charge have no idea why the companies they run have been successful in the past, and have no idea what it is their workers actually do. Case studies: Apple Computer after Steve Jobs was forced out; Government Motors today.

"What do the dues go toward... (Below threshold)

"What do the dues go towards?"

First priority. 100% funding of retirement program/benefits for union bosses.

James h:While ther... (Below threshold)

James h:

While there are some government employees who "aren't paid enough" they are at the mercy of other government officials who are doing jobs they aren't qualified or good at.

Mike:On the flip s... (Below threshold)
James H:


On the flip side, Mulally landed at Ford from a job in aviation. As CEO, he's put the automaker back on the path to success. Turns out at least part of the problem there was that nearly everybody under him had been in the auto industry for so long and at Ford for so long that ways of doing things had calcified.

Assuming there is no curren... (Below threshold)

Assuming there is no currently unknown, specific underlying reason for the company to cut wages, I would have to assume it might be in anticipation of what HusseinCare might do to profits. And of course, there will be a monumental tax increase next year. In any event, a well run, PROFITABLE business does NOT, willy nilly, create tension and contempt in its workforce. IF there is indeed no more to the story, the boss appears to have made a very poor decision.

"There are two flaws with t... (Below threshold)

"There are two flaws with that theory."

* Actually there are three (assuming I'd give you the first one, which I'm not sure I agree with) - happy workers are productive, quality workers. Piss your workers off, and I'd be willing to bet a small fortune that those profits will dwindle.

"Not like the Mott's case, which harkens back to the days when unions occasionally did right by their workers,"

I know it's cool here to hate on the unions, but when exactly are you talking about? The 1800s when unions were helping to eliminate child labor? Or the 1950s when they were helping to make mining safer?

Today's unions are very, very ineffective in no small part due to the right's ongoing anti-union, pro-business assault on the idea of unions themselves. There's a belief in today's society that there isn't a need for unions because working conditions are perfectly fine. Clearly this Mott's case proves otherwise.

But thanks for the write-up, it's good stuff.

So the "right's" dislike of... (Below threshold)

So the "right's" dislike of unions is the cause of union corruption and the public's eroding confidence in union leadership, effectiveness and necessity...






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