In 2012 The Millennial Vote Goes To…..The Union!
I’ve been following unions for some time while thinking about Millennials in the workplace for much of that time as three of my five children are them. This generation is not very trusting of “Institutions” and nor should they be. If you were born during the past 25 years you’ve probably not developed much confidence in most institutional models. It’s hard to trust government; irrespective of affiliation. Bush and WMD, Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky affair, and Obama and “Yes we can.” Has the institution of marriage proved successful? Not with so many of their parents being divorced, remarried, and divorced again. What about the institution of religion? No, this generation was exposed (pun intended) early and often to the Catholic Church abuse scandals in the west, and gross misinterpretation of other religions in the middle east. Can they trust big institutional employers with massive layoffs, red-lined merit budgets and reduced benefit levels that have seen their parents struggle with for most of their careers? What about the institution of education? Is the investment in time, effort, and money worth it, or is education being viewed as an institutional business profiting from them? Are unions playing to their innate desire to belong to something bigger than one’s self, yet individually proud, and establishing themselves as the last and best hope for a trustworthy institution? Look in the rear-view mirror to get a feel for where we might go. Notice the correlation between high unemployment, subsequent employment growth, and then rapid union growth between 1930 and 1945. Things will get better, and when they do, will the unions benefit? My bet is absolutely.
Unions here and abroad understand that they are a decade late a few drachmas short as national organizations challenging global employers. The largest employers are global and most unions are not. Unions that have won political influence on the national level are facing employers who are less likely to support nationalism which further erodes domestic influence. While union influence and social contracts are more prevalent in Europe than they are here, those governments are going to reduce social benefits and push union leaders to an unpleasant reality. The utter is empty. Those Millennials are currently upset, and will only continue to become more so.
The AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka and other US labor leaders understand this better than their European counterparts and this is why they spent so much time at the White House. Former SEIU President Andy Stern visited the White House 22 times between January and October 2009 while Stern’s Secretary & Treasurer Anna Burger visited 31 times. United Steel Workers President, Leo Gerard visited eight times during that span. Why?
$450M in contributions should buy, at a minimum the takeover of GM, passage of The Free Choice Act, a new bankruptcy process for Chrysler where secured creditors aren’t secure, and political favor with foreign nations allowing greater access for the purposes of union organizing; shouldn’t it? It didn’t, and the unions are disenchanted. Disenchanted and scared. Stern is out, Trumka is in and on June 7, 2011 Trumka, speaking to a room full of 1,000 nurses was quoted as saying “For too long, we’ve been left after Election Day holding a canceled check, waving it about—‘Remember us? ’—asking someone to pay a little attention to us -well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a snootful of that shit!” Trumka, and company will spend less on helping candidates elected, and more on leveraging those that are….and organizing youth.
To survive unions need to evolve. I danced around Europe with this stuff from 1996-1999 and for context, here’s some brief history. There are two types of councils, those centered on global companies; transnational works councils, and those centered upon industries; Global Union Federations or GUFs). In 1994, the EU mandated companies with employers in more than one European nation establish a European works council.
Only 800 of approximately 2,400 companies that meet the criteria have actually met the EU mandate established 17 years ago. Among U.S. companies in Europe, GM and Ford have councils while Microsoft and Google don’t. So, European works council arrangements have not proven to be powerful or effective as a means of driving wage equity across borders. There’s been no wage bargaining transnationally, even with the common currency of the Euro, although some have been able to bargain successfully for non-wage related benefits. Whether transnational or GUF, the IFAs’ or International Framework Agreements between the unions and employers are unenforceable, and lack systems for bargaining, arbitration, mediation, etc.
Trumka and other U.S. labor leaders realize that prior to the well running dry in Europe; employers disregarded the multi-national mandates set forth by the EU. This coupled with failed promises of the current administration has me wondering what labor will do because if they do not secure a new generation of dues paying members; they’ll die.
What will they do?
Aggressively push the right to organize, gain recognition and, or win accretion in the U.S. by leveraging foreign unions, employers, and political structures against global employers doing business in the U.S. Further, they will salt their way into the Gen X, Y, Z, and Millennials culture, and ultimately their employers. Occupy Wall Street is only Act I.
What else are unions doing to engage the Millennial employee while attempting to pressure organize global corporations ?
- United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is anxiously watching The UNI Global Union which is pushing Wal-Mart to unionize in dozens of countries.
- The United Food and Commercial Workers are linked to UNI Global and tried to win the right to bargain on behalf of250 Target employees in New York this past summer. They failed, but are persistent and have a lot of backing from UNI Global.
- Bob King, President of The UAW moved closer to the edge of his seat when he heard Frank Fischer, head of the new $1 Billion dollar VW Tennessee factory say “An organizing attempt may be made at some point of time, probably, and this is up to our employees.” This was subsequently quieted by VW management in Germany, but that comment was made for a reason. That was not a slip.
- The Communications Workers of America president, Larry Cohen continues to edge in his seat as German union Ver.di leader Wilhelm Ado continues to his efforts here in the U.S. to organize T-Mobile USA, whose network is owned by Deutsche Telekom.
- French Sodexo union leaders Jean-Michel Dupire and Gerard Bodard continue to support SEIU organizers here in the U.S. and in other countries despite recent set-backs.
- According to the Alliance IBM, a network of IBM union from around the world met in May to form a Global IBM Union.
- The AFL-CIO’s organizing institute, and specifically the UAW affiliation had interns from around the world take center stage.
- Union Summer was successful this summer in North Carolina, and one should not think that Charlotte is the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention is coincidence.
- Germany’s IG Metall, the world’s most powerful union, has established an organizing department partnered with Change to Win’s that has targeted wind-turbine manufacturers and auto dealers here and abroad.
I could go one, but the point is that U.S. labor leaders are in fact soliciting and receiving support from some of the most powerful unions in the world for the purposes of organizing global employers doing business here in the U.S. More importantly, they are targeting Millennials as a significant foundational underpinning of these efforts. I’m not saying they can or will, but I am saying that their behaviors indicate that at some level, they believe they must do these things in order to survive. I think many, including myself are playing into the hands of the unions by identifying these individuals as Millennials and in the course of doing so are institutionalizing by name a generation. The employers and entities that can brand their culture as one of collective individualism should do so.