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I read this post by one of the better HR bloggers out there by the name of Kris Dunn titled YOUR EMPLOYEE HAPPINESS ARGUMENT IS INVALID: Apple Retail Stores and Union Drives…and it got me thinking about unions, global companies, and Gen X, Y, Z, Millennials, etc., in the workplace. This generation is not very trusting of “Institutions” and nor should they be. It’s hard to trust government; irrespective of affiliation. WMD, don’t keep their pants on, etc. What about the institution of marriage? Not with so many of their parents being divorced, remarried, and divorced again. What about the institution of religion? No. Can they trust big institutional employers with massive layoffs, red-lined merit budgets and reduced benefit levels? Are unions playing to the innate desire to belong to something bigger than one’s self and establishing themselves as the last and best hope for a trustworthy institution?
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 I think the unions are pissed. Pissed 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!”
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 IAFs’ 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, and 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.
Are they doing it?
- United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has moved to the edge of their seat as Wal-Mart is continues to work with unions abroad, but not at home.
- The UNI Global Union which has pushed Wal-Mart so hard on the above is at the edge of their seat as the United Food and Commercial Workers should win the right to bargain on behalf of 250 Target employees in New York next week; the first Target store to organize.
- 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.”
- 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.
- According to the Alliance IBM, a network of IBM unions around the world met in May to form a Global IBM Union.
- The AFL-CIO’s organizing institute, and specifically the UAW affiliation has interns from around the world taking center stage.
- Union Summer is under way 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. Further, 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 to these things in order to survive.