What is happening behind the scenes of the labor movement and the UAW’s attempt to build up its core rank-and-file membership? My sources and my experience with the unions are telling me what is happening. In my former career, I was a high ranking union official and got to know Bob King, Richard Bensinger, Richard Trumka and a host of other “union players” very well. Based on this knowledge, I am seeing the beginnings of a whole new union experience that management leaders need to be aware of if they wish to stay ahead of the unions.
The new UAW President, Bob King, has been campaigning for years to be in charge of the auto union. In the past 20 years, King has been working to consolidate power and his connections. He knew for over a year about his appointment as UAW President, prior to taking office. With that said, King and his team were busy putting together future organizing strategies during the same period.
The first thing King did was to reach out to his old buddy, Richard Bensinger, to be the Director of the UAW’s Organizing Department. Bensinger was previously fired by John Sweeney, the backlash was strong and fast against Sweeney because Bensinger was admired by all the affiliated unions, and was seen as a warrior within the labor movement. Speaking privately, high-level union officials say they were shocked, angered, and disappointed at Bensinger's sudden dismissal. Bob King was part of a delegation of union leaders who went to Washington D.C. to express their anger about the removal of Bensinger which was a gesture that Richard Bensinger would never forget. I remember one conversation I had with Bensinger at a Shoney’s restaurant in Chattanooga, TN in 2001 where he told me that he thought Bob King would go down as one of history’s most respected union leaders. Bensinger also spent years working for different unions as a consultant.
In 2002, Bensinger co-founded the Institute for Employee Choice with Dick Schubert, a former president of Bethlehem Steel. During the political fight over the <a title="Employee Free Choice Act" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employee_Free_Choice_Act">Employee Free Choice Act, or “card check” legislation, Bensinger and Schubert suggested a third way that relied not on laws passed by the U.S. Congress but on a voluntary code of conduct that would be upheld by both organizers and management. The “Golden Rule” in this code was “Unions and employers need to behave as they would like the other to behave; this goal (of the Institute) was nearly identical to what is being proposed by the UAW (to agree to ground rules with consequences).
Below is an example of this so called business (Golden Rule) goal:
A Business/Labor Partnership - The right to form unions is a central principle of democratic societies. Furthermore, unionization historically has been a significant way for low-wage employees to achieve middle class salaries and benefits. Vast and growing disparities of wealth are clearly not healthy for our society.
Making Central the Issue of Ethics - A critical element missing from much debate over public policy, corporate governance, and labor/management relations is the question of ethics. To some extent, recent corporate scandals have cast attention on unethical conduct vis-a-vis shareholders. This agreement puts the spotlight on corporate ethics with relation to employees. In too many cases, managers ignore ethical considerations to defeat employee unionization efforts at all costs. Manipulation of labor laws to evade accountability cannot be justified by pointing to the bottom line. Using pressure, intimidation, and threats to remain non-union are unacceptable whether or not they cross the line into unlawful activity.
Before the Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations at Cornell University, Bensinger stated that “until this nation gives workers the right to form a union without the pervasive presence of fear, there can be no genuine employee participation at the worksite” and should not be attempted which once again constructs a us against them mentality.
Richard started putting a coalition of unions together for support over the past 6 months before King was appointed as UAW president. King wanted to lead the way to a different form of organizing for the UAW. They have decided to target one or two major foreign auto makers.
King is using the same method the UAW uses to pick which company to pattern bargain with, according to a UAW inside source King has had a team analyzing these companies to pick out the weakness and determine which are the easiest target. Speaking with the USW President Leo Gerard, King has joined him in his goal to merge unions in the UK, Eastern Europe and Asia to further put pressure on the multinationals. Afl/CIO President Richard Trumka has been working to bring King and Bensinger together to make an organizing alliance with the major affiliates like the USW, ILA, IUOE, AFSCME, as well as major unions outside the AFL/CIO like the Teamsters and the SEIU, which has been made easier with Richard Bensinger serving as Organizing Director.
The media “head games” have already started. King has come out appearing as the reasonable party; “Let’s establish a set of ground rules based on mutual respect”, “Let the workers decide”, and “We will respect the decision of the workers and walk away if we lose”, are all statements made by King to be portrayed by the Media as a new breed of Union Leader.
Anything the auto companies do that attacks the “false good” will result in the UAW bringing the campaign in the media (as part of the coordinated attack), at the same time the UAW has been very reasonable in public about the notice that GM wants performance-based pay for hourly workers but, rest assured, in private there is a completely different reaction. Publicly King is saying he is open to options but inside the UAW Solidarity House there is growing pressure to phase out the two tier system and increase wages.
Failure to reach a Golden Rule or “gag order” agreement will set the stage for phase two of King’s and Bennsinger’s strategy. A source has told us that Richard Bensinger has already spoken with Jimmy Hoffa about disrupting the “just in time” deliveries. Hoffa has serious issues with the foreign auto companies in regards to delivery issues. Other large unions, like the SEIU, have grown closer to the AFL/CIO since Andrew Stern has left and have now vowed to support the UAW campaigns and work closer with the AFL-CIO. For organizing purposes, the unions will use contract language or “Union Leave” clauses to take thousands of workers out of their facilities at lost wages with the companies still paying for insurance cost. They will use the media, civil rights coalition’s, religious groups and tap into the hundreds of other activists groups around the country. Richard Trumka has also set the stage for building pressure around the globe and is in talks with unions that can help bring pressure onto these companies.
One of the most important changes that is taking place is the fast forward move to globalize the labor movement. The USW has been very successful in merging with other unions and has recently merged with Britain’s biggest union UNITE, they merged with the USW to create the first Trans Atlantic union. The IBT and other unions have organizing agreements in the UK Eastern Europe, France and Asia. When I was a union official, I was working on the mergers and alliances with other unions around the globe to enhance our ability to more effectively pressure companies to give in to demands. Today, whether in an organizing drive or contract negations, this globalization and the speed in which it is taking place will start being a factor in the U.S sooner than later.