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Card Check is not for Tennessee

Ray Norris
Wednesday, Apr 1, 2009

For those who are not aware there is a bill in the legislature referred to as the Card Check bill (Employee Free Choice Act) that changes how unionization voting is conducted. The current law is that each worker that is being recruited to join a union may cast his vote in private as we all do in every other election in this country. If the Card Check bill is passed into law, no worker will have that right. He or she will be required to vote in an environment where they can be intimidated by the union leaders or anyone who feels the need to help you make up your mind.

The current “movement” to force the Card Check legislation down the throats of the twenty-two right to work states is nothing new to the south. Remember about 149 years ago there was a disturbance in this country referred to as the Civil War which was caused by the Federal Government wanting to trample on States Rights. Now they have taken it a step farther in this movement to trample on the individual’s right to cast a vote in privacy without intimidation. Where is the ACLU when you need them? If this passes it will be another fine example of special interest groups having their way with Congress.

About 44 years ago when I graduated high school I had the opportunity to work at the Kellogg cereal factory in Battle Creek for one summer as a temp. It was my first (but not last) first-hand experience with the union shop environment. On my first job assignment I was trained by one of the regular workers on what was called the re-pile department. A skid load of freshly printed cereal boxes (before folding and gluing) about five feet high had to be moved to an empty skid by taking approximately a stack about six inches thick, fanning them on both ends to keep them from sticking and then placing them on the new skid and repeating this process until the original skid was empty.

After being trained, which took about five minutes, I found that not only was this a very boring job but a skid load could be processed in about one hour and twenty minutes working at a fairly good pace which helped the time to pass more quickly. At the end of the shift one of the elders in the work group said that I was working too hard. I took that as a compliment and continued.

The next day I started fresh with a new skid load of unfolded, unglued cereal boxes and as I was finishing this first load a different fellow stopped by. This time it was the union steward. He complimented me on the brisk pace that I was working but went on to explain that we were not expected to put out that much work in a shift so that I could just take it easy and put out three loads per shift. Being the young and dumb new guy I tried to explain I didn’t mind working at a fast pace because it made the time pass quicker. He then explained to me that even though I was not in the union I was making the other workers look bad by my high-paced performance and that I must produce only three loads per shift or something bad could happen.
I wasn’t as young and dumb anymore. I was glad to get out of that factory at the end of the summer.

My next lesson was 10 years later working for a major fork lift truck manufacturer in the finance, treasury and accounting functions. I came to understand the relationship between the company and the union when I participated in the process of preparing for the labor contract negotiations. Both sides spend a considerable amount of time and money going through the process of preparing many scenarios of “if they ask for this we offer that” and “if they offer that we counter with this” which in the long run costs both sides and the stockholder many dollars. Not to mention once the adversarial barrier is built it will always be an impediment to real improvement as each side does not trust the other. This, in the long run is what became the catalyst for the demise of the manufacturing base of the United States. During the 1970’s this company, located in Michigan since 1917, began building plants in North Carolina and Kentucky and by the mid 1980’s had shut down all of the manufacturing facilities in four cities in Michigan and transferred production to the southern locations. All of the southern plants remained nonunion in spite of numerous attempts by the UAW and others to unionize.

Another lesson that I will never forget was in 1977 this same company had decided to move the export components division from Chicago to a new facility in Kalamazoo, which is only thirty miles from the Battle Creek lift truck division. Within several months of operation the union organizers showed up and a few months later they had “recruited” the new shop employees into the union. After two months of contract negotiations they went on strike and held out for thirteen weeks. The final settlement gained them 10 cents per hour of pay from the last offer made by the company. Thirteen lost paydays compared to 10 cents per hour calculates to an additional $4 per week. Not a good trade for any worker.

In looking on a more macro basis recent national studies have confirmed that the economic growth in the 22 right-to-work states (including Tennessee) grew at a rate 50 percent greater than the unionized states over the last eight years. Accordingly, there have been three announcements over the last eight months of individual companies deciding to relocate and build manufacturing facilities in Tennessee of at least $1 billion investment each. It is no accident that expanding businesses are seeking out the right-to-work states to relocate. The performance speaks for itself.

The impact if the Card Check bill becomes law will be to bring the 22 right-to-work states down to the level of the other states thereby reducing the operating benefit and becoming somewhat of an equalizer. The Card Check bill is aimed at helping the states that are falling behind by penalizing the states that are more progressive. That is bad for business, bad for the consumer and bad for the taxpayer and the overall economy of the country. In a capitalistic society those that fail must learn to succeed or go out of business. We cannot change the rules to make the weak appear strong. Those that succeed must continually raise the bar to stay on top.

Ray Norris is the executive director of the Clay County Partnership.

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