“There is not a unionized company today that didn’t deserve the union.”
Quite frankly, I cannot remember which labor leader said that, the missing Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, the AFL-CIO’s George Meany or someone else. However, as we approach Labor Day 2011, those words need a bit of modification.
“There is not a unionized company or government entity that did not deserve the union.”
Americans devalue our teachers, government employees, police, firefighters and minimum-wage labor force. Like the homeless, these workers have disappeared; they have become nonpersons.
We have become anti-union. This must stop, and stop now.
We need to hear these words because all labor, and the American middle- and lower-income classes, are under attack. Even if you are not a member of a union, all workers in the United States have benefited from the fair and safe working practices that our unions have fought for. How?
The list starts with a 40-hour work week, minimum-wage laws, benefit packages and fair-labor and anti-discrimination laws.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s oversight of work sites and offices is a direct result of unions calling out corporations on sometimes-purposeful safety violations, causing loss of life or limb.
Labor has opened doors to trained men and women through apprentice programs to make sure the quality of work performed by any worker meets real standards of excellence.
Companies with known or alleged poor treatment of their employees appear to be the same companies that prohibit organized labor — mostly retail chains. These companies pay minimum wage and don't permit employees to work a 40-hour week, thus not giving them benefits.
I admit there were, and most likely still are, crooks in the upper echelon of the American unions. I can say the same thing about corporations and about local, state and federal officials.
After all, we are only human, and the possibility of misbegotten wealth is a shiny thing that turns our attention away from the real moneymakers — employees. Almost no one is immune.
Yes, corporations and unions are considered “persons” in the eyes of the court, but a union will not support an issue or candidate without asking its members first.
I am still waiting for someone to show me proof that one Fortune 500 company sent out notices to its shareholders asking for their support before making political donations.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and training under three of the greats of contemporary American business training — Tom Peters, Robert Waterman and Peter Drucker.
The one great I did not have the pleasure to meet was Robert C. Townsend. Never heard of him?
This is from Townsend’s 1998 eulogy in the Los Angeles Times: “As head of Avis Rent-a-Car from 1962 until ITT Corp. acquired it in 1965, Townsend took the company from one that lost $3 million a year to one that made $2.8 million in profit.”
Townsend said in a BBC interview that when he walked into the Boston offices in 1962, he was told that the company had no one of value. When ITT purchased the company, they identified a multitude of potential presidents and vice presidents for ITT companies.
Townsend did something right.
What he did was treat his employees fairly and honestly. He encouraged them to purchase shares — ownership — in the company they worked for. They did, eventually owning Avis.
He never hired at the low end of the scale, but within the upper reaches, believing that he would get better employees. And he did.
Townsend lived Avis’ tagline, “We try harder.”
Townsend’s 1970 book, "Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits," is my teaching guide for organizational communication.
Townsend really knew how to manage Avis, so they did not deserve a union nor did they want one.
Next weekend, amid the picnics, parties, softball games, naps on the deck and fishing, all celebrating the “last” weekend of summer, think about the American laborers who made, delivered and sold you those things that make your life better, and thank them.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He was an organizer for the American Association of University Professors on Denver’s Auraria Campus from 1998 to 2000. You can read more of his commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.