PAUL SOLMAN: Okay. For more on the UPS strike and its broader implications we turn to Douglas McCabe, labor relations professor at Georgetown University’s Business School, and Richard Hurd, professor of labor studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Professor McCabe, let’s start with you. How serious is this getting? I mean, is that statement about 15,000 possible layoffs from UPS a bluff, do you think, or is that a sign that they’re really hurting and that they’re losing this business?
DOUGLAS McCABE, Georgetown University: Well, first of all, let me say that the parties are much more strident in their positions than they were one week ago. Unfortunately, they seem to be bargaining in the press, rather than bargaining at the table. My hope is that they return to the bargaining table, negotiate these tough issues on wages, pensions, and part-time workers, and leave the public relations to somebody else. Let them get back to the bargaining table where they ought to be.
PAUL SOLMAN: But this is typical, isn’t this, the typical kind of rhetoric of a tough strike, or--
DOUGLAS McCABE: Exactly right. This is part and parcel of our pre collective bargaining process. Very often both parties--management and labor--will turn to the press, will turn to the media to get their point across.
PAUL SOLMAN: But you don’t like it?
DOUGLAS McCABE: I don’t like it. I want to see them get back to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith over wages, hours, and working conditions.
PAUL SOLMAN: Okay. Well, Professor Hurd, what about the Teamsters? I mean, does this AFL-CIO statement today that they are going to come up with money to keep them going, does that strengthen the Teamsters’ hand in this?
RICHARD HURD, Cornell University: Well, certainly it does. The Teamsters strike fund is at a very low level. The union is financially in somewhat difficult shape because of the expenses that they’ve incurred in recent years under the guidance of the federal government, which is watching everything the union does. Also, they are in tough financial position and will clearly benefit from the financial support that was announced today by President Sweeney.
PAUL SOLMAN: Even though you only get $55 a week as a strike fund benefit?
RICHARD HURD: Well, it’s going to be tough on the workers. It already is. And any strike hurts all sides, and clearly in terms of the economic pain the individual workers will suffer the most with that. Living on only $55 a week is not easy.
PAUL SOLMAN: So why did organized labor move so forcefully to support the Teamsters today? Is part-time really this big an issue?
RICHARD HURD: Well, there’s more than that involved, but it is a big issue. Unions generally come to the aid of other unions when they’re involved in a very difficult situation, especially if it’s a major national strike with this kind of visibility. It makes it particularly more important to labor that the issue involved is one that rings true across the broad spectrum of the work place. The issue of job security and declining economic security is one that rings true to workers, union and non-union alike.
PAUL SOLMAN: So is it significant then that part-time is the big issue here and that there’s a huge strike over it?
RICHARD HURD: Yes, it is, but you need to look beyond just the part-time part of it. It relates to part-time work, temporary work, outsourcing, downsizing, privatization, the whole change in the relationship where employers have less commitment to their workers. All of that lies behind it, and that’s why so many workers can identify with the problems that the Teamster part-timers face.
DOUGLAS McCABE: Prof. Hurd makes a good point. As we’ve seen, many full-time workers and a variety of industries around the United States have been downsized, right-sized from full-time employment to part-time employment. But also from a managerial perspective, I think it’s important for your viewers to realize we live in a new day and age. Operational flexibility is very, very important. Managers and executives must be able to respond to changing kinds, changing working situations, and they need operational flexibility to manage the work force from a manning perspective to the best of their ability in order to compete with non-union carriers that can make big--infringes in terms of their own employment and business.
PAUL SOLMAN: In other words, to keep U.S. companies competitive?
DOUGLAS McCABE: Exactly right.
PAUL SOLMAN: So, Prof. Hurd, is that not the case?
RICHARD HURD: Well, there’s certainly some truth to that, but if you look at the dominant position that UPS has in this market, with 80 percent of the market, they’re not suffering the kinds of competitive pressures that would require them to make dramatic changes in how they do their business. And what’s happened in the past three to four years is they’ve significantly increased the use of part-time workers at a time that the company’s been reaping the billion dollars a year in profits. So in that situation it’s a little harder to understand.
DOUGLAS McCABE: And it’s somewhat debatable because UPS has moved 13,000 part-timers into full-time positions. What’s ironic here is that UPS is a very good employer in terms of part-time employees. They pay them benefits, health benefits, give them vacations. So really on the issue of part-time UPS is a much more progressive employer than the average executives you’ll find around the United States.
PAUL SOLMAN: Isn’t that true, Prof. Hurd? I mean, they really are good guys, by comparison to many companies employing part-time people.
RICHARD HURD: As is typically the case, unionized companies are paid better wages and offer better benefits to all unionized workers. And that’s the case here. The point I think that’s important in terms of why this appeals to a broad cross-section is that economic security is declining as the company increases its use of part-time workers. That’s the issue that’s at hand.
PAUL SOLMAN: And you agree with that?
DOUGLAS McCABE: I tend to agree.
PAUL SOLMAN: Could you briefly explain what this pension issue is about? I couldn’t follow it--
DOUGLAS McCABE: Very simply, it’s an issue of control. Right now, the Teamsters Union controls how that pension money is utilized and invested. The company would like to get their money, supposedly along with their work force, invested for the workers, and it’s really an issue of managerial control versus union control of the pension money.
PAUL SOLMAN: Is that right, Prof. Hurd? I don’t want to stay with it too long, but just to understand it.
RICHARD HURD: That’s true. I think it is rather interesting that the company has chosen this particular negotiations to make this a big issue. For a hundred years they’ve dealt with the Teamsters Union. For many of those years the leadership of the National Teamsters had very questionable connections and some of them spent time in jail, and at that period challenging union control of the pension fund probably was morally very defensible. At this period, with reform leadership, it’s a little harder to understand why they picked this particular point in time to try to assert control.
PAUL SOLMAN: Let’s get back to the big picture. Does this strike stand any chance of reviving the union movement? You’ve had a long-term decline down to about 10 percent of the work force now, or something like that. Do you hold out any hope that this might? Or do you think union people should hold out hope that this might turn things around?
RICHARD HURD: Well, I think that it certainly is symbolically very important. And to the extent that it can appeal to the consciences of non-union workers that could be very useful to unions in attempting to recruit new members, the actual impact is going to be a marginal one, however. We’re not going to see the sudden turnaround of the labor movement just because the Teamsters win this strike, if, indeed, they ultimately win it.
DOUGLAS McCABE: I agree with Prof. Hurd here. Organized labor is really hurting him. It’s only one out of ten workers in the private sectors belong to a union. It’s part of a larger problem that organized labor faces in the next 10 years. Can they effectively represent their current members, but more importantly, can they outreach to other individuals, non-managerial, white collar employees who for many, many years refused to join a trade union for a variety of reasons.
PAUL SOLMAN: But now this is really a--sort of a shift in the labor movement, isn’t it, to target these low-wage employees? I’m thinking of Justice for Janitors. We did a piece on bicycle messengers; workfare recipients. Now, you have part-timers. That seems to be a different--that’s not the old auto workers and steel workers.
DOUGLAS McCABE: No, not necessarily. They’ve always targeted low wage workers, but I think what’s more important for your viewers to understand, they’ve been relatively unsuccessful in organizing bank tellers and financial institutions, for example, and other white collar workers who in many instances are overworked but yet will not join a trade union.
PAUL SOLMAN: Let’s get to the economy. I mean, how significant is this strike for the economy as a whole?
DOUGLAS McCABE: Well, it’s very interesting. Under the Taft-Hartley Act, the President can only invoke the Taft-Hartley procedures and try to get a court to issue an injunction to get the workers to go back to work if the national health and safety is impaired. And I don’t think any--
PAUL SOLMAN: We’re not there yet.
DOUGLAS McCABE: I don’t think any neutral observer would say we’re there yet.
PAUL SOLMAN: What businesses have something at stake here, or might they be affected?
DOUGLAS McCABE: Certainly the small entrepreneurial businesses who rely upon UPS for delivery of their products. They are currently hurting; however, I don’t think it’s going to trigger a response from Clinton to invoke Taft-Hartley.
PAUL SOLMAN: But, Prof. Hurd, what about effects on inflation? I read today somebody--a number of people worry about the fact that workers might be emboldened, workers at other companies, emboldened by this strike, particularly if it’s successful, and, therefore, demand higher wages, and, therefore, put inflationary pressure in the labor market that everybody keeps waiting for but it hasn’t materialized yet.
RICHARD HURD: Well, that turns out to be quite a stretch. In order for unions to increase their ability to raise wages dramatically enough to have any kind of impact on inflation, they need to dramatically increase their share of the work force that they represent. With unions only representing 10 percent of the private sector work force, one strike is not going to have any kind of message in terms of what’s going to happen with inflation.
PAUL SOLMAN: Do you think that’s true?
DOUGLAS McCABE: I agree with Prof. Hurd. I do not see this as a landmark watershed event in U.S. labor history.
PAUL SOLMAN: So the stock market didn’t go down today because people were worried about inflation because of the strike?
DOUGLAS McCABE: Exactly right.
PAUL SOLMAN: All right. Well, thank you, gentlemen. We have to leave it there.