Not a good day for a labor person.
Labor Department figures released today showed that 11.3% of the American workforce belongs to a labor union. That is the lowest number since 1936. To put that in context, the National Labor Relations Act was upheld by the Supreme Court and the Congress of Industrial Organizations split from the American Federation of Labor in 1937. This is down from 11.8% in 2011. The sudden drop was two-fold. Continued losses in public sector work was one piece. Bigger was the Wisconsin and Indiana right-to-work laws, which led to major membership declines in union membership in those states. No doubt, the Michigan law (and potentially Pennsylvania) will lead to even lower numbers next year. Business has reversed the entire union gains of the New Deal. And of course their goal is to also reverse the policy changes and social programs labor helped create.
You see Scabby at big labor rallies. It’s a fun way to get the message across. But some in labor don’t like it. Take Sean McGarvey, president of the powerful Building and Construction Trades Department. Today McGarvey tweeted this:
Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition.
Wow. A few big issues here. First, what the deuce is a “value proposition?” One thing it certainly is: corporate doublespeak. Does McGarvey also support leveraging some holistic change? Engineering some maximum synergies? What on earth is McGarvey doing parroting corporate language? How is that going to motivate people to join unions? Of course it won’t. But it’s also McGarvey’s big strategy, according to Mike Elk :
The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department did not respond to a request for elaboration. However, McGarvey and many other construction union leaders favor taking a “business-friendly” approach rather than adversarial approach to relationships with management. The council states on its website, “We will prove to contractors and owners that a partnership with North America’s Building Trades Unions is the best investment they will ever make.” Construction union leaders often publicly stress the value that their unions bring to companies, pointing to the fact that union projects are more likely completed on time without cost overruns.
In this context, abandoning Scabby the Rat appears to some union members like a call by such leaders to work out deals with management nicely, quietly and behind-the-scenes, instead of confrontationally, such as by placing giant 16 foot inflatable rats outside of corporate offices.
For rank-and-file dissident construction workers such as Gregory Butler, retiring “Scabby the Rat” symbolizes a turn back to the labor-management cooperation models that often left rank-and-file union members like him behind.
Ugh. Double ugh.