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Odd Collective Bargaining Demands


As a labor person who is not one of these lefty labor-intellectual types who think that the real goal of the labor movement or the left should be to “emancipate” ourselves from labor entirely, I am not of the utopian type frame of mind. I admit that my brain mostly works within the 20th century socialist framework much more so than the 21st century left-libertarian-individual freedom framework. So when I see odd collective bargaining demands from workers who are more of the individualistic mindset, it kind of breaks my brain. Workers can collectively bargain for whatever they want. But I am trying to imagine walking to negotiations and trying to work out the demands of these Philadelphia coffee shop workers. I am going to present here what the employers’ lawyer says, which you can dismiss if you would like. But then the workers themselves basically confirm that these are the demands, though they frame them in a slightly different way.

“We’ve been working through some very unusual union proposals,” Paisner said.

At Ultimo Coffee, for example, union leaders proposeda layoff procedure “not based on seniority or ability, but rather, on how much money employees claim to have in their bank accounts,” and a lateness policy that “would excuse employees from any consequence even if they arrive hours late for an unverifiable reason,” according Paisner, the employer’s lawyer.

Union negotiators agree that their approach is novel.

Is that real?

Kate Lord, lead negotiator for Ultimo Coffee’s union, says the union’s layoff language didn’t mention bank account balances but considered employees’ alternative income sources to avoid terminating “the people who would be the most greatly impacted by layoffs.”

She said the lateness policy idea wasn’t meant to allow tardiness for no reason but to “shift away from fear and toward building culture rather than having policies that are about force.”

“To call our proposals ‘unusual’ doesn’t mean that they are flawed in some way, it just means we’ve approached things a little differently, and we’re proud of that,” Lord said.

Well then.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that SHARING PERSONAL FINANCIAL WITH THE EMPLOYER IS THE WORST IDEA I HAVE EVER HEARD!!!! Seriously, there is nothing good that can come of this. If you want to critique the seniority principle for hiring and firing that unions have held to forever, well, there’s room to do that. The problem is coming up with something better. And allowing the boss to see your personal financial information to make those decisions is so rife with problems as to make my heart stop. DO NOT GIVE YOUR EMPLOYER MORE INFORMATION ABOUT YOU PERSONAL LIFE FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!!

Then the lateness policy, I mean this is just completely unworkable, at least as far as I can tell. The reality is that unions have long been part of the force disciplining labor. That’s part of what collective bargaining does. It commits the workers to rules too. This is not emancipatory. This part of the reason why the Industrial Workers of the World always eschewed contracts. If your goal is to give the store over to the workers, well, I guess you can try to bargain that. But even if you had an employee-owned cooperative, there is no way this would work. In the end, you have to rely on people to show up, if to relieve other workers stuck there while you get around to coming in if for no other reason.

Sometimes, I have no words. It’s not often I sympathize with employers. And I don’t exactly sympathize with them here. But I can see how they would be completely flummoxed at figuring out how to deal with the specific demands of these workers. We are a long ways from pure and simple unionism.

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