Don't worry, my esteemed Washington colleague, Bill Clinton will get no praise from me. ``Bill Clinton, friend of the factory worker'' rings as hollow as George Bush pitchin' horseshoes. So I agree that Clinton's social-policy-by-execu-tive-order is just a hollow play for union votes. But on the core issue, we disagree big-time. I have no problem with temporary help during a strike. I have a big problem with permanent replacements who retain the jobs of union members after a strike is over.
Although hiring permanent replacements is legal, it simply gives management too much power. When company executives know they can throw out the union, why should they negotiate during a strike? Why even have unions at all?
I suspect most Plastics News readers would say organized labor deserves death (especially the hated local at Detroit's Cobo Hall). Except for some chemical plants and machinery makers, unions really aren't a major factor in the plastics industry. Among processors, only about one in five companieshas a union, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. Even that ratio seems way too high.
Here's a confession: I don't want unions to die. My late father was a union member nearly his whole adult life. His hard work in coal mines and an automotive plant gave our family a comfortable living. My mother still receives health benefits, even free legal advice, thanks to the United Auto Workers.
Unions built America's large middle class.
But this doesn't mean I'm blindly ``pro-union.''
Militant in the early days, organized labor became fat and lazy in the glory days after World War II.
And today, even though unions have become more flexible and cooperative than ever, most remain overly bureaucratic, even dictatorial. The term ``democratic union'' is an oxymoron.
But let's be honest. Sometimes companies abuse people. Clinton's executive order bars federal contracts from going to firms that hire permanent replacement workers during strikes.
When the administration announced the order on March 8, it spotlighted Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Co., which hired more than 2,000 permanent replacements late last year. Here in Akron, Ohio, where the United Rubber Workers union was founded, 150 of the last remaining tire production workers in town broke with the national union. Local 7 members voted to return to work, then had to rush to sign up or risk getting shut out by Bridgestone/Firestone.
Now they have to work alongside scabs while their fellow union members, close friends who were too slow to sign the list, wait by the phone.
It shouldn't come to this in America. U.S. companies already have enough blunt objects to win concessions from an existing union or to keep nonunion employees from organizing. Just threaten to move the plant-to a right-to-work state or, now, down to Mexico.
A strike is an awful experience. People get hurt. It's got to be used, absolutely, only as a last resort.
But strikes are legal. Collective bargaining is not a dirty word.
All strikes end. Then it's time to return to the job.
Bill Bregar is a Plastics News staff reporter based in Akron, Ohio.