The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers approved the contract concession Friday evening, which will freeze raises and reduce pay by 30% for new hires and layoffs, but will preserve thousands of jobs in Wisconsin. I have a few thoughts about this entire ordeal, but I felt it would be appropriate to save them until I knew that all the dust had settled and a final deal was achieved.
The run down is this: Mercury Marine determined that in order to stay competitive during an economic downturn, they would have to freeze raises and reduce benefits for those who were laid off or not yet hired. As one would expect, many employees were unhappy about the decision.
In comes the union. Union members were led to believe that if they voted the deal down, they would etch themselves in a better position to negotiate with the management. Perhaps they could make lemonade out of some lemons?
However, Mercury Marine wasn't in a negotiating mood. They held all of the cards, and they made it clear that this was not negotiable issue. They had a good package set up in Oklahoma - a place with a better business climate and an union free environment. Hell, Oklahoma even offered to cover millions of dollars worth of costs just to relocate. And company CEO, Mark Schwabero, said he was comfortable no matter what side the coin was showing. In other words, it didn't appear that the union was in a good position to make a gamble.
What does the Mercury Marine union do? On Sunday, August 23rd, they called their bluff and overwhelmingly voted the measure down. Results? Mercury Marine immediately announced it was heading to Oklahoma. Good job guys, you voted yourself off the island.
But wait, union members began scrambling to see if they could vote again on the same deal. After all, they had 6 more days to get it right. One problem though, certain union bylaws specified they couldn't vote on the same contract twice. A modification must be made in order to establish a re-vote. At least, that is what union officials tried to tell their members and Mercury Marine executives. When the executives wouldn't budge, miraculously, those pesky little bylaws weren't as firm as suspected. They could vote after all.
In fact, Fred Toth (one of the three men who led a petition drive for a second vote), claimed that union officials lied to everyone about a union bylaw that didn't exist, and they didn't come clean until it was too late. As a result, they ended up voting on the same day of the deadline. But voting takes a while, so the process exceeds the deadline, and Mercury Marine announces it will not honor the votes caste after midnight. It's over folks, Mercury Marine is going to Oklahoma after all.
Then come all of the union-types talking about how Mercury Marine just did what they always intended to do anyway, and it wouldn't have mattered if the union had voted for the concessions. Below is a fine example of that sort of union-mentality at work.
Some of our more objective friends over at One Wisconsin Now were so certain that evil management was out to screw the working families of Wisconsin. After all, they were "never planning on keeping the plan in Fond du lac." But wait, Mercury Marine, via some state intervention, decided to let union members vote for a third time on the same contract. This infuriated some folks in Oklahoma who were wondering why Mercury Marine was essentially allowing the union to keep voting until they get it right. Sucks for Oklahoma, doesn't it?
Below is another example from Chris Liebenthal from Cognitive Dissidence (who I put in the same camp with "One Wisconsin Now") making a similar charge without the facts.
Back to the union. If the state didn't intervene and Mercury Marine didn't have a change of heart, the union would have sold their members down the river. First, regional union heads lied to their members because they didn't want them to vote for the concessions. And other members were so frustrated with the concessions, they were willing to risk their careers and family well-being because a 7 year freeze on their raises was outright unacceptable. What were they making again? Ah, yes, the average pay at Mercury Marine was $20 an hour plus benefits. (That's better than what I make.)
Don't get me wrong, unions have played an indispensable role in workplace rights for the past century. They continue to fight for and represent employees across the nation. They are a noble facet of our society, but (yes, there is a but) they're not without their flaws.
The Mercury Marine union successfully embarrassed themselves and tarnished the image of unions in the local area. If it weren't for state officials and a few concerned employees organizing without union support, it would have devastated the Fond du Lac community and created an irregularity in the state's economic rhythm. According to the Fond du Lack Economic Development Corporation, their decision would have cost the state 8,000 jobs and $450 million in annual earnings. It's not a good PR move for unions when some of its members are accredited with saving jobs while their union intentionally obstructed their efforts. When Rasmussen polling data shows that only 26% of Americans disagree that Unions weaken America whereas 45% believe they do, now is the best time to tuck away their pride and start doing the right thing again.
Does this mean that management is a bunch of angels? No, but we are in a recession after all, and context matters. It was the wrong time to play union politics in Fon du Lac, and it risked careers of more than 2,000 people. Their inability to make a rational decision would have affected and moved beyond the Fon du Lac community. I hope we have all learned a lesson here; a job preserved at $20 an hour is better than no job at all. And you can take that to the bank - literally.