LaborTalk for February 21, 2012

Why Do Unions Allow a Highly Profitable Company
To Lockout 1,050 Workers and Keep Up Production?
Has the American Labor Movement Forgotten How to Fight Back?

By Harry Kelber

AFL-CIO staffers seem to find satisfaction in reporting stories about greedy CEOs and their company's outrageous behavior toward their workers. The stories incite deep anger among t union members, but they rarely deter a major corporation from changing its policies or its conduct.

Take the example of Cooper Tire & Rubber Company of Ohio, as reported by AFL-CIO staffer Manny Hermann. In 2008, when Cooper Tire and Rubber was losing money, workers at its Finlay, Ohio plant gave up $31 million in pay and benefits to help the company stay afloat, Hermann reports.

Thanks to the workers' sacrifices and productivity, Cooper has made more than $300 million in profits since 2009. Cooper paid its executives millions of dollars in bonuses, and bought a new corporate jet. What did its employees get? Locked out on Thanksgiving weekend!

Despite soaring profits, Cooper pushed through a new contract on the employees that included higher healthcare premiums and undisclosed wage terms.

Corporations No Longer Fear Retaliation from Organized Labor

The situation at Cooper Tire is ready-made for intervention by unions in behalf of the locked-out workers, but apparently the AFL-CIO has decided not to get involved, except for calling on union members to send e-mails to the company.

Years ago, there were few lockouts, because employers knew they would face powerful, sustained opposition from a union. The locked-out workers did what they could to prevent scabs from entering the plant and taking away their jobs. Employers had little to gain from risking a lockout.

Today, employers regard the AFL-CIO as cautious and conservative. Their leaders do a lot of talking, but they tend to play it safe by avoiding mass actions,, even non-violent ones,, for fear of jeopardizing their control of the organization.

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It is unfortunately true that the AFL-CIO commands much less respect in Congress than in past years , partly because of its heavy reliance on e-mails and phone calls as its chief political weapons.

It let President Obama wiggle out of his pledge to work for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and it reluctantly accepted his version of healthcare legislation.

Isn't it time for AFL-CIO leaders to display some muscle?

LaborTalk will be posted here on February 24, 2012 and on our two web sites and on

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