|ONLINE VERSION||VOLUME 106 - NUMBER 8 - SEPTEMBER 1997|
readers will recognize that it is unusual for both myself
and Secretary-Treasurer Bill LaRue to address the same
topic in our editorials. But the Teamsters strike against
the United Parcel Service is a fight that resonates
deeply for all of labor, including maintenance of way
workers, though they may not realize it at first.
For we can add to the litany of part-time, contingent and temporary jobs that are taking over our country's workplaces one more very similar problem: contracting out. If we don't rally around the cause now, maintenance of way workers could one day soon find themselves in the same boat as that 60 percent of UPS workers who work part-time jobs with full-time hours but only part-time wages and benefits.
The link between all these trends is corporate greed. The appeal of both part-time workers and contracting out lies in cheap wages and little or no benefits. It's not that these workers are any more productive or well-trained than a regular full-time workforce. It's that they cost less. Long-term considerations such as a reliable, skilled workforce or a secure and thus more productive workforce rarely enter into Wall Street's calculations. Bean counters look at the bottom line for this quarter, and only this quarter.
They certainly don't care that they are destroying America's middle class. That's what the land of opportunity meant--to get a stable, secure job with decent wages and benefits so you could raise a family. It's the ideal on which America was founded and what made America great. It's also an increasingly tough dream to achieve and keep.
Instead of hiring people for real jobs, companies are turning to the vast pools of workers who have been downsized out of a job and are willing to take substandard pay and benefits so they can put food on the table. This is the ultimate disposable workforce. Use 'em up and throw 'em out. You don't even have to create a dummy company and go through the sham of a short line sale.
UPS says is pays "good wages for its part-time workers, but on average they earn just under $20,000 a year. Yes, they do have some benefits. But of course we also are talking about a unionized workforce--think of all those without a contract and what they get.
UPS says it must remain "competitive." That should sound familiar to rail workers. Of course, this is from a company that dominates the marketplace--carrying 12 million packages a day and controlling 80 percent of the marketplace. I can't wait until the next round of talks if the Norfolk Southern and CSX succeed in cannibalizing Conrail.
There should be little doubt that as unions and union members we are all in this together. We've already struggled with the negative impact from wage deflation and eroding benefits. The situation cuts across industries, and simply feeds on itself. The problem will only grow larger if trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement go through. Then companies can play workers against each across national borders.
It happened with NAFTA in Mexico, as U.S. employers simply mention moving a plant to the land of $4-an-hour wages and U.S. workers back away from their request for fair and reasonable pay. Will maintenance of way jobs go south? No, but the railroads' client base may and that steady drumbeat of lower wages and benefits will eventually catch up to us.
That's why I have proposed to the leadership of the AFL-CIO the creation of a task force to address the problems of part-time, temporary, contingent and contracted out work--whether it's going to workers in the United States or abroad. We need to take a multi-industry and multi-union approach to solving the problems that affect us all. I will not let this issue drop: it's not only the Teamsters' future that's on the line, but ours as well.