Union Busting 101
Elizabeth Warren has already thrown her hat into the ring for the 2020 Presidential Election. Bernie Sander isn't gong to be too far behind. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already plotting her course for the 2028 Presidential Election.
How in the world has Socialism taken root in this country?
Then I realized that I know exactly how it happened, first hand. I was a witness....
Back in the year 2005, I was working for Iron Mountain. Iron Mountain was one of the leaders in Data Management in the world. In my little section of the Iron Mountain universe, there was lots of trouble in 2005. A driver, Jim, and the special projects co-ordinator, Lewis, were angry with the management style at our branch and had contacted the local Teamsters in regards to unionizing. Must have heard the phrase "seniority doesn't matter here," oh, maybe about a thousand times. That was one of the core issues, but there was more which will be outlined below. But just the simple act of CONTACTING a union-
Metaphorically, it was like a teen whacking a hornets nest....
Before we could blink, managers were talking to crew members, attempting to isolate what the specific concerns of the employees were. Of course money came up, but management had failed to come up with the true motivation behind the sudden drive to unionize. Soon the offices were swarming with guys in suits no one had ever seen before.
First of all, let's set up the battle lines.
Salaried Positions in the Branch
Branch Manager was Jason
Vault Manager was Steve
Transportation Manager was Ken
Sales Manager was Lena (former Branch Manager)
Hourly employees in Branch
HR Rep - Linda
Quality Control Manager - Abby
Shift Manager Vault - Bob
Shift Manager Vault - Joe M
Vault Employee - Jen
Vault Employee - Doug
Vault Employee - Peggy
Shift Manager Transportation - James
Special Projects Co-ordinator - Lewis
Shift Manager/Weekend Driver - Gary
Swing Driver - Myself
Driver - Neil
Driver - Brian
Driver - Ted
Driver - Nick
Driver - Joe
Driver - Justin
Driver - Jim
Driver - Dave
Driver - John
Driver - Paul
Driver - Ryan
Jim was the first one to contact the Teamsters, not vice versa. The Teamsters thought of us as small fish, being a branch of only a couple of dozen employees. The prize, in their eyes, were sister branches on the other side of town with over a hundred employees. And, if they could get a foothold in Cleveland, they were salivating over the possibility of potentially unionizing big branch strongholds in Pennsylvania.
As unionization at our branch gained traction, meetings were set up across all branches in our region by management. Meetings with whom? TBD. Seriously, things were cloaked in secrecy. I don't know what happened at those other meetings across town, but by the time our branch had a sit down with a group of suits no one had ever seen before, Jim and Lewis were rallying the troops for the union while James led the anti-union charge.
Why did James hate the union? His brother was Jason the Manager. Why would the other employees "attack" his own flesh and blood? The whole reason that this article exists is because an old acquaintance is trying to re-write history. He is claiming that the "informational meeting" never existed.
What article was I referring to in the Facebook post? Salon Magazine wrote of Iron Mountain trying to prevent employees from joining a union in 2013.
Today union busting isn't like it was in the 70's or 80's. There usually aren't scabs or fights in the streets. It's about isolating "instigators" and "educating" workers. According to Lewis, Iron Mountain paid nearly a million dollars for the "persuaders" that swarmed across the branches. Jim was all about fighting the good fight. Lewis slowly started to fade into the shadows, once the persuaders showed up....
I remember when William Meaney outsourced customer service overseas. He sent out an internal memo lamenting what a sad day it was that many good people were losing their jobs. What he failed to mention was that HE HIMSELF was the one who made the decision to outsource the support staff overseas.
The new customer service team from Indonesia, or India, or Pakistan or wherever, wasn't an upgrade in support, it was 100% a cost cutting measure. The realities of the business environment or some other gobbledygook was cited.
What does that decision have to do with union busting? Simple. Customer Support wasn't bleeding money. It was strictly a question of: How do we drive profits for the shareholders? Outsourcing and reducing cost. Those Mountaineers in Customer Service were doing a fine job, but they had no protections against an overzealous bean counter.
Like an impressionable teenager, Meaney made excuses like other companies are outsourcing customer support and our numbers say customer support has improved. How did customer support get worse, but the numbers said it got better? Easy. Problem with your password? Call customer support, they reset your password, then they rate your problem as solved. There was no problem to begin with, but you would soon find yourself stuck in a Customer Feedback Vindaloop.
Back in the year I was born, the above map showed what percentage of workers belonged to a Union. Below is the percentage of workers that belonged to a union 5 years ago. (Same year as the Salon article.)
I'm not saying that unions are a solution to all workers' problems, what I'm saying is that unions used to protect well-paying middle-class jobs. What mechanisms have replaced unions in the current workplace that protect those same jobs?
Today, the workforce has basically evolved from one in three union members to one in ten.
I never told you Jim's secret motivation did I? Jim had an (undisclosed) felony and couldn't get hired at UPS. Now Lewis' motivation was a bit murkier, but Jim? Jim was working the long con.
UPS was the transportation company that Iron Mountain patterned itself after. I'm not speculating, Iron Mountain bought the UPS routing system and the imaginary Iron Mountain persona liked the UPS Facebook page. I heard management say the UPS model was the perfect model, except for the pesky union that bogged down their profits.
(Yeah, I know, if you cite Facebook, your article probably sucks.)
So Jim's Master plan was to unionize Iron Mountain, become a Teamster, then transfer to UPS. Jim didn't want a small raise, he wanted that big raise that he couldn't get. Logistically, there were a lot of holes in Jim's plan, but scrutinizing an illogical plan using logic will drive you insane.
The dates of the vote were set. Notice I said dates. The rumor was that our branch was leaning union, so they postponed the voting date of our branch and the other smaller branches, and focused on the big Cleveland branch that seemed to be leaning against the union. Every day the same refrain:
Union = Bad / Iron Mountain Team = Good
Then Iron Mountain magically sealed the deal.
Coincidentally, the Iron Mountain Management Team had been working on an "unrelated" study of their workforce and found that Iron Mountain, had, indeed, been "inadvertently" and "slightly" underpaying their workers in our market. Immediately, nearly all employees were given adjustment raises, long story short, about $2.00 more an hour right before the vote.
Jim and I had two totally different takes on the adjustments. You could see the veins in Jim's forehead bulging out. "We should be making $10 more an hour!" He was basing his observations off of random, round numbers. Lewis said that Management bought the election and his presence ebbed away. My anger was a bit more subtle.
"I'm grateful for the raise, but who are our peers?" I asked.
Management: "Excuse me?"
Me: "We got adjustment raises based off of the premise that we were slightly underpaid compared to our peers. Who are our peers?"
Management: "You know, peers in our industry."
Me: "I did a little research, if our peers are UPS or the Postal Service, then that raise is grossly short of industry standards. If our peers are delivery drivers for the local furniture store or a hospital supplies driver, then our raises are right in line...."
Management: "Are you the one who contacted the union?"
Me: "What? No. Listen, I just want to know which way to vote. If you're telling me that industry standards says I'm equivalent to UPS, I know UPS drivers and how much they make. I will know that your study is a lie. If you tell me my peers are local furniture store drivers, I will know that your study is a lie, because you harp on cutting edge security standards and training, things that supposedly set me apart from local vendors . If you say my peers are Cintas, I'll just walk across the street and see how much they make."
Management: "We told you...."
Me: "Yeah, I heard your spiel. Now I'm doing my homework."
Management: "What do you need to look up?"
Me: "For example, who are my peers?"
The vote on the other side of town went very badly for the union side. Jim was told that the vote was 70-30 against, and, due to overwhelming numbers, even if every single employee at our branch had voted for the union, that there'd be no union. The Teamsters and Iron Mountain had agreed to lump all of our branches together into a unified, yet stratified vote. Iron Mountain knew the angles from the inside.
Jim wanted that vote that no one at our branch had the chance to cast.
For those keeping score at home, there were indeed repercussions.
Jim was literally run over by a truck shortly after the vote. He went on disability.
The local management demoted Lewis and then he quit in disgust after being re-assigned to Jim's route. All salaried managers are still on the payroll (one in retirement) while all those employees are nearly all gone. Lots of companies have turnover, I understand that, I mean the jobs, the number of positions, are nearly all gone.
I listed everyone at the branch at the top of the article. You don't need to know the specifics of each employee, you need to know the numbers. There were about 24 people employed at the branch at the vote. Today there are 7.
How can 7 people do the work of 24? Some of those jobs were taken over by computers. Instead of an HR person at every branch, for example, there is now an HR Website with an HR person for every, say, 20 branches.
And, the other dirty little secret is, data management is not a growth industry. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but when I started at the company there were around 600 corporate customers at our branch. Today that number is closer to 200. Every time a customer went from a hard copy storage solution to a cloud based storage solution, a little earner disappeared.
Now you could be yelling back at me, "see Capitalism works!" The law of supply and demand. I'll listen to that argument. You can't subsidize the Pony Express.....
You know the company that ran the western portion of the Pony Express is still around right?
If you bought Wells Fargo stock for about a $1 back in 1979, you made yourself a nice little profit if you cashed in that stock today. 1979 was about 120 years after the Pony Express was replaced by a shiny new technological advance called the telegraph. You could argue that data management today is the equivalent of those horseback riders...
But here's the difference. Wells Fargo was also a bank. When the Pony Express crashed, Wells Fargo was diversified enough to survive. Wells Fargo didn't have a business plan of structured attrition.
At some point, there will be a warehouse with an Iron Mountain symbol on the front door and no employees inside. There will be a caretaker to open and shut doors for the few remaining customers. The management team from that fateful vote will all have been life-boated to other positions and the workers will be gone.
Those managers benefitted from the magical spigot. Their paychecks kept coming despite a disintegration of the customer base.
Instead of saving the jobs, Iron Mountain focused on saving the brand.
Besides, you know who's hiring, in nearly every city in America? WalMart and McDonald's.
What you have now created are fewer "good jobs" and more "bad jobs."
Am I saying that Iron Mountain is the only guilty corporation out there? Oh, heck no. They're just the only company that I saw do it first hand. And then for certain former associates to claim it never happened is revisionist history. Again, I'm just saying that it did happen, on the record.
But Iron Mountain isn't worse than a company like WalMart.
Aggressively, continually busting unions and closing stores at the first sniff of trouble.
In the long run, who won? Did the workers win? Or did Wall Street win.
When Wall Street wins, but the workers lose, you know what looks real attractive to the common man?
You should be asking me: As a free speech site, shouldn't you support the speech of both management and unions? Ah, that's a very astute observation on your part. I do.
Unions come out and say "we want to organize."
That right is protected by 1935's National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Corporations come out and say "we are people," and the Supreme Court has repeatedly sided with said corporations on that assertion. The problem is, all corporations should have mechanisms to keep "good" employees, and weed out "bad" employees. But if your basic premise is that you are people your goals shouldn't be to get rid of all the people.
Lena hated unions. At one time, she was in charge of negotiating pricing for all of the customers in the Cleveland area. She bragged that she charged labor unions more because she wanted us to know that unions weren't that smart.
I didn't believe her for a second. Her anti-union taunts were simply braggadocio, I thought. Then I looked it up and lo' and behold, Lena really was telling the truth. In hindsight, those business tactics said more about her than the unions she overcharged. The anti-union sentiment was so deep and pervasive in management that Lena's pricing structure was a running joke.