On the subject of labor unions, strikes, boycotting, and whatever this is all about

I was having a hard time figuring out exactly what’s up with the strike tomorrow, and why people are telling me not to eat in the dining halls. I was getting fed up with all the e-mails, until I hit one that I found useful, and thought I’d share it in case anyone else was wondering the same things I was.
• Why is the union striking? And what does it mean to “support” the strike?

The union is striking not because of the specific content of the
contract—these provisions will be bargained over in negotiations. The
union is engaging in a legal strike over the PROCESS of negotiating: what
permits the strike is the fact that the union has filed an “unfair labor
practice” (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board. This ULP
charge maintains the university has negotiated in “bad faith.” To support
the strike is to support the resumption of the process of “good-faith”
bargaining necessary for any labor resolution.

• What is “good-faith” bargaining?

“Good-faith” bargaining means coming to the table with the actual intention
to incorporate the union’s proposals into management’s proposals. It means
a sincere willingness to move toward a mutually-accepted resolution.

• What is the basis for the charge that the university has negotiated in
“bad faith”?

The university’s behavior has not met “good faith” standards. Here’s why:
The union was ready to begin bargaining in July and asked the university to
begin doing so. It took the university 100 days to come to the negotiating
table, though, and they only came after they were compelled to by a
student-worker protest. The first couple weeks of negotiations were spent
discussing who was allowed to be in the room and not the substantive issues
that could lead to a resolution.

From the university’s first proposal in October to its final proposal on
Thursday, 8 December, it has not attempted to incorporate the union’s
proposals into its own. The union’s main desires have been for (1)
fully-paid health care for workers and their families, both now and in
retirement, and (2) a secure retirement with health benefits.

The university’s final proposal was nearly the same as the first: it offered
a fraction of a percent increase in retirement security (meaning
single-digit dollar changes) in return for (a) the union withdrawing its
proposals on ALL other issues and (b) accepting the university’s
“take-aways,” including major reductions in retirement health.

The significant decreases the university proposed are greater than the
slight increases it offered. Most important, the similarity of the first
and final proposals demonstrates an unwillingness on the university’s part
to move and, as the union has charged with its ULP, “bad-faith” bargaining.

• Why are SLAC and the Coalition for Labor Justice (CLJ) supporting the
strike?

SLAC, CLJ, and approximately 1000 petition-signers have urged Stanford to
negotiate in good faith toward a fair contract. These organizations stand
in solidarity with workers in order to compel the university to resume
good-faith bargaining.

• Do SLAC and CLJ have a well-planned set of activities for Monday’s strike?

Yes. A huge amount of time has gone into planning what will best serve
workers in their desire to get back to the table. The town hall meeting
two weeks ago and all the outreach you’ve seen are some examples of this
planning. There’ll be more Monday, including a rally at White Plaza at
11:30, a solidarity lunch with workers, and a solidarity potluck dinner at
6:00 at the Columbae cooperative house (rsvp: solidaritypotluck@gmail.com).

• But what is the point of student support?

Students are, among other things, highly valued consumers of the
university’s services. The university administration thus usually takes
workers more seriously when students align themselves behind workers. A
strike demonstrates the union’s collective strength, and significant
student support makes the message even clearer.

Massive student support played a key role in forcing the university to pay
attention to the issues of sub-standard housing and working conditions at
the Stanford-leased Webb Ranch in the early-1990s. And a lack of student
support is believed to have hindered the union during the last strike at
Stanford, in September–October 1982.*

• If I’ve already paid for my dining plan this quarter, what difference does
it make to boycott the dining halls Monday?

No matter the material difference that may or may not exist in boycotting a
dining hall, to honor a picket line is to support the grounds on which
workers are striking: that is, to support their goal of resuming good-faith
bargaining.

• The union is asking me not to cross a picket line, but my dorm is my home.
How can I reconcile this?

The union, SLAC, and CLJ are hardly asking people not to use the bathroom,
study in their rooms, or be in their dorms. It is NOT a choice between (a)
crossing a picket line to eat or (b) not eating. It is INSTEAD a choice
between (a) crossing a picket line to eat or (b) honoring the picket line
by eating ELSEWHERE, like at the solidarity lunch or potluck dinner.

• If the union gets what it is asking for, will the university suffer
financially?

Stanford has recently enjoyed considerable budget surpluses and record
endowment growth. When the university suffered deficits a few years ago,
the union took the hit along with everyone else and accepted salary and
hiring freezes. But these are flush times: we think Stanford can maintain
its fiscal security AND be an employer-leader by offering fair wages and
benefits to workers.

• Dean Boardman and Diane Peck have spoken of Stanford’s great benefits.
What to make of this?

Generally speaking, Stanford DOES offer good benefits. But these exact
benefits have never been written into the contract, and recently the
university has begun chipping away at them. Take for example the
$15,000/year tuition benefit to children of Stanford employees mentioned by
Diane Peck, Executive Director of Human Resources, in “Campus Report” last
week. This benefit has already been REDUCED from a previous level of
$25,000. And the $800/year for each employee to take job-related training
and education classes is a REDUCTION from a previous level of $1200.
Getting benefits in the contract will make them subject to future
negotiation and protect them from further uncontested reductions.

• Dean Boardman wrote that “Stanford pays 100 percent of premiums for the
employee and 82 percent of the cost of premiums for the employee’s family.”
What about this?

Here is an example where the union wants a benefit not JUST written in, but
also improved. Stanford pays only for the LOWEST-cost health insurance,
Kaiser Permanente, with the fewest options. When employees need more
options to meet their medical needs, they must pay out of their own pocket.
Other increases the union is asking for seek merely to keep pace with
rising health care costs.

• What about that “two-tier” retirement plan I keep hearing about? Why is
this such a bad thing?

A two-tiered retirement and retiree healthcare benefits system is proposed
to come into effect on the first of January. One effect is that new
workers will come in with WORSE benefits than current workers, undermining
the principle of equal pay for equal work and sowing antagonism in the
workplace between different “classes” of workers. CURRENT workers’
benefits will be determined in negotiation—they could go up or down. But
implementing a two-tiered system often leads to a systematic decrease for
workers in the HIGHER class, as has been seen with United Airlines.

Comments 1

  1. onetruedavid wrote:

    Very informative. Thanks.

    Posted 11 Dec 2005 at 19:46

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