Emissaries, Wages, and 72 Hours

Ideas and Issues Labor Organizing

Emissaries, Wages, and 72 Hours
December 10, 2008
            New Orleans               These days the news is full of nuggets we can mine with wonder.
            For example, I wonder how in the world it took Bank of America 72 hours to realize that they had to get up off of some money when the President-elect and every politician in Illinois from dogcatcher on up knew the workers’ cause was just at Republic Door.   This is the same Bank of America that could make multi-gazillion dollar deals over a weekend recently to buy banks and get with the bailout, but was not quick enough to realize that the world has now changed.  They are now a PUBLIC bank, and they do not get to go back to the “business as usual” stance of the past.  Things have changed.
            Speaking of Illinois, I read with a shutter the tale of an “emissary” from SEIU being sent a message from Governor Blagojevich who was fishing for a deal for a high paid job or something with Change to Win.  This was just a message being taken by someone from SEIU, and as we all know, you can’t blame the messenger.  No harm, no foul.  But, odds on the emissary was Tom Balanoff, head of SEIU Local 1, and the broker for almost all of SEIU’s political deals in the state for the last dozen years or so, although it could have been someone different of course.  SEIU’s structure has always been pretty clear though.  Whoever heads the state council does the political work from top to top.  I can remember years ago having to be such an SEIU emissary and having to give a message to a candidate for US Senate from Louisiana that if SEIU wanted to support someone who always voted with the Republicans, then they would donate directly to the Republicans, rather than giving to a Democrat that voted that way.  It’s just part of the job, whether it was Tom or not, and just the way it works in a big outfit.
            It was also interesting to see the “smoke and mirrors” now being played around autoworkers wages by the right.  The Times’ David Leonhardt did a good thing today by actually looking at the real wage difference in US auto wages and Japanese auto wages, rather than simply UAW and autoworker bashing.  Real wages — what’s in the pay envelope essentially were US $29 to Japanese $26, hardly a 10% difference.  Non-compensated time for holidays and vacations and the like were US $14 per hour to Japanese $9 per hour — a bigger difference but still only $5/hour.  Health care and payroll taxes for the US were $12/hour and for Japanese were $11 per hour, once again only about 10% difference.  The point was well made that slashing the UAW rates to Japanese would only be a $6 per hour difference between $55 per hour for the US and $49 per hour in Japan, all based on numbers from Ford Motor Company.  The rub is the legacy costs of almost $16/hour in the US for retirees, which in many cases is part of the problem of the downsizing and the lack of a real national health care solution in the US.  The facts for a change!