A Demand for Old School Union Reps: Arbitrations!

arbitrationNew Orleans  The New York Times has run a three-part series on the galloping trend of corporations, both large and small, overtly or slyly forcing consumers and even non-union workers to agree to arbitration procedures that block their access to courts and to joining with others in class action litigation on larger concerns. The stories are horrendous and unsurprisingly expensive, and thousands of words later there is no mystery to the bottom line that the deck is totally stacked for the corporations. Law school professors referred to the movement to arbitrations as the “privatization of the justice system.” And, like so much in our neoliberal world, too often it is the consumer bringing the complaint that ends up paying for the process rather than the company which is already saving money in legal fees and settlements that they would have incurred in courtroom proceedings.

Obviously this trend to excessive arbitration needs to be stopped, but in the classic way that an individual problem seems personal, rather than political, and given the corporate influence in converting so much of government into crony capitalism, it is hard to believe the Calvary is coming or that relief will make it to us soon. This level of rampant injustice speaks to a huge gap in accessible and affordable representation in these kinds of civil procedures where formal legal training and licensing is not required. There is a subset of the labor movement that might be able to meet some of this huge demand though. For all of the decades long battle to move the labor movement to an organizing culture, the “servicing” model still has huge and deep support and a generation of union staff that lived through the process has extensive experience in handling arbitrations, and that’s old school union reps. Where are they now that we really need them?

There are few local union staffers that have spent more than a year or two in service to the membership that have not been schooled in the hard knocks experience of written grievance procedures up to the point of formal arbitration hearings. Picking arbitrators, writing up the paperwork, preparing to argue the case with the member, and negotiating the settlement when one is available are all core skills that virtually all union reps have been forced to acquire. Most learn to do anything that they can to avoid arbitration because of the time and expense, but for many there is no choice and invariably arbitration can’t be avoided. To dissuade filings of job discrimination complaints, including by gender and race, the United Kingdom now requires the grievant to pay 1200 pounds or about $1500 to even file. The cost for unions like Unite, the largest in the UK, has been about 9 million pounds per year, since they pay the cost for their members, effectively reducing the income they have for anything else. A big union like SEIU’s 32BJ in New York does 2500 arbitrations annually with three arbitrators conducting hearing virtually five days a week. My point is simple: unions may not like arbitrations, but they know them like they know the back of their hand.

Is there a way to use all of that residual skill to fill the gap for tens of thousands that are caught in a bewildering process with the odds stacked against them and lawyers out of their price range? I would think training legal advocates and putting out the call for old school union reps with time on their hands and these skills in their heads, might be something worth all of us coming together to try and organize. God knows it’s needed!

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U-Haul is Becoming U-Fixit, We Rip-U!

10795023-largeNew Orleans    There’s a U-Haul location right at the railroad tracks hardly more than a half-mile from where I live and even closer to where we were assembling to move stuff from half a shotgun double to a storage unit a couple of miles down the road. Given the convenience, it never occurred to me to call anyone else to rent a short bed 15-foot truck for the day.

I showed up, as promised, at 8:30 AM and for a minute was the only customer.  The manager said I had missed the earlier rush, and given the heat and humidity building on a typical, smarmy New Orleans summer day, I knew he was telling the truth. Inspecting the vehicle was easy, but seemed weird in some ways.  I was instructed to look for tiny “x’s” marked on the body of the truck where there was previous damage. Oddly, a long scrape across the entire top of the truck was unmarked.  The manager just laughed when I mentioned it, which I found a bit weird as well.  He laughed less when he told me from his screen that the gas tank was more than half-full, and I pointed out that the picture on the rental agreement showed that it was in fact less than one-half filled, but he corrected it quickly.  I thought nothing of it, and drove off to what turned out to be my hella-day.

Returning the truck though was even more bizarre.I rent cars pretty regularly, so I thought I knew the drill.  Wrong!  I got out of the truck with the keys and paperwork, but when the checker came to me, he took neither of them, and asked me to get back in the truck, which I thought was odd.  Odd though was hardly the word for it.  He then ran me through the drill.  Left turn signal, right turn signal, lights on, lights off, high beam on, high beam off, reverse then brake, etc, etc, and etcetera.  What the frick?

When I climbed down from the cab, I was pointedly clear in my query:  “what was that? It was the same routine as one of the state’s motor vehicle inspections?”

His response was glib?  “Yeah, we’re thorough,” he replied.

But me, being me, I wasn’t willing to pass it off even in my filthy, sweat drenched, bone-tired condition or maybe because of all of that, so I said, “Man, I’ve driving under the sun all day, how would I even know if the lights worked, much less the high beams?  Are you telling me that if one of the turn signals had gone out on your truck in the 7 hours I had it that you would have tried to charge me for the repair?”  Add a tone of dripping, semi-irate sarcasm, and you are standing right there next to me.

His answer was crisp and clear as he said flatly, “Yes,” and turned away from me indicating the inspection and the conversation was now over.

No ifs, and, and buts about it, that would have been a rip, but clearly that’s company policy.   No customer is asked to check the lights, turn signals, and whatever before pulling out of the lot.  In fact when you sign the contract you are shown the number to call if you have a problem on the road.  The real deal seems to be that if they run a brake tag like inspection on every returning vehicle they are clearly trying to nickel and-dime the customer into paying their minor maintenance costs on their trucks, despite the fact that none of the things being checked could possibly have been caused by the renter.

A quick Google search finds that U-Haul got nailed by the Los Angeles Times for running old, decrepit trucks and never doing regular upkeep and maintenance around 2007.  They seemed to have suffered through a class-action suit about it 2008.

They may have gotten the inspection religion around that period, but, unfortunately, they also seem to have come to the conclusion that, darned, if we’re going to have to finally inspect the fleet, then we better figure out a way to pass as many of the costs off to the suckers who are customers.

Well, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware I guess, but caveat emptor to any buyers walking into U-Haul, too!

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Dirty Pretty Things – Bloodthirsty Bastards

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