Whose side are you on?

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By DAVID A. COOK
President

Last week was a busy one. There was plenty of news and many of our partners were focused on getting their application for their $600 grant finalized.

You’d be forgiven during that week if you missed an exchange that highlighted the ongoing tensions between greedy CEOs and Union Labor. It was a mostly average day in the U.S. Senate and it was a mostly average hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

After more than an hour of relatively calm discussions between Senators and Labor leaders, a sudden exchange reminded us all of how challenging the organizing world for Union Labor can be.

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican from Oklahoma, began his line of questions directed at Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien by telling the audience (unprompted) that he “was not against unions, not at all.”

“Some of my very good friends work for unions,” Mullin went on. “They work hard, and they do a good job.”

CLAIMED ‘RTW’ WAS ‘GOOD FOR WORKERS’
Seconds later, Mullin was accusing Labor leaders of intimidation in organizing campaigns, citing his own experience as a business owner facing organizing drives. Suddenly, Mullin was accusing Teamsters of “forcing people to pay dues” and “sucking money” out of their pockets. Mullin would go on to claim that so-called “right-to-work” was actually good for workers, and claimed that accusing CEOs of greed was hurtful and unfair.

Before we go further, I’d like everyone to know that Mullin is worth at least $30 million and claims union leaders don’t create jobs or help workers. The exchange got heated, with both men accusing the other of being out of line, and the typical lines you’d expect for a pro-RTW CEO.

The exchange fell apart from there, with both men accusing the other of being lazy. O’Brien correctly noted that Mullin and CEOs like him are rolling in money while 60 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. Fingers were pointed, voices were raised, and tempers flared.

RIGHT OUT OF THE CORPORATE PLAYBOOK
Mullin’s lies about intimidation, sucking workers dry, and not caring about their well-being is right out of the corporate playbook and — as we’ve seen far too often – much more likely to be true of CEOs than union organizers.

Productivity has soared for two generations while wages remain stagnant. Profits are breaking their own records seemingly every few months, but real earnings are flat and, in some sectors, falling. So, who is sucking money away from workers? Who is exploiting their labor for gain and providing nothing in exchange?

Unions have a legal obligation to represent their partners. We are required to use dues money for appropriate services only, and we are democratic organizations where our leaders are elected.

Meanwhile, major companies and their CEOs are unaccountable to anyone except shareholders or some kind of board of directors whose only job is to consider maximum profits. Corporations exploit the labor of working people and provide nothing back except a schedule and a (far too small) paycheck.

When CEOs fail and their companies lose millions and jobs are destroyed what happens? They are offered golden parachute deals and given millions and millions of dollars despite failing at their job. Meanwhile, non-union workers in America can be fired for virtually any reason.

LEFT TO THE WHIMS
You don’t have to believe the Labor Movement is perfect, or that every union gets it right 100 percent of the time to see who is more likely to care about workers. Maybe you’re one of the lucky workers with a boss who is genuinely decent, or maybe you’re lucky enough to work for a company that generally does well by their employees. Those companies are rarer and rarer these days, but they do exist.

If you’re not one of the lucky ones then you’re left to the whims of a major company run by a CEO who has no idea what life is like for their average employee.

Unions across the country are staffed largely by folks who came out of their own union workforce, so they’re likely to be in touch with the issues and understand the lives of the people they work for. Leaders are elected by their own rank-and-file and they are directly accountable. Contracts only become enacted if the workers vote in favor of them.

The Movement doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be self-evident that the Labor Movement actually wants what is best for the American worker and CEOs and major corporations want one thing: more money.

Watching Mullin and O’Brien clash in a senate hearing was a reminder that while both sides are imperfect, there is a clear choice for workers. CEOs don’t put their employees first, and unions don’t put profits before people.

That’s the choice. Whose side are you on?

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