Published on: August 13, 2009Now available on iTunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
As we continue to deal with the impact of the recession, which may or may not be winding down, depending on who you believe or what level of optimism you decide to adopt, one of the clear indicators that is likely to lag is the nation’s unemployment rate. The general consensus seems to be that it is likely to get worse before it gets better, and that employment will be the last thing to recover.
I find this interesting on a number of levels. One is the fact that in some ways we seem to be in an era during which there is a different approach to employees than there used to be. I’m old enough to remember a time when layoffs were a last ditch option, the last thing that companies did when dealing with a downturn. Part of this was out of loyalty, and part of it was out of an appreciation for the simple reality that people who are out of work can't spend money, and layoffs have both a broad and deep impact on economic well-being. There was also an understanding that when prosperity returns, you eventually have to replace those workers, which costs money in terms of time and training … and so if you can keep as many workers on-board for as long as possible, it is in the ultimate best interests of the business.
To some degree, this seems to have changed. I’ve talked to enough people – both in management and labor – to be convinced that this time around, at least some companies are taking advantage of all the media coverage that the recession has gotten to trim or even gut their workforces. There isn’t a lot of concern for broader economic well-being, there isn’t a lot of worrying about when prosperity returns, and there certainly isn’t a lot of loyalty. At least in some workplaces, it is a short-term, cutthroat, down-and-dirty world.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that in markets where labor contracts have run out, there seems to be a general understanding that it isn’t good for anyone to go on strike or lock employees out; concessions and compromise seem to be the order of the day. Even in Denver, where no agreements have been reached between the three major supermarket chains there and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), at least there have been a series of contract extensions that have keep stores open and the two sides talking. Hope lives, even in the thin air of the Mile-High City.
Not so in the Bronx, however, where it seems to me there is a classic case of management and labor butting heads to no avail…and with no compromise or concessions in sight. The situation is almost certainly going to end badly for everyone…and that’s a shame.
I’m referring to the case of the Stella D’Oro biscuit factory, where about a year ago more than 130 workers walked off the job after ownership demanded reductions in pay and benefits, saying that without such reductions, the company would not turn a profit.
After an almost 11 month strike, the courts ruled that owners Brynwood Partners had withheld important information from the union and ordered the employees back to work…but it was a short-lived victory since the company now has said that the factory will be shut down in October. In the meantime, Brynwood reportedly as negotiating with Lance to sell it the brand and formulas, but the workers objected to that, too, because their jobs and production almost certainly was going to go elsewhere.
Read all the coverage of this story – from CNN to the Daily News to Workers World – and if you’re like me, you want to fling the newspapers against the wall in disgust. You have a recession, and you have a brand name with a certain amount of equity and recognition, and you have a factory in a borough of New York City that, quite frankly, needs both jobs and economic development. And all these two sides can do is fight and argue and get nowhere. It seems to me that the jobs are going to go elsewhere, the brand name will get sold after having been tarnished by all this nonsense, and opportunities for compromise and a coming together have been lost. Both sides are to blame, it seems clear to me, because both sides have their own agendas and were unwilling to see the bigger picture.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been driving past the Stella D’Oro factory in the Bronx, just north of Yankee Stadium on the Major Deegan Expressway, where on a good day you could smell the biscuits baking.
Pretty soon, that’ll all be gone. The factory will be closed, the people will be out of work, and all you’ll be able to smell is the odor of stupidity, stubbornness and a lack of big picture thinking.
It’s a shame. I’m glad that, best I can tell, this kind of nonsense doesn’t happen more often.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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