retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get emails about my comments on a story about how Safeway Canada has gotten injunctive relief to prevent locked-out workers there from blockading a food warehouse and ice cream plant while the retailer hires replacement workers. Some 350 employees have been working without a contract since last December; reportedly objecting the company’s desire to have them work a 40-hour week (rather than the current 37 hours), not to mention the pay and benefits packaged offered by management.

My problem was with a negotiating position that seems to think that a 40-hour workweek is somehow too much to ask…which simply seems out of touch with the 21st century global work environment.

One MNB user wrote:

Your coverage and take on news blurbs lately does increasingly paint you as anti union. Middle class is crunched these days - don't think that the working class is not feeling that pain exponentially more so. Yet you express amazement that the workers fight to keep benefits, pay and working conditions. Sheep behavior is encouraged and in mode now big-time, thus no surprise you think they should sit back and take it because they are lucky to have jobs. I believe that thought process works exceptionally well for Chinese sweat shops, why not apply to all workers! Take a strong look at the disparity of the earnings ratios in the corporate ranks over the past decade or so. They will illustrate who are the lucky ones.

I’m not defending corporate bigwigs who exploit their employees. Far from it. I believe strongly, as I’ve written here before, that the best businesses are structured so that employees feel that they have skin in the game, so that there is not too much disparity between senior executives and lower level employees. (I subscribe to Jim Donald’s dictum, that senior executives should never think they are bigger than the people on the front lines.)

But I also think that having skin in the game means being willing to work harder and longer. And I have trouble with the notion that five eight-hour workdays is somehow an onerous demand. They shouldn't make less money for taking on more hours, and I’m not supporting the idea of 16-hour-a-day sweatshops. But that’s not what’s being proposed there.

Another MNB user wrote:

If the financial crisis has shown us anything, it is that private industry management needs some flexibility. In a unionized shop, that flexibility goes away with the long-term contract and rigid work rules. Revenues go up and they go down... especially recently. If you can’t adjust your expenses to respond, you end up like General Motors or Stella D’oro. The management of this venerable baked goods company got its flexibility to lower manufacturing costs. But it took a year, change of ownership, and moving of manufacturing facilities to another location. It would have been a lot simpler (and more efficient) if there had been some give by the workers. Given that this saga replays itself frequently maybe there needs to be a new approach. Maybe US manufacturing should act like the NFL and offer a % of revenues to labor with a salary cap.

Be careful what you wish for. A lot of people believe that the NFL may be headed for a labor stoppage next year.
KC's View: