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The Rat is Back: Union Activism Generates Strong Reactions

CSRHUB | Tuesday March 22nd, 2011 | 5 Comments

From the CSRHub Blog

By Bahar Gidwani

Years ago, the building next to my office tried to get rid of its union staff. A local New York building union set up a picket line and brought in a huge inflatable rat to help tell everyone who passed what was going on. The picketing (and the rat) seemed to work and the building owners backed down.
I hadn’t seen that big rat for years. But, guess what? The rat has returned to New York and he seems to be getting a lot of use. I spotted him recently on Lexington Avenue in the East 50s mearn n near the Citicorp building. The Daily News recently reported that the rat was down in the East Village at Grace Church.

I suspect the resurgent presence of the rat is related to the union-government conflict in Wisconsin. We’ve had more than a month of protests, arguments, and lawsuits, and we are now starting to see a lot of union-related corporate social responsibility (CSR) data published on the web. All sides in the discussion have something to say.

Every day, new information is being published on companies to avoid:

CSRHub already has a list of 198 companies that support labor unions on our site. We tried, at one point, to ingest the AFL-CIO’s boycott list, but it didn’t have many public companies on it, and it wasn’t updated very often. We are happy to have more opinions on unionization, from a variety of viewpoints.

Many of our users will want to know where the rats are and take a stand either for or against union organization.

***

Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHub. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) ratings tool that allows managers, researchers, consultants, academics and individual activists to track the CSR and sustainability performance of major companies. We aggregate data from more than 90 sources to provide our users with a comprehensive source of CSR information on about 5000 publicly traded companies in 66 countries. CSRHub is a B Corporation. Browse our ratings at www.csrhub.com

Inset Photo: Bahar Gidwani


▼▼▼      5 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Rabbit

    Are you saying supporting unions is arbitrarily “good”?

    I would generally agree, but challenging unions to think about sustainability is just as important as challenging management – they can be just as much an obstacle!

  • Ed Edison

    One very important thing to point out is that the Wisconsin situation is about PUBLIC SECTOR unions, not unions in general.

    There is a very big difference – unions in the private sector are a check/balance against management. In the private sector, there is no check/balance, except with the voters. Even people who vote democrat have grown tired of the $40k or more of health benefits and other bloat that is typical in the public sector.

    Don’t even mention NYC – home of the worst, most corrupt public unions in the country.

    Even if you don’t like Walker (and I think he’s a goon), even his bill ONLY cuts the collective bargaining rights for benefits – NOT salary. Not only that, but the benefits cuts are entirely reasonable and still leave folks in Wisconsin well above the national average in both salary and benefits.

    I would argue that getting public sector unions under control is simply good fiscal policy.

    • Rick Clayton

      I have several problems with Ed Edison’s comment.

      “Even people who vote democrat have grown tired of the $40k or more of health benefits and other bloat that is typical in the public sector.”

      Typical? I have worked over 20 years in the public sector and barely make $40K. Where are these jobs that give $40K in benefits. Maybe, somewhere, in upper management or elected officials, you might get that level of benefits. But to call that typical is just another smear in the assault on public workers. In my state, 15-20% of full-time public employees earn less than the federal poverty limit. They aren’t seeing those $40K benefits. Neither am I. I have conversed with colleagues in many states and my situation is what is “typical.”

      “I would argue that getting public sector unions under control is simply good fiscal policy.”

      If that’s all it was, you might be correct. But after the public unions agreed to all of the “reasonable” cuts that Scott asked for, he still went after their collective bargaining rights. This had nothing to do with the budget. It was all about breaking the power of the unions, specifically because the unions back Democrat rather than Republican politicians.

      In my state, the legislature wants to prohibit automatic payroll deduction for union dues (which are voluntary, not required). Not season football tickets or the United Way, just union dues. Why? It doesn’t help our budget deficit. And they spoke admiringly of the Wisconsin example.

      Public unions arose for the same reason as private unions; abuse. The best example comes from Gov. Huey Long of LA.
      “Once in office as governor on May 21, 1928, Long moved quickly to consolidate his power, firing hundreds of opponents in the state bureaucracy, at all ranks from cabinet-level heads of departments and board members to rank-and-file civil servants and state road workers. Like previous governors, he filled the vacancies with patronage appointments from his own network of political supporters. Every state employee who depended on Long for a job was expected to pay a portion of his or her salary at election time directly into Long’s political war-chest, which raised $50,000 to $75,000 each election cycle. These funds were kept in a famous locked ‘deduct box’ to be used at Long’s discretion for political purposes.” [from Wikipedia]

      This still happens today, but because many legislatures have made entire classes of public employees “at will” positions, they have few rights even when they belong to a union. This idea of “out of control” public unions is another myth fostered by conservatives to beat down the last few protections owned by a shrinking part of the middle class.

      I don’t believe unions, public or private, should not be subject to scrutiny. The criminality of the old autoworkers union is legend. But most private corporations have gutted the unions by sending their jobs overseas. Why isn’t that the subject of conversation, rather than the “exorbitant” pay and benefits of public employees?

      If all of those outsourced jobs were brought back to the US, there would be an entirely different argument. There would also be a different discussion about sustainability. Having cheap products made cheaply overseas is good for the bottom line, but it is the opposite of sustainability.

      • Ed Edison

        Rick – you’re quite correct that the Wisconsin example went way beyond the budget, but the benefits packages in WI are truly out of line, and ironically don’t really benefit the workers much at all. $35K a year health-care benefits on a $50K salary are quite standard.

        Why? Because the union runs the health care organization that the public employees “buy” into. The entire thing is a machine to fund Democrat campaign chest, just like Huey Long.

        This is all very google-able!

        What makes me really sad is that the Democrats didn’t have the balls to reform the unions themselves, so it took a douche-bag governor to do it – and will likely have all kinds of harmful side effects.

        It’s a lot worse in NY – read this New Yorker article on teacher’s unions. It’s mind blowing.

        http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill

  • Amelia Brandt

    This rat is on Boylston Street in Boston, too– I think it’s protesting the construction of the Max Brenner restaurant.