Employees at the Borders Books and Music store on East Liberty Street have followed through with plans to unionize despite opposition from Borders management. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 now officially represents all downtown Borders employees in the collective bargaining process. Borders employees cite a number of reasons to support the unionization, including eroding benefits, layoffs, demotions and cuts in benefits.
As reported in The New York Times on Nov. 8, UFCW is the same national union that has also undertaken the ambitious goal of unionizing all of the 1 million Wal-Mart employees across the country. The campaign to unionize Wal-Mart employees has hit a number of snags, most notably the harassment and intimidation from Wal-Mart management and Wal-Mart’s shutting down the one division of their stores that ever successfully unionized.
Management opposition to unionization has been more forceful and direct with regard to Wal-Mart than at Borders, but the arguments against UFCW representation are unfounded in both cases. Wal-Mart labor relations executives have made a point of telling all Wal-Mart employees that the union’s sole interest lies in the prospect of getting more money in dues payments from an increased membership. And at Borders in Ann Arbor, executives cite the different benefits to employees like stock options and 401K savings plans. But none of these arguments refutes the facts that where workers have union representation, wages are higher and benefits are better.
Union representation in the American work force has declined significantly since it reached its zenith in the 1950s, at times representing as much as 40 percent of private sector workers. Since that time, as many American corporations and industries have moved their factories overseas into third world countries to take advantage of more lax labor laws, the number of jobs on industrial assembly lines has declined, contributing to the decline of union representation in the private sector. Now, the majority of blue-collar work is found in the service industry.
From the standpoint of a corporate management whose interest lies in keeping profits up to maintain decent stock values for investors, opposing a unionized work force is essential to keeping wages and benefits down, thereby preserving higher profit margins. Herein lies the reason for Wal-Mart’s and Borders’ opposition to the UFCW campaign.
As long as corporate interests remain counterpoised to that of workers, and management is willing to put forth any set of obstacles to prevent workers from organizing, unions will be essential to the future of working conditions in the service industry.