Dan Smith, senior vice president and human resource person for Borders Group,Inc. made a valiant attempt in his letter to the editor, Borders treats employees fairly, acting ‘in good faith’ (10/22/03) to create a smokescreen for your readers to see the current labor negotiations between Borders and the UFCW Local 876 as unrealistic.
The reality is Smith crossed the line with his tailored terminology, opinion and fiction. Here are the facts:
Smith states that all Borders employees “across the country deserve to be treated fairly and consistently.” We agree. However, Borders is not living up to this claim. Workers at the Borders Ann Arbor store average less than $9 per hour. This is significantly below the living standard in Ann Arbor. It is also below Ann Arbor’s Living Wage Ordinance minimums. Borders “benefits” are unaffordable to many workers because their pay is so low. In addition, Borders refuses to guarantee that it will continue the current benefits. Borders has also repeatedly violated federal labor laws . Because of Borders’ substandard contract proposals and unfair labor practices, the workers at the Ann Arbor store overwhelmingly voted to reject the company’s proposal and authorized a strike. A strike vote was secured only after the final proposal from Borders revealed that it was less than what the current employee handbook offered. He calls Border’s contract offerings “fair and responsible.” Responsibility must extend, reasonably, to workers also – not just for the company.
All of the union’s bargaining proposals are met with a standard response of, “If it is not in the handbook, then we’re not interested.” Borders is not negotiating in good faith. Stopping the progress of discussion with this standard response is not courteous or professional, as Smith defends. Throughout negotiations, the company has refused to offer any improvements in wages and benefits.
Smith claims that Borders did not violate federal labor law. This is simply false. In fact, Borders recently agreed to settle unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board and the union over its unlawful conduct at the Ann Arbor store. These charges included:
– Illegally subcontracting the cleaning and maintenance work at the Ann Arbor facility to an outside firm without prior notice or bargaining with the union;
– Unlawfully insisting that the union agree to the elimination of the cleaning crew from the store as a condition in reaching a collective bargaining agreement;
– Unlawfully suspending and discharging a union supporter;
– Unlawfully disciplining a union supporter;
– Unlawfully interrogating employees about the union organizing drive;
– Unlawfully threatening employees with discipline if they discuss discipline with other employees; and
– Unlawfully instituting more onerous working conditions.
The Borders workers and UFCW Local 876 have put together a fair and reasonable bargaining proposal. Borders’ failure to offer any improvements in wages and benefits, coupled with its repeated violations of federal labor law is a slap in the face to its workers and this community. Surely, a multibillion-dollar company like Borders has the ability to pay its workers a living wage and provide them with decent, affordable benefits. In fiscal year 2002, Borders Chief Executive Officer Gregory Josefowicz was paid over $1.2 million. That is more money than all the employees in the Ann Arbor store earned in 2002 combined. In fact, Josefowicz’s salary comes out to $586.50 per hour. That is more than any employee in the Ann Arbor store earns in a week.
Borders pretends that it is a progressive corporation that cares about its workers. The reality is quite the opposite. The workers at Borders are not content with the substandard wages and benefits they have now. In order to fight for something better for themselves and their families, they chose to unionize. UFCW 876 and the Borders workers will fight for better and we will enlist the support of this community, as well as other Borders employees at other locations, to expose Borders for what it really is — a greedy, ruthless corporation that pays its workers substandard wages, while providing massive salaries for its corporate executive.
Smith closed his letter by saying that he is hopeful that his “facts” are used in the Daily. Journalism is based on fact, not fiction or opinion.
Collins is secretary-treasurer of the union representing Borders employees.