Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Job Actions

Regulars here know that I prattle on about leverage every month or so. I don't believe in "fair" and "unfair." They are lovely words defining wonderful concepts, but they exist only in heaven. Here are on earth it's a wee bit different.

Two examples of what I mean, the happier story first:

... Key members of the cast of the hit comedy "Modern Family" have signed new deals with 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that produces the show for ABC said Friday.

The agreements come just days after six cast members -- Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell and Ed O'Neill -- filed a suit against the studio in an effort to break their current contracts.

Although terms of the pact were not disclosed, Vergara, Ferguson, Stonestreet, Bowen and Burrell were seeking raises from their current salary of about $65,000 to a payday of $200,000 per episode next season, with significant annual increases in return for agreeing to extend their contracts. The studio had initially offered them $150,000 per episode next season along with annual increases.

People close to the situation said the final figure for next season for Vergara, Ferguson, Stonestreet, Bowen and Burrell will be in the neighborhood of $160,000 per episode. Also, each will get a bonus that will bring the average pay to more than $175,000. The cast agreed to extend their deals by one more season to eight total, and in that last season their salaries would top $300,000 per episode.

Old story, right? Actors on a hit show the network (and studio) believe they absolutely need get militant ... and end up getting raises.


But then there's the other end of the fuzzy popsicle stick:

... Few places better illustrate the uneven recovery than Joliet, Illinois, where nearly 800 factory workers are locked in a bitter, three-months-and-counting strike against their employer. Caterpillar, famous maker of yellow bulldozers, has demanded its employees accept a six-year freeze on wages and pensions; the machinists' union says its members had no choice but to walk out. ...

The company says it wants cuts now to be better positioned for future downturns, although these rainy day scenarios are "intentionally vague," says Frank Larkin of the machinists' union, and "seem to apply to anything from an increase in raw material costs to Armageddon." ...

Caterpillar's corporate culture may be more predisposed than most to punishing uppity workers. But for it to do so without even the flimsiest appeal to economic necessity is truly a milestone. And in today's atomised America, it isn't just good business. It's good politics.

We live, as the Chinese might say, in interesting times.

Unions are pretty much on the ropes. (Entertainment unions, because of their relative strength in the movie and television industry, are the exceptions that prove the rule.) Where once slightly less than half the population was repped by labor unions, it's now under 10%. And where once police officers, fire fighters and school teachers were admired, they are now resented for luxuries like retirement pensions and full medical coverage.

As we become a nation of angry $15 per hour laborers, rage is directed at workers making $25 or $30 an hour, fringe benefits included. The billionaires and multi-millionaires? They're the job creators who must be respected as their taxes are lowered, otherwise they'll take their money and move to Singapore and/or Switzerland, leaving the rest of us wage slaves in the lurch.

Salary hikes began falling behind the cost of living in the middle '70s, around the time unions were shrinking in numbers and strength. (Coincidence?) Tax rates got skewed toward the high rollers in the 1980s, and the good times have continued for the top brackets --- with a few brief setbacks -- ever since. Today, the moneyed few have convinced a large percentage of the struggling many that this is the natural order of things, and if Social Security has to be dialed back and Medicare gutted, it's the patriotic thing to do.

So learn to just ... suck it up. The Caterpillar employees' leverage went missing years ago, and there is no downside for their steely-eyed employer sticking it to them; flat wages and crappy health coverage are in all their futures.

America, 2012. It might not be "fair," but it's the way it is.


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