Joe Kenehan Center

Thursday, September 26, 2002
Blame the System

Another take on corporate corruption. In a New Yorker piece (not available online) economist Michael Jenson responds to the “few bad apples” theory.

“It is important to recognize that this doesn’t come about as a result of crooks. This comes about as a result of honest people being subjected to forces they don’t understand. The forces are very strong, and this evolves over a period of time. You end up with highly moral, honest people doing dishonest things. It wasn’t as if the Mafia had taken over corporate America. We are too quick to say -- and the media feed this -- that if a bad thing happens it’s because a bad person did it, and that person had evil intentions. It is much more likely that there were some bad systems in place.”

Jensen should know. The article explains how starting in the early 1970s Jensen and his colleague Kevin Murphy helped build consensus for expanding stock options for executives, convinced they would provide incentives for responsible leadership. Instead, the stock option craze touched off a frenzy of greed and created a broad invitation to commit fraud.

Wear That Flag

This Fox News piece about companies that refuse to allow workers to wear American flag pins at work somehow ignores why these companies actually create these policies.

Is it because these managers are secretly Chomsky-loving leftists? Of course not. They won’t let workers wear a flag pin because they are terrified that allowing Old Glory buttons on the job would mean that they couldn’t stop employees from wearing a pro-union pin.

Federal labor law bans employers from permitting one kind of button but prohibiting another. Therefore anti-worker consultants routinely advise employers to issue broad “no public display” policies to try to discourage employees from getting the crazy idea that they have the right to form a union.

No Sweat

SweatX, an apparel manufacturer that operates with a respectful relationship with its employees’ union, is thriving.

Depressing Development of the Day

The LA Weekly -- which for my money is the best weekly paper in the country -- is fighting to stop its advertising staff from forming a union.

Given the LA Weekly’s careful attention to important union news in the City of Angels and its principled editorial support for LA’s growing Latino-led labor movement (especially when Harold Meyerson was at the helm), this is a very sad turn.

LA Weekly reporters have been members of the Machinists for a long time, but when other staff started to organize, the corporate owners of the LA Weekly apparently ordered a full campaign of interference. Same old stuff -- employees have been required to attend mandatory anti-union meetings, employees have been warned that organizing a union will jeopardize their existing pay and benefits, and other standard tactics.

When queried by a reporter, the Weekly’s management reverts to the same public talking points employers always use to spin a campaign to stop employees from organizing : our staff has the right to form a union, but we don’t think it’s in “their interest.” We can’t agree to a card check because we want employees to have a “free and fair choice.” We’re not anti-union, we’re “pro-democracy.”

Proving Dick Wrong

At least the Weekly’s obnoxious public spin is somewhat more thoughtful than this howler on graduate student teachers organizing with the UAW. Cornell grad student Joseph Sabia struggles mightily to make a coherent argument against TA unions, but instead he succeeds mostly in undermining Dick Armey’s grand theory on conservatives’ innate intellectual vigor.

Looking back at chestnuts like this, Sabia is clearly hard at work at this task.

Faces from the Past

The public library in Everett, Washington has launched a new online exhibit on the 1916 Everett Massacre. On November 6, 1916, sheriff deputies and a vigilante mob murdered as many as 17 IWW members who attempted to speak in public in Everett about their union.

Take a look at these eerily vivid mug shots of the Wobblies who were arrested that day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Beating The Mob

A fascinating piece in the Village Voice on how a greedy real estate owner in New York City unsuccessfully tried to put his union janitors on the street. The plan was to replace the union members with workers from a shady cleaning contractor from New Jersey who had a sweetheart contract with a sham union. The contractor also used to serve in New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman’s administration.

Oh, and the mob was getting a cut for putting the whole deal together.

Help The Bands Get Paid

Most music fans have heard plenty of stories about how musicians get screwed by their record label. In light of what happened to Arthur Anderson, the entertainment industry’s famously dishonest accounting is coming under closer scrutiny.

(Caveat: folks like Don Henley and Glenn Frey get a lot of play in the story. I strongly suspect they’ve already got theirs and the Joe Kenehan Center has long stood with The Dude in sharing a strong dislike of The Eagles, man. )

Monday, September 23, 2002
Midwest Retail Workers Joining Together

First, underpaid and underappreciated workers at Whole Foods in Madison formed a union, the first successful organizing at the comfortably profitable national chain of yuppie organic grocery stores.

Now their counterparts at a Borders Books & Music in Minneapolis will vote on October 18 to decide whether to join the UFCW.

The Whole Foods employees innovated by using a website to distribute information to their co-workers during their organizing campaign. Apparently retail workers in the Twin Cities are doing the same thing.

Suddenly, Profiles of Non-CEOs

The Sunday New York Times checks in on Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove.

Also in the Times . . .

Citigroup’s close relationship with Worldcom looks bad and has various Wall Street-ers turning on each other.

A Harvard Business School professor concludes that corporate executives are overpaid, don’t really change much at their companies.

Tim Eyman’s Last Dance?

A Seattle Times piece on the possible exhaustion of the anti-tax ballot initiative movements in Washington and Oregon. Union members in Oregon get credit for talking to other voters about the consequences of extreme anti-tax intiatives. It's not unusual for voters in Washington to approve initiatives to both expand public services and cut taxes -- on the same ballot -- so something's got to give.

Finally . . .

Don’t miss Nathan Newman’s weekly labor news roundup.