Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stop ‘n’ Starve

             A Stop-n-Shop worker just told me a few minutes ago at his other parttime job at the corner Shell station that he pays over $8 a week in union dues... for the privilege of making minimum wage that's guaranteed to him by the state Congress, not a union. The union pulls down well over $115,000,000 a year in union dues in southern New England alone for the privilege of their members earning minimum wage, shitty health care benefits and live with the additional danger of being put out of work after being denied the most basic union perk, which is the right to collectively bargain. So, if this bedroom union, as I call it since they're in bed with corporate senior management, can't or won't do better than get you minimum wage with no serious benefits, what the fuck's the sense of paying union dues?
I shop at this store, even though it never runs out of ways to disappoint me (The only reason I shop there at all is because of the gas reward points it offers. You get a whopping .10¢ off a gallon for every $100 you spend there, which is still a damned sight better than Hannaford’s, a competing supermarket in town. But, unlike Stop'n'Starve, they don't artificially bloat their prices to coerce you into signing up for a card that they then use to creepily track your spending habits and spit out of the register targeted coupons for the items you'd just purchased.) and have more or less shopped here since it first opened around 1990. Both my stepsons worked at the local Stop’n’Shop when they were young (the older one got terminated when his trick knee gave out on him and he informed management he’d have to have corrective surgery on it, a standard practice Stop’n’Shop has used for many, many years on teenaged employees once they’re up for the piddling raises they offer but more on that later.).
About 12 or more years ago, possibly before Bush got in the White House, Stop’n’Shop’s starting wages, which were always about a buck or two an hour higher than the prevailing minimum wage, began stagnating. Jobs that used to pay $7-8 an hour, within a year, were going at a full buck an hour less. And this was long, long before the serious economic downturn that began under Bush and has miserably continued unabated under Obama. Pretty soon, it was obvious that these jobs the corporation would post on its store windows were going for the prevailing minimum wage and it’s a practice the store has continued for over a decade since.
I don’t know when the United Food and Commercial Workers Union got in there or if they’ve always been there but I’ve long wondered if these minimum wage-earning workers ever had to pay union dues. Today, I’ve received confirmation from one (who also makes minimum wage working for an even huger corporation, the Royal Dutch Shell oil company) that they do. Obviously, this is a closed union shop, meaning if you don’t join, you get fired on the spot (or perhaps, I even more suspect, their union dues are automatically siphoned out by the company like child support garnishments.). Otherwise, if you’re making minimum wage with crappy to nonexistent health care bennies, what’s your incentive for joining and paying union dues out of your minimum wage paycheck? has a list of 149 job titles and a range of wages for each specific title at Stop’n’Shop. Among the titles listed on page two, and I wish I was making this up, is one that's the lowest on an already rock-bottom scale, and it's actually called a “minion”. I’m sure we all know the definition of the word “minion” but in case you want a more detailed definition, here are several. If you look at all 149 jobs, you’ll note that approximately half or more of the jobs are within a dollar an hour within the state-mandated minimum wage of $8 per hour (I wonder if they have job titles such as "peon", "shit-shoveler", "flunky", "serf" and "sharecropper.").
As recently as last February, the corporation began shadow-boxing with its bedroom union and there was a threat of a massive strike that made the Stop’n’Shop corporation set up hiring centers to hire scabs that offered more money than their long-term, parttime employees. This means that, if Stop’n’Shop couldn’t successfully negotiate a contract that was agreed-upon to not push the corporation too hard, the union would’ve voted via a small panel to put those 40,000 people out of work without giving them the slightest chance to collectively bargain, which is the very most basic right that ought to be given to union workers. The workers would’ve gotten a few bucks an hour to shoulder a protest sign for a few hours a week (which is the only discernible way I can see of the workers getting back even so much as a penny they paid to this worthless union that can’t seem to negotiate for them even a penny an hour over the state-mandated minimum wage) while watching customers and scabs cross their picket lines and both executive management and the union would’ve been quite happy to see that happen.
I utterly fail to see why this union is allowed to remain in business. Granted, not all its constituents make $8 per hour but the vast majority of them do. Even assuming all 40,000 of its members in three New England states kick in just $8 a week (and I’m sure those working at skilled positions and making more than minimum wage pay higher dues), that still comes out to a cool $116,800,000 a year (and that’s just from their New England members, not New York state or other states in which it’s wormed itself), which is a lot of cake for a union that won’t or can’t bargain for better than a minimum wage that’d already been mandated years ago by Beacon Hill. That means a lot of union fat cats at the top are raking in a lot of moolah for shit they’re not even doing.
My eyes got wider when my friend informed me that he was informed on his hire that he could expect a pay raise of no more than .30¢ an hour after 6 months on the job. Even if he was working 40 hours a week (and I guarantee he is not), that would come out to an extra $12 a week, which isn’t even enough for two packs of cigarettes or four gallons of gas.).
The Stop’n’Shop corporation keeps the union around like Napoleon and Snowball kept the crow around in Animal Farm: To coo niceties in the ears of the proletariat about the virtues and rewards of hard labor for little in return. With this useless union, the corporation can continue to project the image of acting in good faith with their employees for the dubious benefit of those stupid enough to believe it. This bedroom union that is so incredibly between the sheets with the corporation’s executive management serves as a useful fig leaf, plausible deniability that they’re anti-union.
And I have never in all my years in the work force ever seen a union that was comfortable with its workers making minimum wage for years and years on end and cannot (or will not through some collusive deal) even negotiate better health care coverage (they nearly went on strike years ago over that very same issue).
When the next-to-last contract was hashed out after the usual shadowboxing between the corporation and the “union”, the store audaciously said in a press release that the contract gave “very competitive wage packages and retirement benefits as well as access to quality, affordable health care.”
It’s utterly impossible to see how minimum wage for most of its store-level positions and prohibitively high health care premiums that are expected to be paid for out of paychecks in which most if not all workers are held well below 40 hours a week can in any way, shape or form be construed as “very competitive.” (Unless a race to the bottom can be construed as "competition.") And, with a chain and an industry with such a revolving door policy in which workers are actually discouraged in one way or another from making a career working for the corporation, it’s just as impossible to see where retirement benefits for non-management workers even plays a part.
The bottom of the article to which I’d linked regarding their pathetic excuse for a contract goes on to state, perhaps acerbically or not, “Stop & Shop is owned by Ahold USA. In its last earnings release, the company reported that net sales at Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover had increased 10.5 percent to $4.4 billion.” That’s a lot of pie the corporation could be sharing with its employees but shares, instead, with its utterly corrupt bedroom union.


At May 15, 2013 at 5:55 PM, Blogger Stan B. said...

That really is disgusting, but then, even the most powerful of remaining unions are but shadows of their former selves. We just negotiated our usual whopping 1% raise above our few bucks over minimum (this time in return for renegotiation in 6 mo) but at least have some small modicum of benefits...

SEIU Union Steward


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