Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Response to Auntie

Auntie Em left a comment regarding my Extortion & Mercury Marine piece. Her comments are below, intertwined with my response (in italics).

Merc Marine maybe wouldn't be in such a tight place, if Doyle hadn't made WI such a business-hostile state. My daughter, who has 2 related small businesses, now gets taxed TWICE due to his latest bloated budget.

So, since taking office in January of 2003, Gov. Doyle has made Wisconsin a business-hostile state? In 5 or 6 years he made Wisconsin business hostile? How so? And, regarding your daughter, taxed twice? How so? These are all classic Wisconsin Republican right wing-talking points…too bad none of them are true.

She only grosses about 21K per year, nets 13K, but that wasn't enough for Diamond Jim; now she has to be double-taxed!

Double-taxed? Or just paying more in taxes? And, why do you think average workers and small businesses are paying more? It’s because the largest corporations don’t pay anything anymore.

You need to remember something, ALL BUSINESSES EXIST TO MAKE MONEY. If they start losing money, they revamp, initiate layoffs, MOVE...Apparently, demand for their product is down 40%. They pay more than $620,000 in property taxes, which will assuredly go up due to Doyle's slash-and-burn policies.

They just signed a contract with the union a few years ago. It wasn’t expired. So they just decide to tear it up? Or basically renegotiate it with punitive terms. I’m sure that’s the kind of contractual treatment you’d want from your insurance company, credit card company, or bank.

How much property do they own? Do you expect them to pay nothing in taxes? $620,000 in property taxes you say? Where is this number from? And, if it's true, that just means they own roughly $28 million worth of property in the state. There is a cost of doing business. And taxes are the price of civilization. Those making more, obviously pay more. Just as you and I pay property taxes, sales taxes, etc. I always find it strange that low-income and middle-class workers defend the wealthiest among us (their tax breaks, their extravagant lifestyle, their corrupt business practices, etc.). As if, by doing so, we have-nots will become wealthy, too. The more one has, the more public services one generally uses…therefore, they pay more – in property taxes, water bills, etc.

The deal they offered the union included:
* Buy-out packages of $5,000 to $25,000, based on years of service
* Medical coverage and contributions will be the same as salary plans.
* Pension plan frozen, not eliminated, at current $48 per year of service multiplier.
* Retirement plan becomes defined contribution plan (401K) with Company matching 50 cents for every dollar contributed up to 6 percent on top of benefits already earned.
* Employees retiring in 2009 may elect current retiree medical plan at current contribution rates.
* Employees retiring after Dec. 31, 2009 will be offered an optional retiree medical plan with contributions equal to salary retiree medical plan.

I suspect the union bosses are more concerned about themselves than their members, as most times, THEY don't suffer the hardships the workers do. To quote Brian Dunbar:

"I recall a report I read a few years ago following a similar decision in Tennessee: company said they could not operate, union de facto voted to close the plant rather than concede wages and benefits.

Union bosses don’t hold the hand of the workers as they cast their vote. I like how conservatives see all unions and union bosses as corrupt, but the largest earners: the banks, the insurers, the hedge funds, the corporate CEOs – they’re just efficient businessmen. Who are the ones making millions while threatening workers making $20-an-hour?

Brian Dunbar? Is he a union, labor, employment, or legal scholar? And, let’s see the report he speaks of. Let’s look at the methodology, quotes, and facts around that situation and see how they reached their conclusions. “I recall” isn’t quite the rigorous analytical standard I’m willing to base something on.

The senior members of the union made out like bandits: with state-provided unemployment benefits, union-provided benefits and etc. they were making more money after being laid-off than they were when working."

This is ridiculous and unsubstantiated. Show me the evidence. Some anti-union, pro-business pundit or shill saying so does not make it so. It’s yet another unsupported smear. And, the state provides unemployment benefits to anyone, whom was previously working (if you have enough wages to qualify for a claim) in the state. Unemployment insurance – one of the many benefits brought to us by unions.

For my part, I'd take a wage cut rather than lose my job. Same for my son, who only makes $14/hr, but keeps getting laid off. He's trying to get a steady job for $12/hr. My dad (worked for Harley) always said he feared the union would strike-or-demand themselves out of jobs. Now we see it happening.

In principle, I agree. I’d rather work than not. But where does it end? This makes contracts - the relationship between capital and labor - meaningless. Companies can now just pick up whenever they like, no matter the circumstances. The labor cost for the workers are too expensive? Yet, somehow, they have millions available for the executives. This is union busting, class warfare, and plutocracy.

Again, it’s strange how you don’t see any lack of morals or equity by a Brunswick CEO (the parent company of Mercury Marine) who made over $9 million dollars last year. His compensation is equivalent to 225 average union workers at Mercury Marine. Yet, he’s in charge of the company, and, as you said, his product is down 40 percent. But he doesn’t deserve a pay cut? Or to lose his job? He doesn’t have to sacrifice anything? No. Only the workers need to feel the pain.

Also, his pay has an award incentive based on stock options (as most executives have), which when you move a company, shed good-paying jobs, and replace those with non-union jobs, your stock value increases. This is less about good business practices and more about Wall Street chicanery and manipulating stock value. This ends up fattening his wallet alongside the other wealthy of society who own most stocks. (Another reason 401(K)s are such bad retirement options. They leave the majority of workers’ retirements dependent upon the whims of Wall Street, traders, and greedy business executives.)

And, for as tough as you make it sound your family has had it (daughter, son ,etc.), it’s surprising the strength of your support for the corporate behemoths garnering most of the wealth produced by the workers of this country. If it wasn’t for unions and the policies they’ve fought for over the years, we’d all be quasi-Wal-Mart workers, without insurance, making $1-a-day, working 60 hours a week, 7 days a week.

I appreciate your thoughts. As with any issue, I’m willing to make concessions and reach a resolution. But the workers of the U.S. have been giving up everything for the last 4 decades. It’s not about dismissing business and the valuable contributions corporations can make, but about equity and regaining some appreciation for the workers out there doing the actual work and making the services and goods that allow the businesses to be in business in the first place.

For Further Reading:

How Unions Can Help Restore the Middle Class

Justice on the Job

Shareholder Value and the Transformation of the American Economy

The Concession Gap

Unions and Productivity

Welcome to the New World Job Order

Why Do CEOs Make So Much?

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