Thursday, June 24, 2010

What goes around comes around

  When I was in college, I had a friend that worked part-time at UPS loading trucks overnight. As a member of the teamsters union, he made around $15 an hour, got an incredible number of sick days off, and lots of vacation time. Around that time, a big recession happened and the union agreed to a deal where the full-time drivers (in the majority of the union) got their normal raise, but all new part-time workers got severely reduced benefits, and were put on a salary scale where they would start at $8 an hour and could not make more than $9, no matter what raises the full-time worker received. The new part-timers also got drastically reduced benefits. The drivers were happy, the part-timers were mad, and UPS busily went about the task of firing as many of the part-time workers as they could find cause for in order to replace them with cheaper new hires.

  A few years later, there was a strike at the Shop-Rite supermarket chain in New Jersey. I used to go to the Hillside NJ Shop-Rite and the workers there seemed very happy and most of them had been there since they had started as part timers in school. The jobs had good pay and benefits and as a nice perk, all the workers got time and a half on Saturday and double time on Sundays and holidays. The strike was resolved when the union agreed to give up benefits (including the extra weekend pay) and pay for the part time workers while the full time workers got a modest raise and kept their benefits. Again, the full-time workers were happy and the part time workers were mad, but the Shop-Rite greatly reduced hiring full time workers and almost exclusively brought in cheaper part-time help.

  I was working near Jersey City a few years later and a new Shop-Rite opened a half mile from my workplace. I went to the store one lunch hour and I saw at least 6 people that I recognized from the Hillside store. I just figured they all got promoted. I got some cold cuts at the deli counter and asked the lady there if she had got promoted. She told me that in the latest union negotiation, the part-timers outnumbered the full-timers by a wide margin and in order to get a 50 cent raise, they had bargained away the right of the full timers to refuse a transfer and now Shop-Rite was transferring all the full timers to get them to quit so they could hire more part-timers.

  All this came back to me while I was reading
this article. It seems many states cannot pay their promised pensions and the politicians are not in the mood to raise taxes and forfeit their jobs to meet the obligations they or their predecessors made. The most common solution has been to reduce the pension payments promised to workers that will be hired in the future, while leaving the benefits promised to the current and retired workers alone. I don’t expect current employees to fight this idea tooth and nail or even to fight it at all, but I do expect that at some point in the future all the employees who are hired in the future at reduced benefits to trade whatever they can of their predecessor’s benefits in order to get something for themselves somewhere down the road.