"Salt" of the earth

Louis R Godena louisgodena at ids.net
Wed Jun 12 16:58:41 MDT 1996

Rumor has it that Clinton's Labor Department is about to drop its opposition
to a Republican proposal to exclude "salts" (union members who obtain
positions with non-union firms in order to facilitate organizing) from
federal job discrimination rules.    A number of business associations in
the South and Mid-West have made support for the President contingent on his
position concerning this issue.

There are a number of related suits pending against various construction
unions, most notably, in the Third District, the case of  Associated
Builders & Contractors v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers,
originally lost by the employers group and currently on appeal.

A "salt" is an expensive nuisance to scab-herders like the ABC for several
reasons; first of all,  as an "educational resource", the "salt" can point
out to other employees (without revealing his own identity) the often great
disparities in wage rates and benefits between the organized and non-union
sector.    On one job I "salted" on in Worcester, Massachusetts, the
differential was nearly $8 an hour, just in wages!    On so-called
"prevailing wage" jobs, the "salt" can vitiate any attempts on the part of
the scab-herder to underpay wages or benefits by, among other things,
anonymous calls to state labor officials and mass publicity in the community

The danger of a determined "salt", organizing in countless ways on the job,
to an employer of docile, ignorant, or low-paid workers is obvious.   Good
"salts", when encountering a particularly obstinate or shifty employer can,
creatively, make all kinds of trouble;  on one sewerage treatment plant
involving thousands of running feet of safety railing, one carpenter foreman
"misread" the plans and ordered the railings built  8" too low, whereupon
this same foreman (no need to mention names) called the State Department of
Public Safety, who, in turn, shut the job down for 10 days until the
"problem" was corrected.     Lack of minority and women hirings, shoddy
workmanship and materials, and unsound or corrupt accounting practices can
all be laid, with a little creative analysis, at the door of the
recalcitrant contractor,  often with telling effect.    In fact, according
to a recent MIT study of organizing in the construction trades, nearly 80%
of successful organizing (i.e., companies of twenty-five or more employees
who submitted to collective bargaining) involved the use of undercover
workers undermining the employer from within.

By withdrawing the protection of ordinary federal employment laws from union
organizers working undercover,  the labor department plans to further
cripple already weakened laws against employer abuse.

Now that the AFL-CIO has massively committed itself, through gimmicks like
"union summer" (a fig-leaf if there ever was one),  to Clinton's re-election
campaign, the question naturally arises, why this slap in the face of
organized labor six months before a national presidential election?    It is
clear that, for all intents and purposes, organized labor is, strictly
speaking, orphaned by the current political climate.    Short of putting the
top AFL-CIO leadership in jail, which the justice department has, in
individual cases at least,  tried to do on occasion, and where, indeed, many
of them truly belong, Clinton is assured of full union support in November.

This, at a time, when an already difficult organizing climate is being
further undermined by those who enjoy the political largesse and financing
of ordinary workers.

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