Monday, November 15, 2010

Shocked, shocked

French union leaders come to the US to help an organizing drive at Sodexo and are surprised:

French Sodexo union leaders Jean-Michel Dupire and Gerard Bodard say that after visiting Columbus last spring, they were shocked by differences between the lives of Americans like Snell and French Sodexo workers -- and the difference between Sodexo's self-image and reality. In France, anyone can easily join a union, and everyone in the food services is under union contracts. Most French Sodexo workers earn the minimum wage (about $12 an hour), but they have comprehensive public health insurance, a much more generous public pension, full work weeks, and six weeks paid vacation. (Snell will get her first few vacation days next year.)

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's true everyone can easily join a union (big companies like AXA actually give you money if you do because it puts oil into the machine for "social dialogue" and prevents unannounced strikes). However I highly, highly doubt "everyone in the food services is under union contracts". After all, unionization is much lower in France than in the US, something like 7%, and I bet a lot of the percentage comes from civil servants.

This story will likely be used as a "scarecrow": look at what might happen to us here in France!

MYOS

Nick said...

What is meant, I believe, is that most workers in France are covered by sectoral negotiations which set wage rates and other working conditions, whether or not they choose to be union members. In the case of Sodexo, all French employees are covered by the "convention collective" of the "restauration collective" sector, negotiated by the unions and the management associations.

Union density is not the same as coverage by collective bargaining. In the States, only 12% of all employees have collective bargaining (7% in the private sector), while some 95% of French workers are covered by "negotiations sectorielles." On top of that French workers have individual work contracts which afford them other rights under the law -- most American workers are "at-will" employees.

Nick

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's true everyone can easily join an union. But wage rates and other working conditions are made by law and no 'convention collective" can break the law

This is BS to say everyone is under union. We're no more in the 70's and Services are not Industry. SEIU try to dictate french union, CGT, FO, CFDT what to do and how support SEIU corporate campaign vs sdx. France and US are just to different.

Unknown said...

Nick is quite right. While it is easy to join a union in France, the question is why anyone would do so when it's so much easier and cheaper to be a free rider, since collective bargaining agreements are enforced by law sector-wide. Is union strength enhanced by number of members? To some extent, of course, but MYOS is right to note that it is the industrial interest in labor peace that has been the mainstay of labor's strength. French unions are more representative organs than mass pressure groups: their function is to translate the state of mind of workers into terms management can understand. What will it take to avoid trouble--not just strikes but also costly disturbances on the shop floor. This arrangement breaks down under competitive pressure, however, and this is what we see now not only in France but also in Germany and other countries where the grand bargain between labor and industry depended on good times. In the US, the grand bargain never extended beyond certain major industries such as steel and automobiles, and there it has broken down for the same reason as in Europe: competitive pressure. Clearly the situation is different in tradable vs. non-tradable goods industries, but the service sector has never enjoyed the large margins (monopoly rents) that once made the grand bargain possible for consumer durables. The issue of American Prospect from which the article cited is taken considers the fate of unions in a globalized economy. The other articles are worth looking at, if rather more optimistic about the prospects for international trade unionism than I am.

Nick said...

Anonymous: you are quite mistaken if you think SEIU is pressuring the French to do anything. As someone who works in this field, I can tell you it doesn't work that way. The French are working with SEIU because it is in their interests to do so, namely they are nervous about their company behaving badly in other countries because it may come back to haunt them.
And Art, I think your characterization of the union's function is a little cynical, or orthodox Marxist or something. The union's function is not merely to translate the state of mind of workers into something management can understand, but also to be the vehicle for workers' collective power to negotiate the terms of their employment. And further, to serve as a sort of bulwark of social democracy, to inject some measure of citizenship into the workplace. Without unions, most people would spend the majority of their waking hours in an effective dictatorship, which is not a healthy thing for a democratic society. As for monopoly rents, last time I looked the profits of global service providers such as Sodexo were massive. You are right to say the grand bargains have broken down, but isn't that really because one bargainer, the union, is still operating on a purely national level while the other, the corporation, is now quite unmoored from the nation-state?

Nick

Unknown said...

Nick, Agreed. I thought that was my point, but I'm glad to accept your phrasing.

Nick said...

Cool, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi again,

@ Nick, French unions are working with SEIU because they THINK it is in their interests. What I wanted to say is that french unions do not realize what is going on US. Do you think they're aware of the corporate campaign SEIU's running? The fact is that SEIU just want to have members of Unite Here, main union at SDX. It has few to do with complaints of wages or anti union practices. Because SEIU is anti union too. NLRB alleges that SEIU committed unfair labor practices against their own members...
Fight is not the same for french unions, their objectives are just too different. Both countries have too different labor standards... I'm not sure french unions would understand ANdy Stern is working with private equity after what he's done against it. I just say, french unions have credibility, Unite Here too, SEIU no.

Jason

Nick said...

Oy vey, @Jason. This is just an anti-SEIU screed. Don't know where you come by your information. Quick rebuttal:
1. SEIU and Unite Here have settled their conflict. Sodexo employees can be organized by either union, my understanding is they will work out geographies so they are not constantly fighting.
2. SEIU is not anti-union. You may disagree with some of their tactics, but it is a bit Orwellian to say that one of the more successful and growing unions is "anti-union".
3. It is not uncommon for a union to have NLRB charges filed against by their members -- that is how members who have a complaint can get redress. Most unions have some complaints filed at one time or another, often by anti-union members in a "union shop" situation.
@ Jason, give the French unions a little credit: they are working closely with SEIU, and they know what they are doing.

Nick

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick, I am not radically anti SEIU. I just read some very weird stories about them. And you are right, I do not give support to their tactics (but the corporate campaig they do is a VERY GOOD tactic).

I agree, Unite Here and SEIU have settle their dispute but I think it stil remains deep seated enmity between them. Why Unite Here do not help SEIU against Sodexo? Do you think it means Wrong Way SEIU? Is there an alliance between them?

Why did they leave the AFL CIO to create Change to Win? Why did they fight against Union of Healthcare Workers and fired Sal Rosselli? Why did they go to court against them? Why did they fight against California Nurses Association? Why did they fight against New York States Nurses Association? Why did they fight against Security Police Fire Professionals of America? Is there any single union so warlike?

But I understand, as I said, why they are doing this corporate campaign. They are doing great job. Where I disagree is their puropose because I do not believe their first goal is employees well being. I do not say they are just greed but I think they have priorities. Why employees of the State Compensation Insurance Fund want to leave SEIU? They say this is because they do not feel well protected. Why Kaiser mental health and optical professionals vote to leave SEIU and join NUHW? Why do they think this is a victory for democracy? Why have they so many charges against SEIU?

Do they really provide to employees free choice to union? Do the Pocono Medical Center Service employees (under SEIU flag) doing well with their closed shop? Maybe I'm too old fashioned way.

And I give credit to french union (CGT, CFDT) as I give credit to others unions: SINALTRAINAL (Colombia), AITUC (India), TEK GIDA (Turkey), FENTIABEHTA (Dominican Republic). Not because they are followers and SEIU is a leader, but just because they are fighting for employees and not for money. I wish all SEIU is doing is for employees but...

Jason

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I forgot my sources.

About NLRB vs SEIU

http://www.examiner.com/law-enforcement-in-national/seiu-affiliate-accused-of-illegally-punishing-employees-who-opposed-union

About SCIF vs SEIU

http://blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker/2010/11/should-state-fund-workers-have.html#ixzz1557WsvtO

About Pocono Medical Center closed shop

http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101110/NEWS02/11100326/-1/rss01

About Kaiser professionals vs SEIU

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/kaiser-mental-health-and-optical-professionals-vote-to-join-nuhw-107463428.html