Union Violence: A Case Study from the US

The Engineering News-Record reports on recent charges against union officials in the United States, which in many ways seem to parallel allegations of misconduct in Australia:

Like other big-city unions, ironworkers’ Local 401 in Philadephia found its once-unchallenged hold on the city and its suburbs compromised as nonunion contractors increased their market share.

In response, say federal prosecutors, the local’s leaders carried out, over many years, a program of intimidation that stands out for its violence and audacity. 

According to a grand jury indictment opened in Philadelphia last week, business manager and local leader Joseph Dougherty and nine other officers and members regularly employed violence and threats to extort contractors, limit nonunion work and even keep union carpenters from performing work the local believed it should control…

Using a network of informers, the union kept tabs on which construction projects used nonunion labor. When deemed necessary, the local dispatched a group of members, known as “goon squads,” to threaten contractors. The 49-page indictment notes that one such group jokingly called itself “The Helpful Union Guys,” or “T.H.U.G.S.” The goon squads were employed against non-union contractors “to force them to hire unwanted, unnecessary, and superfluous union labor,” states the indictment.

Read the full article here: Federal Charge: Violent Ironworkers’ Local 401 Valued its ‘THUGS’ 

Martin Ferguson Urges Radical FWA Reform

Martin Ferguson, a former President of the ACTU and Minister for Resources in the Rudd-Gillard Government has called for radical reform of Australia’s broken industrial relations framework:

“We must get serious about closing the competitive gap that has opened up between Australia and our rivals,” he will say.

“A workplace relations system that drives investment to other countries is in nobody’s interest – certainly not those union members and their families who will be bargaining themselves out of a future.”

“I would urge the Government to keep an open mind on the need for further reform in this area,” he will say.

“The objectives of the Fair Work Act need to be examined to make sure they truly reflect the need for Australia to be internationally competitive.”

Mr Ferguson has also supported reinstating the ABCC as “a mechanism that holds both sides to account and which can help deliver projects on time and on budget,” 

Construction union whistleblowers warned not to co-operate with corruption investigators

Via the Sydney Morning Herald:

Building union corruption whistleblowers have been threatened and warned not to co-operate with investigations into alleged criminal activity as the federal government prepares to launch a national police taskforce to examine the construction sector.

Fairfax Media can also reveal that corruption suspects have been meeting to plan their responses to the Abbott government’s royal commission into unions, raising concerns evidence has been destroyed and false stories agreed upon in a bid to stymie investigators.

Grollo: why the CFMEU is morally bankrupt

One does not have to believe everything that Grollo says in the article below to see what is wrong with existing regulatory arrangements and the need for fundamental changes. This is not simply a case of “morally bankrupt” action by the CFMEU: it is a case of failure by government to provide a legal system which  protects businesses from disruptive activity.

First, CFMEU was able to breach “various workplace laws” without Fair Work Australia taking action to deal with it.
Second, Grollo had to go to the Victorian Supreme Court for help. This is similar to what was tried during the waterfront dispute (my recollection is that the Supreme Ct “lost” because of a judge on the Federal Ct who sympathised with unions). Although Grollo does not mention it, I think the CFMEU has not yet paid the quite large fine for contempt of court.

Third, as on other occasions, the Victorian police were ineffective except in allowing access to the site for workers prepared to risk CFMEU revenge.

Fourth, while Grollo did defy the CFMEU, the current “system” of regulation clearly exposes other smaller companies and contractors to forced compliance with union bullying.

Des Moore is a member of the HR Nicholls Society Board of Management

Why the CFMEU is Morally Bankrupt, by Daniel Grollo:

Twelve years ago, Grocon took a public stand against the sort of ugly, lawless behaviour we’ve been reading about these past weeks…

 

What has unfolded for Grocon since is a story too complex and unsavoury to do justice to here – a relentless campaign of intimidation and fabricated “industrial” issues from the Victorian CFMEU to try to bring us to our knees. Or as the union’s secretary so brazenly put it, “We’ll just smash ’em.”

Our industry colleagues saw what happens when you confront this and, with the exception of a handful of our suppliers and subcontractors, most weighed the cost and felt unable to take the stand we did.

Thankfully, a royal commissioner will now put the construction industry under the microscope in a much broader inquiry into graft and corruption. No one must be immune from his scrutiny.

In the meantime, I would like to give you a taste of the behaviour at the heart of the CFMEU’s “business model” they have been so determined to maintain.

Click HERE to read the rest of this must-read piece!

How the unions killed Toyota in Australia

Via Andrew Bolt, two great articles on how the union movement was responsible for destroying Toyota’s manufacturing in Australia:

The Australian Financial Review (Paywall Protected):

The former head of Toyota Australia and one of its top supplier executives say combative industrial relations helped trigger the company’s decision to stop making cars.

 

John Conomos, who worked at Toyota in senior roles for almost 30 years including as executive chairman, said he could understand the company’s frustration at union resistance to changing workplace entitlements and practices…

“The old fashioned ideas of labour unions simply must change,” he said…

 

Gary Stewart, the former general manager of a Toyota “keiretsu” supplier, Aisin Australia, said the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union gave the company a “two-fingered salute” when it blocked workplace changes in court rather than negotiate.

 

It was the last straw for the company and gave ammunition to “hawks” at Toyota who supported the pull-out in a finely balanced decision, he said.

 

“If it is not the only cause it is certainly at the top of the file.”My opinion is that if Toyota had broken through its IR issues – then most probably Toyota would have tried to continue in Australia.” Read more

Perspectives On Proposed Royal Commission & Need For IR Reform

A Promise Abbott Should Break,  Des Moore, member of the HR Nicholls Society Board of Management, published in Quadrant Online

Today’s media  [Update: official announcement here] predicts the announcement of a Royal Commission which will cover union corruption and corporate contributions to the “corrupt” unions. We should hope that either the terms of reference are broader than that, and/or that the announcement indicates the government intends major reform of the Fair Work legislation and administration before  the next election.

Even though considerable evidence of union corruption is already available this is unlikely. The government will  want to use the Royal Commission to justify subsequent major reform, and despite belated revelations by businesses of the legislation’s disastrous consequences — Boral CEO Mike Kane’s brave column in today’s Fairfax press, for example — it will not want to break its pre-election promise to implement no major changes during this current term. As the analysis in the Australian by Henry Ergas suggests, this would be unfortunate. He perceptively points out that the underlying problem is with the legislation and its administrators

“Yet the case for reforming Labor’s industrial relations laws goes well beyond the gangrene it has caused. For the rot is only the most extreme symptom of the laws’ underlying flaws. At the heart of those flaws is what the industrial relations system seeks to do. It should serve to improve the functioning of the labour market by facilitating efficient contracting between employers and employees, thereby promoting trust and confidence in the workplace and encouraging the creation of secure, high-quality jobs.

 

Instead, under the guise of fairness, Gillard’s legislation aimed at replacing market contracting by an administrative process, in which mandatory standards, awards and collective agreements would be the primary means for determining the conditions of employment. And with that legislation guaranteeing the unions a privileged role in framing each of those instruments, she sought to entrench a degree of union power entirely unrelated to the unions’ ability to attract and retain members. In those objectives Gillard’s legislation succeeded all too well.”

The legislation also has succeeded in forcing “big business” to do deals with unions. While supporters of small business (and others) are right to criticise the apparent extent of concessions made by “big business”, many overlook the adverse effects of the legislation (and its administration) on the management of those major companies.

Simply put, big business would encounter great difficulty sustaining a competitive position if not for ‘going along to get along’. It is incumbent on the Abbott government to restore industrial relations to an above-board footing.

Fruits of their labours – Letter to the Editor by Des Moore, published in AFR, 10 Feb 2014

Prime Minister Abbott and associated ministers have rightly been criticised for their badly mistaken interpretation of the SPC’s current agreement with the AMWU.

Even so, overall working conditions (not just wages) seem overly generous in circumstances where the company faces increasing international competition.

This also seems evident for other businesses similarly exposed.

What is needed urgently is a major review of the Fair Work arrangements and the extent of union influence under those. If the Coalition  waits until after the next election to implement reforms which are obviously needed, there will be continued closures and losses of jobs.

 We’ll expose unions’ dark secrets, says Tony Abbott (The Australian)

TONY Abbott has vowed to shine a spotlight on the “dark corners” of national life by setting up a royal commission into the union movement as he accuses Labor of protecting dishonest officials.

As cabinet ministers prepare to sign off on the commission today, the Prime Minister sharpened the political contest over union finances to warn of “widespread corruption” that needed urgent investigation.

No limits on Tony Abbott’s probe into unions (The Australian, Paywall Protected)

The terms of reference allow the commission to investigate activities from years ago including the Australian Workers Union slush fund set up in the early 1990s with the help of legal advice from Julia Gillard.

The five unions targeted are the AWU, the Health Services Union, the Transport Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, at the heart of new claims about gangsters in the building industry.

When the ugly side is exposed, it may do Shorten no favours (The Australian)

It’s the ugly truth of how power is exercised in Labor.

Slush funds used by MPs and union leaders to branch-stack and buy up dozens of ALP memberships or to fund elaborate campaigns to depose another union’s leadership. All to the end of furthering their political ambitions and changing the delicate factional balance in the party.

This use of slush funds and union resources – as a series by The Age reported in late 2013 – fuels the Labor Party’s factions and reinforces, in a python grip, the relationship between Labor and its diminishing base of union comrades.

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Bill Shorten, as a factional warrior himself, should be worried by this royal commission. While the inquiry will also look at corruption more broadly, Labor’s greatest political weakness is how funny money is used to wield power within the ALP.

The way the money is raised (at times from employers) and handled create ideal conditions for corruption to flourish

 

Commentaries on IR and Need For Reforms

Below are various commentaries on the workplace relations situation and suggestions for change. Howes has certainly stirred the pot even though his idea of returning to an Accord won’t sell. So too have the ANZ and GE CEOs (amazing how they and others have suddenly emerged from the woodwork).

Letter To The Editor By Des Moore

The debate on whether the SPC’s current agreement with the AMWU has resulted in excessive labour costs seems to overlook some important questions.

First, SPC has not published any information showing why it cannot find from internal economies the $25 million requested from governments.

Second, given the problems of entrenched unionism revealed by SPC and many other companies since the July election, why cannot the Abbott government justify bringing forward major changes to the union-biased Fair Work system in addition to those already promised. Revelations of major changes in circumstances allow major changes in policy.

This is particularly relevant to those companies experiencing increasing international competition. If the Coalition  waits until after the next election to implement reforms which are obviously needed, there will be continued closures and losses of jobs.

Union Bosses in Wages Revolution (The Age) Read more

SPC workers’ perks cost bailout

The following article from the Australian Financial Review is well worth a read:

Employees of SPC Ardmona, whose bid for a government bailout was rejected last week, get nine weeks of paid leave a year, including public holidays and a five-day Melbourne Cup long weekend.

The perks are among the generous over-award conditions that contributed to the Abbott government’s decision to reject the Victorian-based fruit canning group’s bid for a $50 million federal-state handout.

Wages at the ailing plant are between 38 per cent and 58 per cent above “modern award” levels and have increased by 29 per cent since 2005, even as the ­company has fallen on hard times and had to seek a bailout.

Click HERE to read the rest.