“The operation was a success, but the patient died.”
“We had to destroy the village to save it.”
I’m sure the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union approves of these classic oxymoronic statements, because its members are currently patting themselves on the back for standing up to Hostess Brands, Inc and not giving an inch in contentious labor negotiations that had put them on the picket line. “I think we’re the first ones who have stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to let you get away with it,’” was the message the union’s resolve sent according to Sue Tapley, the strike captain at the Biddeford, Maine Hostess plant. “You can fight them. You can shut them down.” “Unions have been losing power for years,” added a striking worker outside of the same plant. “This is an exceptional case. If Hostess had been allowed to get away with what they’d been trying to do, other corporations would have lined up to try the same tactics. Hopefully, this will be an example to other companies not to break their unions.”
Because of that noble resolve, Hostess, which has been losing money and flirting with bankruptcy for years, decided to liquidate the company. 18,500 people, including the strikers, are about to lose their jobs, permanently, just in time for the holidays. Taxpayers, of course, will now be responsible for their existence as well as the welfare of their families, our consolation prize for also losing the guilty pleasures of Hostess Cupcakes, Zingers, Snow Balls, Suzy-Q’s, Coffee Cakes, and, of course, Twinkies. Clearly, a brilliant victory for organized labor!
The statements of the various strikers embrace the “moronic” in oxymoronic. Negotiations that cannot solve an impasse with the result that the enterprise at the center of the negotiations goes up in smoke are nothing to cheer about, for by definition they failed. This means the negotiators on both sides failed, and as a result, people and society generally are hurt. I wouldn’t think it would be necessary to xplain this, but that is a bad thing, not a good thing. The union members seem to think demonstrating the power to destroy a business is the same as proving their value to society. Among the reasons unions have declined in popularity in the U.S. is that they have too often behaved irresponsibly to the detriment of many industries and occupations, including those in the public sector. Combating greed, unfair treatment and poor working conditions is laudable; engaging extortion and destructive behavior is not. The crowing by the union for its “achievement” of putting Hostess out of business is the equivalent of kidnappers boasting about killing their hostage when the ransom wasn’t paid.
The owners of Hostess share responsibility and are little better, but they are better. The threat to liquidate if the union didn’t stop its strike and moderate its demands was an extreme bargaining tactic, but I have not heard any Hostess officials say that the business’s collapse was a glorious victory because it would show future unions that management means what it says when it threatens suicide. (Does this mean that the Bakers Union is right, because the first side to declare victory wins? They probably think so. If you’ll call losing 18,500 jobs, including your own, a victory, you’ll believe anything.)
This was no victory for anybody, especially the public. Ethical negotiation means a shared commitment to reach accord, before the point of mutually assured destruction is reached. Here both sides failed miserably, and it was a failure of skill, resolve, values, ethics and character. An organization that sees a catastrophic collapse in bargaining as something to be proud of is so ethically warped that it cannot be trusted. Such an organization mistakenly believes that it is ethical conduct to reject the principle of sacrificing to achieve the greater good, in favor of showing power, determination and resolve. To believe that is to elevate stubbornness over survival.
We will see if the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union is an aberration, or the herald of a new, disastrous age of no compromises and principled suicides. The National Hockey League strike and the government’s efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff will provide some useful data on the question.