David Robertson, who has worked at Boeing for 35 of his 54 years, following his father into the business, said he suspected that when the jobs head elsewhere his employer will miss the commitment and expertise built through company clans like his.
“What did we talk about at supper?” Mr. Robertson asked. “We talked about planes. You go to a place where people don’t have that history, where people haven’t been doing it for generations, and to them it’s just a job.”
“Boeing Departure Shakes Wichita and It’s Identity as Airplane Capital,” A.G. Sulzberger, New York Times, January 19, 2012, A10
2,160 Boeing workers will lose their jobs when the aircraft maker shutters its Wichita complex within the next two years.
On Jan. 17, 1962, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, bringing collective bargaining rights to most federal workers for the first time. Kennedy’s order might be the least known of the string of significant events that made the 1960s such crucial years in American history. At the time Kennedy acted, very few workers at any level of government had won the right to bargain collectively with their employers. Federal action helped inspire many states and localities to follow suit, allowing their own workers to organize. This triggered a huge wave of unionization in the public sector that saw firefighters, teachers, sanitation workers, social workers and many others form unions in the 1960s and ’70s.
Historian Joseph A. McCartin, writing in the Los Angeles Times this Tuesday. McCartin’s op-ed points out the disparities between President Reagan’s handling of a striking public sector union (PATCO) in 1981 with last year’s conservative assault on bargaining rights for state employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures. What’s most interesting to me here is McCartin’s description of the major push-factor that led to Kennedy’s executive order, a bill under discussion in Congress to formalize Federal employees’ right to bargain over pay, rather than just work rules and grievances:
[Kennedy’s Executive Order] was scarcely the sop to the union movement that some critics argued at the time and continue to believe today. The order instead fell far short of what the union movement wanted, and it headed off a more union-friendly law that Congress was set to consider when Kennedy took office.
That bill would have given federal workers robust bargaining rights, including the right to negotiate over pay and benefits. Kennedy and his advisors sought to sidetrack that initiative by proposing a far more modest approach. Kennedy’s order did not grant federal workers the right to bargain over pay. Ironically, his order was so incremental that the words “collective” and “bargaining” never appeared in it. Labor did not love it, but most government workers welcomed the order as a sign that their voices would no longer be ignored.
I can’t find anything on this proposed bill online; I’ll have to look elsewhere. It’s fascinating that Congress was considering a strong collective bargaining right for U.S. government workers though.
Kennedy’s executive order can be found here, and it’s useful to look at the language used to codify the right to unionize. The third paragraph spells it out,
WHEREAS subject to law and the paramount requirements of the public service, employee-management relations within the Federal service should be improved by providing employees an opportunity for greater participation in the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures affecting the conditions of their employment;
I don’t want to comment too specifically on events in Wisconsin and Ohio last year, as this is a labor history blog rather than an explicitly partisan political blog, but the essence of Governor Scott Walker’s removal of public sector bargaining rights in 2011 was to disagree with the notion that workplaces and productivity are improved by giving workers some input into the nature of their employment. As McCartin explains in his op-ed, Walker and Governor John Kasich of Ohio went much further than President Reagan in taking on public sector unions by denying the basis of any right to bargain as a net positive to the government and, by extent, to the taxpayer. Instead, this was characterized as the source of each state’s financial deficit, and as an unaffordable luxury in these hard times.
With Selma and the voting rights bill one era of our struggle came to a close and a new era came into being. Now out struggle is for genuine equality which means economic equality. For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee? […] What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankiest integrated restaurant when he doesn’t earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? […] What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our city and the motels of our highway when we don’t earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? […] What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?
Martin Luther King Jr., speaking at an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees mass meeting, Bishop Charles Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ, Memphis, Tennessee, on March 18, 1968.
Martin Luther King Jr., All Labor Has Dignity, Boston: Beacon Press, 2011, ed. Michael Honey, pp.175-176