Koch Brothers and Unions

Oh, the shades of gray!

A number of organizations are advocating a boycott of the products that come from companies owned by the Koch family. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it could potentially hurt the wrong people.
The Koch brothers own Georgia Pacific. It is an American consumer goods company that makes everyday products like facial tissue, napkins, paper towels, paper cups and the like. Their plants are great examples of American advanced manufacturing. Incidentally,
GP makes most of its products here in America. The company’s workforce is highly unionized. In fact, 80 percent of its mills are under contract with one or more labor union. It is not inaccurate to say that these are among the best-paid manufacturing jobs in America.
This presents a dilemma and a paradox. While the Koch brothers are credited with advocating an agenda and groups that are clearly hostile to labor and labor’s agenda, the brothers’ company in practice and in general has positive and productive collective bargaining relationships with its unions.
While some companies are running from investment in American jobs, The Koch brothers’ Georgia Pacific just reached agreements with its primary union in the paper industry to invest more than a half a billion dollars in capital to essentially create two state-of-the-art machines that conserve fiber and energy at two separate union mills.
While certainly there are disagreements from time to time on what the right pension program is, or right wage increases and incentives, or the right formula for health care cost sharing, ultimately we end up with negotiated solutions.

That from Jon Geenen, International Vice President of the United Steelworkers. The difference, of course, is that the unions that the Koch Brothers have a working relationship with operate in the private sector, where reasonable negotiations between equal stakeholders actually take place. Keeping the management/employee relationship balanced is beneficial to the company and its employees. The Koch Brothers anti-unionism, if one is to judge by their actions, is focused on the public sector. While Geenan believes this “a dilemma and paradox”, the Koch Brothers, and many other people, are not so conflicted. Like it or not, there is a difference.

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Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
13 years ago

This is an important point. If an owner of a business (or anyone for that matter) is actively attempting to break unions and working against the labor movement he/she should be targeted by labor. However, if his actions in negotiating with his own unions are productive and his employees being treated fairly a boycott is not the way to go.
Furthermore, an employer who is keeping good paying jobs in the US and not shipping them abroad should not be the target of a boycott. There are always other avenues to explore.

13 years ago

How about a substitution: If a union is actively attempting to break a business and working against the company or the taxpayers, it should be targeted by the citizens. However, if it is working in cooperation and the employees are contributing to value creation a boycott is not the way to go.
Tom’s point is invalid because it assumes that the position of one side in this dispute is inarguably correct. But partisanship masquerading as principle is dishonest.
It is far more helpful to look at the issue in terms of rights. This way, the correct position is the one that prevents the violation of either side’s rights. Employees have the right to form a union and to attempt to negotiate a union-based deal with management; additionally, they have no obligation to continue their employment for that employer and may seek jobs elsewhere. Equally, an employer has the right to refuse to do business with a union and assumes the risk that he may not find enough suitable employees outside to replace the union members, or that he may be forced to offer better terms (on a net basis, after adjusting for union dues and restrictive work rules that constrain employees’ career opportunities) to the employees on a non-union basis than the union can negotiate. This is the fair balance that a freely competitive, non-coerced labor market provides to both sides.
And this is what right-to-work/right-to-hire legislation does.
It’s time to put the “free” back into the free market and get rid of the one-sided, politicized corruption of our current set of labor laws. Remember, freedom applies equally to everyone.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
13 years ago

[[[ Tom’s point is invalid… ]]]
Of course it is…

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