[UPDATED Monday Noon EDT — I now see that the USW has put this letter, below, behind the firewall. If anyone from the USW requests in anonymous comments below, that I remove it — I’ll gladly do so. For my part, I aver that it was on the public side, as of last evening when I copied it — I do not hold a USW membership card, or ID. Just let me know — though based on my traffic stats, this morning, it is clear that many many people in Kenilworth have seen it, now. End, updated portion.]
Tonight, the recording secretary of Local #10-86 of the United Steel Workers has posted a portion of what he calls a “Lost Newsletter“.
I will simply run it — without additional intro or editing.
I will hope that Mr. Frazier sees it by morning, on Monday (he is known to have read this space — and pretty regularly). Here it is, then:
. . . .”The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.”
— William Blake
To our shareholders, stakeholders, and the men and women in the High Castle at Merck, these words are for you.
As you may be aware of by now the collective bargaining agreement at our West Point facility expired at midnight, April 30th. Contract discussions continue. Membership continues to work.
But before negotiations turn ugly there are few things need saying for the record. Because we have every reason to believe our concerns never go any further than the fourth floor of building 53 (Human Resources).
Management’s opening proposals to the Union were insulting. We know this to be typical of any negotiations. Companies ask Unions for their first born children, a blood sacrifice and work backwards from there. Sometimes they break the Union’s spirit. Occasionally they settle for less than what they desired. It all depends on who has leverage. But rarely does the Company “lose.”
That is, unless there is a strike.
West Point has had two major ones. One was in 1969. If memory serves, membership voted down the contract and walked out. The strike lasted for the summer. When it ended the Union won a wage increase called a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Thanks to inflation the COLA reached $3.15 an hour before it was capped. All in all that was a win for us.
The other big strike was in 1984. We were OCAW then. The Company proposed a two-tier wage system, an obvious Union-busting tactic. The offer was voted down by membership. We continued working under the old contract for about a month. And then we didn’t. We walked in June and returned in September. We lost that one.
Everyone did. Every single vial and pill made by unskilled labor was trashed. The plant site was a mess. The strike was covered in the local press and nationally by papers like the New York Times. West Point suffered a black eye. Merck’s reputation was tarnished as well. Friendships were destroyed. Some wounds never healed.
There were people back who said it was inevitable. That once in a while an environment becomes so hostile you just have to “bleed” the poison out. As if such a process was a cyclical thing. The way a forest fire destroys dead wood and underbrush in order for new trees to grow.
Such thinking is foolish, and dumb.
More history: in 2004 new plant management arrived. They made no bones about their intent – they would break the Union. The contract of 2007 gave the Company the ability to be more flexible. Flex flow, polling and other workplace changes made it easier to run the business. So we were told. Management made a mess of it. To undermine the Union the Company shot itself in the foot.
In 2010 the Union gave away 144 “positions” of non-core work. By far, it was the worst decision by membership in the history of this Local. For a fat bonus check we sold away the livelihoods of our co-workers. It also allowed contractors the opportunity to get their foot in the door. Carpetbaggers, ignorant and arrogant enough to believe they could find cheap replacements for a highly skilled and educated Union workforce.
2013’s contract gave us an opportunity to fix what was wrong with the previous two. The Company turned around and abused the remedies we had hoped to implement. In fact, management used new drafting language to lay off over 100 bargaining unit members. Despite the fact that production work was plentiful and drafting was rampant. Good people were sacrificed on the altar of Target 2015 to the gods of Wall St.
Not too long ago a senior site leader told us they had a plan. They would remove an entire level of managerial redundancy. At the same time they would create dozens of Working Leader positions. The question we were asked, “Is the Union willing to step up and run the site?” The answer was and is YES. Yet management, like a dysfunctional parent, undermines us at every turn. It’s as if they feel threatened by our potential to succeed at self-direction.
Despite all this nonsense our Company netted $6 billion last year. A good portion was generated here at West Point, the largest medicine manufacturing facility in the world. Vaccines produced by Union hands and Made in America. Citizens for Tax Justice noted in 2015 that Merck has another $60 billion in offshore profits stashed overseas.
And yet we are being asked to make concessions. If Merck was bleeding red from debt we would give back. Whenever this Company has asked Union leadership to work with them we have. We care about being successful. Our President presented language on day one for training and safety. We know these proposals will make us a better business. They were handed back with changes and emphasis on the Company having final say, which means our suggestions were ignored.
In their book Re-engineering the Corporation – a Manifesto for Business Revolution authors Michael Hammer and James Chamby point out that management analyzes the shop floor. But the workers understand it.
So how about this. Give us the next few years to come up with cost saving solutions. Let us use our knowledge, experience and training to implement a robust safety program. Let Union leadership engage the shop floor and convince them they really do have skin in the game. That they can have some say about their futures.
The Company had numerous chances to elevate our game. What does it have to show for it? A grievance system backlogged once again and enough waste and discards to build that idiot’s wall between us and Mexico. To continue down the path you are leading us is simply foolish. You can keep getting it wrong or give us all a chance to get it right.
We are not naïve enough to believe you would hand us the keys to the kingdom. Frankly, we don’t want them. All we ask is you check your egos at the gate. Give us a chance to do things just a little bit better. Let’s see how profitable that can be.
We might surprise you.
Paul Mercurio/Recording Secretary USW Local 10-00086. . . .
Good night, and Good-speed, to all of good will. Tomorrow is another day.