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This post follows an article emphasizing what employers can learn from Amazon’s recent labor organizing experience that was successful in Staten Island, New York. This success was not only newsworthy because it happened to the nation’s second-largest private employer, but it also took the form of and used resources not traditionally associated with employee organizing efforts – all of which employers should be very aware. While victory is still sweet on the tongues of Amazon Labor Union (ALU) organizers, Amazon employees in Staten Island, and more across the nation, there are elements employees who organize against an employer need to consider.
Let me first share that the Catholic Church acknowledges and supports the rights of workers to organize against employers if inappropriate, unfair, inequitable, or dangerous working conditions persist. But the Catholic Church is also explicit in stating that labor organizing against management is NOT the best answer. Pope Leo XIII, in his foundation Encyclical Letter, Rerum Novarum (19), exhorts:
“The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration (socialism) is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth.”
If I were a disheartened employee at an employer, and if I take this instruction from the Catholic Church seriously, then what are my options for avoiding the less-than-optimal solution of organizing against the management of my employer? My previous post on what employers can learn from Amazon’s experience now has preeminence over this post. There is likely a cause and effect between what management does or doesn’t do and the impetus behind an organizing effort. If an employer heeds the need for the virtue of justice, there can exist disagreements and even arguments about what is just. These can be fruitful and positive discussions with 1) a clearer understanding of limits to what a company can do to ensure its survival for the sake of those wanting to prosper therein and therefrom, and 2) a clearer understanding what employees want and need to flourish at work. Mutual understanding and mutual benefit should be the goal here.
If these discussions are not fruitful and either party is not true to the idea or truth that work was made for man, not vice versa, then it’s important that employees understand what is at stake if they choose to organize. The first question to ask is, “What does the labor union provide that management isn’t or won’t?” Whatever that benefit is will have to be paid for in the form of union dues. Again, I emphasize it is far better to work to remedy unjust situations with management than to sit on opposite sides of the table and try to negotiate a win/lose or lose/lose remedy.
I heard Christian Smalls state something about, “Now begins the revolution!” Revolution against what, and at what cost to all stakeholders? Businesses are not expected to put their enterprises at risk for the sake of a just wage (killing the entity that provides dignity through work), but enterprises are expected to share rewards justly. Between these two extremes there lies lots of room for judgment and discernment. A revolution does not often end in a draw. Someone wins and someone loses. In many cases, the damage done to relationships is unrecoverable. This is the greatest loss. Workers and owners were created to work together toward mutual flourishing. They need one another as the ancient wisdom of the Catholic church indicates. What are employees and employers willing to do to act accordingly? Now educated, the real question is, “Will employees and employers obey?” The second question is, “Where is your heart in this desire for mutual flourishing?”
Luke 6:45b (NIV): “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”