Strange Numbers

This past Thursday, workers at a Smithfield Foods went to work covered by a Union contract.  And from all accounts, they are very very happy to finally be so covered.   For example, the article mentions as benefits:

  • Guaranteed sick leave
  • Time-and-a-half holiday pay
  • $1.50 an hour raise over the next four years

“We really did accomplish something with this union,” said Mattie Fulcher.  “We might not have gotten the raise that we wanted, but that will come in time. This is our first contract, and it is a start.”

Now, it’s hard to gauge “success” of this contract for the members.  Among the most glaring omissions of the article are the pre-contract benefits.  For example, what have the pay increases for the average worker been for the past 4 years?  Or, what was the pay multiplier for holidays and overtime before the Union came in to “save the day”?  We do get an idea of what pre-contract life might have been in respect to sick leave:

Fulcher said that on Thursday she got a 40-cent-per-hour raise…and she began earning sick time for the first time since going to work for Smithfield. The sick time is unpaid, but in the past workers earned disciplinary points that could lead to firing if they stayed home sick.

Okay, so lemme get this straight.  The new Union contract says that Ms Fulcher is able to begin to accumulate sick time.  Sick time that is unpaid.  And this is different than in the past when the worker was afforded unpaid sick time but could, if abused, be fired for taking too much sick time?  Now, the article doesn’t mention this specifically, it does point out that employees were given “discipline points”; whatever that means.  Look, I work in corporate America and my sick leave policy is pretty straight forward and generous.  If you are sick, stay home.  As often as you are sick.  And guess what?  few of us ever really call in sick.  But when we do, our bosses mark it down and track us.  Cause, ya know, far be it from an employee to take every other Friday off and claim to be sick.  Sheesh.

Next on the hit list, guaranteed hours:

The contract will also guarantee workers at least 30 hours of work each week…

Awesome.  Really awesome for peope who wanna work more than 29 hours a week.  Really REALLY bad for folks who don’t.  Cause guess what?  Those people get fired.  No company in their right mind is going to pay someone 30 hours of pay for 15 hours of work.  Nice.

And the last piece of good news:

Union members will begin paying dues of about $7 a week…

So, Ms Fulcher gets a $0.40 per hour raise AND gets to pay $7 bucks a week.  Let’s say, just for fun, that she works 40 hours a week.  40 hours at $0.40 is $16.  Assume a 15% tax burden and that 16 bucks goes to $13.60.  Of which $7 goes to the Union.  In the end, she gets $6.60 a week, or about $26.40 a month.  The Union’s take?  7 bucks.  7 bucks or $28 a month.  Guess who makes out better here?  The worker or the Union?  In this specific case, even considering that Ms. Fulcher kept her job, the Union made more money than she did.  But let’s not forget the folks that lost their job as a result of this.  In the end, they have lost the most.

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