Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt Plan Draws Fire from Labor

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt Plan Draws Fire from Labor

Article excerpt

Dick Gephardt wants more workplace cooperation, respect for workers as people, shared risks and rewards, a corporate perspective broader than the quarterly report.

Addressing federal mediators in Washington last week, the House majority leader called for a new brand of capitalism.

Labor and management would be partners and workers' ideas would be valued. This would lead to more productive employees, and help the country compete in the tougher global environment.

He blamed short-sighted management policies for the "growing uncertainty and anxiety in the American workplace." Slashing labor costs won't help U.S. firms because overseas costs often are much lower. What would help, he suggested, are higher quality and innovation through better use of human resources.

Problem is, while Gephardt talks of breaking down barriers, some labor leaders are ready to man the barricades, after a dozen years of Republican appointments to federal agencies and resistance to labor-law reform, of union givebacks to employers, of strikers replaced by new hires.

Workers are increasingly militant and unions have to respect their anger, says Bill Stodghill.

"In recent years, management has only shown contempt for workers, by replacing them when they go out on strike or by taking benefits away," he said. "It's going to take a long time for the average worker to get over this, before we can even talk about a partnership. The workers who are militant are those who are oppressed the most. And they now are demanding to be put on the front burner, so they can get their just reward."

Stodghill heads Service Employees Local 50, whose 12,000 members include public employees and health-care workers. It and sister locals elsewhere have won contracts for low-paid janitors by using billboards and rallies to embarrass building owners and raise public awareness.

He also directs organizing for the Service Employees International Union. Gains among Hispanic and women workers have pushed membership over 1 million and made it the AFL-CIO's fastest-growing union.

Corporations will have to turn away from policies of greed, he said, "for us to even entertain the idea of a more cooperative relationship. …

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