Thursday, March 27, 2008

Steelworkers drop Dofasco bid

This morning, the United Steelworkers pulled their bid to unionize Dofasco (now part of the Arcelor Mittal Group) after deciding there wasn't enough support on the ground.

No kidding. The process seemed rigged from the beginning: The company which as a standalone firm had opposed unionization all these years -- 96 to be exact -- suddenly decides that now it's part of a conglomerate to welcome a union in to try to recruit people.

Two problems with the scenario. First: The company pre-selected the union rather than let the workers attempt a grass-roots organization. Why was Arcelor so hell bent on the Steelworkers? Shouldn't the workers have had the choice of trying to go for another union, say the Canadian Auto Workers which is far more militant? Maybe it's because Arcelor's other plants in North America are bargaining units with the USW but the regular rules should have been followed.

Second: Dofasco has done pretty nicely over the years without a union. It's not perfect, but my father and my two uncles prospered working for them; so does my cousin who's presently there in the office pool. The benefits are as good as if not better than what could be achieved in a union environment. That may have been the biggest beef: Why give up the maximum eight weeks vacation for only five? Or all the other fringe benefits? If you treat people like human beings they will act like and produce like human beings -- without another level of bureaucracy.

The world is a different place and mega companies are now the norm. My father's former stomping ground, though, is still a very adaptable company; able to adjust product lines as necessary. That was the case when it was independent, it's still the case as part of a multi-national. Many unionized places where working conditions and job classifications are spelled out in excruciating detail and just don't have that flexibility. I think that's what really killed the bid in the end. A steel plant needs rules, like anywhere else, but having too many complicates things.

If at some point Dofasco employees decide it's in their best interest to unionize, then that should be their choice -- their own, not the companies or any particular union that gets preferential treatment. A secret ballot vote should ensue in that case, as well as the compulsory Rand Formula checkoff for dues for those in the union and those out (to prevent favouritism). Until then, let the workers there do what they do best. Make the steel that auto companies and other durable goods manufacturers like to purchase.

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