Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 21, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

UNIONIZING DONE RIGHT....Harold Myerson has a case study of the unionization of the Las Vegas hotel industry in this month's The American Prospect that's both informative and readable. You should go read it.

The key to success in Las Vegas has been ceaseless organization, but I'd like to highlight a couple of other things that, although less important, are interesting in their own right. For example, there was this about the union's first deal with a mega-hotel:

To get this deal, the union offered to scrap obsolete work rules that had established 130 job classifications, most of them never even filled. It also used its political clout in Washington to derail a pending Internal Revenue Service plan to withhold the casino winnings of noncitizens, which would have wiped out much of the casinos' high-roller trade....Soon Wynn became the first owner to sign a contract that authorized card-check recognition. The reconstruction of Local 226 had begun.

And this:

When workers apply for employment at the Vegas hotels under contract with Local 226, they go to the union hall for a skill assessment. If they have no experience, or wish to improve their skills, they are referred to the local's Culinary Training Academy. There, they are offered free courses in every nonmanagerial aspect of hotel work. The academy is funded entirely by employers, who in the latest contract with the union agreed to pay 3.5 cents per worker per hour to fund the training, with a curriculum developed jointly by management and labor.

Different unions have different issues, of course, but this strikes me as a genuinely 21st century approach. Focus on wage increases and skills training, cut through outdated work rules that management hates but probably don't provide a lot of benefits to workers, and demonstrate that the union is genuinely beneficial to both its members and in some ways to management as well.

As Myerson points out, unionization can't always protect manufacturing jobs, which can be shipped overseas, but it can and does improve the lives of service workers: Las Vegas hotel workers earn about 40% more than hotel workers in nonunion Reno, for example. Roughly speaking, that means a dishwasher or housekeeper earns about $480 a week instead of $340 a week, which, for many, is the difference between literally having to scrounge every week to make the rent or pay an unexpected doctor bill, and living something close to a middle class life.

In the big picture of the economy this is a small amount of money. In the small picture of people's lives, it's an unparallelled blessing. It's something that you'd think a compasionate conservative could embrace.

Kevin Drum 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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