Tag Archives: Washington

Unions, right-to-work and free-riders

Every now and then, followers of the aerospace industry read news about the relationships between Boeing and the unions. Recall the 8-week strike by the International Association of Machinists (IAM 751) in the fall of 2008, or the more recent negotiations with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA). See, for instance a recent article from Leeham News on the need for change in Washington state, “Right-to-Work, Creepy and Right-to-Worse in Washington State“.

Some months ago I was intrigued by what those terms meant in the American landscape, “right-to-work”, “unionized state”, “non-unionized state”, etc. Thus, I started looking for some definitions in the Wikipedia. And I found some of these terms misleading, or at least when seen from a European frame.

I initially thought that a non-unionized state might have some ban on unions, thus making it possibly more attractive for an employer if it deems it will have the higher hand in a negotiation. But no. There are indeed unions in non-unionized states. Let me just go through some passages taken from the Wikipedia trying to see the different terms:

Open shop: “An open shop is a place of employment at which one is not required to join or financially support a union (closed shop) as a condition of hiring or continued employment”.

Closed shop: “A pre-entry closed shop is a form of union security agreement under which the employer agrees to hire union members only, and employees must remain members of the union at all times in order to remain employed.” […]

“The Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the closed shop in the United States in 1947, but permits the union shop, except in those states that have passed right-to-work laws, in which case even the union shop is illegal. An employer may not lawfully agree with a union to hire only union members; it may, on the other hand, agree to require employees to join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues to it after a set period of time.”

Union shop: “A union shop is a form of a union security clause under which the employer agrees to hire either labor union members or nonmembers but all non-union employees must become union members within a specified period of time or lose their jobs.”

Right-to-work: “A “right-to-work” law is a statute in the United States that prohibits union security agreements, or agreements between labor unions and employers, that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees’ membership, payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. “Right-to-work” laws do not, as the short phrase might suggest, aim to provide a general guarantee of employment to people seeking work, but rather are a government regulation of the contractual agreements between employers and labor unions that prevents them from excluding non-union workers”.

After I made this short review of those definitions, I got a complete different picture. Non-unionized states which I initially perceived as places with some intrinsic insecurity for the worker are simply having a  similar scheme than the one we have in Europe: shop-floor workers or engineers at Airbus are not required to join any union to get employment, nor are they forced to pay dues to union if contracted, though they may join one if they deem it in their interest.

I could even think of the union-states as an anachronism (forcing workers to join a union in order to work), however some of the reasons provided by opponents of the right-to-work law have sense:  free-riders would benefit from a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by a union without paying for that negotiation, the weakening of unions may lead to a race to the bottom, etc.

So far, I was never part of any union, thus I fall under the category of free rider, as I have and continue to benefit from social conditions negotiated by large unions.

Union affiliation

I found an interesting report prepared by the European Commission on “Industrial Relations in Europe (2010)” [PDF, 5MB]. Among the many sides of labour relations covered in the report, I found the graphic below with numbers about union affiliation rates in different European countries.

Union affiliation in Europe (source: European Commission).

Union affiliation in Europe (source: European Commission).

The figures in Spain and France, where I have worked so far, are around or below 10%. I found it in line with non-unionized states in the USA according to the Wikipedia: states without right-to-work laws have an affiliation generally above 10% (up to 25%) whereas states with such laws (thus similar to Spain or France) have lower figures of affiliation, less than 10% and down to 3.5% (with the main exception of Michigan).

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Running while on holidays

A month ago I went running with a friend early in the morning before we attended a wedding in Granada. This gave me the idea of bringing the running shoes with me to the next holidays to Canada & USA. So did I.

In the end I went running just 4 days (2 less than planned) and I must say that I enjoyed it a lot. Here are the tracks I did in the different cities.

In Montreal I went with my friend and then host Pablo to the Mont Royale. The climb up there was tough, but running through the trees and squirrels was wonderful. The mount was full of runners in a Sunday morning.

Running track in Montreal.

In Washinton DC, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I was impressed by the hundreds of runners that you encounter in the Mall. Other than that it’s shocking to find yourself running in the middle of so many landmarks.

Running track in Washington DC.

In Chicago Luca and I went with a guide into a running city tour at 7am. The weather was horrible: cold and raining. However, the run was very enjoyable: soft and full of stories told by our guide (find the picture of Luca and me by the riverside).

Running tour track in Chicago.

Luca and I running by the riverside.

In Des Moines I went running in the surroundings of the motel we stayed in. It was looking very much like any village of American movies: small wooden houses, small green open garden, mail box on the front… it was a pity I was not carrying newspapers to deliver…

Running track in Des Moines.

It goes without saying that I recommend doing this in your holidays: take your running shoes and go out for an early run some days, you’ll see the city from a different perspective and will start the day much earlier than otherwise!

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A day in DC

Two years ago, in December 2008, I came for the 1st time to Washington DC. That was the first time I came to the USA and even though it was on a business trip, I managed to take some 4 hours in 2 days to do some sightseeing. I loved it.

Yesterday we arrived again to DC. This time Luca and me, on holidays, again just for 2 days. We checked in our hotel, The Quincy, in L Street NW, not very far from the White House… though I acknowledge that distances are misleading in this city: why wouldn’t you walk from Lincoln memorial to Washington memorial if “it’s just over there”, and from that to that other museum in The Mall, and for that matter to the Capitol. In the end you walk many kilometres. The hotel was a success. For just 100 dollars a night, we’ve got a room of rank of the best ones I get in business trips with the company, so the start of this stay was promising.

Today has been a long but entertaining day. I woke up without alarms at 5:30am. I checked the time and enjoyed the fact of having 45 more minutes of sleep. At 6:15am I got up, dressed in running gear and went out for a morning run. Only to discover that it was way hotter and more humid than I expected and dressed for. I didn’t come back to leave the sweater and paid for it later on. I was amazed by the dozens even hundreds of people I saw running before 7am around the city, especially in the Mall. I knew Americans love to run and do wake up early. Still, what I saw was beyond expectations. I went from the hotel to the Washington memorial passing by the White House (2 km), then to Capitol (other 2km) and back rounding the Washington memorial. In total 8.6 km. The plan was to round the capitol from behind and pass by the Jefferson memorial (4 more km) but I was way too overheated for that.                            

Back in the hotel I did some stretching, took a shower, washed clothes and got dressed to continue hitting the streets of DC. We went for breakfast at a cafeteria close to the hotel, then to a store to buy a new photo camera and at 9am we were at the Lincoln memorial ready to start a day of reflections (though the reflecting pool was empty and under construction).

We then headed to the World War II and the Washington memorials. Then to the American History museum. This one is one of the 19 museums of the Smithsonian. All of them admission-free, all of them wonderfully arranged. It is almost impossible to overstate the quality of those museums. In each one you could spend a week if you had it for each. There are hundreds of materials to read, to watch, to listen to… in each room. In this one we paid special attention to the rooms dedicated to the flag and the song that would become the American anthem, to the gowns of the First Ladies, to the presidents and Abraham Lincoln. By 11:45 we had to leave for the next appointment in the day.

This time we had booked a guided tour through The Capitol, which houses the Senate and the House of Representatives. We had to wait rather long as expected long queues weren’t such, so we took the extra 30 minutes we had in the schedule to have lunch in the restaurant within the building. The visit was funny and the guide entertaining, but I expected more of it. With that visit you don’t get to actually see the chambers. I guess that deal in Spain is better. However, as we were about to exit, Luca saw a sign for the Library of the Congress and there we went.

The visit of the LoC is wonderful as well. You get to see two bibles from the XV century, one made by Gutenberg, what is left from Jefferson’s library (a third from the original, but still over 6,000 books – including some from Cervantes) bought by the Congress, and one of the reading rooms, which anyone could access provided the she would get the card by filling a form and paying 2 bucks (that‘s not so easy in Madrid with the national library).

Afterward, we headed for the American Indian museum. Another one from the Smithsonian institution. By then I was exhausted and overloaded by information, so I paid attention to one of each 10 signs to read, but still enjoyed the museum.

As we went out it was already 17:20, time for museums to close… but as we passed by the Air and Space museum I saw a sign saying that that particular museum would open today till 19:30. There we went. We needed something relaxing so we bought a couple of tickets for the 3D movie “Legends of the Sky”, a splendid documentary of 50’ which has the 787 program as the main theme and covers some basic principles of flight such as propulsion, materials, structures, etc. It also reviews a b it of aviation history from the Lockheed Constellation to the A380. I especially liked the final line telling children that everything is not yet invented in aviation, we’ve just started. Then we entered the replica of the Spacelab, the gallery of the Apollo programme and the room dedicated to interactive explanations and games of the principles of flight: wonderful again. This was the second time I visited this museum… it won’t be the last.

By the time we left the museum, Luca and I were completely worn out by the rhythm of the day, with just some strength to walk back to the hotel and take some pictures in front of the White House on the way. We stopped at the Irish terrace close to the hotel to enjoy an American dinner composed of buffalo rings, hamburgers and 4 large beers to call it for the day.

Two years later, I continue to be more than delighted with DC.


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