Inn Project Should Commit To Fairness Before Proceeding

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

As the October 2010 Board of Managers meeting came to a close, President Chopp reaffirmed Swarthmore College’s “deep commitment to the Quaker heritage and values that have defined our mission and traditions,” in her written invitation to participate in the strategic planning process. Among these central values are social responsibility and “advancing the common good,” ideals that all members of our community have undoubtedly heard reverberating throughout this institution.

After a brief lull during the recent recession, our college is moving forward with plans to lease its land to a private developer who will build a hotel, restaurant, bar, retail space—including space for the college bookstore—and 80 apartments on the fields between the train station and Palmer Residence Hall. The main rationale for this project over the past fourteen years has been economic revitalization for the Borough of Swarthmore and job creation.

Though this development project will be on college-owned land, the people working in the hotel will be employed by an outside operating company—not our college. While the quantity of these new jobs is not yet certain, Swarthmore College can act now to ensure that their quality is, by putting strong protections in place before they sign a deal and allow developers to build.

While creating new jobs is a good idea, especially with high unemployment rates, the hotel industry is notorious for unjust labor practices. According to the United States Department of Labor’s 2010-2011 Career Guide to Industries, work in hotels is “demanding and hectic,” but earnings “generally are much lower than the average for all industries.” The hotel industry has a disturbing record of exploiting and abusing workers with poverty wages, especially in this economic recession.

This development project, then, presents the leaders of Swarthmore College with a clear choice: act now and live up to our Quaker values of social responsibility or abandon our mission of “advancing the common good” by allowing a private developer and operator to put profits before the lives of hardworking people. From construction to daily operation, people working to build, clean, and run this hotel deserve dignified wages, solid healthcare benefits and a fair workplace where they are respected.

Labor law sets the ground rules for how workers and management can fight: workers have the right to strike and demonstrate while management can intimidate, harass, and go after workers to prevent them from organizing. Often, these fights get ugly.

One way for Swarthmore College to uphold its values is to ensure that the hotel workers are protected by a neutrality agreement.

A neutrality agreement is a legal document in which both sides—the union and the management—agree not to fight. Both sides voluntarily put aside the aggressive tactics they have a legal right to use, giving workers the freedom to make their own decision, and both sides agree to respect whatever that decision is. If workers do not want a union, the union walks away. If the workers do want a union, the management agrees to recognize it. A neutrality agreement helps ensure a fair workplace and a level-playing field for workers if they choose to speak up about on-the-job abuses or exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively.

Some members of our community may claim that it is too early to ensure a fair workplace, but construction for the project is expected to begin within the next year. The likely developers and operators are currently estimating the potential costs of this project, which will include wages and healthcare benefits. Furthermore, it is increasingly standard to implement neutrality agreements before the land is even developed for hotels in both urban and suburban areas. For example, neutrality agreements are already in place for seven hotels in the Philadelphia area, all of which have been planned within the past three years.

President Chopp has quoted 20th century political philosopher Hannah Arendt in describing Swarthmore’s commitment to “setting the world anew and aright.” There is no doubt that with skyrocketing unemployment rates and debilitating poverty, Swarthmore’s neighboring communities are in peril. We hope that President Chopp and the Board of Managers see the Town Center West Development project as more than a mere opportunity for economic development but rather a means of potentially providing fairly compensated, dignified jobs. We hope that they will put Swarthmore’s values into action and set things anew and aright here in our community by taking a first, no-cost step and agreeing to these principles of fairness at the December 2010 Board of Managers meeting.

_ Adam Bortner ’12 and Rachel Giovanniello ‘14 are members of the Swarthmore Labor Action Project._

93 comments

  1. 0
    a little bit shocked & outraged says:

    (and — it shouldn't be a matter of money. we should be considering who/what/where gets alienated at the end of ALL sorts of agreements, in whatever communities we are apart of. but it's especially critical here, since this inn project will be one of the more visible of the countless invisible enterprises that fund our happy, bubble-ensconced education here …)

  2. 0
    a little bit shocked & outraged says:

    frankly, I'm a bit shocked at some of the things that are being said on this discussion board. i'm afraid that the question of our college's (increasing) role as businessperson, or businessperson-absentee, should be concerning in its own right. what's more disturbing is that the inn our college is (co-)funding is becoming the site for all sorts of massive academic discussions — most of it tending to the side of businesses! it's fine to be all laissez-faire about trusting small business to be nice (or to be businesses) if you're an independent person in the world, but as a part of this college community (and a community with, as adam has said, a specific quaker legacy) i think it's ridiculous to put such laissez-faire principles in place. that's like trusting sharples to fairly & locally source most of their food; or trusting that the banks we invest in won't do yucky things to the environment.

    the privilege, and the burden, of belonging to an institution like this (with comes with a pretty high entrance price, i need not remind anybody!) is getting to maintain oversight over decisions like this. i think that, as long as it's our money (or our parents', or grandparents', or some benevolent organzation x's), it's our responsibility to ensure that it's not used to be any discriminatory or abusive ends. and, to that end, i'd feel a whole lot better (without any need for debate at all!) siding with a neutrality agreement then waiting for godot. i mean, for businesses to put workers' needs first.

    come on, swarthmore! this isn't so hard!

  3. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Err, I don't think I understand the bearing of this remarkably interesting video to our approaches to argument, which I agree are meaningfully and importantly different. Unfortunately, I don't think that this is a very good forum to continue exploring this topic, and I support your attempt to return discussion to the issues surrounding the inn itself. But I'd love it if you could send me an email or if you'd like to meet for a meal sometime to talk things over. Or if you'd rather maintain anonymity, I understand that too.

    Cheers!
    Phil

  4. 0
    err says:

    Phil I was finding it hard to express our differences and then I randomly stumbled upon this lecture, which you might be interested in (you can just watch the first few minutes and you'll probably start to get the point:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHDCcAF0rQ4

    So I do think that our discussion approaches are meaningfully different.

    I saw a lot of talk about economics and not that much talk about labor in this thread. This long-ass thread STILL has barely any info or perspective on the world of hotel workers, and has no worker's actual voice. It was ridiculous. I could not let it be.

    You should all take some time off posting to go learn about the actual issues different workers face and what they think and why. That's what I'm going to do, because this thread has shown me just how shallow all of our understandings of this issue are as privileged college students.

  5. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    I'd like to second Danielle on this one. I won't defend the flyers in themselves; indeed, Danielle, I wish that you had made more of an effort to make them both attention-grabbing and reasonable. That being said, though, I don't think you stepped beyond the standards of many group advertisements I've seen on campus.

    Maybe what I would say is that, for better or for worse, you passed up a certain opportunity to recruit for a conservative group in a more reasoned way than Swatties might have seen before. I guess I'm inclined to see that as a bit of a tragedy. On the other hand, it may be that doing so will ultimately get you more members, who will then work together to promote conservative thought and action in ways which are more reasonable than the posters from which you began. And that seems like a good thing! Perhaps we simply have a difference in judgment here.

    Cheers!
    Phil

  6. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    You're certainly right that the flyer sources were biased. I'm the first to admit that. They were meant to get peoples' attention. I think they succeeded in that regard. But aren't many of the flyers promoting particular campus groups biased, with information garnered from left-wing sources? Why is left-wing bias more tolerable than right-wing bias?

    As for my comments on this thread, I don't think they are as loaded as the flyers were. What information here do you find particular examples of propaganda?

  7. 0
    Peter Ballen says:

    I think I quick summary of the last 80 or so comments might be useful. I've tried to avoid misrepresenting anyone and being neutral. The main points of contention seem to be:

    Everyone agrees: Quaker values are good.
    Adam, Danille, Susan, Soren, err, ect argue: My side of the argument best encompasses those values.

    Everyone agrees: Workers should have the right to freely decide whether they want to join a union or not.
    Adam, Concerned Alum, and err argue: Employers use intimidation tactics to intimidate workers into not joining the union (#6, #20, #26). Buisness is in the wrong for using coercive tactics, which the neutrality agreement presumably halts by ensuring a fair and balanced dialogue.
    Danielle and Tyler argue: Unions use misleading facts to force workers into joining the union (#10). Unions are in the wrong for using coercive tactics. The neutrality agreement is one such tactic, effectively imposing a gag order on business and hindering a fair and balanced dialogue.

    Adam, Susan and err argue: A neutrality agreement helps both employers and employees because they don’t have to fight. (#9). It’s a “no cost” solution that just makes “economic sense”. The benefits of unionization outweigh the costs to an employer.
    Current-student-concerned-about-alumni and Soren argue: The “union = higher wages = better” argument is flawed. Is it better to have more lower-paying jobs, or less higher-paying jobs? It is not a self-obvious fact that associating with a union helps either the employer or the economy as a whole. (#23, #25)

    Susan argues: The hotel industry has a history of violations, and exploitation is common. It is not unreasonable to impose safeguards on a hotel given this past history. Furthermore, a developer should know the playing field before it chooses to get involved in the project.
    Soren and Phil argue: It is unfair to demonize the hotel developer, who hasn’t even been chosen yet. If we end up with a problematic developer, actions can be taken then. (#27)

    aparadeko argues: Why can’t I see this site using Opera? (Admittedly irrelevant, but it does seem to be one of the few uncontested commends.)

    Also, lots of ad-hominum attacks: Danielle is not a "shameless propagandist", Phil is not a "condescending professor", ect. Remember, insulting your ideological opponent does not strengthen your argument. Here are a few bullet point arguments: pick one and try supporting your side instead of attacking your opponent's character.

    Cheers (honestly, it doesn't bother my in the slightest.)
    Peter
    (oh, and Happy Halloween!)

  8. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Apologies to Argos, Err, Finally et. al. for being so thick, but I still don’t get it. Help?

    I don’t “try to figure out what people are saying”—you’re quite right that they can articulate themselves. But I’ve never used that phrase, or anything like it, to describe my project here. What I AM doing is trying to figure out what principles and ideas guide people’s thoughts on these issues. These are also things that they generally articulate well when they articulate them at all. But often they don’t, at least not at first! I’m just hoping that, e.g. Danielle, might explain to me what sorts of principles inform her thoughts on this issue. Is it professorial to want to know this?

    I summarize some arguments with bullet points to show how I’ve understood them. This gives those who made those arguments an easy way to point me where I got it wrong. If I’m lucky and got it right, then sometimes those kinds of organized arguments can serve as a way to bring into clearer focus the loci of disagreement. Is it professorial to want to do this?

    You might have a point with “you’re right!” I usually write that to mean that I agree and that it’s hard for me to imagine disagreement on that particular point, but if this rubs the wrong way, I’ll try to stick to “I agree” from here on out.

    What is it with people and “cheers?” I write that because I like you! I sign most of my emails that way, and I’ve yet to hear complaints from any of my email interlocutors. Is it the placement of the word after a possibly contentious argument?

    Perplexed,

  9. 0
    Finally says:

    Err and Argos,

    You two have summed up my almost every feeling/reaction I've had while reading this discussion, I just didn't have the balls to express my distaste. I especially agree with comment #82.

  10. 0
    Argos says:

    Also:
    Danielle: You need to cite your sources, not just in this argument but in your flyers around campus, and you need to cite sources that are not wildly biased (such as the Black Book of Communism and the YAF).

    This is especially true re: the Black Book as their statistics are clearly made up.

  11. 0
    Argos says:

    Phil, you're behaving like a condescending professor.
    The way you "try to figure out what someone is saying" as if they can't articulate themselves, the way you summarize their arguments with bullet points and praise them with "you're right!", even the way you sign your comments with "Cheers!" sounds like you're talking to a five-year old.

    It is kind of cloying and it might be what is sparking people on this thread to dislike you.

    Try a different approach.

  12. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Wait wait wait! Your analysis of the argument is interesting, but I’m still confused on some stuff! Again, I’m not really conducting this debate: I’m not in control of the flow of the conversation, and I don’t really have much of an agenda to put forward. But maybe what’s most unclear to me is why you think I project myself as a professor. I’m not trying to learn from my students, because I don’t have any! Probably like you, I am trying to learn from my peers.

    You’re right! I probably don’t know the basics of this issue, and I dove right into the debate anyway. That’s because this debate is interesting to me, because the way people look at the issues is interesting to me, and because some of the things people have to say are closely related to some of my personal interests. Jumping in is a way for me to try to figure stuff out, learn a bit for myself, and maybe help to clarify certain aspects of what’s at stake.

    But just because I jumped in to the debate doesn’t mean I was in control of it! Thus, I certainly didn’t “let” Soren and Susan start arguing, and I didn’t “leave” the two idea people on their own. I could only have done these things if this were my personal discussion thread! But it’s not.

    Of course, I did focus on very particular parts of the argument. In particular, I’d like to understand the principles motivating Danielle’s view toward the Inn, as I think that these are likely to be very interesting to me. I “let” Soren and Susan do their thing because I wanted to try to figure out what Danielle was up to. Sometimes I threw in other comments here and there.

    You’re also right that I didn’t think about your characterization of the flow of the argument. Maybe you’re right, and maybe you’re wrong, I wouldn’t know. I don’t really see that it’s my role to know these things—those who are worried about steering arguments probably need to worry about such matters much more than I. I guess I would question that you stepping in to the debate would make it concretely better or worse; like me and everyone else, you’re just another interlocutor here.

    Am I a know it all? Are you? Well, we both know some things. Maybe here’s one place where we look at conversational goals differently. I figure it’s good to try not to let what I think I know get in the way of what I hope to understand. In that sense, if I am a know-it-all (what does that mean?), I try not to be. Maybe you’re more interested in using what you know to do well in debates. Or maybe not! I wouldn’t know.

    Cheers!
    Phil

  13. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I'm a "shameless propagandist"??? On what grounds? You can't make that kind of baseless personal accusation without substantiating it. IN FACT, that's all I've been trying to do on this forum: substantiate fact. What is this propaganda I'm spewing? How am I using this space dishonestly? To my best knowledge, the facts I cited are quite accurate. They may not be facts you like hearing, but they're facts nonetheless.

    And don't go after Phil. I think if more of us were as dedicated as listening to other people's arguments as Phil clearly is, we might have a nation in better shape.

  14. 0
    err says:

    O.K. Phil. We are at the root I think, of my personal distaste (I admit this, and I admit that I am projecting) for the way you are trying to conduct this debate. I bear no ill will. I don't think we have a philosophical disagreement, though I'm sure we have political disagreements.

    I think my problem in this thread is that you dove right into an issue you don't the basics of–you tried to be the professor without looking at the relation between knowledge and your students (and yourself).

    You let two lawyers of a sort (Soren and Susan) get into a vicious fight over the "evidence", and you left two idea people (Adam and Danielle) basically on their own. Danielle is a shameless propagandist, while Adam seems like a nice guy trying to do what he can. Susan cares about the Inn sullying her view, not the workers, and Soren seems to believe that economics is what's real, and cultural stuff will all work out because of free concerts in the park and free flute lessons. Danielle and Susan needed to be called out for using this space dishonestly. Someone had to call out Soren's assumptions (the assumptions of normative economics) too. Adam seems to be the honest and self-aware one here, simply saying that he believes in Quaker values. He isn't a great lawyer though, and Susan was not a good lawyer for him. I don't think you saw all this, and I think that the effects of the debate (or class as you seem to see it) were going to be negative if I didn't step in.

    Saying that you want to learn from your students is not enough. You should already know a lot if you are going to play professor.

    You are a know-it-all. I too am a know it all. Lets both make the effort to be more humble : ) .

  15. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Err,

    You're right! I do have political views, and they are not The True, the Just, and the Good political views. I am also not a True and Neutral arbitrator of All Knowledge and Justice. And I never claimed to be.

    It's therefore strange that you would see me as having set myself up that way. If I set myself up as an arbitrator, wouldn't I be…well, arbitrating? Issuing judgments asserting the True, Just, and Good way to look at the problem? Rebuking people when they are looking at it all wrong, and offering my blessing to those who have it right?

    I don't claim to know anything that you don't know about the issue of neutrality agreements. I don't know very much about it at all! I probably know less about it than people like you, Danielle, Adam, Soren, or Susan. So I couldn't possibly be a perfect arbitrator on this question; in fact, I would be quite hopeless.

    What I do know is how to ask questions! The hope with these questions is that they'll help me and perhaps others to better understand what's at stake in the issue. Maybe after enough discussion I'll be smart about these things like you, Danielle, Adam, Soren, and Susan, and then I'll argue with you guys! Until then, though, I'm going to try to draw out their thoughts, and also yours. If this is profoundly frustrating or irritating to you, then that's alright. You can ignore my questions. That's fine, though I'd find it a bit tragic. It would mean that there's one more person out there with whom I'm not very good at communicating.

    The point here is that my project here is almost entirely the opposite of arbitration. I'm just looking for some insight from others into these problems. You've had some very cool thoughts, and I've enjoyed reading them. If you have more that you'd like to share, great! I'd like that. But there's no point in attacking me just because I would like to hear them.

    Best,
    Phil

  16. 0
    err says:

    What I'm doing is challenging The Professor who has set himself up as the True and Neutral arbitrator of All Knowledge And Justice.

    You have political views just like everyone else. They are not The True and Just and Good political views.

  17. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Danielle, maybe you could expand on your thought in comment #71? My interpretation of your comment is that, while employer coercion might once have been great enough to justify neutrality agreements, this is no longer the case. Is this the correct understanding of your claim?

    I do think it's important to point out a subtlety here. Power relations exist and may be harmful even when one side is not visibly or intentionally exercising their coercive power over the other. Thus, the question is not quite whether employers are actually "coercing" their employees or not, but rather, whether the conditions of that power relation are such that workers need protection.

    If I correctly understood your thought above, then it seems that your answer to this somewhat broader question might also be "no." Maybe you could expand that a bit?

    Cheers!
    Phil

  18. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Err, I am so confused! Have I done something to offend you? Something to insinuate that I don’t like you? Or have I made some heinously poor argumentative move? I’m just not sure. But your most recent comment towards me shows that I must have done something to lose your respect.

    Let’s recap:

    (1) You decided that it was very important to attack my political views
    (2) You decided that the best way to do this was to go to my Facebook.
    (3) You concluded from my Facebook that I am a Rawlsian
    (4) Based on your interpretation of my Facebook, you offered a spurious critique of a thinker whom you have apparently not even tried to understand
    (5) Then you said something about multiculturalism.

    Here are some things you might have considered:

    (1) It’s not very important to attack my political views, because I haven’t made very many political arguments on this page. The fact that you thought this was important shows that you didn’t read or didn’t understand my most recent comment toward you (#63)
    (2) Facebook? Really?
    (3) I am not a Rawlsian, as you would have found out had you made an earnest attempt to figure out my political views.
    (4) Your critique of Rawls is spurious in at least two ways. First, you obviously don’t understand the situation of the “liberal-decent” distinction in Rawls’s thought. Your hint on this one is that Rawls is a constructivist, so the distinction is not fundamentally a normative one. There’s no condescension in the classification, just two labels for two different kinds of societies. Second, you have apparently NEVER READ RAWLS if you think that his thought is anywhere close to right libertarianism.
    (5) Rawls doesn’t really talk very much about multiculturalism. Incidentally, we aren’t talking about multiculturalism either! So I’m not sure what you’re bringing this up, as a critique of Rawls or as a contribution to this conversation.

    In sum, you made a frivolous attack on views I don’t hold in order to avoid actually finding out what I think and why I think it. That’s pretty sad, and it shows that your interest is more in attacking me than in understanding the questions at stake in this project. I had hoped that we could have had an enlightening and reflective discussion, but apparently not.

    Best,

  19. 0
    Susan L. Wright says:

    Dear Soren,

    Thank you for raising some interesting arguments and responding, at least in part, to something I actually wrote.

    Yes, I did write: “The only point I raised was that unionization might make the project a more attractive employer."

    Note the conditional “MIGHT.” That word was not added by accident, but because I am positing that it is a possibility, not a certainty.

    Yes, you are correct that I did not provide empirical support. I notice your response to me is entirely without empirical support. (You use one personal anecdotal example in your comments to err, generally not considered weighty empirical evidence.) I find it interesting that you feel no compunction to adhere in your own argument to what you criticize in another’s.

    But let’s move on to the substance of your response.

    I argued that an employer who offers higher wages, more benefits and better working conditions for most of its employees because it was unionized might be more attractive to employees. I did not provide empirical support for this statement because I felt most people would agree that most prospective employees would find higher wages, more benefits and better working conditions more attractive than lower wages, less benefits and worse working conditions. You had already conceded that unionization would be expected to yield the former results. If you are now arguing that an employer offering better wages, more benefits and better working conditions would probably be LESS ATTRACTIVE to prospective employees, please explain.

    In point of fact, err did NOT say anywhere in his/her response that my suggestion that unionized firms could be more selective than otherwise has no rationale. But even if s/he had said it, s/he would have been dead wrong. I explained the rationale above, but will go over it again: firms attracting more prospective employees (because they are offering higher wages, better benefits and better working conditions) will have more prospective employees to choose from, and hence can be more selective, just as Swarthmore College, attracting many more applicants than less prestigious liberal arts colleges, can afford to be more selective in choosing its student body. Again, if you take issue with that logic, please explain.

    While you provide no empirical support for your statement that unions create frictions, I will concede that there are many instances in which unions may make more evident the innate conflicts, and resulting frictions, existing between the interests of the employees and those of the employer. Any time power is reallocated, as it is with the formation of a unionized workforce, those losing power will most likely be unhappy about it, and that too can easily lead to friction. On the other hand, a union could also lessen friction by providing a structured process through which the workers can address their issues with the firm. And since personal anecdotal accounts seem to be acceptable to you as empirical evidence, I personally know of couple of instances where unions negotiated contracts with a representative of the employer without friction, and years later commented positively about the experience and the fairness of the representative, who was able to pose win-win solutions and benefit both sides, so unions do not always result in friction.

    But your contention does not contradict mine. That the presence of a union has revealed the underlying friction between employer and employee would not NECESSARILY lead to that employer being less attractive to prospective employees if the presence of that union led to better wages, benefits and working conditions. If you disagree, you need to support your argument.

    Let’s move on: Unions introduce wage rigidity that is not kind to poorly capitalized firms in recessions. OK, I can concede that point, but so what? Why should “kindness” to poorly capitalized firms take precedence over improving wages, benefits and working conditions for workers?

    Yes, I also do say, “the bottom line would obviously depend on how much the market would allow the project to expand market share or raise prices sufficiently that it could pass any additional expenses of unionization through to its customers."

    If the union has caused wages, benefits, working conditions to improve to the point where costs rise for the firm, three things can happen. The firm can eat the rise in costs and have a smaller bottom line, or the firm can attempt to compensate for the higher costs by passing on them on to its customers either by raising prices, or by keeping prices the same but getting more customers (larger market share). (Or use some mix of these three approaches). Its bottom line will depend on the mix and what approaches might be successful in its market sector. For example, if it can sell sufficiently higher prices to the same # of customers by offering higher quality services or through a clever advertising campaign, or if it can expand its market share by doing this, it might retain the bottom line it could attain without the added costs of unionization. Basic economics. If you disagree, what is your basis of disagreement?

    I don’t understand your next statement regarding whether the firms success on the market would depend on the *uncompetitiveness* of the market, nor how you derived it from my bottom line observation. I asked my resident economist what you might possibly mean and he didn’t understand it either , so I can’t respond to it in an informed fashion. However, if what you are asking is whether I believe the firm’s bottom line under unionization will depend on whether it can be successful in either raising its prices, or attracting more customers at the same price, or some combination of the two, in its own local market, yes, I do believe that, and no, I am not kidding.

    You write: 1) It's uncontroversial that firms without unions may promote and fire employees more dynamically than firms with unions.

    Even if I am comfortable with your first premise, I do not accept your secondary premise that employees in the non-union firm are more likely to receive promotions and higher wages, so I do not accept your conclusion that ”with less chance for promotion and higher wages, etc., unionized employees may be less incentivized to work harder than their un-unionized counterparts,” although I do concede that WERE it the case that the unionized employees were less likely to have chances for promotions and higher wages, then they might have less incentive to work hard.

    Au contraire, I would argue most employees in an unionized firm would be more likely to receive higher wages under collective bargaining than their counterparts in the non-unionized firm. Promotions are a trickier subject because you would have to explain what kind of promotions you think are more likely in a non union hotel, and then we would have to look at the empirical data to see if most employees really are more likely to be promoted, or, as I think more likely, end up stuck in dead-end jobs, while jobs in management are filled by outsiders in an entirely different hiring process. Different firms may also have very different corporate cultures which could greatly affect the possibility of promotions, union or not.

    Therefore it might also be the result that WITHOUT a union, most workers might be less likely to receive higher wages or promotions, and therefore less likely to be incentivized to work harder than their unionized counterparts.

    Unfortunately it is also uncontroversial that firms without the protection of unions may fire employees for all sorts of non-job related reasons such as their political beliefs or the cut of their jib, so to speak. Even if the firms fire employees for illegal reasons such as their religion or race or ethnicity, it is very difficult to prosecute such cases, so while the law gives theoretical protection, in reality employees often have little real protection from such actions. (You and err can count that as a legal argument.) Such firms may use this threat to coerce their employees to accept any number of very unpleasant situations: working overtime without overtime compensation, working unreasonable hours, working dangerous conditions, working while ill, shorted wages, sexual and other abuse with the warning that going to the police will cost them their jobs, etc.

    Unionized employees who feel that they have some protection from unfair employment practices and are not resentful from being treated unfairly might also feel incentivized to work harder at their jobs. They may be able to work harder or smarter because they are not distracted by the concern that at any moment they may be subject to some kind of work-related indignity. They may be less likely to use passive aggressive methods costing their employer to get back at an employer they dare not directly confront. They may have more interest in thinking of ways to make their employer more profitable, because they may feel they have a chance to share in such additional profits through collective bargaining.

    So this can be argued both ways. Empirical data from the local hotel industry to better understand the impact of unionization on worker productivity would be needed to productively further explore this question.

    2) I did not claim implicitly that better workers are EXCLUSIVE to unionized firms. Nor did I say that a unionized firm ATTRACTS BETTER workers. What I did say was that the benefits ensuing from unionization might attract MORE prospective workers to the unionized firm, which then could ITSELF be more picky in choosing workers, and thus choose better ones, because it had more prospective workers to choose from. (See Swarthmore College analogy above.) If you want to argue that a firm offering better wages/working condition/ benefits would attract fewer prospective workers, thus forcing the firm to be less choosy about the workers it hires, you need to do a much better job of it.

    Certainly if a firm were to decide on its own to offer better wages/benefits/ working conditions than any unionized firm in its market, that firm could also attract more prospective workers and become more selective in choosing its employees. But I think it is rare that a firm would decide to do this without the pressure of competition from unionized firms in its market.

    It is also possible that the prestige of working at a world class hotel might for some employees confer sufficient utility that they might choose to work at such a hotel for less pay/benefits/worse working conditions.

    You have not offered any evidence that the Ritz has the best workers in the hotel industry or even better workers than any unionized hotels, so whether or not the Ritz is unionized is irrelevant to the issues discussed here.

    Regarding my (Soren himself) comment, I was responding to err’s response # 43, which you urged me to consider as your own response, and which were about my response to your comment #18, not your qualified one #44.

    But let’s address your qualified comment. If the union is likely to provide higher wages/ better benefits/ better working conditions, and the workers are better off with these union benefits in the short and medium run, why are they not better off with the same higher wages, better benefits and better working conditions in the long run? Where is your evidence that there is more long range income mobility for most of the employees in a non-unionized firm without collective bargaining? Why would the owners volunteer to give up a greater percentage of their profits than they need to? Out of the goodness of their hearts? You seem to be assuming very irrational behavior on the part of the owners, behavior that is not consistent with my experience of the world. There may be market sectors where most workers are so rare and valued that they hold all the bargaining power and can name their price, but I challenge anyone to assert that is the case in the hotel industry.

    At no point did I ask whether the town of Swarthmore was competitive nor do I have the faintest idea what you mean by this. Competitive in what respect? And what does the competitiveness of Swarthmore Borough have to do with the issues in this discussion regarding unionization of the hotel?

    What I did say is that there are a great many market distortions created by the subsidies involved with the specific hotel project that Swarthmore College is considering, and enumerated many of those subsidies, to counter err’s erroneous claim in his/her #43 response that market this project was competing in, (the market of hotels reasonably close to Swarthmore), was a “competitive market.”

    Both you and err continue to fail to address the issue of market distortions created by these many subsidies.

    Your conclusion from my raising the issue of the market distortions created by these subsidies that I “seem to want to exploit the town's uncompetitiveness to pass on the higher prices from union wages onto consumers,” (for the record, you did not observe this above), given that I have never even taken a position on whether the hotel employees should or should not have an union, is so entirely unrelated to anything I have said that it is impossible to respond to it. Even assuming arguendo that I had taken the position that the hotel should be unionized as some sort of societal compensation for all the subsidies it is getting, which is the best attempt I can make at construing your puzzling assertion, what makes you think I would argue that the higher costs should be passed on to the customers, who are not benefiting from these subsidies, through higher room prices instead of being deducted from the profits of developer/s, which are benefiting from the subsidies?

    It goes without saying that I most adamantly disagree that “staying quiet” about market distortions and the “woes of uncompetitiveness” is an appropriate approach to an intelligent discussion of the issues.

    Tautologies such as: “Note that making the market less free via unionization is not anywhere near the path toward freeing the market.” do not advance any argument.

    Given your concern with the contraction of the freedom of the market that you posit unionization causes, I have to wonder why you are not equally concerned about the market distortions caused by subsidies.

    Susan L. Wright

  20. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I don't believe unions in themselves catalyze unemployment (although they don't help) so much as a distrustful business climate in general. For instance, Dems bemoan the shipping of American jobs overseas, yet the American corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world, a good 10 percentage points above that of even the UK! Our government antagonizes businesses left and right and then criticizes them for their tactics and inability to hire. This is contradictory.

    Take the recent case of our own president lambasting the Chamber of Commerce. If our leader is taking stabs at the CC when 1 in 10 Americans is out of work, something's terribly out of whack in this country.

  21. 0
    businessman says:

    Our coercive tactics are very real, Danielle. Please stop pretending that they are not.

    My real concern is that you think unions are inherently anti-business.

    One economist you might learn from is Professor Richard B. Freeman from Harvard!!! I <3 him.

    The New York Times reports, "He suggested that if unions were stronger, the United States might not have the highest income inequality in the developed world or stagnant real earnings for all but the highest paid."

    You've implied that unions are bad because unemployment is high. Are you suggesting unions cause unemployment? Why, then, is unemployment so high when unionization is so low in this country. The bigger problem America is facing is extreme inequality–a problem that unions actually help alleviate.

  22. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I find it interesting that now we're talking about the "power differential" between employers and employees. Initially on this thread the neutrality was portrayed as a means of maintaing a fair, non-combative discourse in the workplace. Now, the facts are surfacing, that neutrality agreements, of course, favor workers as they challenge the supposed "coercive" tactics of employers. Don't get me wrong, the 1935 Wagner Act had a time a place, but I'm not sure it does now.

    I attended the hotel panel this evening. Although I'm impressed that these union members were contacted and brought to campus, I was disappointed at the anti-business dialogue and complete disregard for the other side of the argument. Now I've heard from the union workers themselves. It's time some of you folks listened to the real concerns of businessmen

  23. 0
    Adam B ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    err:

    Though I certainly don't have all the answers, I would like to clarify my point that neutrality agreements–not good jobs–are free. A neutrality agreement establishes a fair workplace for workers but neither guarantees nor forces unionization. Instead, such an agreement ensures that workers are free to decide whether or not to have representation, and that both the management and the union will respect that decision.

    Providing good jobs with decent wages and adequate benefits, however, does cost employers money. This cost is one main reason why many employers run expensive (and sometimes massive campaigns) against unions–because good jobs can eat into their profits, and people in a union are much more likely fight for (and win) a living wage, respect and affordable healthcare benefits (i.e. what I would consider some important components of good jobs).

  24. 0
    err says:

    I might not have been clear, I am saying that with the "liberal peoples" and "decent peoples" thing there is always a complicating Other who is neither "liberal" nor "decent".

  25. 0
    err says:

    Adam:
    I think you should stop saying that unions are "no cost," you are playing right into the hands of economists. Do you think that we should only have unions if they are "no cost"? Otherwise, I like your call for some labor history.

    Phil:
    John Rawls has polluted intellectual discourse for decades now. Yes, I looked at your Facebook. I think you have read too much political theory and not enough political science. I think you have read too much literature and not enough history. Rawls has an idea of "liberal peoples" and the condescendingly labeled "decent peoples" who can work together to reach an egalitarian world. Well that can sound to some like "third world" and "first world", like "white people" and "people of color," like "rich people" and "poor people", like "infidels" and "believers", like "good people" and "bad people". These binaries don't line up into anything we can make total sense of and never will. Rawlsianism doesn't solve anything. At best it distracts from the complicated political and cultural issues that matter. And at worst it simply functions as an apologia for right libertarianism (when I say you are being led around this is what I mean). Nobody believes in idealist solutions to "multiculturalism" anymore except for dupes.

    That is all.

    Power to the unions! And down with people who think they have all the answers!

  26. 0
    Susan L. Wright says:

    Dear #59, In defense of the good name of argument and #63, Phil Chodow,

    Thank you very much for your comments!

    Susan

  27. 0
    Adam B ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Phil made a fundamental point about the asymmetrical power relations between management and workers that is important to keep in mind. Neutrality agreements are designed to promote an employee's free choice as well as peaceful labor relations in light of this power differential.

    When employers enter into a neutrality agreement, they agree to be neutral and allow employees to make a decision. These agreements do not, however, silence employers as Danielle asserted. More importantly, they do not silence employees, who remain free to educate themselves and make an informed decision–without having to worry about intimidation, harassment, or losing their job because of their views.

    As labor law expert James J. Brudney explains, "There is no basis for inferring that neutrality agreements systemically inhibit the expressive options of employees who wish to oppose unionization" ("Neutrality Agreements and Card Check
    Recognition: Prospects for Changing
    Paradigms," p. 35, Iowa Law Review, 2004). He adds, employees who oppose unionization "retain an effective voice" (ibid).

    Neutrality agreements aim to reduce "the corrosive impact" of employer pressure (ibid, p. 79), and thereby create a level-playing field for workers.

    I agree with Phil that this debate is not purely "economic," and I would like to point out that there is a wealth of scholarship on the topic, which has informed my views and infused several of my arguments.

    Re: "The contours of this particular agreement"

    While there is standard language for neutrality agreements, the specific provisions are negotiable. Swarthmore Labor Action Project's aim is to ensure that principles of fairness embodied in neutrality agreements are in place as this development project moves forward.

    As we have stated from the beginning, putting protections in place for the people working these jobs is one, no-cost way for the Swarthmore College enact its commitment to social responsibility. Furthermore, it is completely in line with recent Quaker activism to increase worker justice, as noted above.

  28. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Danielle, thank you for your comments—I think I understand this a bit better. I’m still somewhat confused, though, on how neutrality agreements constitute hindrances to business. You write that neutrality agreements “certainly don’t encourage up-start businesses like the inn,” which might be true (does it discourage them?). I think I’m unclear here what counts as encouragement. It looks like the inn project is already off the ground—it will happen, eventually, and when it does, it will certainly try its hardest to attract customers. Will the neutrality agreement change this? It might hinder its ability to attract customers or otherwise be successful as a business, but I’m not quite sure that all this is a matter of encouragement or discouragement.

    You do raise some interesting concerns about potential restrictions of free speech by the neutrality agreement. Now might be an opportune time to ask from someone who knows more than I do about the issue: does anyone know some of the contours of this particular agreement? Are there any ideas on the rights of the union relative to the employer?

    There is also an interesting argument to explore here. The right to free speech doesn’t state that everyone can say what they please. Some forms of speech are not protected, perhaps because they are coercive, perhaps because they are antithetical to social stability. As Adam pointed out a while back, neutrality agreements are designed to prohibit coercive kinds of speech, and, in doing so, actually promoting free speech in a broader sense. This could conceivably be true, even if neutrality agreements DO constitute a “gag order” on employers. That would make the argument harder, of course, but still possible! Something to think about.

    I do think that you may misunderstand the nature of claims concerning the rights of employees, at least the plausible ones. You are quite right: employees are not inherently more valuable than employers. What is true nevertheless is that employees and employers are in asymmetrical power relations. If there is reason to expect that employers abuse that power (is there?), or to believe something about these relations is inherently unjust (is there?), then there is reason to regulate these relationships in ways which protect employees from the harmful effects of those regulations. The rationale for these regulations isn’t that employees are inherently more valuable than employers, or that their rights come “first;” rather, the rationale is that, of the two sides of this relationship, employees are the ones who need protection.

    Do you think that employees need protection from employers? And if so, of what kind? If not, do you see that there is no danger of power abuse, or that this danger does not warrant public intervention?

    With reference to your call for data, I would like to make a quick comment. It is true that we have high unemployment in this nation, and that our economy is weak. It is also perhaps true (I wouldn’t know) that the widespread institution of neutrality agreements would hinder the success of business and the growth of our economy, and it is at this question which your question seems to be primarily aims.

    Despite those considerations, this debate is not purely “economic,” as you describe it. One way to approach the question of neutrality agreements would be to attempt to determine what policies would maximize economic growth, and such an approach would be a purely economic one. However, I doubt that this is how people who are strongly committed to the neutrality agreement approach the question, and it is also certainly not how I myself approach it.

    The question which concerns me, and which perhaps concerns Adam et. al. as well, is one of justice. Is it just to let the Inn workplace remain unregulated by a neutrality agreement, or would it be more just to regulate it? Depending on your conception of justice, the answers might be very different! For instance, one person’s conception of justice might simply be the maximization economic growth, while another’s might demand that all be exactly equal in some sense. My guess is that your conception of justice (as well as those of your interlocutors) falls somewhere in between, and no doubt includes other concerns as well.

    Thus, economic data might tell us whether neutrality agreements are good for business or good for the economy. But this will only provide a complete answer if our conception of justice is very narrow, and I doubt that yours is. Thus, there’s still quite a bit of exploration left to be done on what conception of justice is guiding our thoughts here.

    Maybe you could fill us in on what, to your mind, is demanded by justice?

    Cheers!
    Phil

  29. 0
    dcharet1@swarthmore.edu ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Phil, I deeply admire your commitment to contributing productively to this dialogue and wanting to comprehend others’ arguments, even if you don’t immediately agree with them.

    Adam, my comment about the “Gag order” is not unfounded. The vast majority of neutrality agreements prevent employers from openly discussing any aspect of unionization—whether it be for or against. Meanwhile, unions are allowed varying modes of access to the business. It is not uncommon for unions to have a right to enter the property, demand access to worker address/numbers, and the imposition of the highly controversial “card check”. If the very person who is operating his/her business is kept silent by such an agreement while unions are still permitted to issue one-sided information, “gag order” is an ample description. I’ve had this discussion with folks and they inform me the rights of the worker must come first. Last time I checked, all men are created equal. I don’t think employees are inherently more valuable than employers. Without employers, the employee would not exist.

    Phil, you ask a good question. I think neutrality agreements block business because they insinuate malpractice on the part of employers from the get-go. In a time of 10% unemployment, we desperately need confidence in business and entrepreneurship. Yes, technically a business can operate and be successful under a neutrality agreement, but such agreements certainly don’t encourage up-start businesses like the inn. People have highlighted that businesses like AT&T have agreed to neutrality, but it is not fair to compare a massively profitable, established company to that of a relatively small operation in the “ville.” Many folks bemoan “big business” as too powerful. And now we’re clamoring about small inns theoretically becoming too powerful simply because they, like big businesses, want to turn a profit.

    Once again, here’s my call for factual information from the other side. Where is the evidence modern unionization/neutrality agreements have ever fostered an amicable, successful business climate? We’re having an economic debate here; it’s not unreasonable to expect economic data.

  30. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Err, you’re missing the points of both Susan and myself. I can’t speak for Susan on this one, but it’s clear to me that you don’t, in fact, know what I’m doing on this thread. I’m not particularly concerned that you find out, but I think it might help us to have a more respectful discussion in the future.

    I’m not here to convince people. I’m not a gifted rhetorician, and I wouldn’t try even if I were. What I can do is to try to understand what people on both sides are up to. In that sense, I’m not here to argue. Sometimes I am! But here I am not.

    Danielle is not stupid, and believes what she does for reasons. I expect that these reasons good ones. I don’t understand them, but I’d like to! So you’re right, in a strange sort of way: “get[ing] led around by people” is precisely what I’d like to be doing here, if that means getting led through their arguments and coming to understand their reasons. I’d like that—I would be a more sympathetic and better-informed person for having been so led.

    The other thing to notice here is that neither myself nor Susan think that you should keep “distance” from ideas! That would be unfruitful, and ultimately an intentional distortion of intellectual integrity. When we tell you that you are throwing ad hominem attacks, or making empty criticisms, what we mean is that you are doing these things in order to AVOID engaging with the ideas. When you avoid engaging with the ideas, you are arguing poorly. When people see you arguing poorly, they think that you are a poor arguer. I would find it unfortunate if people thought this of you; for the most part, you’ve argued quite well.

    Finally, you haven’t “settled” any questions about coercion, and here’s why. There is an interesting question to be asked here: does a neutrality agreement contribute to or detract from the rights to free speech of the various parties involved? You seem to assume that this question is fundamentally intractable, and not even worth discussing. I disagree with you. I don’t know the answer, and I don’t expect to find one by the time this thread dies. But I do expect to find a lot of interesting reasons on both sides, and to illuminate some of the principles which guide people like Danielle and Adam when thinking about these issues. That may not be valuable to you. But you don’t have to be part of that discussion.

    Conclusions: Not everyone on this thread is up to the same project as you are, and not everyone is content with the way you “settle” issues. You’ll only manage to disrespect your interlocutors by assuming that they are.

    Cheers!

  31. 0
    err says:

    It's as if a bunch of you believe that if two people just argue enough the politically correct/economically correct answer will come out as long as they keep the right "distance" from eachother's ideas…I'm looking right at you Phil.

    And also Phil I already settled this issue waaaaay upthread with the coercion stuff. Nobody is going to solve the "question" of what an authentic individual is in this thread, or ever. You are trying to find common ground wherever you can. That's a great way to get led around by people who know exactly what they're doing, and know exactly what you're doing.

  32. 0
    Adam B ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Danielle,

    If you support workers' rights, freedom and open dialogue, as you stated in your last post, then you should understand that a neutrality agreement would promote all three of these values. A neutrality agreement would forbid intimidation and harassment in order to promote a free and fair choice for the people working in the hotel. Could you please explain why you believe neutrality agreement is a "gag order?" This mischaracterization distorts the facts.

    Also, I would really encourage you to take a labor history class, since you seem to be interested in these issues, especially if you care about workers' rights.

    Finally, I wanted to let you know that there will be a hotel workers' panel on campus in Kohlberg 116 on Thursday, October 28th at 7 pm. It will be a valuable opportunity to hear directly from people who work in a hotel. Ultimately the decision about workplace fairness affects hotel workers. Hope to see you there!

  33. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Danielle,

    Your thoughts continue to interest me, and I wish that you might expand on them a bit more. You imply in your most recent comment (#53) that a neutrality agreement would constitute a “blockade” of the inn, and would therefore “halt” it. But this is not quite obvious to me; no one (here) is implying that the inn should be unable to operate, only that it should have certain procedural restrictions with respect to its employees.

    You also present an interesting point concerning those recurring Quaker values. I think that you and most others in this discussion probably agree that free speech and open dialogue are best for the workplace; the substantive disagreement between you and, say, Adam, appears to be on the question of which policy, neutrality or its lack, would best contribute to these values. Could you perhaps present some arguments as to why the neutrality agreement would constitute a restriction on free speech and open dialogue?

    I also second comment #59.

    Cheers!
    Phil

  34. 0
    In defense of the good name of argument says:

    Err,
    I'm really interested to know in what way you consider Susan's argument "a disingenuous lawyer argument." I am most curious about the label: "lawyer argument." According to Wikipedia, when it comes to deductive arguments:

    "An argument is valid if and only if the truth of the conclusion is a logical consequence of the premises and (consequently) its corresponding conditional is a necessary truth. A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises."

    Are you disputing the validity of Susan's arguments? Their soundness? If the latter, perhaps you might want to try pointing out what premises you disagree with, as stated by Susan.

    What makes an argument economic rather than a lawyer's argument? Is it that some of its premises are the conclusions of inductive arguments based on economic data?

    You might want to confront the structure and premises of Susan's actual arguments rather than making completely irrelevant claims such as "This isn't a court room this is a discussion forum." Or you might not. Either way, please stop dragging the good name of argument through the mud.

  35. 0
    Soren Larson says:

    One more comment to Err-

    Your commentary on my conflation of the macro and micro requires evidence. In my comments above, I offered some legitimate questions a worker might ask.

  36. 0
    Soren Larson says:

    Susan-

    You wrote, "The only point I raised was that unionization might make the project a more attractive employer." This is without empirical support. Unions create frictions in the trading off between capital/labor, and they introduce wage rigidity that isn't kind to poorly capitalized firms in recessions. As Err said, your suggestion that unionized firms could be more selective than otherwise has no rationale. Then you say, "the bottom line would obviously depend on how much the market would allow the project to expand market share or raise prices sufficiently that it could pass any additional expenses of unionization through to its customers." So the firm's success on the market would depend on the *uncompetitiveness* of the market?! You have to be kidding.

    In the next paragraph, you connect unionization to workers doing work better. This contention fails in two ways:

    1) It's uncontroversial that firms without unions may promote and fire employees more dynamically than firms with unions. So with less chance for promotion and higher wages, etc., unionized employees may be less incentivized to work harder than their un-unionized counterparts.

    2) You implicitly claim that better workers are exclusive to unionized firms, which as I questioned in the big paragraph above is without empirical support. What about the union contract attracts better workers? If only the best workers in the hotel industry, why doesn't the Ritz have unionized employees?

    In your next paragraph, ("Soren himself…") cited my acknowledgement that workers in the project would be better off, but please note that I qualified the statement subsequently to include only the short and perhaps medium run.

    I move to your final paragraph. You ask whether the town of Swarthmore is competitive, and then go on to enumerate the problems associated with this market's uncompetitiveness. But as I observed above, you seem to want to exploit the town's uncompetitiveness to pass on the higher prices from union wages onto consumers, without having proven that jobs under unionization are better completed. [And if they were, the union wages would become the prevailing wage for this industry at whatever service level it chooses.] You can't have it both ways: either exploit the uncompetitiveness of the market, or stay quiet on the woes of uncompetitiveness. Note that making the market less free via unionization is not anywhere near the path toward freeing the market.

    Err-

    I'm under the impression that entering a unionized workplace is a long term commitment. If that's the case, then the considerations I suggested a worker might make really aren't so ridiculous. Questions like, "will I be able to get a promotion," "how will the market treat a firm with above average costs," are questions that I'd hope workers might ask. In fact, I chatted with a person in Chicago who gave up their union job (and benefits) for… a promotion. But beyond that, I concede to you.

  37. 0
    err says:

    Okay Susan I think I see what you're saying and now I see that it was a disingenuous lawyer argument and not just wishful thinking ; ) . This isn't a court room this is a discussion forum though. And just so you know, the whole public sphere is also not a courtroom. You don't think that the hotel will be a good addition to the town. What is clear to me and probably a lot of other people is that your reasons come down to your own aesthetic and cultural vision of what the ville (and maybe the world) should and could be. It looks to me like a pessimistic conservative vision of someone much older than me. Your anti-elitist tendencies–which I could see serving you well as counsel for a developer–are clearly a common thread, and from at least my angle, a deep irony. Or maybe this "class warfare" turn you now seem to have taken is just another line of argument. I can't tell, and to reuse my metaphor, I don't see all your cards out. Lawyers know that you can never play the full deck in a courtroom.

    Now I'm done trying to be the judge and will resume my role as the defense attorney trying to poke holes in your case and argue that the court shouldn't be meddling with something that is an issue for the legislature. Because like I said, regular courts are great at exercising power but they are fundamentally unable to answer a question about values and goals. The "court" of public opinion and culture is NOT like a regular court. There is not one "right" answer (my dislike for critical legal studies comes out again!) When town and gown are posed as as adversaries, the results are usually deep division–a self fulfilling prophecy, often. Same with capital and labor. Luckily we still live in a society where most of us can be constantly interrogating these dichotomies and searching for common ground, when we allow ourselves to.

    So onto the substance. I think we have different ideas on the way unions should be discussed. Your way is the traditional American way of talking about unions (and look where it got them!) I think that if unions are to have any future in the United States, the words "democracy" and "politics" have to be uttered. But you seem to be deeply pessimistic about democracy, like many Americans (and others) are today. So deeply pessimistic that in economic matters you see the public role of a citizen as that of a "taxpayer", as if the government were a corporation and we were the shareholders. I hope we would be able to find common ground on the American Free Choice Act. And it would probably be an ambivalent "choice" for both of us. Obviously I have problems with seeing this issue solely in terms of "free choice." And it seems like you have ideological problems with the government treating labor and capital differently.

    I find it quite interesting that you are a lawyer married to an economist. Two objective carriers of truth and justice… You know what society was ideally run by lawyer and economist types? Soviet communism. Which is not to make an economic comparison, but is to note similarities in the production and use of knowledge. It isn't a coincidence that members of the American communist intelligensia, like members of the Eastern Bloc intelligensia, morphed into neoconservatives and libertarians. Some people just like easy answers, or find them useful and profitable.

    So I agree with you that we should seek a promise for a neutrality agreement. What I worry about is paternalism though, and I have issues with some "Quaker Values." I think that unions can be very valuable, but that the economistic way people have talked about unions for decades and decades has led to their decline. We need a renewal of values. But they cannot be just these individualist, paternalistic values, because then we will only have unions in government, elite schools, other state-like corporate bodies, and non-profits, etc. Because of competition this paternalism is basically dead in the world of businesses and corporations that use cheap labor.

    What is primarily keeping unions around is the state. This is the true issue that ideological individualists like Soren have, which is part of why more "intellectual" conservative economists sound so strange when they talk about unions. I mean, Soren, you do have to admit that talking about the workers' original, "rational," pre-influence (by unions, employers and our whole damn culture) voting decisions is ABSURD. It is not your realm. It is anti-scientific and uncritical. Just say that workers are paid too much and prices are too high when the government intervenes in the economy, because absent government intervention unionized producers usually lose money and therefore make less efficient use of capital. You don't have to add pseudophilosophical Austrian bullshit or Randian bullshit. It is unfortunate that there are still so many people out there who improperly conflate the micro with the macro. When they do this and without admitting to a guiding philosophy of choices as inherently "authentic" in some sense, it is clear that they are greedy and deceitful, utopian and disingenuous, or ignorant about the way that people make choices in the real world. As with Susan, I don't see all your cards out on the table.

    I'm curious, what do you think of behavioral economics? Did you go to George Akerlof's talk?

  38. 0
    Susan L. Wright says:

    Dear err (and Soren, as Soren considers your reponse as his reply),

    Since I already acknowledged in my initial response to Danielle’s post that unionization may not be in the owner’s economic interest because it may reduce its share of the receipts from the enterprise, your argument that I don't understand that businesses have a "bottom line" in our capitalist system or that businesses are owned by capitalists who want to make money is totally unfounded.

    Nothing in my response to Soren’s comments addressed the overall economic benefit or detriment to the “capitalists” of unionization. The only point I raised was that unionization might make the project a more attractive employer, which could then be more discriminating in who it hired, which might lead to an ability to offer better services to its customers. However, whether this would end up adding to the bottom line would obviously depend on how much the market would allow the project to expand market share or raise prices sufficiently that it could pass any additional expenses of unionization through to its customers.

    At no point did I make any explicit or implicit observation that the sole or even a primary purpose for the capitalists involved with the project was to make sure things were running smoothly. The comment regarding ensuring things were running smoothly was related to the question of whether the owners would hire more or less workers if the project were unionized. If you want to contend that it makes business sense and adds to the bottom line to add workers unnecessary to the smooth functioning of the business simply because the business is not unionized, and that is “the way things work,” you will have to come up with a much better argument than a completely unsubstantiated contention that I am a dreamer who doesn’t understand that businesses have a bottom line in our capitalist system or believe people respond to incentives. In fact, the whole argument about unionization possibly making the hotel project more attractive to most workers was precisely about the response of persons to incentives, in this case the response of prospective workers to the incentives of higher wages, better conditions, greater job security. The argument about unionization possibly making the hotel project more attractive to customers because the better workers the hotel could then hire might improve hotel services was likewise precisely about the response of persons to incentives, in this case the response of prospective customers to the incentives of better services.

    Soren himself acknowledged in his response to my post that it would be absurd to contend that workers hired by the project would not be better off under unionization, i.e., subject to the clarification that “workers involved in the project” was better understood as strictly those hired by the project as opposed to some global set of workers including both those hired and not hired, Soren agreed with my position. His challenge to me was based on the his incorrect interpretation that “the workers that the business cannot afford” were among the “most of the workers” referenced when I stated that to argue that it does not make economic sense for most of the workers was absurd. Had he analyzed, and quoted, this statement in its proper context, he would not have made this error.

    My original statement, that to argue unionization does makes economic sense for MOST OF THE WORKERS HIRED was absurd, had already accounted for the fact there there may be exceptions even among those hired.

    At no time did I address the global question of whether unions in general, or even the more specific question of whether unions for the hotel project, were “good” or “bad,” let alone attempt to prove it logically. The only issue I originally addressed relating to unions was Danielle’s statement that unions did not make economic sense for most of the workers involved in the project. None of my statements about unions addressed any situation save that of unionization for most of employees in the hotel project, which now appears to include the possibility of an 80 unit apartment building. (We can probably assume some employees would be considered “management” and thus would not be part of any unions formed.) I made it clear that this situation presented a special case, because most of the jobs related to the project were not such that they could be easily moved to another state or outsourced. (Some jobs, such as making reservations for rooms, are probably very easily outsourced and/or computerized, and present a different situation in analyzing the economic benefits and detriments of unionization to both owners and worker.)

    Having taught “legal reasoning” at a number of law schools and having been married many decades to an economist, I would most strongly disagree with your proposition that legal “reasoning” is any different than micro-economic “reasoning.” Certainly I take strong issue with the idea that Soren’s or your misunderstanding of what I had written is “micro-economic reasoning.” Setting up straw men by misstating what was actually addressed in the argument sought to be refuted, expanding statements addressing very specific situations into irresponsible global assertions, and then making unsubstantiated broadly drawn statements dismissing those straw men is “bad” reasoning, regardless of whether the concepts being discussed are legal, economic, or biological.

    (For the record, there was no “legal” reasoning or “legal” logic in my comments regarding unions, because I have not been discussing any laws or legal concepts relating to unions. ALL my arguments have addressed purely economic considerations. So all logic involved was “economic logic.”)

    Speaking of “economic logic,” just out of curiosity, what leads you to conclude that the “private sector” marketplace at issue, that of hotels near to Swarthmore, is competitive? Why do you ignore the enormous market distortions created by the many subsidies involved in the College’s hotel project? The RACP Grant taxpayer subsidy, financed by taxpayers who have no input or oversight over a process which boils down to Ed Rendell disposing of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money as he so chooses. The subsidy from Swarthmore College of the land — most hotel/apartment building developers have to pay for the land they are building on — which also counts as the matching funds to secure the RACP Grant taxpayer subsidy. Now adjust this further buy adding the fact that this subsidy is being offered by an entity which is itself is highly subsidized, exempt from the taxes most persons contemplating a development would have to pay because its central mission is not the profit motive of business. Yes, it is true that once the development is finished, it will be subject to the ordinary commercial taxes, but one still needs to account for the market distortions from the subsidized labor that Stu Hain, Paula Dale, Rebecca Chopp and other administrators at the College are contributing to this project.

    Asking questions is good. By all means continue to do so. But asking questions is a very different enterprise than most of what you have done in this response.

    I do share one opinion with you, however, and that is that there is no one answer on unions.

    Susan L. Wright

  39. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I support Quaker ideals and worker rights just as much as the next person–that's why I'm in opposition to a neutrality agreement. I find it amusing when folks invoke Quakerism to describe their pet causes as more "Quaker" than those they are debating. If indeed we're going to insist on chatting about the Quakers, I would say the Quakers support free speech and open dialogue, not a gag rule imposed on employers via a neutrality agreement.

    Honestly, this is getting rather far-fetched. We don't even have a developer yet and we're already making it sound as if working conditions in the "ville" are a scene out of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." I'm sorry if I find this laughable. I mean, does the Swarthmore Co-op look like a sweatshop to you?

    On a serious note, I'm tired of people slamming businesses. I really am. And for the folks who suggested just because I attend Swarthmore, I can't be pro-business, I don't comprehend that argument. I'm in a Quaker studies class right now and have read much Quaker literature. I don't recall the "students can't support American employment clause" in George Fox's Journal.

    Where do you think jobs come from? Seriously, we have 10% unemployment in this country and you're attempting to blockade the inn based on hypothetical business abuses? Should all businesses be halted out of fear they might, by chance, mistreat their employees? Where would our nation be?

  40. 0
    Soren Larson says:

    A little bit shocked & outraged-

    You give examples of instances in which the private sector doesn't serve its customers well or creates negative externalities. These examples cannot be considered in isolation of the good things generated by the private sector. For example, this summer I was lucky enough to attend a number of public free concerts played in Millennium Park in Chicago paid for by individual and corporate Chicagoland benefactors.

    Second, you suggest that the only way we can make sure our money is spent responsibly is to facilitate unionization! You say that you'd feel a lot better with a neutrality agreement, but I say that I'd feel a whole lot better if the music department had more money to help finance students' private instrumental/vocal study. This issue in the music department is *also* an issue relating to the College's interest in realizing its Quaker values. Quaker values aren't sufficient reason for supporting neutrality agreements.

  41. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    A little bit, I don't think that you do the arguments justice here, on either side. You seem to claim that businesses will never put workers' needs first, ever. This is surely false–there are some, perhaps many, businesses which do. Even we are part of a community with a “specific Quaker legacy,” we do service neither to ourselves nor those we would hope to help by deliberately distorting the world to accord with our views.

    There is nothing inherently anti-worker about business. Some businesses treat their workers excellently, and others do not. What seems to me to be the crucial questions, the questions to which both sides are responding in this debate, are those of relating to what kind of business the inn will and should be.

    For instance, here is a simple motivation for those who oppose the neutrality agreement. If (a) there's no reason to believe that this inn will treat its workers well, and (b) a neutrality agreement will hinder the business in some important way (in making a profit, in treating its workers well, etc.), then that is one argument against the agreement. Now we can discuss whether (a) and (b) hold, whether other arguments against the agreement exist, etc. etc. But none of this is easy, obvious, or one-sided.

    You might know where you stand on this issue, and you might even be right. But to assert without argument that “this isn’t so hard” demonstrates a refusal to engage with the substantive complexities of a complex issue.

    Cheers!

  42. 0
    a little bit shocked & outraged says:

    (and — it shouldn't be a matter of money. we should be considering who/what/where gets alienated at the end of ALL sorts of agreements, in whatever communities we are apart of. but it's especially critical here, since this inn project will be one of the more visible of the countless invisible enterprises that fund our happy, bubble-ensconced education here …)

  43. 0
    a little bit shocked & outraged says:

    frankly, I'm a bit shocked at some of the things that are being said on this discussion board. i'm afraid that the question of our college's (increasing) role as businessperson, or businessperson-absentee, should be concerning in its own right. what's more disturbing is that the inn our college is (co-)funding is becoming the site for all sorts of massive academic discussions — most of it tending to the side of businesses! it's fine to be all laissez-faire about trusting small business to be nice (or to be businesses) if you're an independent person in the world, but as a part of this college community (and a community with, as adam has said, a specific quaker legacy) i think it's ridiculous to put such laissez-faire principles in place. that's like trusting sharples to fairly & locally source most of their food; or trusting that the banks we invest in won't do yucky things to the environment.

    the privilege, and the burden, of belonging to an institution like this (with comes with a pretty high entrance price, i need not remind anybody!) is getting to maintain oversight over decisions like this. i think that, as long as it's our money (or our parents', or grandparents', or some benevolent organzation x's), it's our responsibility to ensure that it's not used to be any discriminatory or abusive ends. and, to that end, i'd feel a whole lot better (without any need for debate at all!) siding with a neutrality agreement then waiting for godot. i mean, for businesses to put workers' needs first.

    come on, swarthmore! this isn't so hard!

  44. 0
    Will says:

    Please stop hauling out "Swarthmore's Quaker values" as a convenient argumentative device when you feel the situation warrants it. All too often it's used by one party to justify their own ideological stance. Phil and Adam have each brought up a specific value (rather than the nebulous idea of "values" long harnessed by propagandists of every stripe) and how it applies here. Regardless of whether I agree with their positions, at least they are showing some respect for the beliefs that others use as an argumentative crutch.

    For the rest of you (including the Swarthmore administration): cite specific values, why they are Quaker values, and exactly how it's relevant to the discussion when you want to bring in the Quaker heritage. Otherwise it just cheapens what is a deeply meaningful philosophy for many people. This happens a lot on this campus. Time to stop.

  45. 0
    Adam Bortner '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Re: Quaker Values

    The American Friends Service Committee strongly supports efforts to "increase worker justice."

    Please read more if you're interested by visiting the website with the URL:
    http://afsc.org/resource/increase-worker-justice

    A neutrality agreement is one simple, no-cost step the college could take now toward increasing worker justice and putting its Quaker values into action. Though, after reading the above page on increasing worker justice, I am sure that while a neutrality agreement would be a good start, we should do much more to live up to our Quaker heritage.

  46. 0
    Adam Bortner '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Peter,

    Signing a neutrality agreement is a no-cost way to show a commitment to fairness. It would not cost the college a dime.

    Furthermore, any party signing a neutrality agreement would review the language and all of the clauses before signing. The clauses would not be "dangerous" or "hidden" but rather negotiable and apparent.

    Could you please elaborate on what you mean when you write, "the Union could still come to us and force us to get involved in ways that we may not like, even if we don't actually sign anything"?

    I'm not sure what the implicit threat you is that you seem to be referencing, especially since a neutrality agreement would not cost the college anything.

    Again, this discussion is really about creating respect and fairness for workers, and neutrality poses no threat to the college's finances.

  47. 0
    Peter Ballen says:

    Five minutes of research using our wonderful databases (go librarians) brings up some fairly disturbing information about neutrality agreements.

    "When the operator [the Hotel] has signed such an agreement, a non-signing owner [Swarthmore college] can sometimes be bound through the owner's agency relationship." Long story short, because we have "apparent authority" over the hotel, it is possible that the Union could still come to us and force us to get involved in ways that we may not like, even if we don't actually sign anything. (Source: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=2&did=1598541581&SrchMode=2&sid=1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1288103299&clientId=42764. Check it out.)

    Now, I don't know how unions play into "Quaker Values" (sorry Danielle), but I know that neutrality agreements can have a lot of dangerous hidden clauses that could cost the college a lot of money. I think the college needs to ensure its own economic safety first and foremost, and I'm not convinced a neutrality agreement is in our best interest.

    Anyone want to reassure me about this unmentioned issue? (Relatedly, shouldn't an implication this big be mentioned in the main article?)

  48. 0
    Soren Larson says:

    Err-

    Re: your comment 31 –– I concede that I wasn't as precise as I should have been. In the short and perhaps medium run, unionization likely benefits workers: higher wages, more job security, but perhaps less income mobility. Lack of precision was my mistake.

    Re: your question whether I'd vote against a push toward unionization at a firm at which I was working, I'd make my decision depending on my expected wage given my relative ability, and the chances of promotion with and without unionization (among any other relevant costs and benefits of both cases).

    Ms. Wright-

    Please consider err's response as my reply.

  49. 0
    err says:

    Susan you are treating Soren's argument like it is legal reasoning and not micro-economic reasoning. You are basically the straw man that economists always love to bash, the person who doesn't believe people respond to incentives, the dreamer who doesn't understand that businesses have a "bottom line" in our capitalist system. You are writing as if businesses are not owned by capitalists who want to make money, but overseen by custodial figures who just make sure things are "running smoothly." That isn't the way things work. Some of your arguments certainly apply to the public sector, where unions have grown, but the private sector has seen the opposite trend, because in a competitive market it follows Soren's economic logic not your legal logic.

    Again, I state to everyone: There is no one answer on unions. You can not prove "logically" that they are good or that they are bad. Susan's "logic" for example, is at best wishful thinking and at worst a lawyer's dishonest argument. The question of how labor unions should be treated regards what society we want, what society we have, and what can be done to get from here to there (the religious usually just have faith on that last one, unfortunately). If you think you have an answer without understanding that the question is dependent on answers all three questions, then I would say that you are at least "one card short of a deck". If someone understands the subjective element but shouts that they know how to get the answer by just looking at the world as it is, then they are "not putting all your cards on the table." Same with someone who knows that there is a real world, an objective element, but who says that the only thing that matters is faith in an ideal. The point is, when I don't see all the cards, I am going to ask questions.

  50. 0
    Susan L. Wright says:

    Dear Soren Larson,

    You wrote: “But in taking issue with Danielle's argument, you *must* specify which workers you're considering . . .”

    I could not have been more explicit in specifying that the workers I was considering were those that would be working at the project, i.e., those considered “parties Involved.”

    This was the statement of Danielle’s to which I was clearly taking issue:

    “It is not fair or reasonable to hound the Swarthmore Administration about unionizing when it does not make economic sense for any of the parties involved.”

    That this was the statement I was addressing was amply demonstrated by my questions whether it was possible in Danielle’s estimation that the workers do not rise to the status of "any of the parties involved," or that they weren’t important enough to count, immediately following my statement that Danielle’s stating that unionization does not make economic sense for the workers was absurd.

    Clearly the only workers who might be considered “any of the parties involved” would be the workers actually hired by the enterprise, because all other workers are not involved parties. And as you quite correctly observe, it is absurd to argue that “higher wages and the other benefits associated with union membership” are not in the interest of the workers who secure these benefits.

    You also wrote: You've missed a crucial part of Danielle's argument . . .

    Precisely what crucial part of Danielle’s argument did I miss, either embodied in either the quoted statement which I was clearly referencing, or for that matter, expressed in the rest of her post,?

    Nowhere in Danielle’s post (#3: 10/21/2010 at 12:28 p.m.) does she say anything whatsoever about whether unionization makes economic sense for any workers other than those who might be among “the parties involved,” so this crucial part of Danielle’s argument that I supposedly missed was not even present in her own post.

    Who else do you think might be reasonably included in the group characterized as “the parties involved?” The entire set of potential workers in the greater Philadelphia region?

    But let’s go way out on a limb here and assume arguendo that “parties involved” might possibly be reasonably construed to include workers who were not employed by the project.

    One must assume that the employers will require the same staffing numbers whether or not they are unionized to perform the tasks necessary to the smooth running of their enterprise. If they would hire more people if their entity was not unionized, then they would not be managing their personnel properly, since they could manage to complete the same tasks if unionized with fewer staff members. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that no jobs would be lost due to unionization, which in turn means that all workers not employed by the project remain unaffected by the unionization of those workers employed by the project. (Indeed, the complaints made on occasion regarding the relationship of staffing numbers and unionization by employers is that the employers are forced by the union to hire or retain more workers than they would choose to do so if not unionized, not that they are forced by unionization to hire fewer workers.) Such workers not employed by the project can not be argued to have lost a job due to unionization that they would not have gotten if the project had not been unionized, so they will have suffered nothing due to the project’s unionization.

    As all employers must compete for workers, the project, having better work conditions/pay/benefits because of unionization, now will have a competitive advantage in attracting workers, which will allow it to be pickier than non-union competitors when choosing its staff, raising the quality of the services it offers, and thereby potentially becoming more attractive to prospective customers. So at best, your argument that unionization might adversely impact the workers not hired boils down to an argument that less capable/suitable workers might be harmed by unionization because they might be less likely to be hired by the project than their more capable competitors if the project can afford to be more picky in choosing its staff because it was a workplace offering the advantages of unionization to its workers.

    These better conditions/quality in services in turn may make it more difficult for the competing non-union hotels to retain their own workers and/or complete for customers. The unionization of one hotel may also inspire workers at another hotel to better their condition by unionizing. The more hotels that are unionized, the more difficult it will be for hotels that are not unionized to remain so. Since hotels, apartment buildings, and college bookstores, by their very nature, unlike many market sectors, can not simply move their operations or outsource most of the work needed, they will not be able to avoid this competitive pressure by simply pulling up stakes and moving to another state with less competitive labor conditions, or outsourcing room cleaning or janitorial jobs overseas. Therefore, it is more likely that unionization of the hotel project will make other workers better off than that it will worsen their condition.

    You also wrote: You've missed a crucial part of Danielle's argument, and in doing so, have colored the rest of your writing as extreme.

    Even if, contrary to the facts of the matter, I had missed a crucial part of Danielle's argument, why would that color the rest of my writing, most of which was not addressed to questions even remotely related to the benefits or detriments of unionization, as extreme? Aside from the fact that you offer no substantiation for this comment, there is absolutely no logical connection between your premise and your conclusion. Arguments stand or fall on their own merits. The fact that one may be based on a false and unrelated premise or faulty reasoning does not compromise any of the other unrelated comments or arguments. Dismissing the whole because you found fault with an unrelated part (and, as it happened, did so entirely without merit) adds up to nothing more than lazy sophistry, and does not advance the consideration of the important issues addressed.

    Susan L. Wright

  51. 0
    Alex '12 says:

    This is a debate that needs to continue, but I currently find Adam's comments most compelling because they are citing sources. The risk of a discourse like this is that it get too wrapped up in unfounded opinion, which never leads to progress as it becomes the internet equivalent of everyone only talking to their side of the argument, as no one is influences to change just because someone else has a different opinion. Especially given that we are all students and all in a privileged position outside of the immediate concerns of employers and employees, we need connections with closer sources to relate our arguments with "the real world". I would be really interested to see the sources that the opposition to the article can find, because I'm sure that they exist and can be equally compelling.

  52. 0
    Susan L. Wright says:

    Dear Mr. Becker,

    It would be immensely unfair to the developer of the hotel project to raise these questions after the project was completed. The developer should be advised of all employment requirements that the College may choose to impose BEFORE the developer decides to go forward so it can properly assess potential expenses and prudently plan its finance strategy for long term management accordingly. Now is the time this question needs to be addressed to allow for proper planning and to give the developer the full information it needs to decide whether the project is attractive to it.

    Susan L. Wright, former legal counsel to developers

  53. 0
    Paul Cato says:

    Danielle,

    Though I understand your request for economic data and the like I bring up Adam's links earlier in the thread. He and others have provided evidence of the sort you are requesting.

    What's more, this IS a discussion of ideology. Adam and Rachel made clear that they hoped Swarthmore would live up to the "Quaker Values" we hear of so often while at Swat – is that not a call to reflect on ideology? Though I understand the love of debate/argument that seems characteristic of most Swarthmore students, these DG threads often steer off track from the topic of the article (of course I am not blaming you for this it's natural for any long discussion to go off course).

    Ultimately I appreciate Adam's reflection on his discussion with actual WORKERS. Too often college students lose sight of the lives at stake when we discuss such topics – whether because we get wrapped up in the philosophies of various thinkers or because we cling to numbers and statistics. Swarthmore is a great place because the school pushes us to stay active in the community around us. SLAP has made sure to do this and Adam's testimonies provide evidence of that.

    All Has Been Said With the Utmost Respect,

    Paul Cato

    P.S. I do realize that I myself strayed from the topic as I attempted to get all my thoughts out, I apologize haha)

  54. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Danielle, your last comment is intriguing to me, and it points to something which I would like to understand better about your stance on the issue. It seems that the argument so far has been something roughly along these lines:

    (1). Swarthmore has Quaker ideals, and has good reason to pursue them.
    (2). One of these ideals is fairness, and this ideal is an important one.
    (3). Neutrality agreements best realize the ideal of fairness.
    Therefore,
    (4). Swarthmore has good reason to pursue a neutrality agreement.

    One difficulty with this argument is that neither side in this discussion has gone very far to clarify what counts as fairness, and to what extent that value is an important one in evaluating possibilities for the Inn.

    It seems to me that there are a few possible objections you might be making here, and I’d be interested to see which one(s) you are putting forth. I envision the following, though there are certainly more:

    (a). Fairness is not actually what neutrality proponents suggest that it is;
    (b). Fairness is not actually as important as neutrality proponents suggest that it is.
    ©. Neutrality agreements are not actually the optimal realization of fairness.
    (d). Regardless of questions of fairness, this particular issue is not Swarthmore’s business.

    It seems like you and many others have advocated something like ©. One question might be this: if neutrality agreements are not actually as fair as (3). claims, why is that, and what would a fairer arrangement look like? But there is also plenty of room to present (a), (b), or (d) (or something else entirely), and I’d be interested in your take on where, precisely, you find issue with the pro-neutrality argument.

    Cheers!
    Phil

  55. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Err, you're feeding into my point. You're getting ideological when I want to have a productively factual argument free of belittlement and allusions to Ayn Rand.

    I didn't say everything ought to be reduced to empiricism. By gosh, I can't decide whether I want to be an English or Philosophy major at Swat, so I don't believe shoving "objective truths" down folks throats is my problem. Indeed, "objectivism" is often my critique of contemporary scholars who lapse into overly scientific thinking.

    With that said, what I am advocating is, when it comes to politics, appealing to idealism is not going to magically ignite jobs and improve wages. Conservatives and liberals alike will dance in circles until the end of time if all we argue about are grandiose but polarizing concepts like "small government" or "big labor" or "corporate America". If we start citing economics, we may make some headway and establish common ground. A good example of this is Clinton's policy of triangularism. Dems love to shout, hey, Clinton balanced the budget! Meanwhile, the GOP counteracts this by insisting it was actually the 1994 congressional takeover which demanded economic accountability. But, if we abandon our ideological stalemates, we come to the same conclusion: Economics in the 90's was largely successful and prosperous.

    The thing is, the current article is set up as to suggest Quaker ideals and unionization are harmonious. I am a practicing Congregationalist AND I support Libertarian economics. I think that's a dichotomy which can exist.

  56. 0
    Argos says:

    Phil, you sound absurdly condescending explaining to Err how he should try arguing. He seems to have it down.

    Anyone have a rough idea of what kind of wages and benefits workers at this inn would get? Honestly, I think it's a lot more important to make sure everyone is getting decent healthcare etc. in the first place than worrying about unions.

    Also, is the college planning to offer hotel workers a chance to take courses or something else academicky?

  57. 0
    err says:

    Empirical data is important. Studying the real world is good. I am an economics major, even. Okay here is a paper about how unions are good for workers: http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/briefingpapers_bp143/ . Something tells me that lobbing stuff like this across the divide isn't going to do much though.

    I don't think Danielle thinks about issues any less than the average student here. She is obviously smart, and obviously interested in political debates. But that doesn't get her off the hook. Here we are very much not on the same page, Phil. If you think that the typical student here thinks about these issues "rather a lot," then I just don't know what to say. Maybe I am an intellectual elitist, but I would say that at most 5-10 percent of students here have really critically evaluated their economic views. And this applies more or less equally to people across the political spectrum. A lot of critical thought goes on here in the hard sciences and humanities. But in the social sciences, not so much. It is perhaps an unfortunate product of the school's very homogeneous political culture. Debate is great and I'm glad that the campus seems to be having a renewal of vocal "conservatism". Debates like this encourage critical thought, but it seems like you think critical thought is disrespectful of people's beliefs. You seem to prefer a "just the facts, ma'am" approach. Well I don't like this approach, especially in economics where it is far from ideologically neutral.

    The line between ad hominem and valid criticism is very hazy when the issue is about the system of thought that lurks behind someone's position. The dispute is not over the facts, it is over the premises. Danielle believes that unions (and governments?) are "coercing" employees but employers are not. Adam is saying that it is actually the employers who are "coercing" employees. I do not think that "coercion" has a predetermined meaning, and I do not think that it can ever be used in a neutral manner. It depends on notions of autonomous individuals with certain rights, and so the debate becomes one about who is keeping this individuals from being in their natural, fully autonomous state. Do employers coerce by exploiting workers, or do unions, with force or government backing coerce? This is a question without an answer, a question that is wrapped up in ideological thought. And at this day in age, it is not the Left who has the upper hand in this kind of discourse, but the libertarian Right. I avoid this playing field, opting instead for a critical, principled, pragmatism of the long-run. So I love the facts, I think statistics is great, etc. I like empirical research so much that I cannot bear to see it misused by people people who think their guiding principles are objective truths.

    I'm interested to see Danielle respond to your questions, which are the right questions to ask here. The meaning of data should be explicitly framed, and not just assumed.

  58. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Err, I think that you're being unfairly condescending to Danielle on this one. You're right that no amount of data will provide wisdom in this issue without guiding principles, but it doesn't follow that Danielle's call for data is insignificant. And furthermore, I don't see much in the way of Danielle's comments which suggests that she thinks about these issues any less than a typical Swattie, which is to say rather a lot. Maybe you're seeing something I'm not here, but I wish you'd avoid belittling her in favor of actually engaging the argument. If your reasoning really is better than hers, then you won't need ad hominem attacks to show it.

    One way to do the latter might be to ask this: Danielle, what kind of data do you think would shed more light on this issue? What sorts of statistics would you find relevant, and what would they need to indicate in order to form an argument for or against the neutrality agreement? And how would that argument go?

    Cheers!
    Phil

  59. 0
    err says:

    And it isn't just a question of wages vs. jobs. As I said before, there is more to the issue than bean-counting. Unions provide workers with a voice in both the narrow, production improving economic sense, and in the broader political and social sense. Obviously you see working class political power and solidarity as a negative thing, but not everyone sees it that way Soren.

  60. 0
    err says:

    Also, Soren–

    In almost every case, the benefits of unionizing outweigh the costs for an employee making a decision–this is less true at the macro-level, but quite true at the level of the firm, especially in the short and medium term (which is how long people expect to be employed). Workers vote against unionizing not because it is the rational thing to do, but because they are threatened and lied to by their employers, and absorb anti-union messages from society.

    A big reason reason they make these decision is because they often do not really understand how unions work and what they do. Many people have the idea that corrupt, "big labor" leeches off employees, not employers, and they don't understand that union dues are minuscule compared to benefit and wage increases. The values of safety rules, pensions, healthcaee, and other benefits are in many cases systematically underestimated by workers. I know one worker who has absolutely no idea how much his retirement benefits will be, even though he could find out if he wanted to. He assumes they will be meager, probably because he absorbed a message that his union really doesn't do much for him.

    So tell me Soren, why do workers so often not unionize? Is it really because workers are rational decision-makers who are just incredibly risk-averse? Or is it mostly a case of manipulation of strong, preexisting irrational biases, and simple intimidation by employers?

    If YOU were a self-interested worker, would YOU vote against joining a union Soren?

  61. 0
    err says:

    Everything can't (and shouldn't) be reduced to "economic or wage data," Danielle. Philosophies and ideals and conceptions of fairness can not be done away with when making normative claims.

    It seems from your comments as a whole that you think everyone who does not subscribe to your beliefs has some kind of false consciousness, and that if they only thought a little harder and maybe read some Ayn Rand they would be enlightened. Maybe you should think a little more about why so many smart people aren't "enlightened". Or you could just admit that you have a certain "ideal" that is just one vision of a possible world, not an objective truth to be arrived at. Until that day, you will look to many like a propagandist, not a person who thinks about the world.

  62. 0
    Danielle Charette '14 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I'm kind of disappointed that SLAP and others haven't cited any economic or wage data for their views. Instead we're getting philosophical about "Quaker ideals" and "worker fairness", etc. This is all well and good, but what does it mean? I support Quaker ideals and workplace fairness as well. Who doesn't? That's not the issue at hand.

  63. 0
    Adam Bortner '12 says:

    Re: Proactive Measure for Fairness vs. Wages and a Reactive Approach to Injustices

    A neutrality agreement is a proactive measure to ensure a fair workplace not a "firm path to unionization," as you put it. I disagree that our college should take reactive approach to creating a just workplace, just in case the management of this hotel is a rare exception from hotel industry standard.

    Wages are another discussion entirely–an important one, yes, but unrelated to establishing a fair workplace for employees. The effort here is really to protect workers from the long, ugly fights between management and unions, so that they are free to make a decision that represents their best interests, and most importantly, that both sides agree beforehand to respect that decision.

  64. 0
    Soren Larson says:

    Adam-

    You can't construct an argument for neutrality agreements by waiving your hands about a nebulous concept of 'social responsibility.' Is it more socially responsible and fair to create more jobs, or have the jobs be better paying? The answer isn't obviously the latter. And most importantly, the rationale for demanding a neutrality agreement now rests on the premise that, according to your sources and on average, the hotel industry is abusive. However, we have no idea how the managers of this inn will act with respect to the average. Given that the inn will be adjacent to the College and any abuse that goes on will be under the close watch of Swarthmore's quick-to-act student body, it's not clear why we need to set firm the pathway to unionization now.

  65. 0
    Adam Bortner '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Neutrality agreements ensure a fair workplace because both employers and unions agree to respect the decision of the workers.

    @Confused
    Any union would need a majority of workers.
    No union can represent workers without a majority of workers wanting union representation. Under neutrality agreements, workers have the freedom to decide to (1) have an independent union, (2) join established union of their choice, or (3) have no union representation at all. Furthermore, the dispute you referenced between two unions was settled several months ago, so the type of lawsuit you describe would be highly unlikely.

    A neutrality agreement simply means unions and management won’t fight, and workers don’t get caught in the middle. Under these agreements, workers make a decision, and both sides agree to respect it.

    @Linnet
    A neutrality agreement is thus a first, easy step toward the creative solution you describe. Employees have a vested interest in seeing their employer succeed, whether large or small business, because their jobs depend on that success. Neutrality agreements help ensure respect for the people working the jobs.

    @Soren
    If you are interested in debates over economic trade-offs between level of wage and quantity of jobs, I would encourage you to explore the literature. The discussion at hand is about establishing a fair workplace to remain consistent with Swarthmore's commitment to social responsibility.

  66. 0
    Soren Larson says:

    Again, could someone on the SLAP side please explain to me why higher wages are better than more jobs? So far, those on SLAP side have reminded us, as if we needed reminder, that high wages are better than lower ones, which doesn't add anything to the conversation.

  67. 0
    Alison Roseberry-Polier says:

    I would like to draw your attention to one of the times in recent history where people said "unemployment is high, we should create as many jobs as possible." In California, during the Great Depression, there were many jobs for agricultural workers, landless and unemployed people who were desperate to feed their families in whatever way possible. Due to the unreasonable ratio of workers to jobs, employers were able to pay wages far, far below what any person could actually eat on. I would simply like to posit that in a time of economic crisis, when unemployment is high, it is more important than ever that we have strong unions. High unemployment facilitates poverty wages, because employers know that people are desperate for jobs and they can get away with it. Now is the perfect time to ensure that the hotel will pay enough for people to live on.

  68. 0
    Current student concerned about concerned alumni says:

    Conerned Alum-

    I'm not sure whether I should be laughing at your lefty-lines, or whether I should be offended by your deep condescension: i.e. that conservatives on campus are only so because we find power in Glenn Beck's on-air weeping.

    Unless you give us the source of the 'statistic,' from what data it comes, and who did the analysis, you can't expect anyone to believe it.

    Finally, your description of high-road business practices in the context of neutrality agreements is ridiculous. If business that pursue this high-road are more productive, have lower labor turnover (and thus lower training costs), and are more productive, then the neutrality agreement actually does the union lobby a disservice. Suppose unionized business 'pays off,' as you say, and are more profitable. So no profit maximizing firm would oppose unionization. In your imagined world then, there is no need to disallow firms from actively opposing unionization when every profit-maximizing firm chooses to unionize.

  69. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Concerned Alum–

    Wanting to openly and honestly discuss the pros/cons of unionization does not make conservative-leaning Swat students "far-right" radicals. But if being instep with mainstream organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, which supports some 3 million American businesses, 97 % of which have fewer than 100 employees, makes me an anti-worker wingnut, than I guess I'll accept the label.

    I didn't raise the issue of minimum wage, but if we're going to talk about it, we should discuss the adverse ramifications it has had on small business–places like the proposed inn. This isn't the product of some far-fetched "right-wing" ideology. This is just an economic truth.

  70. 0
    Confused says:

    To Adam et al: what do you know about the current state of hotel workers' unions in the greater Philly area? To the best of my knowledge, there are 2 powerful unions fighting each other for control. Obviously, workers should get to choose their own union, but what if they are split? What if the unpicked union then sues the employer (not the College directly, in this case) because they claim the dues belong to them as the rightful union? Some employers have already been sued by both sides because they have to hold dues in escrow since it is not readily apparent which union really holds sway.

    Just my 2cents: unions are not a panacea. I'm all for fair wages and believe that organizing is, more often than not, a good thing, but this is the side that workers need to hear that they probably won't get to under a neutrality agreement. Finally, the contracted employer at the hotel has a right to protect its (and, by extension, the College's) interests in the business. I don't think that should intimidating workers, but I think getting sued in a confused scramble for control doesn't really factor in either.

  71. 0
    Concerned Alum says:

    It's discouraging to see Swarthmore students duped by slick marketing from the same far-right, anti-worker groups that drove our economy to the brink. Groups that pass off their agenda as genuine concern for workers while opposing pro-worker policies (minimum wage, unemployment benefits, social security/medicare, trade policies to keep US jobs here at home) at every turn.

    If you think employer interference isn't a problem, take a look at the numbers. Over one in three employers fire workers for trying to form a union under the NLRB elections process, and an overwhelming majority use intimidating one-on-one meetings with workers to influence their vote.

    Neutrality agreements are about nothing more than a level playing field so that workers can make their own decision about whether or not to form a union. A growing number of successful businesses across the country have adopted this high-road business model to ensure a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between management and employees. They'll be the first to tell you that it's the right way to do business, and that it pays off in terms of productivity, lower turnover, and innovation.

    SLAP should be commended for doing its part to ensure a fair and democratic workplace for the Inn's future employees.

  72. 0
    Linnet Davis-Stermitz says:

    It seems to me that it's really important that we come up with a labor regime in which employees are subject neither to union nor employer coercion and in which employers are nominally free to make their own employment decisions and suffer the consequences in the marketplace. I think that both unions and the free market have failed on these accounts in different respects; I'd say "big union" and "big business" are each their own evils.

    What I'd love to see are some creative solutions that get at the heart of the problem–that employment of all kinds should be a source of personal satisfaction and a livable income as well as compatible with small business growth in a teetering economy. I'm not so sure that anyone above is offering a regime that hopes to address both of those problems at their root. I wish I had some of those solutions of my own to offer (perhaps a fair but not overly expansive laborer's bill of rights as an alternative to union-level negotiations?) but all I can really do for the present is express frustration that this is the same old tired debate that always happens on Daily Gazette threads when one of Swarthmore's 3 conservatives and SLAP come to blows.

  73. 0
    Soren Larson ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Susan-

    You wrote, "But to argue that it does not make economic sense for most of the workers is, well, I am sorry but there is no other word for it, absurd, and ignores the entire history of the labor movement and the impact of unionization on market sectors."

    You've missed a crucial part of Danielle's argument, and in doing so, have colored the rest of your writing as extreme. You make issue with Danielle's contention that unionization doesn't make sense for most workers. If Danielle were really saying that higher wages and the other benefits associated with union membership aren't in the interest of workers, you'd be right that her contention is rather absurd. It's trivial that higher wages are better than lower ones. But in taking issue with Danielle's argument, you *must* specify which workers you're considering: the workers that the business can afford to employ at union wage rates, or the workers that the business cannot afford. If you're just contending that all workers are better off under a model of more unionization, you should consider the econ lit on 'insider/outsider unionization' models (with which I admit I'm not sufficiently familiar), which more carefully considers who's actually benefitting from unionization (i.e. those who are employed v. those who are not).

  74. 0
    Susan L. Wright says:

    Dear Danielle,

    Unfortunately, there are many "myths" circulating about the hotel proposal.

    Myth #1: First of all, prospective students, visiting families, and alums already have a number of choices of reasonable, local places to stay — that is something that is definitely NOT currently missing from the surrounding Swarthmore area. Nor is there any evidence that potential interest in the Swarthmore College has been deterred on the basis of travel considerations, given the extraordinary quality of students who end up enrolling at Swarthmore and the extraordinary quality and quantity of students that Swarthmore College interests every year. Those making this argument substantially underestimate the quality of the experience and education that Swarthmore has to offer its students.

    What those arguing for the hotel want is not "reasonable" accommodations, but more luxurious accommodations than, say, the brand new hotel constructed 3 miles and 9 minutes away. The vast majority, if not all, of those arguing, for example, that the hotel project is necessary because of how poor this alternative accommodation is, have never stayed there. (People who have stayed there and attended conferences there found it perfectly suitable.) It is not a lack of reasonable accommodations, but a lack of more expensive upscale accommodations that those arguing for the hotel are bemoaning.

    Second, there are now two elements driving the "purpose" of the hotel project, which certainly could easily lead to confusion.

    Myth #2: The original purpose for the hotel project was not to provide accommodations but was strictly to revitalize the commercial town center of Swarthmore. It arose out of a number of recommendations among the 34 that were made by the Swarthmore Town Center Revitalization Task Force on September 1999, and unanimously adopted by the Swarthmore Borough Council on October 1999. The fact that such a development might provide a convenient place to stay for the economically elite having the means to pay more was a nice side benefit, but that was not the central purpose of the development. Of course, once it became clear that this development would not increase retail sales in the town center, as the expert consultant to the Task Force repeatedly made explicit, the project should have been dropped. Given that it was not dropped when it failed of its very purpose, it is understandable that confusion would arise as to what actually was its purpose.

    That it was not dropped is explained by the fact that the hotel project has been more driven by emotion than careful factual analysis. This is why the project is still being pursued despite the fact that occupancy rate percentages in area facilities have dropped from the mid 70s prevalent when the Task Force made its recommendation, to percentages in the 40s, no doubt in part due to an oversupply of hotel rooms in the area. It is why a project that has been repeatedly demonstrated to be financially unsound, so unsound that it can not proceed without the subsidy of an 80 unit apartment building AND an additional subsidy of taxpayer funded RACP Grant, is still being pursued.

    Some of those emotionally committed to the hotel are held fast in the grip of "if you build it, they will come" fantasies. They very sincerely believe that, contrary to the expert opinion that this project will not lead to an increase in retail sales in the town center, this hotel, in a deus ex machina fashion, will miraculously cure what ails the town center. Other proponents simply believe it will benefit them personally, whether by providing a slightly more convenient bar, in the center of this very small borough rather than right on the outskirts, or a great place to hold a child's future wedding, (should that time ever come, and should that child wish to be married in Swarthmore), or a great site for a once in a lifetime family reunion, or a place to park visitors they would prefer not to have stay at home with them, and are unconcerned about the substantial daily adverse effects on others in the borough. So far, these two groups have been more politically successful in driving their agenda than the more reasoned voices on the other side, as is often the case where someone stands to make money off of unwise development, and where a majority that believes they will not suffer any costs from development is able to impose their will on the minority that will suffer the adverse consequences of the development.

    (Myth # 3. That this controversial project will "foster unity between the borough and the school." No, Danielle, this ill considered project is going to generate a great deal of friction between many of the residents of the Borough and the College, and in their frustration of dealing with the daily inconveniences imposed by the project, and the permanent detriments to the quality of life in the Borough this project will create for many, some residents will tend to forget the great benefits that the College has always offered the community.)

    However, the original purpose of supporting town center revitalization has now been complicated by the fact that Swarthmore College, together with Swarthmore Borough, is seeking a RACP Grant to use taxpayer money to finance part of the project, contrary to commitments made by the Borough representatives who first supported this project not to use taxpayer money for it, and contrary to the College's original statements that it was looking for a developer who would entirely finance the project, aside from the College contributing the land.

    Since the purported central purpose of a RACP Grant IS to create jobs, and by law the developer can be made to give back any RACP Grant monies if the jobs promised in the RACP Grant application do not materialize, because the College intends to use RACP Grant monies for this project, the purported "jobs purpose" now becomes paramount.

    (I say purported because a great many of the RACP projects have fallen short of the jobs promised in their applications, the basis on which they were supposedly awarded the money. Under the statute creating RACP Grants, the projects are supposed to be audited to determine if the jobs promised actually materialize, so projects that were mischaracterized would be forced to return the RACP Grant monies issued under false pretenses. But, to the great detriment of the taxpayers who are being forced to pay for these RACP Grants, which are not subject to any kind of public scrutiny or oversight, those audits are not being conducted, providing windfalls to developers who are sufficiently politically savvy and connected to arrange for RACP Grants for their projects.)

    So Danielle, it can now be argued that the purpose of this RACP Grant funded project IS job creation.

    I can not for the life of me imagine where you got the notion that unionization "does not make economic sense" for the workers. Is it possible that the workers do not rise to the status of "any of the parties involved" in your estimation, that they weren’t important enough to count?

    Unionization arguably "does not make economic sense" for those hiring the workers because it generally results in transferring a larger part of the income generated from the pockets of the owners to the pockets of those doing the work. It may "not make economic sense" for customers of unionized workers because those customers may have to pay higher prices for the services or products they are buying. But to argue that it does not make economic sense for most of the workers is, well, I am sorry but there is no other word for it, absurd, and ignores the entire history of the labor movement and the impact of unionization on market sectors.

    Since most hotel, restaurant, bricks and mortar retail sales clerking jobs, and super/janitorial staff jobs in apartment buildings are among the few jobs that can not be outsourced overseas to avoid paying union benefits, if any workers might benefit from unionization, it would be most of the workers that might be hired for the hotel, 80 unit apartment building, restaurant, bookstore and cafe facilities planned for this project.

    It is not demonization of business to acknowledge that the hotel industry is a market sector with a history of exploiting workers. These abuses have been repeatedly exposed and extensively reported. Of course that fact that this exploitation is common in the industry does not mean every hotel exploits its workers, and each facility is entitled to be judged on its individual conduct. However, it is not unreasonable to be alert to this possibility.

    Susan L. Wright

  75. 0
    Tyler Becker ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ditto Danielle. I think it is ridiculous we are even talking about this issue right now. I mean the inn has not been built (there isn't even a developer) and you are already writing an op-ed criticizing the Swarthmore administration for not coming out and saying that the workers at the inn must be able to unionize?

    And I also know that once the inn is built and there are workers there, if there are any problems, SLAP will be mobilized immediately and the administration will take care of the problem. This is an inn that will be associated with Swarthmore; it's not some chain hotel that won't listen to any issues that may arise.

  76. 0
    Tyler Becker ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ditto Danielle. I think it is ridiculous we are even talking about this issue right now. I mean the inn has not been built (there isn't even a developer) and you are already writing an op-ed criticizing the Swarthmore administration for not coming out and saying that the workers at the inn must be able to unionize?

    And I also know that once the inn is built and there are workers there, if there are any problems, SLAP will be mobilized immediately and the administration will take care of the problem. This is an inn that will be associated with Swarthmore; it's not some chain hotel that won't listen to any issues that may arise.

  77. 0
    Tyler Becker ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ditto Danielle. I think it is ridiculous we are even talking about this issue right now. I mean the inn has not been built (there isn't even a developer) and you are already writing an op-ed criticizing the Swarthmore administration for not coming out and saying that the workers at the inn must be able to unionize?

    And I also know that once the inn is built and there are workers there, if there are any problems, SLAP will be mobilized immediately and the administration will take care of the problem. This is an inn that will be associated with Swarthmore; it's not some chain hotel that won't listen to any issues that may arise.

  78. 0
    Tyler Becker ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ditto Danielle. I think it is ridiculous we are even talking about this issue right now. I mean the inn has not been built (there isn't even a developer) and you are already writing an op-ed criticizing the Swarthmore administration for not coming out and saying that the workers at the inn must be able to unionize?

    And I also know that once the inn is built and there are workers there, if there are any problems, SLAP will be mobilized immediately and the administration will take care of the problem. This is an inn that will be associated with Swarthmore; it's not some chain hotel that won't listen to any issues that may arise.

  79. 0
    Tyler Becker ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ditto Danielle. I think it is ridiculous we are even talking about this issue right now. I mean the inn has not been built (there isn't even a developer) and you are already writing an op-ed criticizing the Swarthmore administration for not coming out and saying that the workers at the inn must be able to unionize?

    And I also know that once the inn is built and there are workers there, if there are any problems, SLAP will be mobilized immediately and the administration will take care of the problem. This is an inn that will be associated with Swarthmore; it's not some chain hotel that won't listen to any issues that may arise.

  80. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Adam, I laud your research on this issue, and I’m sure you have had first-hand conversations with hotel workers.

    I myself have had many interactions with business folk and have attended Chamber of Commerce breakfasts back in Connecticut on multiple occasions. Business people are simply not the fat cats you make them out to be. Construction hasn’t even begun and you’re already accusing “the private developer and operator to put profits before the lives of hardworking people”? This is colossally unfair.

    I find the article’s definition of what a neutrality agreement is disingenuous. Neutrality does not arise so that employers and employees “agree not to fight” and work harmoniously hand in hand. Although you’ve written that agreements typically only require employers to remain neutral, in reality, they impose a “Gag Rule” against speech deemed unfavorable to the union. Moreover, instead of being permitted to vote on union representation in a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, neutrality agreements come coupled with “card checks”. Simply stated, if enough signed authorization cards are collected (and collection processes have been documented as misleading), the union prevails. Neutrality agreements also require access to premises, access to personal information, and “captive audience” speeches.

    Let’s be honest about the history of neutrality agreements. In the past decade, employees (yes, employees, not just employers) have grown more and more threatened by forced-unionism, which often degrades into wasteful work rules, job losses, corruption, and political pandering. As such, they have grown less supportive of voting for unionization. In response, Big Labor has tried to slip unionization in through the backdoor—in the guise of neutrality agreements.

  81. 0
    Adam Bortner '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Danielle,

    My views are informed from people who work in hotels, both small and large. I have heard first-hand experiences about on-the-job abuses and intimidation. I have heard from some of the hardest-working people I know about how they can hardly afford to feed their families or pay their rent.

    Swarthmore College, with its mission of "advancing the common good" has a responsibility to further social justice–not perpetuate inequalities. Real people's lives are at stake in this discussion.

    Creating a fair workplace with a neutrality agreement helps both employers and employees because they don't have to fight. Employers don't have to waste their profits on expensive unionbusting campaigns and hiring consultants to maintain poverty wages (which are the norm in the hotel industry according to the U.S. Dept of Labor). A neutrality agreement will thus not only help the businesses you seem to care so much about, but also employees who don't have to risk losing their jobs when the speak up about concerns at the workplace or unfair wages.

    Remember that employees want to see their employer do well financially; their very livelihood depends on it.

    The bottom line is that neutrality agreements help ensure a level-playing field and a respectful workplace.

  82. 0
    Check your facts says:

    Re: Labor Law Violations

    The statistics about labor law violations presented above are extremely inflated and fraudulent.

    According to a review by Professor John Lund those "claims lack credibility because they rely on incomplete, misleading, and inaccurate data,"
    AND
    include "double- and triple-counting of union-related criminal prosecutions."

    He further demonstrates that "accurate analysis of the statistics reveals that the incidence of fraud and corruption among union officers and employees is extremely low."

    Read more here http://www.peerganlaw.com/lies.doc

  83. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Adam–Once again, your passion for labor rights is laudable, but you seem to have so little faith in business, even small business, which the Inn would exemplify. I just don't view small-scale hotels (or even large ones for that matter) as environments that "threaten, intimidate, and coerce." Certainly if cases of outright injustice arise, that needs to be dealt with, but fearing labor subjugation at every corner does not contribute to a healthy jobs market. Let's give businesses–the employers of our country–a break.

  84. 0
    Adam Bortner '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @Danielle

    It's important to remember that people working these jobs in hotel service are the ones who have right to make these decisions. You argue that workers should be permitted to hear both sides, and a neutrality agreement would guarantee that. In the current system, employers maintain strict control over the work environment and routinely threaten, intimidate, and coerce employees to dissuade them from exercising their right to organize. By the time employees get to vote, the workplace has been so poisoned that a free and fair choice is impossible.

    I would encourage you, and anyone else who is interested, to read a relevant study written by an alumnus of the college. Political scientist Gordon Lafer '87, PhD provides a thorough examination of the current election process and how it measures up to America's democratic standards in "Free and Fair? How Labor Law Fails U.S. Democratic Election Standards." You may find it at this URL:
    http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/publications/general/free-and-fair-how-labor-law-fails-u.s.-democratic-election-standards.html

  85. 0
    Soren Larson ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Danielle-

    You took the words right out of my mouth. The way the authors present the neutrality agreement is disingenuous.

    Also, as you wrote, the authors seem to want jobs *and* high paying jobs, whatever 'high paying' may be. But to make a compelling argument, the authors need to explain why the state of jobs with higher wages is superior to the state of more jobs with lower wages. It's trivial that high wages are better than lower wages (which is essentially what the authors are saying). What's interesting is examining the tradeoff of higher wages v. more jobs.

  86. 0
    Danielle Charette ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I admire the passion you folks have had on this front, but I’m not sure I can agree with you. Firstly, you state the primary ambition of the Inn Project is job creation. Certainly the economy right now is a major focus and an establishment such as the inn would foster employment and unity between the borough and the school; however, I’m pretty sure that’s not why the Inn Project was thought-up back in the 90’s. Truly, the Inn makes sense so that prospective students, visiting families, and alums can have a reasonable, local place to stay—something that’s currently missing from the surrounding Swarthmore area, deterring potential interest in the school because of travel considerations.

    As for the neutrality agreement, I know of no cases where the neutrality was initiated by the employer. Rather, “neutrality clauses” are frequently side-effects of union coercion in order to guise their attempts to engage new members. In 2004, former National Labor Relations Board member Charles Cohen testified before Congress: “In my experience, neutrality/card check agreements are almost always the product of external leverage by unions, rather than an internal groundswell from unrepresented employees.”

    Neutrality prevents companies from speaking openly and candidly to workers about the risks and downsides of union membership. Particularly in an environment such as Swarthmore in which we so value free-speech, shouldn’t workers at least be permitted to hear both sides?

    I’m concerned some of us are so caught up in fair employment settings, that we’ve lost sight of many of the issues associated with unionizing. When many envision violations of labor law, they think of Big Business, but, in truth, the NLRB reported in 2005 that unions faced a grand total of 6,381 allegations, and, mind you, these were not benign accusations. 82% of the charges alleged illegal restraint and coercion of employees. Meanwhile, allegations against corporations were principally because of a refusal to bargain, a comparatively lesser offense.

    Let’s be frank. The United States presently faces 9.6 % unemployment. We want businesses to hire people. Realistically, our jobs need to come from the private sector, and union workers constitute only 7% of the private sector workforce. It is not fair or reasonable to hound the Swarthmore Administration about unionizing when it does not make economic sense for any of the parties involved. Accusing the hotel industry of notorious “exploitation” is unwarranted and does not further our need for sound employment. Can we please stop demonizing business?

  87. 0
    Thumbs up for Justice says:

    This seems like an easy way for the college to do something good in our community. I hope President Chopp and the Board of Managers move do the right thing and live up to Swarthmore's commitment to social justice. And it wouldn't cost the college a dime!

  88. 0
    Phil Chodrow says:

    Nicely done! This is clear and compelling, and I can only hope that those on the Board of Managers are reading.

    Cheers!

Comments are closed.