Posted by: Doug Henwood | June 7, 2012

Incentivize labor leaders’ pay

Paging through the salary listings for top labor leaders reminded me of an idea that Liza Featherstone and I came up with a while back: tie their pay to performance. It’s a scandal that these characters, who’ve presided over years of shrinkage in membership and political power, are nonetheless paid well into the six figures (putting them securely in the 1%, in other words). To take one egregious example, the president of the Laborers Union is paid almost $600,000 even though membership is down almost 30% over the last decade.

So why not cut their pay to, say, two or three times the level of their highest-paid worker (not too radical, really) and then offer bonuses based on wage gains for the membership and genuine expansion in the number of members? Real, organic growth in membership through organizing, that is, and not SEIU-style growth through merger and gimmickry.

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Responses

  1. don’t you then run into the problem of union heads growing the unions’ membership while at the same time making really bad concessions?

  2. don’t you then run into the problem of union heads growing their unions’ membership by making very bad concessions?

  3. what we really should do is make unions ideological again. we need to return to the days when unions were socialist and communist (those few that actually were and not simply accused of it) and anarchist. that way, it might be harder for jerks like Andy Stern to become heads. it might hurt recruitment, but not for too long seeing as generation “why” now has more positive view of socialism (49%) than a negative one (46%).

  4. 2-3 times the salary of their workers would also also require a shift in discourse. “Greedy unions” loses a lot of traction in that scenario. I also wish that they would focus on full employment and reducing the hours of the working week and day, but in this day and age, such as Keynesian-Marxian bastard child has to be locked in the basement, chained up, and never spoken of in the house of labour.

  5. The United Electrical Workers already have such a policy, better actually than your proposal. As for bonuses, I’d be against that. We need leaders like Debs, who would literally give the coat off his back to a worker. Having attended an international convention, where the officials pay was discussed and voted on, I can tell you that when the issue came up, the speakers for raising salaries were 8 deep at the mikes, no dissent was heard, reflecting the fact that national decision-making policy tends to be dominated by staffers and loyalists.

  6. [...] 1% and get paid well into six figures even as their unions shrink in size. Instead, Henwood says, let’s incentive labor leader’s pay.Me, I think unions as we knew them are gone and there’s no use wheezing about the glory days [...]

  7. It seems so much like capitalism to me.

  8. I agree with Jon Flanders re bonuses. For the same reason but more broadly applied. From top to bottom the culture needs to re-think “incentives” as a concept. It’s my belief, after years of study and experience, including insights gained from working with young elementary children and learning what motivates them, that at the core of our being we want opportunity to develop interests and talents and bring them as gift to community. We want to live in communities in which we mutually validate one another’s intrinsic worth.

    I have taken the view that “merit financial reward” is fundamentally cynical. Bonus pay “says” that humans won’t be curious, inventive, creative, or helpful unless they are materially rewarded beyond normal compensation for their time and effort. I contend (from watching those same young elementary children become “socialized” toward material reward as they progressed further in social development – especially by grade 12), that our belief in “reward/neglect” systems (reward for ‘superior’ performance; neglect for ‘unremarkable’ performance) is a learned, unexamined, “truth”.

    The reward/neglect system contributes to elitism, condescension, and self-diminishment – toward one another and toward oneself. These develop respectively in the person singled out for perks (elitism and condescension no matter how unintended), and self-diminishment in the person who defers to the logic of preferential treatment for his/her “superiors”. This develops over time, even when no one intends it. I suspect this is the fundamental alienation Marx was talking about Subtle and overt forms of hierarchy inform our beliefs about what it means to be human, and class structures are the result. Practices we put in place that lean in the direction of a reward/neglect system support existing hierarchy, or re-development of same.

    This is not to say that a person might not contribute such a valuable service that it’s worth it to the rest of us to contribute to that person’s freedom to concentrate on service delivery. If union leaders work longer hours (in my experience they do, often including weekends) then they deserve extra compensation to tend to personal needs they might hire out. I was a member of a teachers union – pay arrangement was simple – full time elected leaders were paid the salary they would have earned in a teaching assignment. Other costs (travel, lodging, etc.) were also covered from union dues. Transparency of their expenses was the rule. I appreciate our worker pool was smaller than the large trade unions being discussed. We knew our elected officers as colleagues. They were dedicated, their work on behalf of the rest of us was superb.

  9. You’re already setting up qualifiers that illustrate how impossible such a measurement would be. It’s quite easy to grow membership by cutting deals or raiding, and the notion of organic growth is poetic but completely useless in terms of practical measurement. Similarly, if you measure only in terms of wage gains then then there will be a skew and focus on those types of professions where that is most easily accomplished,

    Basically, pay for performance doesn’t work unless you are looking at a very narrow metric such as sales. It’s why no one uses it.

    Ultimately, the only way to get good leaders is to have a reasonably educated membership vote them in.


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