October 27, 2011
Dear CALPINE Workers at the Geysers,
It has recently been brought to my attention that you are seeking to organize your union with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, IBEW Local 1245.
I write to commend your efforts and to underline the invaluable role of unions in helping to address the greatest economic crisis confronting the United States and the world since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
One of the leading causes of the “Great Recession” that has devastated countless American households is the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, a corporate culture that values short term profits at the expense of employees and customers, and unchecked corporate power.
When the financial bubble burst, those hurt most were the bottom 99%. The economy hemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of jobs. Millions of families faced foreclosure. Millions more saw the values of their homes sink below the value of their mortgage.
Notwithstanding some gains to avoid an even more cataclysmic slide into a new recession, progress is very slow. Most consumers are at the end of their ropes, having to pay more for basics. At the same time, most of what’s been earned in America has gone to the richest 5 percent. Executive compensation has soared while workers’ wages have stagnated. Median hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, are no higher than what they were three decades ago – even though workers are working longer hours and production and profits are skyrocketing. The purchasing power of the middle class has been significantly diminished.
Why has this happened? In part, because corporate and financial entities have used their increasing wealth to undermine our democracy through political contributions, lobbyists, and so-called independent expenditures. It’s also because a declining portion of our workforce is organized in labor unions, and lacks the bargaining power to get decent wages and benefits.
Unions are one of the best anti-poverty, pro-middle class programs available to us. They are the means through which workers come together to advance their interests and to hold management accountable. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unionized workers earn 28% more than non union work forces and enjoy richer benefit packages. Unionized workers enjoy greater job and healthcare security that have a spillover effect on their non union counterparts. Unionized workers have protections from unscrupulous bosses and the right of due representation. Unionization not only provides protection from bad employers, but also gives workers a voice for suggesting to management better ways for delivering services and improving working conditions for all employers.
A corporate leader once asked me if I thought you could have a just workplace without a union. I replied you can have a just compensation and benefit package, but you will not have a just workplace. That’s because, absent a union, workers do not have a binding contract and a formal, protected means of advancing the interests of their co-workers, their families, and their communities. Without a union, workers are “at will” employees, subject to the unilateral decision-making of management. Management sets the terms, and the power of an individual worker to impact that decision is limited or non-existent.
A half century ago, most employers honored workers’ right to organize. They recognized a “social contract” that recognized workers and customers as important stake holders alongside corporate shareholders. Most employers upheld the labor laws of the land. In the 1950s, 1 in 3 workers was unionized.
Over the last several decades, that number has been shrinking, especially in the private sector. Today, fewer than 11% of U.S. workers are unionized. And if it weren’t for the public sector – where 36% of workers belong to unions – it would be even lower. In addition to globalization and new technology, anti-union laws and a multi-billion dollar “union avoidance” industry make unionizing far more difficult. There is a concerted corporate and political assault on unions across the country. The “social contract” has been replaced by unbridled corporate greed. But workers are fighting back, from Wisconsin to Ohio to California.
Your unionizing effort takes place in this extraordinary context and has implications far beyond the Geysers. By uniting in a union and pursuing collective bargaining you help get us back to a society where workers received a fair portion of economic gains – one of the prerequisites of a healthy democracy.
IBEW 1245 and Tom Dalzell have a proven track record of representing workers across California and Nevada and have achieved some of the highest standards in the industry.
I urge you to continue your pursuit for a collective voice and power at the decision-making table.
I urge CALPINE CEO Jack A. Fusco and his management team to meet with the leadership of IBEW 1245 to work out ground rules for a free and fair election and to desist from using union busters.
The times require us to have the courage to stand up for what we believe and to create a 21st century model of principled leadership that recognizes the value of workers’ collective voice at the table.
Robert B. Reich
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor