Speaking at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Cobb on January 14, Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says Geysers workers will have greater strength with union representation
You don’t need an economics degree to notice there’s a national trend of corporate cost-cutting and downsizing.
But it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of expert help in trying to understand why this country is experiencing such a harmful trend.
Robert Reich is both an economics expert as well as former U.S. Secretary of Labor during the Clinton Administration. In 2008 Time Magazine named him one of the Ten Best Cabinet Members of the century and the Wall Street Journal placed him sixth on its list of the “Most Influential Business Thinkers.”
At first nobody could quite understand why a man who has taught at Harvard and Berkeley would come to the Little Red Schoolhouse in Cobb, a beautiful but isolated hamlet in the mountains of northern California. But Reich quickly made it clear why he was here:
Something is wrong with the American economy. And the Calpine workers who are trying to organize a union are an important part of setting things right.
Compensation for executives is usually tied to the price of the company’s shares, Reich began. This puts growing pressure on companies “to show better and better profits and higher and higher share prices.”
“What that means, inevitably, is that there’s greater and greater pressure to push wages and benefits down to the minimum. The only countervailing pressure you get is when workers stick together through a union,” he said.
Reich made it clear he saw nothing wrong with companies making good money. That’s part of how the American system works.
But “there’s something wrong in this country when workers are seeing their wages and benefits erode and people at the top are doing better and better and better.”
And it’s happening, he said, because workers are losing their ability to demand better treatment, higher wages, a piece of the pie.
“If workers don’t have power, if they don’t have a voice, inevitably their wages and benefits start eroding,” he said. “You lose a little bit of sick leave, you lose a little bit of health care, you lose a little bit of this, you lose a little bit of that, and it’s a slippery slope and it never, ever ends.”
Reich stressed repeatedly that being part of a union was not being anti-Calpine. Unions can actually help companies succeed.
“Every company I’ve been involved with that has recognized their unions and treated their workers and their unions well, actually that company does better,” Reich said.
“Why does that company do better? Because the workers have a voice. Because people feel they are part of something, they don’t feel taken advantage of.”
Empowering workers, Reich suggested, is an important part of economic recovery for the nation.
“One of the reasons we are still in the gravitation pull of the Great Recession is because average working people can simply no longer afford to buy the goods and services and products that America is producing,” he said. “This whole issue ultimately comes down to fairness, justness. Everybody should get part of the pie.”
Unions can play a crucial role in making sure that everyone wins. “And everyone can win,” said Reich, who noted that he was speaking out because he believed in the importance of union representation, and was not receiving a fee from the union or anyone else for his appearance in Cobb.
The labor movement in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s helped assure good wages and decent benefits for a broad swath of the American workforce. How? In Reich’s view, unity was key.
“Unity is strength,” he said. And rediscovering that unity is essential to restoring prosperity for the country and its workers.
“This is important. Spread the word. My thanks to those of you who are standing up for yourselves and others,” Reich said. “And anybody who’s on the fence, I understand, and I urge you to join with your brothers and sisters in getting a union.”
For more information about union representation at the Geysers, visit: