The Electrical Worker online
March 2015

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Building Bridges? Or Slamming Doors?

What makes a successful company? Wall Street traders have their answer: rising stock prices. But this attitude, which increasingly dominates the discourse in board rooms across America, comes at a cost for most Americans.

As Washington Post business reporter Steven Pearlstein put it in a recent column, almost everything wrong with today's economy — income inequality, lack of good jobs and cutbacks to training and research — is the result of what he calls "the cult of the stockholder."

For some on Wall Street, employees aren't a vital ingredient in a company's success. They are a burdensome cost that needs to be trimmed to boost shareholder return.

Right now, this ideology is on full display at two IBEW-represented companies. In New England, nearly 2,000 workers are entering their fifth month on strike at FairPoint Communications. The reason: the company's refusal to bargain or back off its draconian demands — demands that would slash wages, retirement benefits and transfer skilled jobs to out-of-state contractors.

On the other side of the country, utility Southern California Edison is demanding rollbacks in everything from overtime rules to sick time. This is a company where its top executives cashed in more than $90 million in Edison stock last year.

For the more than 4,000 IBEW members who have stood by this company, who put their lives on the line every day to make it work, management's confrontational attitude has come as a shock.

What Wall Street has forgotten — and what some of America's most successful business leaders throughout history knew — is that workers aren't just another commodity to be bought, sold and traded. They are a company's lifeblood.

As a union, we often disagree with management. But at companies like Southern California Edison, we could traditionally work out these disputes with mutually beneficial solutions. That's what collective bargaining is all about. It's an attitude that breeds both productivity and loyalty.

The my-way-or-the-highway approach to collective bargaining on display in California and New England — an approach that treats employees as a problem, not an investment — breeds resentment and contention.

It might impress some hedge fund manager in lower Manhattan — but it's poison to the long-term health of both business and the wider economy.

We are committed to building bridges and maintain good working relationships across the table. It's time CEOs stop listening to Wall Street and start talking to their employees.


Also: Chilia: Tree Trimmers Rise Up Read Chilia's Column

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President