This Year I’m Thankful for the Revolt Against Two-Tier Hiring Practices

It’s inspiring to see members in revolt against two-tier at the farm equipment maker John DeereThe hospital chain Kaiser PermanenteThe cereal maker Kellogg’s, and the parcel giant UPS.

Two-tier isn’t just an unfair idea — it’s also a union-killer.

In case your employer hasn’t acquainted you with this repugnant policy, a two-tier system means that everyone hired after today has it worse than everyone hired before today — whether it’s lower pay, weaker benefits, no pension, or unlimited forced overtime.

Typically it’s sold as an alternative to taking concessions for yourself; you agree to pass them on to the “unborn.”

Unborn Nonplussed

For the bottom tier, it’s obvious why this arrangement sucks. We all talk about encouraging the next generation of union activists, but an effective way to alienate younger workers is to sell them out before they’re even hired.

UPS delivery drivers hired since 2018 are “furious,” said Eugene Braswell, a longtime UPS driver from New York City who has talked with many while campaigning for the Teamsters United slate.

“They all came in with the understanding they were going to be driving at UPS, not a second-class citizen,” he said. “When you’re talking to the young ones, they say, ‘I don’t have any of these rights, so why do I pay union dues? The union seems to only take care of the 300s [the regular package car drivers]. They don’t care about us.’

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re telling them, ‘We voted against the contract.’ We did our part — we voted it down, we didn’t want it. It was the ultimate betrayal from Hoffa.”

Two-tier isn’t such a great deal for those in the top tier either. You’re inviting in a cheaper replacement to do your same job, alongside you, for less. This could lead to some interesting things. You might as easily set yourself a target.

There is no better time than the present

Many union employers like the Postal Service, Big 3 automakers and higher education faculties all have two-tier (or more).).

It’s the fallout of a concessionary era — employers squeezing every ounce of leverage Recessions and threats to fly to greener pastures. Solid resistance was not a common response from the unions.

But with organizing, it’s possible to overturn two-tier even once it has a foothold.

In 2016, we reported on how workers at a truck plant in Kendallville, Indiana. got two-tier deleted from their contract. They didn’t even have to go on strike to do it — but they did have to show they were Ready to strike, even going so far as hauling barrels to work, just for the record.

The current labor shortage This is a good time to launch or ramp up campaigns against these divisions. Employers are having a hard time with retention and hiring. Even employers may be seeing the negative effects of treating new hires as dirt.

The Kids Are OK

Braswell discovered that allowing two-tier unions is a surefire way of souring younger workers. Fighting to abolish the tiers is a great strategy to engage them.

“I thought it would be hard to get them involved [in the Teamsters United campaign],” he said. “But I found when we were talking about the contract and trying to vote these people out, a lot of them said, ‘My ballot is already in.’

“This is step one of the plan. Step two is to have them at the negotiating table and make sure they do it.”

Jonah Furman contributed reporting.

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