Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

Blue Money

by Paul Petillo
American Reporter Correspondent
Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND -- Drew told me how he had staged his own personal lobbying effort cornering Senator Ron Wyden (OR-D) with his solution for changing poor attitudes among service workers. This employee believed that morale in the grocery check stand, a union protected position in Portland, Oregon, could be fixed with tip jars.

Drew, by all rights, should have given the service that he was paid quite handsomely to provide. Drew92s unhappiness, despite a good pay package, outrageously generous medical benefits, a pension plan, and the recipient of a guaranteed minimum of twenty hours a week was largely unfounded. Guarantees in business are just not made anymore and every customer in line knew that.

So why does Drew feel this way? Although the question begs to be asked, the blame does not fall on Drew, at least not directly. Disgruntled employees can be found in every union protected position. Is there a profitable, capitalistic driven opinion as to how to solve this problem? Yes. And the union holds the solution.

Drew shouldn't be complaining. His position in the store is on the verge of being replaced by a Drachten intersection.
In a northern district in Holland, Hans Monderman has designed a counterintuitive intersection that is devoid of all of the trappings typical when there is a common convergence of cars and people. There are no traffic lights and no curbs. Lighter colored bricks do give pedestrians directions as to where the best place to cross would be, but traffic receives no direction on how to act.

Such technology will make the current cattle shoot that we pass through, goods on the conveyor, checker at the ready to assist in the final leg of the shopping experience unnecessary. Shoppers will eventually engage in shopping that will allow instant billing to accommodate a technologically motivated society. No checkers.
It will be sterile but efficiency will reign and free marketers will hail the checker's disappearance as part of the natural flow of jobs.
Jobs are created by sales people not technology. While Drew does not consider himself to be in sales, the customer remembers the shopping experience as one where the final transaction is often called the final sale. The service he provides is a missed opportunity for the company..
According to Jack Falvey of MakingtheNumbers.com, the solution is simple. Everyone who comes in contact with a customer should know two things: first is to make the numbers, and the second is to be a student of how it is done. The real competitor is a company Falvey refers to as "Status Quo, Inc."
Companies often look at union contracts as fences to progress. Each concession gained by the union, and there have not been many of those in the last two decades, is seen a step backwards.
These contracts do more than guarantee pay and benefits. They also guard the worker from a reality television type dismissal largely by creating a contractual maze. But these safeguards create animosity between the two groups not profits.
While all companies, including grocery stores, go to great lengths to provide the customer convenience, a wide assortment of products, and an ambiance suited to the business, they do little to make the employee that comes in contact with the actual customer embrace this idea. Should the company offer the employee an incentive to want to do better even if the worker is union?
Marc Gunther, Senior Writer at Fortune magazine thinks a happy employee is key. Companies that offer a partnership with their employees will benefit both in profitability and loyalty.
The easiest way to do this, Mr. Gunther suggests is to embrace the employee much the way SouthWest Airlines does - a philosophy that structures the hierarchy as employee, company, and then customer. This non-union company has found that philosophy has raised the employee's obligation to the company.
Driven by the belief that once the customer comes in contact with a happy, motivated, and self directed employee, one that considers each transaction as the most important sale of the day, they are bound to close the deal. And create a repeat customer.
Unions have embraced that thinking since their inception. Employee, company and then shareholders. If non-union workplaces have found success with what is essentially organized labor92s mandate, should the problem be so hard fix?
The union plays a vital and pivotal role in creating a happy employee as well. Current union leadership although has missed the point. Believing that change can only be done in Washington is downright antiquated.
Andrew L. Stern, the president of the 1.6 million Service Employees International Union. is advocating for change and he is willing to back the talk with the walk - taking his membership with him. Mr. Stern has been pushing for significant changes in how the money collected as dues by the AFL-CIO is spent. He believes that the money would be better spent in organizing.
Although he specifically targets retail giant Wal-Mart for unionization, the disconnect that has grown between the leadership in Washington and folks like Mr. Stern and Drew is amazing.
John J. Sweeney, the federation president, thinks his organization is on the right track. While recognizing the rebel yell of Mr. Stern, he is nonplussed, believing he will be elected to another four-year term in spite of his failure to increase membership. Mr. Stern and Mr. Sweeney differ on how to "restore the strength of the workers in this country." One thing is certain; Washington is not the battlefield.
Both men should realize the threat for workers in this economy is the growth in technology. That growth is beginning to displace people like Drew as companies eyeball a Monderman-like society, free-flowing enterprise that has no boundaries and unfortunately, no Drew. Technology is leaving high school educated - and now even some who have several years of college - behind to struggle in a world that is not as well paying as the one they work in now.
Significant change needs to take place among all three groups. Unions need to lobby for partnerships that will endure. Companies need to embrace the employee as a member of the company, more important than the shareholder. And employees like Drew need to realize, every sale is more than a job created. It is a job saved.

Paul Petillo's latest book is "Building Wealth in a Paycheck-to-Paycheck World" (McGraw-Hill). He is the managing editor of BlueCollarDollar.com, a common sense approach to money.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter