by Paul Petillo
American Reporter Correspondent
Printable version of this story
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
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.