U.S. Workers Outraged Over Outsourcing
Misses The Message; Unions Strike Over Job Loss
media portrayed a telecommunications strike spanning 13 states as an issue of
concerns over health care and job security. How ever, union representatives and
workers told AFP that the outsourcing of American jobs to other countries was
at the center of their grievance.
The strike, involving 100,000 SBC communications
workers, started on May 21 in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arkansas,
Illinois, Connecticut, Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, California and
Since then, a tentative contract settlement has
been reached, and the details are being worked out. Ballots will go out to
union members around June 11, with a proposed pact to be ratified by a vote of
union members in late June. The results are expected to be announced on July 1.
During the strike, signs carried by some of the
strikers specified “outsourcing” as a key concern, along with worries about
preserving health care benefits in the face of what union representatives
called “substantial cost-shifting demands by SBC management.”
In contrast, reporting of the strike by CBS radio,
as well as other major broadcast outlets and elements of the print media, left
the average reader/listener with the impression that it was a typical gripe
about health benefits and pay. Even though there were some brief references to
job security and outsourcing, there was little elaboration and overall coverage
missed the most important issue.
But in these jittery times—when a University of
Berkeley study predicts that some 12 million hi-tech, manufacturing and other
types of U.S. jobs will go overseas by 2015—the union’s concerns were outside
the context the big media regularly uses to falsely frame issues of this kind.
Brian K. Strawser of Buchanan, Mich., president of
Local 4032 of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), told AFP that the
dominant media was ignoring workers’ concerns about their jobs being eliminated
via “outsourcing” to overseas cheap-labor havens.
“We were kind of upset about that,” said Strawser,
adding that 29,000 unionized SBC jobs have been eliminated over the last three
years. Many of them have been outsourced to India and the Philippines. By his
reckoning, 8 out of 10 technical-support calls for digital subscriber lines, a
high-speed Internet connection, on SBC’s phone lines are now answered in India.
SECOND LARGEST TELECOM
SBC owns the lines used by Sprint, MCI and many
other phone-service providers. As the second-largest telecom company in the
United States, it earned $8.5 billion in profits last year. Its board of
directors was reportedly so pleased that top executives such as CEO Ed Whitacre
were given huge pay increases. His salary increased by 93 percent and his 2003
compensation was a tidy $19.3 million.
Union employees at SBC say they want guarantees of
upward mobility. A May 19 CWA news release noted that CWA members were seeking
access to new-growth jobs in Internet data services and installation of wi-fi
(wireless Internet) hot spots, voice over the Internet, DSL broadband and other
“Virtually all of this SBC work, amounting to
thousands of jobs, is being outsourced, including going offshore to countries
such as India and the Philippines,” warned the news release.
“What does leadership mean for one of America’s
largest companies?” the union asked during the strike. “Does it mean working to
keep American jobs or contracting customer service out to India? Does it mean
working with us to resolve the national health care crisis or cutting health
care for employees and retirees? Isn’t it time someone in corporate America
stood by their workers?”
Writer Tom Piatak believes the idea of corporate
America standing by its workers is in short supply.
Writing in the journal, Chronicles, Piatak noted
that a Hewlett-Packard CEO had declared, “there is no job that is America’s
God-given right anymore.”
Piatak thinks the CEO’s “blunt declaration that
patriotism has no place in the boardroom,” perfectly captures the logic behind
Meanwhile, Greg Mankiw, a top Bush administration
economic advisor, claims outsourcing “is just another way of doing
international trade” that will supposedly help the economy “in the long run.”
But while the administration’s response has been
to denounce critics of outsourcing as “economic isolationists,” a recent Gallup
Poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans were concerned that they, or a
relative or friend, may lose a job to outsourcing. The same poll showed that 85
percent believed a candidate’s position on outsourcing would be important in
how they choose to vote in the November election.
Retired GM executive and author, Gus Stelzer, who
has studied trade and job issues for decades, says the lack of sufficient
tariffs on imports from low-wage, virtual slave-labor nations—combined with the
enormous tax and regulatory burdens, or domestic “tariffs,” that all levels of
government impose on the American private sector—is taking its toll on
America’s economic fabric. Companies such as SBC often succumb to the
temptations inherent in such a system, utilizing the ultra-low wages paid to
overseas workers to slash costs and reap enormous profits.
Stelzer argues that tariffs are a necessary form
of taxation that could provide needed revenue to the federal government, while
creating leeway for the government to lower domestic taxes and regulations,
which would make America much more business-friendly for firms of all
sizes—benefiting both white collar and blue collar workers.
Interestingly, a May 24 CWA news release announced
that an U.S. trade panel gave final clearance on May 14 for anti-dumping duties
on imports of color televisions from the People’s Republic of China. H
That was confirmed by Mike Bindas, president of
the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and
Furniture Workers-Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA).
The IUE-CWA is the industrial division of the
Communication Workers of America.
Bindas, speaking on behalf of IUE-CWA, one of
three petitioners in a trade case, filed in May 2003, stated the following:
“We are very pleased with the outcome. This
decision will benefit the hundreds of U.S. workers whose jobs are threatened by
the flood of unfair imports into our country.”
The petition had alleged that color TV imports
from China had been sold in the United States at prices below what it would
have cost to produce them in this country.
The IBEW and Five Rivers Electronics Innovations
LLC in Greenville, Tenn., had joined IUE-CWA in filing the petition with the
Department of Commerce and a body called the International Trade Commission.
Central to their complaint was an import trend
between 2001 and 2003, when TV imports from China reportedly surged from 56,000
units to 1.8 million units, a staggering 3,000 percent increase.
IUE-CWA, aside from representing SBC workers, also
represents hundreds of workers producing color TVs in the United States, and thousands
more who produce components and materials used in TV production.