business news in context, analysis with attitude

Plenty of comment about last week’s story in Wall Street Journal about how Walmart is working very hard to tell all of its US store managers and department managers that if Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) defeats Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) for the presidency, it may well end up in the passage of legislation that will result in the unionization of Walmart’s stores. While the retailer apparently walks right up to the edge of what is legal and proper, not actually telling people how to vote, the company also reportedly leaves little doubt about where it stands on this issue.

Walmart, by the way, has denied that it has done anything improper and isn’t telling its people how to vote.

According to the story, “Wal-Mart's worries center on a piece of legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which companies say would enable unions to quickly add millions of new members.”

The act “would simplify and speed labor's ability to unionize companies. Currently, companies can demand a secret-ballot election to determine union representation. Those elections often are preceded by months of strident employer and union campaigns.

“Under the proposed legislation, companies could no longer have the right to insist on one secret ballot. Instead, the Free Choice, or ‘card check,’ legislation would let unions form if more than 50% of workers simply sign a card saying they want to join. It is far easier for unions to get workers to sign cards because the organizers can approach workers repeatedly, over a period of weeks or months, until the union garners enough support.”

One MNB user wrote:

The so-called “Freedom of Choice Act” being sponsored by Obama is not only very anti-business; it flies against our democratic free market principals. Unions would be allowed to promise, cajole and scare employees into signing union authorization cards.

Getting 50% plus one would certify union representation for all employees without a secret ballot election. These cards would be allowed to be collected over a 12-month period without employer notification. Once an employee signed the card, it could not be withdrawn by the employee. This process would only be used for union authorization. If employees wanted to decertify their union, this could only be done in a secret ballot election conducted by the NRLB. How is that for basic fairness? As undemocratic as that may sound, it gets even worse. If the union and company don’t reach a contract in the first 90 days, it would then go to binding arbitration. A federally appointed outside arbitrator would be vested with the authority to impose a 2 year contract without even a ratification vote among the employees to approve the terms.

This arbitration would be the antitheses of free collective bargaining. What would be the odds of an arbitrator imposing terms that would be more favorable to the employer? Passage of this legislation would be ultimately guaranteed with all three branches of the federal government controlled by the Democrats. This would have disastrous consequences to the economy, job growth and our ability to compete in the global marketplace. The unions plan to spend up to one billion dollars to make this happen. Do we want the future of our American life and economy in the hands of union leadership? What is their track record of doing what is best for either their members or the company? If anybody needed one reason to vote for the Republican nominee, this would be it!

It defies logic why the Democratic party would support a measure that is inherently undemocratic.

Another MNB user wrote:

It is perfectly correct to accuse some union leaders of being “…more concerned with power than benefits for members…” but disingenuous when you leave out and therefore imply that corporation management cares. One would have to agree that there are a few (very few) corporations that show they care by their wage AND benefit package – COSTCO for one – but not many more in our industry or in this country.

Outsourcing, full time to part time to avoid medical and retirement benefits, reduction in hours, removal of pension plans all have helped to reduce income levels for more Americans than not. Perhaps the pendulum has swung back and the NEED for unions has returned, perhaps not. I am not educated enough in finance to know if unions will be more beneficial to workers than not but let’s not pretend that our corporations will be more beneficial. My guess would be that there would be far more union reps caring more for their members than corporate managers caring about their employees.

I never meant to suggest that management is always on the side of the angels. No way. There are plenty of companies that deserve to face down a tough and demanding union…but there also are plenty of companies that do not. Adopting legislation that would penalize the latter simply does not make sense.

Another MNB user wrote:

It is pretty clear that Wal-Mart doesn’t want to end up like the US Car companies, with their labor costs making them uncompetitive and without the funds to invest in modernization. I’m not sure what the hue and cry is all about. It is appropriate for a company to meet with its management teams and prepare them for possible changes in the operating landscape. Obviously, if Walmart ends up with unionized labor, they will have to cut labor costs through efficiency moves. These managers will have to make it happen. Maybe your neighborhood Walmart will become an Aldi-style warehouse format with fewer shelf stockers... and a greater emphasis on self check out.

MNB user Mel Mann wrote:

It's been my personal observation that companies (regardless of industry) with unions have found ways to deserve them. It's all about treating people the way you want to be treated.

And MNB user Keith Holzmueller wrote:

Wal-Mart has just flushed all of their efforts to moderate their image down the toilet.

MNB took note last week of a USA Today story saying that new research shows that the current economic downturn has caused 37 percent of Americans to reduce spending on their credit cards, and only 10 percent to say that they will increase spending, “as oil and food prices soar, home prices sink and lenders tighten credit.”

Which led me to comment:

Maybe retailers will have to worry less about usurious interchange fees if people spend less using their credit cards.

This trend also opens the door, it seems to me, for retailers to do some creative “cash-only” promotions…trying to get people to use their cards less.

The big question, of course, is whether people will go back to their old/bad habits when the economy rebounds. But at least for the moment, there seems to be a silver lining to the dark cloud of recession.

One MNB user responded:

The credit card companies have a clause in their contracts prohibiting retailers from "disenfranchising" the cards by offering discounts for other forms of payment, including cash. Another part of their evil plan, but you gotta hand it to 'em! Pun intended.

MNB user Rob Johnson had thoughts about another story:

I've enjoyed your views on obesity and how they relate to cost, first airfare cost and now a proposed "fat tax" in the UK. But perhaps the views are being looked at an incorrect bias. I would propose that rates (both air fare and the proposed tax) be raised and then a reduced price for those who are "fit". This creates an incentive to be fit and healthy opposed to a tax to being overweight and unhealthy.

Just (low-calorie) food for thought.

I raved last week about Five Guys Burgers, which was anew discovery for me…but not, apparently, for the legion of fans who wrote in.

One MNB user wrote:

I eat at Five Guys at least once a month. The food is fresh, they cook the food ‘after’ you order it. The small burger is quite large, lots of toppings, they seem to encourage you to add more, and the fries are ‘fresh’. Not sure if the Dulles location offers the ‘free’ peanuts, open boxes of peanuts to enjoy. They do post signs about the peanuts. The one by my house has a sign by the door to the tables outside that says, please enjoy the peanuts inside the store as some people are allergic to peanuts.

In my opinion, this is not Fast Food. They are a franchise operation.

MNB user Mike McCabe wrote:

If you have reason to come that way, there is a Five Guys on Route 25 in Newtown, Ct., maybe a mile north of the Monroe line, almost across from the Stop & Shop. While I can bemoan the lack of commercial development in Newtown, not having any fast food restaurants is OK… keeps my kids from frequenting them. I don’t know that Five Guys is any healthier than a McD’s or BK, but the food is certainly fresher, tastes better and is made to order. We approach it as a family treat and the occasional calories and cholesterol is worth it. Maybe we’ll see you next time you pass through town.

MNB user Stan Barrett wrote:

Welcome to the “Five Guys Nation”. On another note, for anyone who is gluten intolerant, Five Guys uses fresh potatoes fried in peanut oil and keeps the buns off the burger griddle. They don’t guarantee or advertise gluten-free, but it comes close enough for us. The downside is that if you are allergic to peanuts, the oil and in-shell peanuts will keep you away. Indulge and hope that they keep the quality as they expand. As a frequent traveler also, when will some CA airports bring us the In-N-Out burgers—the Ontario airport has one at the exit, but how about past security!

And MNB user Ally Lee wrote:

I have to start off by saying I look forward to your column everyday and especially look forward to your "OffBeat" section. I just wanted to say I'm happy that another Five Guys fan has been created! I, too, do not eat fast food but it's pretty hard to beat their burgers (especially with their cajun fries). I went to school in the DC metro area and was introduced to the chain by friends and your description of the burger was perfect! I'm now working in Manhattan and there is one 4 blocks from me so I have to hold myself back! I'm sure you look forward to more of them in the future!

And finally, one MNB user took note of the fact that in an earlier story, I had commented that I believe that people who do not take care of themselves should be charged higher insurance premiums than those who do, and then went to Five Guys for a cheeseburger with fried onions, tomato and barbecue sauce:

Ok, maybe it's just me but you might be paying those premiums soon yourself 🙂

In my own defense, I would point out that I didn’t order fries and I drank bottled water instead of soda. I’m a firm believer that moderation is always preferable to denial...though I’m having to deny myself a little more than I like lately because of a bad case of tendonitis in my knee that has stopped me from running and boxing.

But thanks for the warning...

KC's View: