Sandwich: Baloney from Management

By Michael Kaufman

A young woman who works at a nearby A&P supermarket told me recently about an interaction with the store manager. The manager approached her with a smile on his face and congratulated her for all the good work she has done since starting her job there. Then he handed her a reward—a piece of paper telling her she is eligible for a raffle drawing among those similarly commended. The prize: a free sandwich from the store’s deli department.

“I didn’t know how to react,” she said. She was thankful her work had been noticed and acknowledged by management. But if all they are giving is a sandwich from the store’s own deli department, she thought it seemed awfully cheap of them. Why not give a sandwich to all the commended workers? She hastened to add that she likes the sandwiches made by her colleagues in the deli department even though they are not on the same level as, say, Katz’s or Carnegie in New York. But the point was moot. Someone else won the sandwich.

“I’d have preferred to have gotten a raise,” she said. She has been working at minimum wage since starting the job but salaries are currently frozen and there is nothing her union can do about it because A&P is in bankruptcy and it was all it could do to hold on to at least some of the healthcare and retirement benefits previously won in contract negotiations. She is among the seven percent of workers in the private sector in the United States who belong to a union. Among them are many who work for companies that have also filed for bankruptcy and received court permission to make drastic cuts, such as American Airlines.

“My union, the Comunications Workers of America (CWA), is organizing 10,000 passenger service workers at American Airlines,” says Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey director of the CWA. “The airline is refusing to provide the National Mediation Board with an employee list, flat-out defying the law. And they’ve gotten a Bush-appointed judge to block the election, at least temporarily.”

Before the government bailout of General Motors, tens of thousands of retired GM workers lost their benefits; some lost their homes as a result. Yet the bailout neglected to include restoration of benefits for retirees, and the United Auto Workers union had to make numerous concessions in contract negotiations with GM. These examples and many others illustrate the bogusness of the notion that “big labor” is on equal footing with corporate wealth in their respective ability to fund political campaigns as allowed by the infamous Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In coming days we will be hearing and reading the latest news about negotiations between Verizon management and the CWA. According to Rosenstein, Verizon has made $25-billion in profits over the past five years. Its top five executives are paid in excess of $25 million per year. Company officials will rely on the corporate media (in which they advertise heavily) to convey their message that the employees have “outrageous” salaries and benefits (particularly healthcare and retirement benefits) that are “out of line” with industry norms (i.e., wages and benefits of non-unionized workers at competing companies).

Management hopes that people who work under less desirable conditions will be unsympathetic to the Verizon employees and that public opinion will help force the union to cave. They know that widespread hostility and resentment has already been created against public employees. “In Wisconsin, the Koch brothers outspent us by $25 million and Scott Walker did not get recalled,” notes Rosenstein, who describes Verizon as “a company that continues to rake in mega-profits while demanding an end to worker pensions.”

Rosenstein thinks labor organizers today should think of themselves as part of a “resistance movement” against the corporate power that threatens an end to democracy in the U.S.. She knows that won’t “turn around the corporate onslaught” and it will not deter the “corporate plan to deprive our movement of resources so that we can’t fight, or the repression of voting rights, or all the other depressing developments.

“Our enemy is big, rich, and bad,” she acknowledges. “But we can go at it like David goes after Goliath. Not like ‘big labor’ taking on ‘big corporate’ but like resistance fighters slinging a shot between their eyes.”

My neighbor up the hill, a CWA member who works for Verizon, has a sign on his lawn that says “Support a fair contract for Verizon workers.” It includes a powerful depiction of a handful of Verizon executives labeled the “one percent” standing above a large group of employees, the “99 percent.” Down the hill lives a young woman who works at the A&P and wishes him well. She knows a victory for the Verizon workers might hasten the day she’ll get a raise instead of a chance to win a sandwich.

Michael can be reached at

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4 Responses to “Sandwich: Baloney from Management”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    Bravo! many americans do not realize the real “agenda” of corporate america and the right wing is to squash worker rights and to retreat on the benefits that labor made over the past decades. i’ve argued with a friend who is anti union reminding her that her high-paying IBM job was a direct result of her company wanting to keep out unions. unions lifted the boats for all workers. this election is be for whom the bell tolls.

  2. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Thanks, Jo. I just read a review of “Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers” by Ellen E. Schultz, an award- winning investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal. It looks like a great read and it also might help change your friend’s thinking on the subject. Here’s a quote from the review: “With case studies involving some of the biggest names in corporate America, Schultz describes the elaborate schemes by which employers have gutted workers’ pension plans and retiree health care to finance downsizings, boost corporate profits and, in many cases, pay for the obscenely generous benefits of top managers and executives.”

  3. Jim Gilbert Says:

    I remember when a good Union job was the end result of a principled ambition and honoring a picket line was a sacred trust. That was a time when American workers enjoyed a higher standard of living when compared to any other industrialized country. This status came as the result of constant struggle until racism and big money gained a strong foothold. In their absolute greed for profit, the United States corporate thugs moved much of their industry to “underdeveloped” countries without labor laws. Although many American workers were affected by this process, it was particularly devastating to inner-city African-American communities. During a twenty five year period alone starting in the 1960’s inner-city unemployment almost quadrupled with corresponding increase in poverty, homelessness, addiction, and crime. Then along came Ronald Reagan who convinced many white workers to vote against their interests. He began his 1980 campaign in a Mississippi town noted for killing civil rights workers and other Ku Klux Klan activity. He spoke to the white citizens about “welfare queens”, inner-city crime, and states rights – all racially charged buzz words. The Republicans subsequently took the White House and in the aftermath union membership declined, wages stagnated, and the rich got richer. Your message is a refreshing reminder of our potential through resistance. Thanks Mike

  4. Michael Kaufman Says:

    It is amazing how Reagan is glorified today. Even President Obama makes positive references to him from time to time. The most frightening thing about it is that many of his policies would be seen as “too liberal” by the far-right wackos now running the show in the GOP.

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