Tales of How Big Corporations Are Screwing Americans Over
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But he's not content to let most manufacturing move overseas. Greenhouse sees the new emphasis on green jobs as an opportunity to rebuild the moribund U.S. manufacturing sector, pointing to the Spanish wind energy company Gamesa, which is building wind turbines in a formerly shuttered U.S. Steel plant in Bucks County, Pa.
"We as a nation have to get serious about rebuilding our manufacturing sector, because it provides a lot of good middle-class jobs with good wages and good benefits," he declares. Even though two of Detroit's Big Three are freshly emerged from bankruptcy, he hopes that in the next three to seven years domestic automakers will have narrowed the Japanese lead in hybrid car technology.
He also applauds the current administration's renewed focus on enforcement.
"[Labor Secretary] Hilda Solis and the new head of the Wage and Hour Division [Administrator-designate Lorelei Boylan] are very serious about laws being enforced. I think OSHA will become much more serious about enforcement. We've had a real 25-, 28-year era of declining regulation under Reagan, the two Bushes and President Clinton, and I think we'll see more regulation, especially because we see how busted the system is in so many ways right now."
In addition to stricter enforcement, Greenhouse favors increasing fines for workplace violations. "Many employers see very little reason not to break the law, because their chances of getting caught are very small and the penalties are minimal. That's why ... you need higher penalties." (In his book, Greenhouse notes the federal fine for falsifying wage documents is a "puny" $1,000.)
Greenhouse believes that unions can improve the lives of workers, especially those in low-wage industries; he cites Service Employees International Union's drive to organize 5,000 Houston janitors and the success of the Culinary Workers union in Las Vegas in elevating legions of dishwashers, chambermaids and busboys into the middle class.
But he forecasts difficulty for organized labor in accomplishing one of its primary legislative goals: passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, the so-called card-check law that would make it easier for unions to organize workplaces by eliminating the need for a secret-ballot vote.
"Even top Democrats acknowledge that there aren't the 60 [Senate] votes to enact that legislation as written," Greenhouse says. "[Iowa Democratic Representative] Tom Harkin is holding intense discussions with many Senate Democrats to figure out what changes or compromises are needed to reach 60. One thing being discussed is to replace card check with fast elections -- another idea is to have workers mail in signed cards, the way voters can vote by mail. The idea is that would make it very hard for union organizers to pressure workers to sign pro-union cards."
Still Lean, Less Mean?
The news from the cubicles, assembly lines and retail aisles isn't all bad.
In his book, Greenhouse profiles several successful companies with benevolent workplace policies. Diverse employers like accounting firm Ernst & Young, shoemaker Timberland and membership warehouse Costco offer employee benefits such as flexible schedules, paid family leave and above-market wages -- resulting in low turnover and generally sterling corporate reputations.
"A question that's often asked of me is, 'If Costco, [activewear maker] Patagonia and Ernst & Young are doing so well by treating their workers well, why doesn't everyone do that?' And I say companies have a lot to learn from the Costcos and the Patagonias, but some feel that the low-road route is best for them."
He recognizes the difficulties public companies face.
"Wall Street investment banks will be somewhat humbled by this crisis, but I still think there may well be just as much pressure as before on companies from Wall Street for maximum profits. ... With the rise of the institutional investor, when companies do not perform well on their profits or stock price, a lot of pressure is brought to bear, more than in other decades, to get profits up, and that often translates into an order to cut costs," frequently resulting in outsourcing and layoffs.