Thursday, March 21, 2013

Should Colleges Train Scabs

ScabOne of my favorite bloggers on higher education, Dean Dad at Confessions of a Community College Dean, asks: Should a public college partner with a private company to train scabs?  I'd encourage Workplace Prof Blog posts to read the entire post and to comment over at Dean Dad's blog.

Anya Kamenetz has a thought-provoking piece about the Milwaukee Area Technical College’s agreement to run welding programs for Caterpillar.  Caterpillar is expecting a strike, so it wants the local technical college to train its managers and non-unit staff to be able to do union jobs if its welders walk off the job. MATC is responding to employer need, offering training in an employable skill and thereby supporting the local economy.  Now the Steelworkers’ union is petitioning MATC to refrain from what it considers pre-emptive strikebusting.  It’s an ugly, sticky issue. 

There’s nothing objectionable about a technical college teaching welding.  It has done that for years, and I assume has done it well.  And there’s nothing unusual about a college contracting with specific private employers to run classes or training workshops for its employees.  Community colleges have done that for decades.  * * *

In this case, the union is essentially asking the college to take a moral position that training these workers in this skill at this time is wrong.  * * *  [T]hinking through the consequences of taking a self-consciously moral position gets complicated quickly.  Suppose MATC told Caterpillar to go away.  The governor of Wisconsin isn’t known for being particularly union-friendly; I can imagine severe political (and therefore budgetary) consequences for the college far beyond the loss of the contract.  Something like that is going on now in Michigan, where some public colleges are trying to sign long-term contracts with unions to beat the “right to work” deadline, and legislators are threatening budgetary retaliation. * * *

Wise and worldly readers, what would you do?  If you ran MATC, would you honor the union request, or would you run the program?


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I'd try to honor the request but I'd expect stiff resistance from my board. It might help to walk them through the ally doctrine.

Posted by: Michael Duff | Mar 22, 2013 9:13:25 AM

Would the ally doctrine really apply? It strikes me there may be a difference between educating replacement workers and serving as a temporary agency?

Posted by: Nick Ohanesian | Mar 24, 2013 6:21:57 PM

You are kidding, right? You do realize that Catepillar's plan involves the completely lawful replacement of workers who have chosen to use an economic weapon (withholding their work) in an attempt to get their way at the bargaining table. If the union is correct, the strike will have its intended effect and Catepillar will come around, but they can't have it both ways (we get to use economic weapons, but you don't get to respond in kind). The Steelworkers are certainly welcome to pressure MATC just like they will surely pressure the replacements themselves as they walk in the door. But in my view, it would be ludicrous for MATC to do anything other than offer the training, and if they refused, they would deserve any blow-back they received. (Doesn't the public that they serve include the unemployed welder who would love the opportunity to earn the wages that the Cat workers are striking over?) Remember, this question doesn't even implicate the issue of permanent replacements, or assume any ULPs were committed by the employer; it simply posits that academics, being good liberals, should refuse to do their jobs if it might indirectly benefit a company over a union. Ridiculous.

Posted by: Eugene Debbs | Mar 25, 2013 3:01:10 PM

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