I. Summary of Facts
American Dream is a documentary film American dream directed by Barbara Kopple and co-directed by Cathy Caplan, Thomas Haneke, and Lawrence Silk. It is about a crippling strike that occurred in Minnesota meat-packing company – Hormel & Company.
The local union, P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, is led by a activist president, Jim Guyette, and a freelance consultant, Ray Rogers.
Without the aid of their parent union, International Food and Commercial Workers Union, the local union (P-9) is forced to go on strike alone to make their voices heard. However, their struggles were effectively quashed by the Hormel management and the UFCW international union.
American Dream provides footages of the meetings conducted by the union, press releases by union and Hormel management, news broadcasts, and interviews with people involved on both sides of the issue.
1. Is there basis for Hormel’s move to cut the hourly wage from $10.69 to $8.25 and cut benefits by 30 percent despite posting a net profit of $30 million.?
2. What is the local union’s reaction to the cut and how did they handle the situation?
3. How did the international union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, handle the situation?
1. Hormel’s decision to impose salary and benefits cuts on workers was due to the management’s desire to maximize profits even at the cost of their workers’ wage. The lower wage of $8.25 was not below the minimum wage at that time but workers felt slighted by the decision.
2. The workers at Hormel were naturally incensed of the cut. They believed that if Hormel can cut their wages while incurring a profit, how much more if they incur a loss?
The necessity of forming a union and staging a strike was based on this premise. Hormel workers get so fired up by their leaders – Guyette and Rogers – assertion that they did not want any compromise. They wanted the $10.69 an hour or nothing. This, of course, put them in a very weak position because the only way for collective bargaining to succeed was to compromise. Hormel then locked out workers and hire new workers to replace the strikers. The International Union based in Washington declared the local strike as illegal and negotiated with Hormel.
The outcome of the story seemed to leave a few things unresolved. The International Union and Hormel did reach a compromise but the succeeding turn of events did not seem to justify the compromise agreement.
Right after Hormel negotiated a compromise wage, it closed half of its plant down and rented the place to another meatpacking company that paid its workers an even lower rate of only $6.50 an hour.
A key issue that is given prominence in the film “American Dream” is legal basis for employers who hire permanent replacements while their workers are in a legal strike. Some companies would rather hire replacements pay a fine for violation of labor laws rather than compromise with striking workers. With rising tide of unemployment, people are only too willing to take someone else’s job.
The union headed by Guyette hired strike consultant Rogers. They were very resolved in advancing their cause. But Lewie Anderson, who was part of the international union, believes that their strategy is “doomed.” The international union did not lend support to their brothers at P-9. As the strike drags on, it was easy to see that Anderson’s assessment of the situation proves to be right. But then, the International Union did support the Hormel management. The story shows hierarchical union structures and business unionism.
The real-life account provide actual examples on the labor relations process as detailed in The Labor Relations Process, 9th Edition by Holley, et al. particularly on the process of arriving at labor agreements and about labor issues. Chapter 9 Resolving Negotiation (Interest) Disputes and the Use of Economic Pressure is clearly shown in the movie. The management obviously used economic pressure to resolve the said dispute to their favor with the aid of the International Union.
The worker-strikers in Minnesota probably felt so alone in the cause they were fighting when they sought the support of fellow Hormel workers at other factories. The squirmishes among union members, both at the national and local levels, provide an interesting facet to the story. The International Union certainly has some vested interest in the strike. They were collaborating with Hormel to sabotage the efforts of the local chapter P-9 so that other local unions would not follow this perceived dissidents.
As the strike drags on and winter sets in, people have to decide between supporting the union or putting food on their tables. Hormel obviously has the upperhand because they can easily hire people to replace those who are on strike. That is why, it was easy for the management to play their strengths.
Some may see this story as an object failure for unions. Others, may perceive as an indication of a union system. Either way, if offers an insight into the challenges labor unions face.
“American Dream (film).” Wikipedia.com. 2009. Accessed 26 May 2009
Ebert, Roger. “American Dream.” Roger Ebert.com. 1992. Accessed 26 May 2009
Holley, William; Jennings, Kenneth and Wolters, Roger. The Labor Relations Process, 9th
Edition . South Western College Publishing, 2008.