Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Long Dark Moon

A few days ago I posted an unusual story about a group of Wal-Mart associates in Quebec who voted to form a union, and who will now be jobless come May 2005 when their store will be shut down for good. Quebec, it seems, has a bit of history in this regard. In 1997 a McDonald's outside of Montreal had the privilege of becoming the only unionized McDonald's in North America. The owners of the franchise hired a team of lawyers to postpone the process whereby the workers would be certified as an official union. The Teamsters stepped in and argued that the owners were stalling in hopes that employee turnover would process a new batch of workers who didn't care to unionize (the fast food industry has a 300 to 400 percent yearly turnover rate).

Even after a full twelve months, a majority of workers still supported the union. A hearing was finally scheduled for March of 1998. About a month before the certification, the franchise owners shut the restaurant down. They gave their workers one day's notice. On the very next day they closed their doors. The owners claimed the store was losing money, even though it had been in operation for 17 years. The chain's failure rate in Canada is 1 out of every 300. It seems downright suspicious that the 1 in 300 happened to be a store on its way towards union certification.

And it wasn't an isolated incident. The same thing happened in Lansing, Michigan some 25 years prior, when a store heading for unionization was shut down, its workers fired, and later blacklisted from hiring on at a brand-new McDonald's that opened just down the block. McDonald's has a team of executives on hand that fly out to stores considering union certification at a moment's notice. For the most part, they hold informal "rap sessions" where they listen to employee criticism free of the fear of retribution from the store's owner or managers. It works most of the time. If it doesn't, stores simply close.


On a totally different note, I had the day off work today and did absolutely nothing until after dinner, when I spent a couple of hours at the local Barnes and Noble, reading books but not buying them (Damn the man!). It wasn't until a few minutes in that I realized I was in the midst of Valentine's Day. For a second, I felt utterly pathetic, in my cozy B&N poofy-chair, sipping my skim mocha-latte. But there was solidarity in the store, of a reassuring tone, as a handful of others scattered across the store flipped through books that didn't yet belong to them, lonely but never alone, tapping their feet to what might have been the latest Lisa Loeb lp, or something equally inoffensive to our (capital "S") Single-yet-strangely-satisfied ears.

Then we burnt the place to ground.

That was true all except for that last part. And the part about the skim latte. I'm pretty sure it was 2%.


And finally, recent conversations with Liz Swart have led to a new name for my car. Liz lives in Colorado Springs these days, the hometown of Focus on the Family Ministries. In honor of its illustrious founder, I've decided to re-christen my car "Dobson." He seems satisfied with the new moniker (and subsequent gender change as well). The old name is now long forgotten, by both of us. Dobson's a conservative car, a small Saturn, with small-town American values like good gas mileage and an anti-bling exterior. He's dependable and family friendly, knowing that sparing the rod can spoil the child. (Although it should be noted that he will have no hand in raising my future children; If he does last that long, he will simply find contentment shuttling them to and fro soccer practice and/or turntable lessons.) I will forward all congrats to Dobson on his new Extreme Makeover: Auto Edition that friends and family may have for him.

Thanks to Liz, MTV and FOTF for name-pimping my ride. Now here's a crappy video by Simple Plan.

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