Fall 2015

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13 FALL 2015 / CINEMONTAGE by Rob Callahan P icture a box. Make it nondescript, unadorned. Its only remarkable feature is a slot cut into its top. Imagine that this box has one sole purpose: It exists so that you, and others, might write what you would like on pieces of paper, and then deposit those pieces of paper in the slot. Now decide: Do you want it to be a suggestion box or a ballot box? In early October of this year, a group of employees at Leftfield Entertainment, a large reality television production company in New York, faced such a choice, set more or less explicitly in just such terms. And, only a few weeks earlier, the employees of Deluxe Culver City, an LA- area post-production facility, made effectively the same choice themselves, albeit not as explicitly framed. Both of these choices took place in the context of union certification elections conduct- ed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Leftfield employees were writers/producers who had petitioned the NLRB to conduct an elec- tion in which they could certify the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) as their union. Not long after they filed their petition with the Board, their management e-mailed a rambling, anti-union screed to the writers/producers on company staff. Within the jumble of the e-mail's assorted arguments and aspersions was a curious reminder: Management wanted to call everyone's attention to the fact that the company had recently installed a suggestion box. The message implied that elections and nego- tiations were rendered extraneous by the elegant simplicity of a box into which employees could easily deposit notes to their bosses. What need for the ponderous mechanics of collective bargaining when there's already a mechanism for the submission of one's ideas to management's thoughtful consider- ation? Like this production company, almost every non-union employer runs an anti-union campaign when it discovers that its employees intend to orga- nize. Virtually all such campaigns include boasts of the employer's "open door policy," inviting employ- ees to discuss their concerns directly and individu- ally with management — without the intrusive intervention of outsiders from the union. Indeed, Deluxe Culver City made a substan- tively similar argument to members of its staff when they sought to organize. In one of the company's an- ti-union e-mails to the facility's employees, it wrote, "We pride ourselves in having a direct relationship with our employees and believe this is central to our success as a company. Hav- ing a union or third-party bargaining agent…would change the partnership we have with our employees." Every employer fighting unionization makes the case that employees' interests are best served when they dis- cuss their concerns with the employer individually and directly, through the "open door." The claim in this one e-mail from the production company was really no dif- ferent. Only, in this instance, the "open door" had narrowed to the width of a slot. Unwittingly, perhaps, Leftfield's e-mail laid out a useful set of metonyms to illustrate the decision before the employees — the same decision facing all non-union employees contemplating collective bargaining. Do they opt for the suggestion box or for the ballot box? If employees accept the suggestion box as their ultimate means of participating in workplace decision-making, they effectively relegate them- selves to the role of supplicants, empowered only to recommend changes to the terms of their employ- ment. Perhaps management will honestly consider the ideas submitted to them, or perhaps they will ignore all proposals, thus rendering the suggestion box no more effective than a wishing well. In either scenario, though, the separation of roles is clear: Employees suggest; management decides. If, on the other hand, employees choose the ballot box, they assert their right to democracy on the job, insisting upon both a voice and a vote in decisions shaping their working lives. Democratic participation in decision-making is perhaps the most fundamental distinction between organized and non-union workplaces. When I talk to post-production employees about the advantages of working union jobs, most often I hear them ex- DON'T GET BOXED IN GET TING ORGANIZED

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