Leaving aside the question of whether a soda tax would have been a good idea, it was interesting to see Harold Honickman, owner of Pepsi and Canada Dry bottling operations in New Jersey that provide nearly 20 percent of the city's soft drinks, playing so well with Danny Grace, business manager for Teamsters Local 830, in the political theater that was City Council last Thursday.
In 2005, Honickman brought in replacement drivers and warehouse workers and a security force, allowing him to run his plants at 75 percent capacity while letting the Teamsters hang out on the picket line for a month.
After Mayor Nutter's attempt last year to pass a soda tax, Honickman, his wife Lynne and their children, along with Teamsters, significantly upped their donations to City Council candidates. You can read my colleague Jeff Shield's excellent Philadelphia Inquirer story about the political spending that happened in advance of last Thursday's vote.
Here's my comment: For all his money, Honickman probably would have been unable to stop that tax on his own. He needed the Teamsters to show up en masse, to contribute en masse and to provide the kind of visual reminder that may have proved persuasive in City Council. Both the Teamsters and the Honickmans understood that their futures are linked and both were able to cooperate. I've seen it over and over again when it comes to these kinds of issues -- an example that I can remember was joint testimony by the United Steel Workers and owners of steel pipe manufacturing companies. Their issue was competition from China.
If labor and management can see their interests as aligned in these kinds of situations, why can't they see it it other situations? Why does there have to be so much animosity? If management would turn their attention to the problems at hand -- the important stresses and decisions that they must handle to be competitive and to understand market dynamics, they wouldn't have so much time to be fighting with their own workers. And if the unions weren't so afraid that managers were looking to extract ever more from their workers' pay checks, they'd be able to willing to put more attention into improving productivity and quality.
To me, all this rancor is counter-productive at a time when America needs to work. Honickman, who has shown himself to be tough bargainer, and the Teamsters, who had enough strength to hang out on strike for a month, were able to come together when their business was threatened. That's the attitude everyone needs to take all the time -- less inside bickering and more standing side by side against whatever forces threaten livelihoods.