Digital Voices-- From UUNet to UnionNet: Collective Bargaining a
nd the Digital Divide (fwd)
larsson at u.washington.edu
Fri Feb 4 12:41:54 PST 2000
If you are not interested in this topic feel free to delete. I think Ford
Motor Company's action has enormous implications for us as public health
practitioners. Imagine what would happen if all APHA members were to band
together to contract to purchase computers and access to the Internet for
$5.00/month in an effort to improve our computer, information management
and Internet skills. It would be a great deal if it were only the
inexpensive access we had.
I cannot imagine paying $5.00/month for Internet access, nor getting a
high quality computer for free from the company I work for. The reasons
why this is such a good deal for Ford are listed below.
Health Services, University of Washington
larsson at u.washington.edu
listowner: PHNUTR-L, PHNURSES, PNWHEALTH, PHSW, HSR-L +
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and
write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. " Alvin Toffler
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2000 16:40:40 -0500
From: "Carvin, Andy" <acarvin at benton.org>
Reply-To: digitaldivide at list.benton.org
To: "'digitaldivide at list.benton.org'" <digitaldivide at list.benton.org>
Subject: Digital Voices-- From UUNet to UnionNet: Collective Bargaining a nd
the Digital Divide
>From UUNet to UnionNet:
Collective Bargaining and the Digital Divide
by Andy Carvin
This morning, Ford Motor Company announced that it would provide its
workforce with free Hewlett-Packard computers and low-cost Internet access.
Over 350,000 Ford employees worldwide would potentially be eligible to take
part in the new service. The program offers an intriguing model for bridging
the digital divide - a model that should be strongly considered for other
"This program keeps Ford Motor Company and our worldwide team at the leading
edge of e-business technology and skills," Ford Chief Executive Officer and
President Jac Nasser said. Company Chairman Bill Ford added, "It is clear
that individuals and companies that want to be successful in the 21st
century will need to be leaders in using the Internet and related
technology. That is what this program is all about."
Instrumental in the deal was the United Auto Workers union (UAW), which
helped negotiate the package for thousands of its Ford-employed union
members. The UAW represents approximately 760,000 active members and nearly
500,000 retired members in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
"This program is a tribute to the collective bargaining process and to our
solid relationship with Ford Motor Company," said Stephen Yokich, president
of the UAW. Union Vice President Ron Gettelfinger went on to say, "Helping
our members stay on top of new technology has always been a UAW priority.
That's why we're pleased to help all of our UAW-Ford members get on line."
The UAW is reportedly holding similar talks with DaimlerChrysler AG.
According to Ford, the program would offer employees a Hewlett-Packard PC
with a 500-Mhz Celeron chip, 64 MB of RAM, a 4.3 GB hard disk, a CD-ROM, a
15-inch monitor, speakers and a modem. This package would have a retail
value of about $1200. Employees would also have the option to upgrade to a
more powerful computer at their own expense. Additionally, Ford employees
would be able to receive Internet access for $5/month through the ISP UUNet,
a unit of MCI/WorldCom, Inc. As part of the package, Ford employees would
have access to a personalized Ford Web portal that would offer a range of
employee news and services, as well as links to the UAW web site.
The Ford announcement is indicative of a fresh approach to bridging the
digital divide: using the collective bargaining powers of a particular
community (in this case, the UAW) to negotiate affordable information
technology for all of its members. The UAW, no stranger to advocating the
rights of its constituents, recognizes the potential for using the Internet
to form an online community network. The Internet would give its members new
opportunities for professional development and personal enrichment. It would
also offer a high-tech solution to mobilize union members at a moment's
Similarly, Ford Motor Company sees the program as an effective way to
improve the technology literacy skills of its employees. As producers of
high-ticket items (automobiles) that can only function in the physical
world, Ford is inherently limited in the types of e-commerce opportunities
that have propelled so many dot-coms to the top of the Wall Street charts.
Yet the recent success of auto-related e-commerce businesses such as
AutoByTel.com and Carmax.com has sent a clear message to the major Detroit
auto makers - cyberspace and selling cars can indeed go hand-in-hand. Ford
can no longer afford to run a 19th century business in a 21st century
economy, and thus must prepare all of its workers to embrace the Internet
both professionally and personally. Connecting every Ford employee to the
Internet will undoubtedly help accomplish this.
In the wake of this announcement, one must consider if the Ford/UAW model
could translate to other professional communities. The model has much
potential among other major national unions - the AFL-CIO, for example,
represents 13 million members, while the International Brotherhood of
Teamsters includes 1.4 million members and more than 400,000 retirees in the
United States and Canada. With a little effort, these unions might
successfully negotiate similar agreements with their respective industrial
employers - or negotiate directly with ISPs and computer manufacturers, if
need be. Millions of working families would benefit from such programs.
So might America's teachers and students. In the last several years our
K-12 education system has invested billions of dollars in Internet
technology with the hope of improving learning opportunities for students.
Yet according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 20% of American
teachers are prepared to integrate technology in their classrooms.
Internet-centered professional development is beginning to make a
difference, but technology literacy does not occur overnight. Teachers, like
so many of us, must practice and fine-tune their technology skills - both in
school and at home.
Can K-12 teachers band together and demand benefits similar to the Ford/UAW
program? In many ways, of course, they already have banded together: The
National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers
represent a collective union membership of over 3.5 million educators.
Teachers unions, like so many other professional unions, have successfully
negotiated low-cost interest rates through the formation of their own credit
unions. They could extend their economic reach to negotiate low-cost
Internet access in a similar fashion.
While it may be difficult to seal a deal in which educators would receive
free computers, it takes no stretch of the imagination to suggest that the
enormous group buying power of teachers could be leveraged to make the costs
of purchasing a computer with Internet access significantly more affordable.
One might even find similar opportunities for students and their families -
the National PTA represents nearly 6.5 million members. Might they too be
able to buy into a similar model?
Only time will tell how successful the Ford/UAW technology program will be,
but from the outset it appears to be a win-win situation: Ford augments the
technology skills of its workers while the workers and their union are
empowered by improved communications. There is no reason for this idea not
to be pushed further and adapted for other communities of interest, whether
it be a longshoreman's union, a teacher's association, the Boy Scouts or the
AARP. The need is already out there. Perhaps the opportunity is now there as
Andy Carvin is Senior Associate at the Benton Foundation and Editor of the
Digital Divide Network (http://www.DigitalDivideNetwork.org). He can be
reached at andy at benton.org.
(c)Benton Foundation, 2000. Redistribution of this email publication - both
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(http://www.benton.org/cpphome.html). Views expressed in this service are
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andy at benton.org
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