Jim Grossfeld

Jim Grossfeld is a writer living a Bethesda, Maryland.

Recent Articles

Faith in Action

A review of Mark Shriver's new book about the life of his father, progressive hero Sargent Shriver.

Tributes to politicos written by their children don’t have a special place in literary hell, but they probably deserve one. Most are warm and fuzzy reminisces from kids who seem to know little more about their fathers—and it almost always is fathers—than their dads’ press secretaries. And, like the handiwork of a press secretary, their books often present a version of events so thin and sanitized that they make the History Channel look like PBS. Not so with Mark Shriver’s A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver. Unlike Scott Stossel’s 800-page Sarge The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver (Smithsonian Books, 2004), the younger Shriver’s book doesn’t attempt to be the definitive biography of his father’s life and career. Instead, it is an elegantly written meditation on faith, public service, and parenting from someone who’s clearly spent much of his life grappling with all three. On one level, Shriver’s book is a heartbreaking account of his father’s struggle with Alzheimer...

A New Union Contract

While public-sector unions fight for survival, Bob King proposes to rebuild the United Auto Workers for a new, and more vexing, century.

United Auto Workers President Bob King (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Last August, just two months after he became president of the United Auto Workers, Bob King drove upstate to a conference that the Center for Automotive Research was hosting in Traverse City, Michigan, and proposed to redefine the role that American unions play in the economy. "The 20th-century UAW joined with the companies in a mind-set that it was the company's job to worry about profits, and the union's job to worry about getting the workers their fair share," King said. "The 21st-century UAW embraces as our own the mission of producing the highest quality, best value products for our customers." King went on to renounce a laundry list of "20th century" practices ranging from bargaining "lengthy contracts" that "hindered flexibility" to the union's "failure to focus on the needs of consumers." Actually, as King, a student of both UAW and auto-industry history, is well aware, the UAW, under the leadership of the iconic Walter Reuther, did focus on the needs of consumers during the...

Leo the Linchpin

Steelworker President Leo Gerard looks like an old-time union leader, but he's put together a labor-environmentalist alliance that bridges some growing Democratic fissures.

Leo Gerard is central casting's idea of a labor leader: tough and big. Really big -- 6 feet 2 inches tall and barrel-chested. He's just the kind of guy you'd expect to be the president of the United Steelworkers. So what's he doing palling around with Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope? "Good jobs and a clean environment are important to American workers," Gerard proclaimed last year. "We can't have one without the other." The occasion was the kickoff of the Blue/Green Alliance, a joint project of the Steelworkers and Sierra Club to promote "Good Jobs, A Clean Environment, and A Safer World." Pope describes the effort as "one of the most important initiatives undertaken by the environmental movement in decades." To underscore this point, last November he and Gerard barnstormed through Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, spreading the word that clean-energy technologies and conservation can yield millions of new jobs. Gerard is hardly the first labor leader to join forces with the...

A Union Hearing

In a June, 2004, speech John Kerry brought a New Jersey crowd to its feet when he declared: "It's time once and for all we change the laws so workers can organize when a majority of them wants to, without intimidation and interference from management." Memorable words. But if you don't recall them, you're not alone: this kind of talk was generally reserved for union audiences only. Among Washington's political cognoscenti it is considered a no brainer that idle chatter about unionism will brand a candidate as a hopelessly unreconstructed "old" Democrat. At the very least, they warn, it would be "off message," given that voters have about as much interest in labor issues as they do in, say, the Law of the Sea. The upshot of this conventional wisdom is that, today, not many Democrats are willing to step forward to promote unionism. What's more, few labor leaders even ask them to. That's too bad, because by speaking out for unions Democrats could not only help to mobilize public support...

Labor Gains?

"City and state, please?" For a moment I think the voice at the other end of the phone belongs to a telephone operator, but I've been conned: I'm talking to a piece of voice-recognition technology. Over the course of the last two decades, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) has seen the loss of thousands of telephone operators' jobs and many others, too. Some were due to automation, others to offshoring, but most were the result of structural changes in the industry. After AT&T's 1984 divestment of its 22 regional telephone companies, the CWA, together with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, represented 150,000 of the company's workers. This year, when a much smaller AT&T was purchased by SBC Communications, the union represented only 25,000. All told, the CWA estimates, about 250,000 telecommunications jobs have been lost over the past 25 years. * * * Staggering results like these have devastated some unions, but not the CWA. In fact, it's...

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