Right to work–a state of our Union

I’m a union man. Even though I held but one adult job as a dues-paying member, I will always be a union man. Why? Because I believe it’s the truly right path for the working man to walk.

Not everyone will secure a job represented by a union contract. Less than 18 percent of the US workforce is unionized. But, we owe it to unions — starting with the craft guilds in the Middle Ages — for elevating the dignity of the laborer, be it a mechanic, a restaurant worker or the cop on the beat. A union shop at one business helps improve the lot of a dozen non-union work places elsewhere. Always has and always will.

Oh, I know there have been excesses. People blame unions for driving manufacturing jobs from industrial states to cheaper labor in developing nations. But for every job lost overseas, I can point to concessions progressive unions have made at home during economic downturns.

America would not have developed its large middle class had it not been for unions, the blue-collar ones our grandfathers fought to create through collective bargaining, strikes,and long hours on picket lines. Their protests of working conditions led to the creation of a minimum wage, the banishment of child labor and the acceptance of a 40-hour work week.

The 40-hour work week is nothing to scoff at, Mr. Union Buster. I recall interns at a metropolitan hospital negotiating with management to lower the hours employees should work to no more than 80 per week. That union “demand” headed the list of working improvements young doctors sought, and were glad to have gained.

I’ll never forget serving as a shop steward along with my Republican buddy — a former “Nader’s  Raider”  — as we helped to negotiate a contract between the paper we worked as reporters and The Newspaper Guild. We were “that close” to a settlement when the publisher offered to pay an increase to one person working in the dispatch department, but not the other. The employees did similar work, but one dealt with the public while the other with newspaper carriers. The public representative was a good-looking blonde who was “being groomed” by management who had caught her eye. The other was an older woman, less-endowed, but none-the-less capable.

I refused to vote for the proposed contract, becoming the lone holdout and was prepared to “hit the streets” unless and until the publisher offered a raise across the board for the dispatcher position. He did, and I became so inspired by the union that I took a leave of absence to work as an “organizer” to help others form their own unions. I entered law school later to become a labor lawyer.

(I don’t think anyone ever told the second dispatcher how her union worked on her behalf. I saw it as my responsibility to a “fellow” worker and believed with all of my heart that another union negotiator would have done the same for me.)

Unions can serve as the moral compass in the workplace by preventing business abuses. Is it any wonder that the rise of corporations and the “one-percenters” in the past 30 years have been with the decline of, and attack on, the union movement?

[You have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t have a job . . . no one to blame but yourself if you are not rich —  Former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain]

8 comments on “Right to work–a state of our Union

    • contoveros says:

      You never know where one of your posts may end up. I submitted this one along with my Veterans’ Day story to a blog done by the Rachel Maddow Show. Don’t know about Rachel, but some jock blog that features lots of football and other sports stories picked it up and included it on Inventions/Invention Information.

      Didn’t know it qualified as an “invention.” On second thought, the union movement might have been created out of necessity, and really was an invention by men to deal with serfdom and the one-percenters of their day and age.

      Can I hear you say “Occupy the Nobleman’s Manor!”

      (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serfdom)
      management

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  1. wolfshades says:

    Very will written, Michael! I’m going to link your blog in a few places – it deserves much attention. The unthinking vicious backlash against unions, propagated by common non-union workers is driven both from a media who often portray opinion as fact, and from fairly subtle but decent scaremongering campaign by companies who like to point out that there are countries whose workers will do the same work for less money. And they’re right – there are. But the answer is never to aspire to third-world working conditions. It’s better to encourage those burgeoning economies and their workers to discover the benefits of collective bargaining.

    Unions provide meat to the adage that “we can either stand together, or fall alone.”

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    • contoveros says:

      I never trusted management when they suggested a “merit” increase for workers based on the merit of their work. I saw first-hand that the persons some wanted to reward were those who ingratiated themselves with the boss and looked down upon the rest of us who simply focused on the job and not the politics of the jobsite.

      I think the same campaign is used by those who favor the so-called “merit” increase for teachers and not the across the board increases.

      And by the way. What’s so wrong with rewarding someone for his seniority, just as long as he puts in a full-days’ work for a full-days’ pay? Experience and know-how should be supported by business and not discarded so that business could pay entry level wages to unexperienced yet willing-to-work-for next to nothing new employees.

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      • wolfshades says:

        It might surprise some (though it would likely be old news to you) to learn that even in unionized environments, there are those who ingratiate themselves with the boss and *still* get perks – though they’re not nearly as easily identified or visible. I’ve seen it myself and realized quickly that at some of the senior executive levels, candid discussion goes on in which biases are created and approved about employees (both pro and con) – something which influences an employee’s career, unknowingly. Some are fast-tracked, and given opportunities (which are communicated verbally), and some won’t succeed no matter how hard they try. It’s enough to make you jaded, if you let it.

        So I consider unionism to be the minimum standard for workers. The bare minimum really, because so much work has to be done after that. There seems to be a cultural and educational need, which likely requires at least a generation to acquire. People form biases on the basis of their experiences, and on word of mouth information they receive right from the time they are children. Many simply don’t know of other ways to think and some aren’t even able to form a basis of empathy which would free them to consider different outlooks on employees or fellow workers.

        I remember sitting in a career development class, where attendees were instructed on how to conduct themselves in interviews. To indicate a behaviour to avoid, the teacher used an example she had encountered, where the applicant would not look at her in the eye. Her interpretation was that he had something to hide, and so her reaction was to distrust his responses.

        I asked her if he was a North American aboriginal (commonly and mistakenly referred to as “Indians”), and when she asked why, I told her that there are some tribes who hold beliefs that the eye is the window to the soul, and so it is a cultural and religious imperative for them not to look anyone in the eyes. This surprised her (and the class) and so I’m sure a few views were changed.

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        • contoveros says:

          In all of the union contracts I ever saw, the wage a company was required to pay someone was the “minimum” for their job category. Nothing ever prevented management from paying more. The minimum was guaranteed and could not be lowered by the poltical whim of a boss or supervisor.

          I never liked “office politics.” As you pointed out, Wolf, it exists in every work environment, even in a union-run AFL-CIO-affiliated office. But, I think mavericks and risk-takers are tolerated more there and actually encouraged to provide their creativity no matter who they might piss off.

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  2. livvy1234 says:

    Equanimity in all things is the way.

    Like

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