Union Bashing

I’m old enough to remember when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers for illegally going on strike.  While some feel this made him a hero, I feel that it was the beginning of the end of the middle class professionalism.

In the past 30 years, while people have shouted from the rafters that the unions are undermining the economy with their greedy demands, it doesn’t appear that life has really gotten better for “the worker”.  In fact, given the most recent recession, combined with a rather long unemployment payout, as well as wage cuts and job closings, the worker has even less than ever before.  It’s interesting that people in control of jobs, wages, and compensation continue to cry broke when there continue to be some huge bonus payouts and compensation packages for CEOs.  I think it’s interesting that job are leaving the US at huge rates, but we’re not holding any leaders’ feet to the fire for changing this.  Instead, we blame the worker — the unionized worker.

Consider this.  My dad died at work.  He wasn’t killed there.  There wasn’t an accident.  He had a massive heart attack and died on a Thursday afternoon about 6 weeks before he was due to turn 47.  He’s been out of my life now longer than he was in it. Some might point out that with his history of heart attacks and previous open-heart surgery, he was merely waiting for death.  Others, however, might point out that undue stress caused by his job and family circumstances helped bring this on faster.  If he had lived, we may have been able to prove that stress caused his fatal heart attack.  But we all know, he didn’t.

In the months leading up to my dad’s death, he had been fired for “using narcotics on the job”.  He had had an abscessed tooth, the medication for helping with the infection made him sick and unable to operate equipment, so he had my brother pick him up from work.  Work fired him.  When the union was able to show that the company doctors had given him equally powerful medication and had him return to work, he HAD to be rehired.

This is where your powers of prediction come in.

Obviously if company leaders were willing to fire him for leaving work due to illness, they were ready to fire him for whatever.  The next step was to increase his quota of output.  The union could agree that this wasn’t right, but didn’t want my dad to sue the company.  Doing so would put EVERY man there out of a job.  They wanted to negotiate this issue.  So Dad stayed and worked without getting a lawyer.  Why?  He was a good person in his own right and felt the union would do right by him.  Of course it didn’t work out, but life’s like that. Right?

Immediately after his death relatives wanted to bash the union.  I don’t know why.  The union didn’t kill him.  The union asked for him to not sue and to deal with it for the time being.  In our family it’s shameful to file frivolous lawsuits. It’s shameful to take public assistance if you can work.   If anything, by challenging what the company was doing with quotas and firing based on medicine, the union was forcing the company to play by something called “rules”.  Dad was willing to do that for the good of EVERY employee, not just himself.  It didn’t pan out, but I doubt he would have done anything different even if he’d known the output.  It’s the sacrifice of putting the whole before the one that is at stake even now.

Right now, the state of Wisconsin is working to crush the public employee’s union.  I find that curious having been in a union for some time.  Our teacher’s union works with the district often over the contract.  Over years, we’ve taken concessions and made changes.  Strangely our contract is based a lot on how we use our time, what we do in our jobs, and when we need to be paid more.  Because we are contract employees who work 186 days, what happens outside of those days and whether we can be mandated to do something on our free time gets debated often.  It’s funny how much we want something for nothing.  Even companies have come to feel entitled, same as they claim for the employees.

During my time as a union employee and a representative, we’ve had many debates, hot button topics, and contentious votes.  We’ve used our “pay increase” to pay for our health insurance.  Yes.  Rather than take MORE MONEY HOME we used it to off-set our health care.  Why?  Because health care costs continue to rise yearly.  Whether you pay out-of-pocket or in the beginning, you pay.  We work with kids — kids who spread germs.  Many of us are reproductive women.  We NEED health care.  Given where we live, the average cost of health care, and our pay, if we don’t get it as a benefit, we’re won’t HAVE health care.  With only 10 days of sick leave, you can see where this is headed, right?

As a union, we’ve worked with the district on our school calendar to accommodate varying needs of the students and parents.  We have taken a wage freeze and furlough days.  Despite a state law that dictates how many students should be in a classroom,  teachers took on an additional students (50% more) to save money, not to get raises.  Many of us will take on 1-2 more students in our class to keep there from being combination classes.  Most of us work nights, weekends, and summers to put together the best programs we can.  We continue to take classes — in fact it’s often required to keep our jobs.  We PAY for those classes.  Teachers spend out-of-pocket for supplies, supplemental materials, and rewards.  We do this without support staff (who are important), librarians, music and art teachers, or a yard duty staff.  All while being scapegoated as what’s wrong with the country?  And you wonder why I’m going to fight for an organization that works to protect me and support what few rights I DO have in my job? By the way, have I mentioned that I DON’T get paid vacations (all breaks are unpaid), I am a professional, and, at least in California, I have no ability to draw from Social Security when I retire?

I say this truly, if we have it SO DAMNED GOOD, why aren’t you fighting for my job rather than my termination?

Most “normal” job attributes are there because of unions.  Unions have fought for equal rights of all employees.  They have worked to keep the favored from keeping their jobs and getting huge wage increases at the expense of other employees.  They called for the safety of employees and a 40-hour work week.  Hell, Labor Day is based on actually appreciating people who, well, labor.  The idea that public positions are supposed to advertise jobs and not just hand them to their best friend’s brother is part of this process.  Does it still happen? Yes.  Should it? No.

People want to claim that union costs drove companies to move their production facilities to other countries.  The cost of paying the American worker was “too high”.  What’s interesting is that the profits skyrocketed, CEOs pocketed huge bonuses, and the cost of the product stayed ABSOLUTELY the same or INCREASED.  Why?  Oh, because it costs money to ship things back and forth.  I find it curious that we moved production to Mexico, yet Mexicans are still trying to get into the United States FOR JOBS.  Wha, wha, what?

I say this, people don’t like having to share power.  Most people want more stuff, so they want more money.  Most people don’t like the idea that they can’t just have what they want when they want it.  Therefore, any institution that thwarts that is wrong and should be eliminated.

I say this, be careful what you wish for. What are you going to do when you win and all of a sudden there is NO ONE to stand up for you?


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