Friday, April 24, 2015
U is for Unions
I suppose if we had a way to look back into pre-history we would find that, in regard to labor, there have always been those who worked and there have always been those who would really rather just take advantage of opportunities to find others to do their work. Someone with the resourcefulness to amass power by having property or land or commodities could always find a way to persuade others. And, if that power is mixed with too much ego, exploitation would become the next step.
It is what it is. The exploitation isn't new. The ideas of workers uniting together isn't new. The condemnation of those united workers isn't new. The desire to bust up unions isn't new. My hope, though, because I walk this Earth with both a heart and a mind, is that the fight will continue. I am an anxious woman, I don't think that would surprise anyone. I worry about everyone and everything. I worry that as our country becomes more divided and the poles of that divide are becoming more defined by those with money, we are inching closer to a place that will be hard to return from. I worry that because of their capacity to exploit the ignorance of so many, the ease to which that exploitation removes our safety nets is becoming more pronounced.
The right have been, traditionally, bought and paid for by the business world. And the business world has, traditionally, hated those who made it more difficult for them to take advantage of their work force. So those voters on the right, traditionally, have believed that unions are awful. Because someone said so.
Although many people condemn the unions and their significance, I doubt many who have worked under a union's protections would say the same. The unions offer a freedom and safety to workers that few others enjoy. The company cannot exploit its workforce because the means by which they would do so are eliminated. The union offers representatives who bargain for wages and benefits. They make sure that the working conditions are acceptable. No one would ever have to worry about finding out years later that they made substantially less than a co-worker doing the same work, because pay would be fair. No one would have to work in a place that was deemed unsafe or deal with harassment because they would have a union to document and fight for them. Again, those who are easily swayed by rhetoric and don't want to be bothered with critical thought can quickly dismiss the idea of a union because they have to pay for it and "that's not fair." Lol. But those same people don't quite think anything is fair in this country, so I will just quickly dismiss them.
My narrow personal view in the business world comes from my 15 year career in the mortgage industry. I have always worked for major banks in their lending divisions. I have never been in a union. I have never been protected. I have always been quite aware of the fact that my work ethic has been exploited and that I had no protections. I started out of college being very naïve in believing that my employer absolutely loved me because I worked so hard and was a team player who would help everyone meet their monthly goals once I had completed mine. Management loved it, certainly. But only to the extent that they would kiss my ass to my face so I would continue to work hard for them. They didn't do anything more than they had to do to keep me working hard. When I was younger my pride was enough for them to use against me. My ignorance was enough for them to exploit when it came time to give out promotions and raises. It took me a minute to realize that I was never being given substantial raises that would be commensurate with my work. I finally started to realize that only those who were willing to kiss asses back were the ones who were receiving the promotions. And we were not allowed to talk about what we were earning. So we had no idea whether or not the wages were fair. They were not. AT ALL. It took me a long time to figure that out because it was something we were afraid to discuss for fear of getting in trouble or even getting fired.
We were all expendable. That was easy to determine quite quickly. We could be replaced by a temp who could be trained and underpaid. The temps made more money per hour but had no benefits, and the company wasn't bound to follow any laws regarding their employment. It was an advantage to the corporation to have temps, but anyone who is blind to that fact never realizes that. The idea of temps was used several times as a means of intimidation. One year we were all given a nice long speech about how lucky we were to have jobs and that they could just as easily hire temps to do our work. We were then told that we would not be receiving raises that year. And our bonuses, which were our main source of income, were going to be eliminated. I'd have really liked to have been in a union back then. They would not be allowed to use a temporary staffing agency. And our representatives would have made a legal contract with the employer which defined our annual raises.
In my last job, I was an auditor. I found information that was detrimental to the bank and, in my managers absence, reported it to her manager. It was essential that this be addressed immediately because we were getting ready for a federal audit. It turns out the discrepancy I found was something my manager had created herself. Deliberately. And I had just told on her. Twelve days after an absolutely remarkable annual review my manager quickly determined I was the worst employee in the department and that I needed to be let go. She told me that she would have to write me up three times and then she would be able to fire me. She even managed to convince her manager that the error I found had been something I had created, even though I didn't have access to the database used to manipulate the data. She made my life a hell and I was forced to quit. If had had a union behind me, not only would I still be there, but my manager would have been fired. I didn't have a union. She still has her job.
Yes, we live in a capitalistic society. Having private ownership of our companies instead of the government is a good and a necessity. However, it does not mean that the government shouldn't have an opportunity to regulate how corporations are run. At present, we have business owners who are buying our Congress. They desperately want to change the laws to get rid of regulations. Unions are being wiped out left and right. It has nothing to do with whether or not they serve a purpose or are taking care of their members, it is only because the millionaires and billionaires who are trying to create a corporatocracy would really just rather they not have to contend with unions demanding these corporations maintain fairness and accountability.
Not only is Congress being paid to look out for big business, we also have states trying to wipe out unions. Ohio's Governor John Kasich said, "I want to break the back of teachers unions." Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker compared unions to ISIS. Because, yeah. And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the teachers union there, "political thugs who had become fat and rich and entitled." (I'm not going there, but as a former heavyweight, I would be entitled).
We really are watching the decline of many facets of our society. It is easy to become frustrated due to the seemingly overwhelming bombardment of issues all at once. But we have to make sure to take saving our unions seriously. It has to be a prominent matter as they literally exist to protect the working class. Losing them would have a quick and obvious consequence to America's future. And to the 11% of her workforce presently protected by them today.