Thursday, November 11, 2021

Worker's Rights

I am pleased to see that conservatives are defending worker's rights when it comes to vaccine mandates, although it certainly makes me question whether this is a one-time defense or a sudden change of heart for the GOP and the right.

I have only recently left the workforce, but do have 40+ years of labor in all types of workplace environments, public and private, union and non-union. My experience has demonstrated the pros and cons of having collective bargaining protection, as well as the pros and cons of being able to negotiate for myself when raises and benefits are on the line.

I was fired twice in my lifetime.  The first time was all about a young person who did not respect the authority of his boss.  While what I did was not that bad (I certainly didn't put a cartoon on public media in which I killed one of my co-workers), bit it was disrespectful.  Yes, that particular boss had not established any real credibility with the staff, was all about his new power as opposed to what was good for the company, but, nevertheless, I deserved to lose my job, as much because I wasn't willing to obey a direction from my boss as because it was probably time for me to leave that employer, as indicated by my willingness to draw the ire of my boss over a very small manner.

In the second situation, I made the historic mistake of questioning the work ethic of the daughter of the owner of the company.  I was not young, I should have know better, but I also knew what I was saying was true, not realizing that truth was not even close to the issue when one questions the boss's daughter's work ethic.

In both cases, I was not protected by a union although in the 2nd case, when my ex-employer tried to fight my unemployment by accusing me of gross misconduct, I was protected by common sense and a copy of the review I had received 30 days previous to the firing. 

Having union protection would have certainly prevented me from being fired in that 2nd instance. But, up until that moment, I had received raises over 10 percent 2 out of 4 years, because I had earned those increases with exemplary work as opposed to just having been breathing in the office for those 4 years.

Fast forward to my days in a union, and I was often saddened when a person who clearly deserved to be let go, was retained due to some kind of paper or procedural oversight.  The union seemed to defend people who should have been jettisoned, as if quantity was more important than quality. 

Yet, I also received some substantial raises per the collective bargaining agreements, especially as I moved into the upper levels of management.  Oddly, once I attained the level of GM3, a manager at a store in the top half of all stores in terms of revenue, I was no longer represented by a union. I was on my own if there was a complaint against me, but still earned a salary as dictated by the published salary scales with a nod to seniority, a ladder with years of service on one axis, job title on the other. Yes, you earned steps along one axis through excellence, but were paid the same as every other person on that axis who had the same title.

Just for the record then, I support unions, despite the problems that exist with the execution of some of its decisions, and even despite the ceiling that can exist when excellent performance is tempered by chronological time within that level or position. 

I say this because the pros outweigh these cons.  The pro which provides a level of protection from being fired because you stated the wrong truth, or merely because someone's nephew needs a job. And the pro which provides a livable wage and family-friendly benefits for the working people of that particular company.  Wages and benefits that allow them to stay in the same job, even a retail job, and be able to have a share in the American dream.  Compensation that was not all that different than those at the top of the company, less of course, but not 100 times less.  

So, back to the new fad of GOP support for workers.  I say new fad, because it has been the theory and practice of conservatives to smear and break unions since its heyday in 1979. Union memberships as a percentage of workers, has declined by half in the last 40 years.  One of the most insidious methods was the "right to work" laws that exist in almost half of the states today.  This is the law that says that union members don't have to pay union dues, even though they are benefiting from the union's collective bargaining contracts. I say insidious, because it wasn't about workers' rights, it was about starving the unions of dues so that they would fail. Which, of course, would lead to less union contracts which provide livable wages and family-friendly benefits.  Breaking the unions was the sometimes stated, certainly desired, goal of the GOP and they have been very successful.  Since 1983 there are almost 3 million less union workers even though the labor force of American workers has increased by 50 million!

In addition, whether one wants to speculate that the wealth of the top 1% has ballooned since then while the actual buying power of the middle class has stagnated, there is certainly some evidence linking the two.  The GOP, in coordination with the business community, has eroded worker's rights in all kinds of ways, from requiring drug tests which not only says you are guilty until proven innocent but also restrict your activities in your private life, to grading applicants on their appearance not the least being skin color, to making the "business" decision which pretends that paying livable wages and providing good benefits is cost prohibitive which, to me, translates to workers be damned, I own the company and if they don't like it, they can go work somewhere else.

Not sure why "if you don't like my work rules, go somewhere else" doesn't currently apply to health care workers, fire fighters, teachers, police, even retail workers during a pandemic when over 750,000 Americans have died, but I don't expect this defense to be applied to workers striking for better wages, or workers suing for gender discrimination, or workers who our sexually harassed. But, again, I am happy there is some concern over workers being exhibited by the party which fights every policy and proposal to assist the American worker, from minimum wage hikes, to equal pay rules, to paid maternal leave (do you know we are one of only 6 countries in the world which doesn't offer paid maternal leave?), to providing health care benefits, to all the wonderful family and worker friendly ideas that are currently being held hostage in the Build Back Better "negotiations", negotiations which are not inter party as ZERO Republicans will vote for that bill.

I have said in at least one past blog that one of my dreams is that one day every "essential" worker in America wakes up and doesn't go to work.  That it is way past time that the American worker thumb their collective nose at the powers that stop at nothing to keep wages suppressed and benefits at a minimum, all the while taking full advantage of the legal tax laws that allow them to benefit from all sorts of corporate welfare, or worse, by hiding billions of dollars in off-shore accounts. 

While I believe that people who interact everyday with the public should be required to be vaccinated unless there is a documented medical reason, I applaud this example of the GOP acting off script to protect workers even if it is more about a displaced sense of freedom and an overactive sense of selfishness than a sincere defense of worker rights. 

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