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US Air, the nation’s seventh largest airline, currently in a bankruptcy designed to allow it to break all its previous union contracts and eliminate its pension program, has come up with a new idea that is sure to sweep Bush USA.
The new idea: Working for free for your boss!
US Air management, perhaps taking a cue from the Bush Administration’s success in getting National Guard and Reserve troops to "volunteer" for extra tours of duty in Iraq, has asked that its workers who are not scheduled to work over the New Year holiday weekend volunteer to come to work off the clock to greet passengers, help them with their bags and offer advice and directions.
What a cool idea!
It’ll save the company from the horrible PR disaster it suffered when it screwed up royally over the Christmas weekend, canceling over 150 flights and leaving thousands of Christmas travelers stranded in airports overnight and in some cases for days, hundreds and thousands of miles from their families.
It will also save the company from having to pay overtime to add extra workers to cover the extra volume of travelers.
One can imagine how this idea might catch on all over the country, particularly as executives traveling on US Air first class experience the grand vision of all those friendly volunteer workers helping them get onto their flights.
Next we can expect to see municipal transit authorities asking transit workers to do volunteer shifts on the holidays to cover peak riderships, cops being asked to do volunteer gigs during campaign visits by luminaries like the president or the pope, teenagers being asked to do volunteer time behind the counter at McDonalds and Carvels during kids’ birthday party events, and maybe teachers asked to stay on over the summer to teach summer school for free.
In the new "ownership" society of Bushland, it’s all about owners, see, and clearly, the owners of American companies need help. They have been running their businesses into the ground for decades, disinvesting domestically and shipping work and skilled jobs overseas. Now, an increasingly financially strapped American workforce is unable to do the kind of massive buying and consuming that kept the whole Ponzi scheme afloat for the last few decades, margins are getting squeezed and those companies need help. Bankruptcy courts can help. They allow the companies to screw the bondholders, suppliers and workers by ducking out of all, or most of their obligations. But there has still been this sticky problem of paying the workers. So far, the courts have not okayed the idea of indentured servitude or slavery, so they are still stuck with these big payroll costs.
This is where US Air’s scheme is so brilliant. Ordinarily, if workers come in and do extra time beyond their 40-hour workweek, it costs a company time and a half, making this an expensive proposition. And the labor laws passed during a prior era of do-good liberalism stipulate that when workers do work for the boss, they have to get paid.
But volunteering is something else. If workers volunteer to do charity work for their employer, there’s no need to offer them compensation.
Of course, lefty cynics might question how voluntary such charity work really is, given the employer’s power over employees ("Why should I give you a raise? You never volunteered to work on the holidays for free like your workmates?"), but hey, we’re talking about grownups here. People can make their own minds up, right?
I say, more power to US Air.
Though, for myself, I think I will probably start flying other airlines. I’m not sure I want to be cruising at 30,000 feet in an aircraft that’s being maintained by people who are "volunteering" their time, missing their weekends, and worrying about making the next mortgage payment.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org