50 Shades of Union Dignity

by DAVID MACARAY

Besides superior wages and benefits, one of the advantages of belonging to a union is that you can perform your job with dignity. Under a union contract, the boss can’t harass you, he can’t arbitrarily mess with your hours, and he can’t alter your pay. After fighting with his wife, your boss can’t show up for work and make you the unfair target of his foul mood. Your rights are laid out in the contract, and when those rights are violated, you have the means to fight back.

In the 1990s, I had a friend who was a low-level executive at the Boeing Corporation. Although he made decent money and had a fantastic stock-purchase plan, he admitted to being scared and worried most of the time—scared of displeasing his boss, scared of getting a new boss, scared of being laid-off, scared of restructuring, scared of irrational demands, scared of change, etc. He lived and worked in fear.

This guy loved my union stories. I was president of the union at the time, and, knowing how much he liked my anecdotes, went out of my way to regale him with tales of union assertiveness and mischief. No, he wouldn’t have swapped jobs with unionized industrial workers. After all, he knew his white-collar career was the more potentially rewarding. Still, it was obvious how much he envied the union’s freedom.

Some of my stories:

* We published a union newspaper that regularly mocked the latest seminar-generated, team-building jargon that had infiltrated the workplace. Management was furious, not only because we were ridiculing their existence, but because copies of the newspaper regularly reached the hands of salaried employees who agreed with us.

* When machine crews set a corporation production record, they often declined to join in the cornball celebration, demonstrating to the company that they were cranking out quality product not to gain Brownie points or please management, but to please themselves.

* We could say anything, with zero fear of reprisal. It was like having immunity on the Senate floor. You could tell top management that you didn’t believe one word of the hideous propaganda they were spouting. Salaried employees approached us privately and told us how much they wished they had that same freedom to express themselves.

* We went on strike after being warned that if we shut it down, they wouldn’t start it back up. Instead, they vowed to lay off the entire workforce and relocate elsewhere. We assured them that the only thing those empty threats were doing was pissing us off. We stayed out 57 days. That was more than 20 years ago. The plant is still there, still cranking out product, still generating profits.

* They once invited me and another officer to a presentation conducted by a paid ($1,200 per day) consultant. Either this consultant had never encountered union resistance before or we caught him off-guard, because we made a shambles of the Q&A segment, mercilessly challenging every platitude he uttered. Although a couple of engineers privately praised us for saying what they couldn’t say, an HR rep told me she had been “mortified” by our remarks. Fine, I said. Don’t invite us back.

I should mention that one of my friend’s misapprehensions was the belief that union members were, by and large, crappy workers. Unfortunately, that toxic myth has leaked into the public’s consciousness. He’d heard all his life that union workers were lazy, defiant and sullen, and that even the worst of them couldn’t be fired because unions were so powerful they wouldn’t allow it

Two points eased my friend’s mind: (1) Facilities with the best wages and benefits (union facilities) will always attract the best workers in a community. Simple as that. (2) Union members get fired all the time. During my tenure, probably 20 people were fired for everything from job performance to chronic absenteeism. Do people honestly believe employees get to tell their bosses what to do? That’s plain nutty.

I shared with my friend the true story of how the union executive board once tried to implement a work “slow-down” among the warehouse drivers to protest a new company policy. The proposed slow-down failed utterly. Why? Because none of these “lazy, sullen and defiant” warehouse drivers were willing to do anything that made them look bad as workers.

It’s true. These drivers were simply too proud to pretend they couldn’t perform their jobs adequately. Not that they weren’t rebellious enough to defy the company. Indeed, they begged us to come up with an alternative plan—anything except forcing them to look incompetent. And fear of management reprisal never entered into it. The slow-down would’ve been by the book and entirely “legal.”

In truth, the average American not only wants to work, but strives to do a good job. People don’t want 20 hours a week; they want a real job—a full-time, 40-hour a week job. And it’s more than just the money. They want a destination, a place to go when they get up in the morning, something productive to give their lives structure. Such a pity that even so modest a goal as having a full-time job is now considered a “luxury.”

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 30, 2015
Bill Blunden
The NSA’s 9/11 Cover-Up: General Hayden Told a Lie, and It’s a Whopper
Richard Ward
Sandra Bland, Rebel
Jeffrey St. Clair
How One Safari Nut, the CIA and Neoliberal Environmentalists Plotted to Destroy Mozambique
Martha Rosenberg
Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Old Oval Office
Binoy Kampmark
Dead Again: the Latest Demise of Mullah Omar
Kathy Kelly – Buddy Bell
No Warlords Need Apply: a Call for Credible Peacemaking in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
Darker Horizons Ahead: Rethinking the War on ‘IS’
Stephen Lendman
The Show Trial of Saif Qaddafi: a Manufactured Death Sentence
John Grant
The United States of Absurdity, Circa 2015
Karl Grossman
The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press
Cesar Chelala
Cultural Treasures Are Also Victims of War
Jeff Taylor
Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz