FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail