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 How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail