And they come with no warning,
nature loves her little surprises.
Continual crisis!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Look for that union label

Well, in the waning months (less than 2! And the villagers dance their dance of joy) of the Bush Presidency the various union busting activities are taking a fevered pitch.

In the past eight years we've seen the various airline companies declare bankruptcy and jettison their previous union contracts for more favorable terms, ie. fewer benefits and protections as well as offloading pensions to the government Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp all while continuing to pay their executives "bonus pay." The PBGC is having a terrible time meeting expectations, BTW, and generally pays much less than the original pension agreement (and the more companies' pensions are put into receivership, the less those pensioners get).

Then for the past month we've had the barrage of "The UAW is sinking Detroit, oh woes is us, gives us the cash," from the big three and the various right of Rush talking heads. You know, except for last year Toyota paying their employees more (with the help of year end bonus) than the UAW workers got paid. But, shh, nobody's supposed to know. Forget that the big three played their double-down bets on big SUVs while not doing a damn thing with the money except pay out bonuses (say, remember when the new GM CEO came in and was paid a signing bonus larger then the yearly union payroll of the two factories he immediately shut down? Ah, good times). You know, how they could have been, say, leading the charge into hybrids like the Clinton Initiative, instead of lobbying to get that scrapped for the Bush Hydrogen Car that's not do for about five or so years yet, and there's been talk of pushing that back as well. Or say plowing that money into R&D to make more efficient SUVs? Or maybe changing their business model from having cars engineered to require "Genuine GM Parts" instead of engineering them to last. See, it's all those damn union workers' fault. If we could just toss that nasty old contract away we'd be all sunshine and lollypops.

Now it's the teachers' unions under fire. See, our kids aren't measuring up and it's all because of that damn union. We can't fire under performing teachers or give those miracle good teachers the pay they deserve because of the union. It has nothing to do with lack of support from administrations, or parenting that lacks instilling self discipline, or a general disregard for eduction that permeates US Society or that parents are willing to sue if little Jonny or Suzy makes anything less than an "A." Nope, it's that damn union. If we could only (cheaply) fire those tenured teachers all would be right. You know, except we've had a two decade long control test with charter and alternative schools. Guess what? Those kids don't do any better. And with the increase in vouchers, the private schools are coming down as well. Yeah, see, it's all about those unions.

So, time to see what unions have done for us.

Five day work week of forty hours. Yep. Although notice this is changing. Many people are working four 10-hour days (or even four 12-hour days). When I worked at E&Y I was regularly working 70 hours (fortunately I was paid overtime, which those directing my time didn't have to pay out of pocket, but my partner was very upset and even challenged some of my time sheets). And many in the service industry work seven days. I did when I worked at Wendy's back in high school. It was against the rules back then, but it was a pay check.

Retirement. Yep. Before unionization retirement was only for the gentry. Normal people didn't retire, they worked until they were crippled or dead. This was only a hundred years ago. This is also changing. Notice how many retirees are working? It's not because they want to afford the champagne lifestyle. This is the reason I decided to get serious about writing. I could probably drive a truck in retirement, but I don't want to. I can't keep going at this rate forever, but I could probably keep writing until I kick the bucket.

Holidays off (with pay). You may think it was Scrooge's general demeanor that had him admonish Cratchit with, "Christmas is a poor excuse to pick a man's pocket every December 25th." It wasn't. This was a common business practice, one that Dickens intentionally wanted to break (it was his reason for writing "A Christmas Carol"). Holidays were considered work days (even the Pilgrims did it). Again, lots of people in the service industry work holidays. My work place can have us work holidays, although we get double time. That's a big incentive to keep us off on holidays.

Pay in dollars (or whatever your standard currency is). Anybody know what "Company Script" is? If you worked for a factory in the 1800s and early 1900s you would have known. This is a practice that, sad to say, is back on the move again. At E&Y we used to get "bonus" pay in the form of company swag. There's also a movement on to have your health care considered "pay" (former boss included her cost for health care as a part of my "overall compensation"). "Owe my soul to the company store."

Bathroom breaks. Yeah, seems basic doesn't it. Not exactly an "inalienable right" though. When I worked for the USPS, they were scheduled. Leaving your workstation "unscheduled" was cause for demerits or summary firing (worked as "casual", non-union).

And that's just the start. If you don't think all these things could be rolled back, you're leading a sheltered work life. I've seen all of these violated or ignored in my various jobs.

edited to correct some typos.


Rick said...

Hey, Steve. I'm a long time member of the National Writer's Union. We're part of the UAW, and the struggle for writer's rights has been a difficult one. Getting writers (who mostly view themselves as independent contractors) is kind of like organizing cats. Most don't want to jeopardize their possibilities of being published by declaring that they are members of the NWU/UAW union. They don't want to send their fiction or nonfiction publishing contracts to the union contract division, even though the contrac input is absolutely free to union members.

With so many technical writing jobs going to India, we still have a difficult time even organizing technical writers to protect their rights. Some UAW members don't feel we're legitamite because we don't work in factories.

Six years ago, we lost our group health insurance benefits with Aetna, because the insurance company declaried we were not a true "group," whatever that means.

So maybe you could take a look at our website at

Writers have a place in unions, too, although we get very little recognition from our union brothers, publishers, and the public at large.

Steve Buchheit said...

Rick, I'm a graphic designer so I understand the whole writer's thing. Not recognized by other union members (even though the GCIU is now a part of the Teamsters) and still treated as "factory trash" by management because we are unionized.

The GCIU lost their health care before I came here, and even though through the Teamsters we could offer the company a better policy at a lower price (we pay $50 every week, about half if I remember the equations), the company declined to even consider that option (because then the management wouldn't be covered, and the union plan was better than the current management plan).

Rick said...

Now that you've got me thinking about this, I think I'll compose a post for the National Writers Union. Our union membership is down, not up.

I own my own consulting busnesss, and occasionally I get a reaction from the other members that I'm a traitor for that. As one member says, "How can you be a union brother and business owner at the same time?"

It's not exactly logical, but it's the reaction. Writers are essentially independents, and many fiction writers can't see the benefits of being a union member because they don't think publishing houses will deal with them. These same writer often struggle with health care issues and contract violations on the part of their publishers.

It's an odd mix of confusion.