Pennies, Nickles, Dollars Slip Away  

Like many folks, I've been reading loads of reports on Union organizing. Like the recently released report No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing by Columbia professor Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner and Majority Authorizations and Union Organizing in the Public Sector: A Four-State Perspective From the AFL-CIO Now Blog:

If you sign up to join a union, you won’t face coercion or intimidation from your co-workers—or employers. Despite dire warnings by corporations against the majority sign-up process, a new study shows majority sign-up (card-check) protects workers and gives them the chance they need to form a union. It’s another critical point in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers across the country the choice about how to form a union and bargain for a better life.

Here's the problem, being in a union makes our lives better. I can testify to this (thank you AFGE and my shop steward). However, the point at which you and your co-workers decide that you need a union, the worst is yet to come.

You see, the moment we decide that together we bargain and divided we beg, is the same point at which employers pull out the big guns. This is where firing happens. This is also where mandatory meetings happen where employers tell workers they'll lose benefits they have or the shop will close or it will mean a loss of your work shift or whatever else they think might be a topic of interest to you.

When we decide to stop begging for the right to work, our employers don't stop looking for ways to divide us, instead, they learn that they have all the power in this country in terms of labor law and they do not care how often, how hard or to what extent they trample our rights. And if you lose the organizing drive, few will ever even attempt to hold the employer accountable for trampling the few rights we do have.

And yes, I'm serious!

From the Bronfrenbrenner report:

Furthermore, workers are keenly aware that even in cases with egregious employer violations, the most likely penalty is a posting and a small amount of back pay, which could take more than two years from filing the charge to a final Board decision to collect...

Of course, this is why there's such a dramatic need for the Employee Choice Act.

But the other wrinkle to this, and one of the main reasons for Uniongal at all, is that like many women in the workforce, I am a single mom. I am the sole bread winner for my family. I am cook, cleaner, glass washer, launder, nurse, baker, bread winner, transporter, psychologist and maintainer.

I do it all.

And when you do it all, you're way more susceptible to intimidation, and even worse, you're constantly trying to figure it all out as a mom while also making ends meet, kind of like the 10,000 Maniac's song, Dust Bowl Days where Natalie Merchant sings about how this mom just can't get ahead:

All workers know the feeling. When our employer goes that extra mile to ensure that you, their employee, knows your place and that unionization (of any kind or even thought) is a no-no. Brings me back to Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner's report and her description not of a single event in the unsuccessful United Steelworkers organizing campaign at Rugby, but Rugby's overall strategy:

The most important part of the Rugby story is not the most dramatic—the discharges and layoffs—but rather the full arc of the employer’s plan, which in fact started not with the meeting with the supervisors, but as Bogas points out in his decision, with its aggressive union-free policy. This policy was clearly outlined in the employee handbook, and read out loud to all new employees upon hiring. It made it clear that unions would not be tolerated, laying the groundwork for the aggressive and intense effort that followed. But the model that Rugby and so many others of these campaigns adopt is one in which the priority task of frontline supervisors is to ascertain through whatever means possible the leanings of every worker and then use the more aggressive retaliatory tactics to sway those leaning toward unionization.

On any given day, workers across this country are exposed to supervisors and companies who see them as worthless, incompetent or union sympathizing "thugs". These are good workers. They are you and me. They are your moms and dads. Even your brothers and sisters. In fact, you might actually be one of these workers. You aren't incompetent. You aren't a thug or a trouble maker. You have the right to join, form or to organize a union. But we have to demand that right to make that decision without having to go through the crap that employers throw at us.

So, to summarize, if you, as an employee feel you need a union, and you work toward that end, your employer can behave egregiously (fire you or your co-workers, suspend you, strip you of all sorts of things at work, etc...) and there's little or no consequence and when there actually is a violation found, it takes years to collect; ages to get justice. But if you win and you are in the union, you risk far less in terms of retaliation or intimidation from not only your employer but also co-workers. And, there's this new Bill in the Senate called the Employee Free Choice Act which aims at leveling the playing field, making it easier for employees to decide if they want to go through an election or to sign up using a simple card.

So, there you have it. Two recent reports that I've been reading. My thoughts about how it all relates and my hope in the end that single moms like me and many others can simply be able to do better than to just get by. It kind of sucks out here sometimes. It sure would be nice to have a Congress that understood what it's like to watch pennies, nickles and dollars slip away and how being in a union can help to stop that from being the case.

Thank you Dr. Bronfenbrenner for researching these issues and more importantly, giving a voice to so many workers just through the numbers you cite. Who knew a bunch of numbers and stories could be so powerful. If you get a minute, head over to the report, it's really very shocking.

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