Unions pitted against each other; doing a good job can be security in itself, but not always…

February 25, 2011

Sometimes I just have to turn the radio off. You know, when someone says something so contradictory or outlandish or infuriating, as when I was listening to a local radio station commentator (out of Sacramento) doing a brief obligatory right-wing (local-yokel these days is all right wing all Clear Channel Radio) hit piece on unions.

I’m not a union member, but what infuriated me is that he took the line so many regular citizens even seem to take: Unions once served a purpose but they have gotten out of hand.  Actually that may or may not be true, but I think it is too often just a non-thinking short-hand that turns a blind eye to history. Whether you are union or not, you probably would not want to go back to the non-union world of the first half of the 20th Century or earlier — but history is not a popular subject, it seems. Even baby boomers don’t really know first hand what is was like. People these days take so much for granted.

It is true there are a lot of protections for workers in law these days (law pushed long ago by unions and others), but those protections can be repealed by way of blaming all our ills on “costly” protections for workers and so on.

(Civil rights leaders and older minorities lament the younger crowd is unmoved or ignorant of history too.)

But even more infuriating is the common theme I have been hearing: unions are bad, except my union.

Yes, unions are now pitted against each other — well that certainly works into the hands of the anti-union crowd.

The radio guy admitted at the end of his piece that he was a member of a union (actually I think he said two unions), but allowed as he was not really happy with it (them), but also admitted he got good benefits though them.

I also heard a policeman call into a talk show and suggest that police should be made an exception to any move to de-unionize or take away collective bargaining from public employees.

People are like that. They always seem to be against something, except in their own case.

Now here’s something else on the current union debate (started in Wisconsin where the governor wants to do away with public employee collective bargaining rights in the name of fiscal austerity, but as most realize also for the purpose of the Republican Party preference to do away with unions altogether):

Talk Show host Tom Sullivan (not the un-named guy previously mentioned) claims that unions are not really needed to protect workers because anyone who does a good job is automatically protected by the fact that he or she does a good job. Really, I would think — as a matter of fact, I almost know — that he is smarter than that, but saying such a thing sides with his ideological-driven take on reality.

I mean certainly in theory and in a perfect world that would be the case. I’ll even admit that is the way I like to see things. But then there is the real, not always fair and certainly not always logical or reasonable world. Good workers get fired, pushed out, harassed, or otherwise discouraged all the time.

I think Mr. Sullivan’s problem is that most of his working background (not all) has been in the financial world and tied to sales. You keep your numbers up and, yes, more than likely your job is secure, or if not, someone else wants you.

Someone near and dear to me once advised that the higher-paying jobs are closer to the money, such as in sales (too bad I did not take that advice to heart). People who work in support capacities often do not make as much.

At the small newspapers I once worked at, even though we were newspapers, most of the owners (not all) saw the news staff as at best a necessary evil, but at the same time almost unnecessary. You see, the money is made (was made?) by selling advertising space. Folks do not pay directly for news (the copy cost for a newspaper, I was always told, just helps pay the cost of printing and delivering it). A good ad salesperson directly brings in the revenue and gets a cut — a commission — as well as a salary (in most cases).

A good journalist might help make the product being sold (and I hate to use the word “product” in that context, but that is business talk) more attractive and thus contribute to a higher circulation and in turn create a situation for higher advertising rates, but that is all intangible.

(The upper echelons of broadcast news pay astronomical salaries because it is show business not real journalism.)

I’m really getting off the subject here, but this makes me think of the time I worked for a newspaper and the chain that ran it came in and supposedly did a salary study. I left before it was completed, but my old boss told me they concluded they were paying too much. Let’s see it was 1978 and I was taking home about $600 per month and trying to support a family. Yep, overpaid. (The starting wage for a clerk typist over at the county courthouse at the time was $1,000 per month — no wonder people like government jobs.)

But I got way off the track here. But what I was really trying to say is that while I like the theory that simply doing a good job, or even an excellent job or going along with the attitude that take care of your job and your job will take care of you is one that I like, it may not always work that way. There are a lot of variables. If your pay structure is not directly tied to your performance the theory might not hold true. And not all work can be tied directly to performance, especially since performance in many things is hard to accurately measure.

I do believe that taking pride in one‘s work is a moral responsibility and makes good sense and is in the best interests of the individual. Being good at what you do has to be a good thing.

Unions certainly have their drawbacks, especially when they promote silly work rules and protect mediocrity, and even more when they get too greedy and kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Unfortunately, many in the business and management category when left to their own devices will not always do what is in the best interests of employees or even the company (go figure). To make things worse, many in that category seem to be of the opinion that workers are lower class and deserve to be treated as such.

But you know? We can’t all be the boss.

But we all want to look out for our own interests.

 P.s.

I’m not schooled in the field of business or economics, but I think to advance my argument that things don’t always work the way they should in a Tom Sullivan perfect world I will say this: That small newspaper I once worked for that did the salary study still exists today, although under a different ownership. But I think it was and is in a kind of protected situation. I know under the previous chain it was called a “cash cow”. It was not necessary to pay people particularly well and quality was not so important because it had no direct competition. Everyone who worked there had their own story: just helping his or her spouse pay the bills, going to move on some day, couldn’t do better, no opportunity somewhere else, and so on. But  a lot of people in a lot of different jobs all over the country are in this situation, and employers take advantage.

In the past, sometimes people stuck working for low pay outfits got on with the government, a lot of  times a job for the city or country. You know?  Civil Service protections and unions.

And now the powers that be want to screw that up.

Looks like a race to the bottom for the working class.

P.s. P.s.

And yet I am more comfortable as a non-union worker. I tend to want to work and satisfy the one who signs my check and in my type of work (over-the-road truck driver) I basically work independently and don’t need any union bosses or fellow union brothers looking over my shoulder and telling me how hard to work or not to work. I stand by my own work and don’t need a union to speak for me. But that’s just me. And in a different time and different place, I might see things differently.

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