Labor Day and Labor Unions

SAG AFRTRA Logo

I’m a Joiner

Enjoying your three-day weekend?  I wish I could, but my work situation is still part-time, so I take the work I can get…when I can get it.  And so it goes for today.  A couple of years ago, I would have been like many folks and thrilled about the three-day weekend. Sure, it’s Labor Day, but a three-day weekend is a three-day weekend. But this time is a little different because I recently joined a union (the one pictured above).  Where I work is a union shop, so while joining is totally voluntary, I think it’s better to be affiliated with SAG-AFTRA if I want to continue to work in the broadcast media.

Now, if you’ve read the papers (Who does that?), listening to news stories (Huh?) or watching TV news (Please.) you know that union membership is pretty low. In fact, just going to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will reveal the following tidbit of info:

In 2012, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union–was 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.4 million, also declined over the year. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers. (full report HERE)

Well, as you can see, the number of those in unions has dropped significantly. But the biggest drop has been in private union membership — which is the kind of union I joined. According to the same survey summary, “the union membership rate for public-sector workers (35.9 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers (6.6 percent).” See that? almost 36 percent for public-sector workers and 6.6 percent for private-sector workers.

Resentment for Working Folks

The recent BART strike for better safety conditions, pay, and benefits really brought out a lot of hostilities against the members going on strike from many Bay Area commuters. The standard anti-union narrative was this: “These people sit in automated trains (they don’t even run them!) get paid an average of $65,000 a year, pay $92 a month for health benefits, get a pension, and they have the gall to ask for more? What a bunch of selfish babies. I think they ought to be fired and those jobs should be given to people who would be grateful to have them. I mean, most people don’t get a deal like that! I don’t! Why should we be held hostage because they want more.” Instead of seeing the power of unions to press for better working conditions and pay for people, people just get resentful and angry at the use of the strike — which is no picnic. It’s a last resort union members have to get management back to the bargaining table and talk turkey. The fact that BART unions are public, the messy quality of contract negotiations are publicly reported. Now, because we all have a little A.D.D. these days (the Internet does that), I’ll feature this video to explain things from the union’s side of things:

Screwed…Parts III, IV, and V

For the past 30 years, wages and benefits have dropped for employees. Your paycheck is smaller. You’re asked to pay more for health benefits. Oh, and forget about companies providing pension. We now have 401ks that are tied to market fluctuations, and, if you’re fortunate, have an employer contribution. However, many employers have stopped that benefit (“gotta cut costs”), so most people are left to contribute to their retirement with wages that keep declining year after year (when you factor in inflation). Moreover, if you have a job, there’s the risk of layoffs due to a number of factors: your age, your salary, if your job can be outsourced, and if your job can be automated or added to the tasks of workers who make less than you. The laws, it seems, are written for the benefit of corporations (which, by the way, are collective organizations like unions. But, that’s not talked about, so just move along. There’s nothing to see here). Free trade agreements?  That means it’s easier for corporations to take advantage of low-wage, low-regulation labor, lax environmental laws, and be protected from lawsuits.  Many politicians, who are supposed to represent the interests of the communities they come from, have sold the rest of us down the river so they can have a career in politics (‘Cause, you know, it take a lot of money to run for office). Now, many of these corporations pay little to no tax in our country, are sitting on piles of cash in profit (a lot of that profit comes from us buying their products), yet they get the benefits of protection by the U.S. government of their interests with the military, embargoes, diplomats flying hither and yon to make sure the business of America is business. That’s billions of dollars spent to protect a collective that, if they don’t get their way, threaten to pull up stakes and move their business “somewhere else.” And even though they have been doing just that, no one gets pissed off at the sweetheart deal corporate collectives get. They are celebrated for their business acumen and profit. Yet, when a working woman or working man in a union wants a fair deal that keeps them from having to live in fear of economic insecurity, wondering if they’ll ever be able to retire (and not into poverty), or have to work in unsafe conditions, they are branded as selfish, corrupt, socialists. Because BART unions are public, their jobs can’t be off-shored, nor can they be fired for using their rights to negotiate a contract or strike. Yeah, it’s a hassle when a transit strike occurs because it means more cars pile onto the freeway and it’s gridlock, but taking it out on the people who are trying to maintain a middle-class way of life isn’t something to be resentful about. It’s a way of life most of us will probably live.

The 1% Club…And The Rest of Us

Sure, most of us have probably dreamed about be stinkin’ rich, but the reality is that being a member of the 1% club is that it’s a club that is very, very difficult to get into. If it weren’t difficult, we’d all be billionaires. Yes, we’re told that if we work hard and play by the rules, then by dint of our effort we’ll be successful in what we do. It doesn’t always turn out that way. And while one’s definition of “success” is different for many people, it often means that we’ll make a good amount of money through our hard work and talents. There are those who do, but statistics tell a different story. Individuals who rise to the “top” by pulling herself or himself up by their bootstraps is a good story and a good moral for not half-assing it on a job. But as a tried and true recipe for working, moving up the ladder, and reaping the rewards for the skills and experience one brings to a company to help them turn a profit, having a union backing your interests is a better safeguard than you going at it alone against a corporation. Just read the news: the deck is stacked against you.

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