Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Americans Need to Remember What Unions Have Done for Them

I've known for some time that it isn't considered cool to be pro-union in many quarters these days. Republicans have convinced mass quantities of Americans that unions are only good for taking their dues and protecting slackers in the workplace. Heck, we even learned recently from The Wall Street Journal that Wal-Mart is warning employees that a Democratic Party win in November could hurt the company by making it easier to unionize.

But I think many middle-class Americans would be wise to think again about how much they owe to the union movement--and how vulnerable they are when they work in a non-union environment.

This point came up recently when my wife reported a conversation she'd had with a coworker. The 20-something, middle-class woman said she was going to vote for John McCain because she was concerned that Barack Obama and other Democrats would be too friendly to unions.

"Next time she says that," I told my wife, "ask her if she likes having Saturdays and Sundays off, if she likes having vacation time and health benefits, if she likes working roughly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. rather than, say, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Does she think many Americans enjoy those kinds of benefits, and limited work hours, because management wants it that way? Does she not realize that she enjoys a semi-humane work environment now because of what unions have pushed for in years past?"

The answer is apparently not. And that is a problem with many of the programs and rights that Progressives/Liberals have pushed for over the years. Think of the many progressive initiatives--Social Security, Medicare, employee rights, consumer rights, environmental protection, banking regulation, pro-choice laws--that are taken for granted by many Americans.

These programs and laws have been so successful, become such a part of our country's fabric, that many citizens have forgotten that someone had to fight for them--and they can be lost or ruined in the future. Especially when you vote for people like George W. Bush and John McCain.

Unions certainly have been on my mind recently in the wake of my termination at UAB. Unions came to mind the day my supervisor, Pam Powell, called me into her office and gave me a verbal warning for violating policies that don't exist. When I pointed out to her that I had not violated any policies, and that this was not the first time in recent months she had made false statements regarding my job performance, Powell and departmental HR rep Janice Ward presented me with a written warning that was so full of lies that even UAB's own grievance committee found they had no credibility.

Why were Powell and Ward able to concoct a scenario claiming I had acted in a "hostile" and "belligerent" manner? Because I was alone in a closed-door meeting with just the two of them, both representing management. In a union work environment, someone representing my interests would have been present. In fact, in a union environment, Powell and Ward never would have pulled this little stunt because they would have known they couldn't get away with it.
But has UAB taken any disciplinary action against Powell and Ward for writing a memo that the university's own grievance committee has found was false? Not that I can see. But hey, they are "management." And my experience has taught me that an employee in a non-union environment like UAB has absolutely no protection.

This "me against the world" atmosphere has been present throughout my termination experience at UAB. In my administrative-leave meeting, it was me and four management types. When I was informed of my termination, it was me and two management types. When I was asked to attend two meetings regarding the grievance-committee findings, it was me and three management types.

I've yet to attend a meeting during this process where anyone other than me had the least bit of concern for my rights or well being.

And the same kind of thing can happen to millions of Americans who happily work in non-union environments and think that management will treat them right. I thought UAB management was fair and reasonable for 18-plus years. But then one day someone in a position of power applied the right kind of pressure, and UAB's "reasonable supervisors" turned into management ninjas from hell, almost overnight. And I'm out of a job without ever having had anyone represent my interests in the process.

Oh, if this gets to a courtroom, and that's probably where it's headed, someone will be representing my interests. But if I had any kind of employee protection, the kind unions provide, this never would have happened in the first place.

UAB management types trumped up a bunch of phony charges because a non-union environment allowed them to do it.

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