My husband and I had planned to visit a winery today but instead he’s putting people back in power after a storm.
My husband’s a lineman for an electrical power company and unexpected storm work is part of his job. We’re used to this. I’m neither whining nor am I looking for a pat on the back. And since the people he’s putting back in power have been without life’s necessities—refrigeration, flushable toilets and, ahem, internet access—since early Friday, I am truly sympathetic.
But it’s Labor Day, and my husband’s been gone for days, so I’m also feeling somewhat ambivalent. I’m thankful to God he has a good job and is a dedicated, hard-working man. I’m also defensive to those who spent this 3-day weekend doing fun things yet vehemently criticize labor unions, of which my husband is a member.
Here’s why I’ve got my dukes up.
Recently an acquaintance called my husband a thug. Well, not him directly. Actually, he was referring to those who marched at the capitol in February and he didn’t realize my husband was one of them. It made me smile because my husband is the least thuggiest of any so-called “thug.”
I commonly ignore such mindless opines.
Then this acquaintance went on to say “those people” were marching only for their self-centered financial gain. That made me wince. It reminded me of being a kid and my parochial school teacher telling us it was sinful for workers to go on strike because it demonstrated their love of money more than God. My father, an electrician for General Motors, was one of those “sinners.”
You know, there’s so much more to everything—more than we realize unless we fully examine both sides of an issue, or better yet, actually involve ourselves in what’s going on.
Years after my classroom days (which, by the way, had no adverse affect on me), my father talked about his job. He mentioned how, when he began working at GM in the mid-1950s, there were old timers there from the pre-union days. They told stories of the horrid, dangerous working conditions, how men lost fingers, limbs, and sometimes even their lives. History tells us similar stories, like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911, or the classrooms in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1946, or the Crandall Canyon Mine in 2007.
Unions aren’t just for financial gain. Unions stand up for safe working conditions, both for the workers and the people for whom they’re working. They promote extensive training, which results in a higher skill level and quality of work.
And what about my school teacher? This was back in the 1960s so naturally she was paid differently (less) than her male counterparts. If she was married, she didn’t receive housing compensation (a common salary inclusion in religious organizations). Depending on where she taught, she may or may not have received benefits or a retirement plan. Nowadays, EEO laws require equal pay for equal work regardless of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Unions aren’t just for some people’s gains. They’re for everybody’s equal rights, equal compensation, and equal job opportunities.
And, yes, unions do fight for financial gain. Why shouldn’t they? Here’s an interesting article about CEO’s and their increased salaries. If Wisconsin’s top corporate executives allotted themselves an average pay raise of 27% in 2010, should they be asking their employees to make pay cuts?
This weekend, as you enjoy an extra day off, think about the benefits we have in our life today. If you appreciate any of these, give credit to the unions and activists who stood up not only for themselves, but also for you:
- 8-hour workday
- 16-hour maximum workday
- 5-day work week
- Employee-based health care coverage
- Family and medical leave time
- Retirement benefits
- Minimum wage laws
- Disability compensation
- Child labor laws
- Whistle-blower laws
And, please, don’t call my husband a thug. He keeps you in power.