(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that workers in the United States apparently don’t want to join unions because of the “very enlightened management in this country now, treating employees better and employees have decided they don’t want to pay the dues.”
McConnell, R-Ky., husband of the most anti-union Labor Secretary in history, enlightened the rest of the country with his ridiculous reason claiming why no Republican will vote for the Employee Free Choice Act
To borrow from Rep. Barney Frank, McConnell must spend most of his time on a planet that’s much better than the planet the rest of us live on.
In truth, the Employee Free Choice Act is desperately needed on my planet, where 16 workers die on the job every day because managers ignore their health and safety. On my planet, field workers die of heat exhaustion. Laundry workers are killed by dangerous machinery. Exhausted airline pilots die in crashes.
Here’s something else very enlightened managers do on my planet: cheat poor workers of their wages. Last week, 68 percent of low-paid workers were victimized by wage violations, according to a new University of Chicago report. The typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339.
So-called enlightened Amerijet managers forced pilots and flight engineers to strike on Aug. 27. Fort Lauderdale-based Amerijet doesn’t put working toilets on its Boeing 727s, which fly from Florida to Venezuela and the Caribbean. Amerijet’s female pilots are forced to relieve themselves by squatting over bags. Male pilots urinate into bags hanging just outside the cockpit doors. There are no sanitary facilities in which to wash.
Amerijet managers are so enlightened they think it’s a good policy to force exhausted, hungry, sick pilots to fly long hours. The company pays a small fortune to union-busting lawyers who have prevented Teamster pilots from negotiating a contract for 5-1/2 years. But Amerijet managers pay their co-pilots less than $35,000 a year.
Sen. McConnell might be surprised to learn of the outpouring of support for the Amerijet strikers from their dues-paying Teamster brothers and sisters in the airline and trucking industries. Teamster maintenance workers and cleaners at Miami International Airport are refusing to cross the picket lines. Amerijet’s picket line is being walked by unions at American, US Airways, Southwest, JetBlue, UPS, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association. Other South Florida unions, as well as organized labor in the Caribbean and South America, are supporting the strikers.
So-called enlightened managers make life difficult for school bus drivers, who have an important job that requires skill and hard work. This is how managers at one private school bus company treated its drivers before they became Teamsters: At several depots, the toilet paper was removed from the employees’ bathroom. Workers had to ask for it at the office. They would get four or five squares.
Along with shabby treatment, school bus drivers earn low pay and enjoy few benefits. The Teamsters are building a movement of school bus and transit workers to change that. Almost 30,000 school bus and transit workers became Teamsters in the last three years. They are now seeing real improvements in their jobs and in their lives.
We are organizing school bus workers at First Student, Bauman/Acme and Durham School Services. Next week, we plan to file petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize 3,500 school bus drivers, aides, attendants, monitors and mechanics at 30 yards across the country.
Studies show that millions more workers would belong to unions if they had the chance. We are working hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act over Sen. McConnell’s objections. Workers need the chance to decide for themselves – without being spied on, threatened, interrogated or fired by their employers – whether to join a union.
The Employee Free Choice Act would give them that chance.
Enjoy your well-deserved holiday, brought to you by America’s labor unions.
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on September 4, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.