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‘Undercover Boss’: A Fairy Tale That Ignores Grim Reality

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Image: Mike HallAs kids, we all loved the sugar-coated fairy tales of handsome and brave princes rescuing beautiful princesses from despotic kings.

The new CBS “reality” show “Undercover Boss” that debuted last night after the Super Bowl is a 21st century sugar-coated fairy tale. But this time, the brave prince is actually a CEO who goes undercover as a regular worker near the bottom of the food chain. There he finds how hard and dirty the job is; how stifling and draconian the company’s workplace rules are; and how crappy the pay is.

Then after walking so many miles in an employee’s work boots, the boss sees the light and promotes workers, raises pay, eases rules and promises a new found respect for all workers.

(If your boss isn’t going undercover anytime soon, be sure to check out American Rights at Work’s new website, Fix Our Jobs, where you can vent about how lousy—and even how great—your job is and learn how to make it better. Click here to watch the video.)

But just like our childhood stories ignored the dark, bloody and scary Brothers Grimm originals, “Undercover Boss” ignores the grim reality of too many of today’s workplaces.

“Undercover Boss” is a sweet, happy-ending tale for a handful of workers, but make-believe for millions of others. The best way to make workplace improvement and worker rights a reality is with the Employee Free Choice Act, that would restore the right of workers to form unions and bargain for a better life.

The bosses portrayed on the show may indeed be sincere and a handful of workers will enjoy the benefits of their foxhole conversions. But what about the millions of workers whose CEO’s will never be on TV? That’s where unions come in: to ensure employees have a voice at the workplace, with family-supporting pay and affordable health care and retirement security.

Along with the restoring the freedom to form unions, rebuilding the middle class means fighting for health care legislation, strong enforcement of wage and hour laws, holding Wall Street accountable and most importantly creating jobs. Unions and their members at the forefront of all these battles—out in the open—not undercover.

*This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on February 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

**For more information on the Employee Free Choice Act visit the Workplace Fairness EFCA Resource Page.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.


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