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Five Reasonable Accommodations at Work

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With workplaces reopening in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, people with all types of disabilities are wondering if they can ask their employer for what they need.  Here are five common ADA accommodations and how the law has treated them.

The good news is that, with some thought, many of these adjustments will benefit everyone—creating a safer and more productive work environment.  Workplaces, like architecture, can be designed to minimize barriers. 

UNIVERSAL DESIGN: The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

United States Access Board

1. Adjusted Work Times

Adjusting work hours can help people with many kinds of disabilities, and can cut down on workplace crowding.  If schedule adjustments are possible for the job, they are a reasonable accommodation. Even adjusting the schedule for a less crowded commute may be reasonable.[1] 

2. Adding Protective Equipment

Courts have said protective equipment—like masks and gloves—can be reasonable to keep people with disabilities on the job and safe, even if the employer generally does not provide or allow it.[2]  Many employees are asking to use their own equipment, and this is likely to be a reasonable request.  Indeed, usually the employer will have to provide reasonable protective equipment, or even modify the workspace. 

3. Fixing Mask Policies

On the other hand, some people with disabilities need adjustments to masks or other protective equipment that employers may want to mandate for all workers.  For deaf peoplepeople with sensory sensitivities or claustrophobia, and people with breathing impairments, for example, masks can be a problem. 

The key is to accomplish the goal of keeping everyone safe.  With some thought, that can be done in ways that work for everyone.

4. Work from Home

Many judges used to be skeptical when people with disabilities asked to work remotely.[3]  That law is changing fast.[4]  If the job can be done remotely, an employer should consider it. 

5. Temporary Leave

As a last resort, workers can simply ask to take time off.  Disability law usually doesn’t require pay during the leave, although other laws, insurance, or contracts may.   The key to a temporary leave request is to make it reasonable—clear communication and an expected time frame are important.  Employers have to be able to take care of business while the worker is out.

These are just a few examples—many other adjustments may be reasonable, depending on the situation. A couple more points:

Medical Documentation

Employers can ask for reasonable medical documentation.  Here is the EEOC’s guidance.

Interactive Process

The law calls for an “interactive process” when a worker requests an accommodation.  That means an employer must work with the employee to figure out what is possible.  It also means the employee must work with the employer—the law does not always require the employer to give the first accommodation requested. Now more than ever, let’s come together and find ways for all of us to get back to work.

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[1] See, e.g., Lyons v. Legal Aid Soc‘y, 68 F.3d 1512, 1514 (2d Cir. 1995).

[2] See, e.g. Barry v. Illinois Dep’t of Corr., No. 114CV03199MMMTSH, 2019 WL 1083759, at *5 (C.D. Ill. Mar. 7, 2019).

[3] See, e.g. EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., 782 F.3d 753, 761 (6th Cir. 2015) (“[R]egularly attending work on-site is essential to most jobs.”).

[4] See, e.g. Masters v. Class Appraisal, Inc., No. 217CV11283LJMEAS, 2019 WL 4597365, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 23, 2019); Boltz v. United Process Controls, No. 1:16-CV-703, 2017 WL 2153921, at *10 (S.D. Ohio May 17, 2017).

This blog originally appeared at ADA Update on May 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maia Goodell is a civil rights lawyer committed to community lawyering for people and organizations of people with disabilities.


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How Workplace Rights Could Change for Remote Workers

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Knowing your workplace rights protects you 

In every civil society, certain rights have been put in place to guarantee equity and fairness for all. The same goes for every workplace. Every employee has certain rights that they are entitled to that provide a safe and non-toxic environment where they can thrive and excel. These rights affect diverse aspects of workplace ethics in relation to the employee. This includes pay, health, safety, bullying at work, discrimination, entitlements, breaks, and much more.

As an employee, it is vital that you know and understand:

  • The terms and conditions of your employment. 
  • Your rights to health and safety, and against bullying and discrimination.
  • Your access to precautionary gear and safety equipment.
  • And most importantly, where to get help if any of the workplace challenges listed above arise.

Having substantial knowledge of these rights can protect you if the situation arises. 

Are you treated fairly as a remote worker? 

How Can the Workplace Rights of a Remote Worker Change?

With recent global developments, advancement in technology, and ongoing world crises, the need for many more employers and their employees to create a remote working arrangement, both formally and informally has arisen. More arrangements have been made to cater to and support a large percentage of workers to work remotely.

But do these developments truly benefit remote workers? Does it cater to their rights as workers or have their workplace rights been sidelined? In cases like this, it is easy for a lot of employers to get carried away with the concept of remote work, that they fail to extend the appropriate workplace rights to their employees. Many workplace rights and privileges were created to mainly cater to workers in the physical workspace and therefore, tend to leave out virtual workers. 

What this means in essence, is that:

  • Typical rights such as access to health and safety may be cut off or reduced since they may no longer report to the office.
  • Suitability of the worker’s remote working environment for their type of work may not be considered.
  • Discrimination or stereotyping (which may affect decision-making) may occur against those that work remotely.
  • Breach of employee privacy may occur due to excessive surveillance from the company.
  • There may be blurred lines between work hours and off-hours (instigated by the employer) since the employee now works virtually. 

This should not be so because rights in the workplace should cover all employees, not only those at the physical workspace. Remote workers have workplace rights and entitlements just as well as the employee who reports at the office. 

Knowing your Rights as a Remote Worker

Before you begin to examine your rights as a remote worker, it is important that you meet the standards of a remote worker as recognized by many companies. A remote worker is someone who works outside of a traditional office. This could be anywhere, your bedroom, favorite coffee shop, or lounging by the poolside. What matters is that the job gets done. If this description fits you, take a look at these important rights you ought to know and exercise as a remote worker.

  1. You have the right to a private life and family life. Although your employer has the right to monitor you, you must be adequately informed and aware of it. This covers emails, internet access, telephone calls, data, and images. 
  2. You have the right to see any information that has been recorded about you.
  3. You have the right to adequate health care and safety support from your employer.
  4. You have the right to reasonable working hours and at least 20minutes of rest breaks.
  5. You have the right to a standard employment contract.
  6. You have the right to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.

In conclusion

As a remote worker, always remember that it is within your right to request for fairness in any working condition. Employers and HR need to work together to ensure that the welfare of every employee is adequately catered to. This would create a balance in workplace rights for all types of workers, remote or not. 

Alex Capozzolo is the owner of the Brotherly Love Real Estate blog and a content writer for the real estate industry. Our focus is on helping people through one of the most important investment decisions of their lifetime by seamlessly providing fast, honest and professional real estate services.

About the Author: Alex Capozzolo is the co-owner of Brotherly Love Real Estate.


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Common Workplace Issues And Employee Rights To Remember

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It is practically impossible to not experience conflicts of one sort or the other in the workplace. This is why there are laws that protect employees in their workplaces, irrespective of the personal dispositions of said employees.

Common Workplace Issues

1. Workplace Politics

A pointer of workplace politics is favoritism. You might notice some favoritism going on. Some employees could never do wrong, and others never seem to get it right.

When you are caught in this web, try to understand the unspoken rules of the workplace. Try to see who wields what power, and how they go about exercising that power. This way, you know how to work your way around their traps.

2. Bullies At The Workplace

Bullies are not only found in schools. If you look closely, you would find them in the workplace as well. 

Bullies may intentionally try to exclude you from team events. Unfair criticism is a form of bullying too. Name-calling coated in jokes isn’t left out either. 

When you find that you are being bullied at work, document such actions and report to the higher-ups.

Finally, as far as workplace troubles go, you may have some issues with your dress sense. In such a case like this, you would probably need to switch up your style. 

Get some stylish and up-to-date clothes as well as top-notch accessories to go with it. There’s no law against looking classy at the office after all. 

3. Inconsiderate Bosses

It is possible that you encounter inconsiderate bosses that never seem to recognize how hard you’re working. Instead, they criticize everything you do and make you feel you’re not well equipped to do your job. 

To handle such situations, make sure that the criticisms from your boss are wrong. Up your own efforts and communication skills. 

Learn to anticipate problems and present solutions. Sometimes, it may not be about you, it could just be a very inconsiderate boss. 

Your Rights As An Employee

It is essential for you to know that there are laws that protect you and your interests at your place of work. 

Lacking knowledge of these rights may land you in positions you could have completely avoided if you were privy to your rights. 

Labor Rights cover you irrespective of your race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. 

Some of these essential rights include the right to:

Here are some other rights you need to constantly remember:

1. Your Right To Complain About Working Conditions

If you find out that there is a workplace condition you’re not comfortable with, you have the right to notify your employer about the conditions that may be harmful to you and your coworkers.

However, you might not get a quick response or even any response at all if the complaint is for your own personal reasons. 

This law doesn’t even protect you in such a situation. Make sure that whatever you are complaining about is something that affects you and your coworkers.

2. Your Right To Refuse Work

When you work in a place that you believe could harm you, you may refuse to work in such a situation. 

However, you must have informed your employer before you pull this card. 

After you have informed the appropriate authorities and they still do not put any measures in place to mitigate or alleviate any hazards, you can then trigger your right to refuse work. 

3. Your Right to Have A Copy Of Your Signed Agreements

You probably signed a folder-full of agreement papers before you started at your job. 

But what you don’t know is that you might have unknowingly given up some important rights in those papers.  

It is possible you agreed never to work for a competitor or that you relinquished the claim to your intellectual property while working with them without knowing it. 

You can request copies of all the agreements you signed. Your employer may be reluctant to give them to you, but it is your right to have them, at least in many states. 

Be sure this law protects you in your state when you want to request these copies. 

When you have the copies, go through them and know what you have signed up for. This way, you can avoid lawsuit troubles should you have a falling out with your employer.

About the Author: Norma Spencer fully enjoys her editor career living an RV life with her family. She’s a devoted tech and finance writer with a Ph.D. in Business Administration (Management). In the moment of writing this bio, Norma is in Germany, planning to spend at least a few more years in Europe in the coming years.


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House Republicans stand strong for anti-LGBT discrimination in the wake of Orlando shootings

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LauraClawsonLGBT people may be able to marry, but in many states they can also be fired or not hired because they’re LGBT. And House Republicans are fighting to keep that from changing.

President Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity went into effect in 2015. Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has been trying to get the House to pass an amendment backing up that executive order, but House Republicans are not having it. They’ve beenfighting to keep allowing employers to discriminate against LGBT workers even if they get federal money, and they’re not stopping now.

The House Rules Committee blocked Maloney’s amendment from getting a full House vote. Again, we’re talking about something saying that if you want federal money, you can’t discriminate. And context matters here:

Maloney argued that allowing a vote to prohibit discrimination in the workplace after the targeted attack on the gay nightclub would send a message of solidarity with the LGBT community.

“It’s hard to imagine that any act that is so horrific could lead to anything positive. But if we were going to do anything, it would be a very positive step to say that discrimination has no place in our law and to reaffirm the president’s actions in this area,” Maloney told The Hill. “Seems to me a pretty basic thing to do.”

Sorry, make that—context should matter here. But House Republicans have made it clear that there’s no context that would stop them from enabling discrimination.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June 15, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.


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The Advocate: North Carolina’s Transgender Discrimination Bill Hurts Everyone

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Kenneth-Quinnell_smallThe Advocate has a piece by Catalina Velasquez, director of People For the American Way Foundation’s “Young People For” program, that explains why the recently passed transgender discrimination law in North Carolina hurts everyone, not just the direct targets of the legislation.

An excerpt:

The recent passage of House Bill 2, the North Carolina law that includes a provision preventing trans people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, has been met with an avalanche of protest. So far the conversation has largely centered on the devastating effect the law has on transgender North Carolinians—and rightfully so. Based on zero evidence, legislators framed trans people as predators, a smear that protects no one while harming many. One transgender woman in Greensboro, N.C., told PBS, “Being out in public now, I feel like I might have a target on me.”

A suicide prevention hotline serving transgender people reports that the number of calls has doubled since H.B. 2 became law. There’s no question that this shameful law targets trans people, and it’s impossible to overstate the harm of that dehumanization. But what has been largely missing from the discussion are the ways in which this is also about disability justice, about economic justice, about families and much more. Quite simply, this fight affects everyone.

Read the full article.

 

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on June 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.


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Workplace Advice: My Fair Share

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DavidMy Fair Share is a cross-post from Working America’s Dear David workplace advice column. David knows you deserve to be treated fairly on the job and he’s available to answer your questions, whether it is co-workers making off-handed comments that you should retire or you feel like your job’s long hours are causing stress.

Question:

What can you do about not being paid a fair wage for the work you do? I make a lot of money for the company I work for feeding a robot up to 4,000 packages per hour. How do I get some of the money I make for the company through high production paid to me?

—Marty, Indiana

Answer:

“We make it, they take it.” If the last 40 years have anything to teach us, it’s that if we leave it up to them, too many bosses don’t feel like they need to share fairly—if they even share at all. Check this out. It used to be that as worker productivity increased, so did a worker’s wages. But sometime in the 1970s that stopped being the case. Today, even as most workers are struggling in a stagnant economy, big banks and corporations are posting record profits. If you’re feeling squeezed, it’s not your fault.

 As long as you’re being paid at least the minimum wage, there’s no legal requirement that a wage be “fair.” So who should get to decide what’s “fair”? You already know what can happen when the boss gets to be the decider—so the key is not to leave it only to your boss! And to act collectively.

It starts by you getting together with at least one other person at your workplace who feels the same way you do. Do this first—there are certain legal protections that kick in for you once this has happened. Meet up someplace outside of work, and compare notes. Who else can you talk to who would stand with you? Make a list, get folks together again and ask others what improvements they’d like to see at their workplace. This has been said before, but these are all important first steps. Together you may decide that you are ready to take something up with your boss right away. Or you could decide that you will be more successful negotiating if you first form a union. This process might take some time, and it’s worth it to move cautiously. Whatever you decide—you are stronger acting as a group than if you act alone. 

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on December 30, 2012. Reprinted with Permission. 

About the Author: David at Working America focuses on answering submitted questions about workplace fairness and workplace rights around the country. Working America is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and is the fastest-growing organization for working people in the country. At 3 million strong and growing, Working America uses their strength in numbers to educate each other, mobilize and win real victories to improve working people’s lives.


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The Triangle Fire 100 Years Later: Lessons Learned and Unlearned

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Richard GreenwaldThis Friday is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire. On March 25, 1911, 146 mostly young immigrant women died in a terrible factory fire in Manhattan. The tragedy, at the time the deadliest ever in New York City’s history, changed America.

While the nation learned a valuable lesson from the fire, it was a lesson, frankly, it did not need to learn. At least not this way.

It was a Saturday, like many other work days, in a 60-plus hour work-week. Workers found themselves behind sewing machines, toiling for 12 hour days. They were charged for electricity, needles and any damages. The working conditions were, by any measure, subhuman.

The factory in question was notorious. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was the largest factory of women’s shirtwaists and blouses. During the 1909 strike, the Uprising of 20,000, Triangle resorted to violence, hiring thugs and prostitutes to viciously assault pickets. While almost all other shops in the industry settled with the union, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the owners of the Triangle factory refused.

Many of the victims of the fire were trapped on the 8th floor of the factory, and jumped from windows to their deaths on sidewalks below. Crowds gathered from adjacent Washington Square Park as the tragedy unfolded.   (Photo courtesy International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union)
Many of the victims of the fire were trapped on the 8th floor of the factory, and jumped from windows to their deaths on sidewalks below. Crowds gathered from adjacent Washington Square Park as the tragedy unfolded. (Photo courtesy International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union)

Many wondered: If the strikers had been successful at Triangle, how many of those 146 might have survived? Many union members knew the answer, and demanded that their fellow workers not be forgotten, that they not die in vain.

Because of their demands, visible on the streets of New York as tens of thousands of workers participated in a mass funeral days after the fire, preasure mounted.

Those protests led the State’s political machine, Tammany Hall, to take notice. The Democratic Party, long in control of the state, passed legislation creating the Factory Investigating Commission. That commission, co-chaired by Al Smith and Robert Wagner, made recommendations to transform the state’s labor, building and fire codes. They investigated working conditions and workers’ safety and health.

Unlike many similar commissions, because Smith and Wagner controlled the state legislature, as Smith was Assembly Speaker and Wagner was majority leader of the Senate, they forced 36 of the recommendations into law. These laws made New York a model of progressive reform. These laws protected workers and gave unions a legislative friend in the urban Democrats.

The fire taught the city, state and the nation a lesson: that the state had a responsibility to protect workers and that an unchecked free market system might not be fully compatible with democracy. Frances Perkins, then a young social worker—soon to become chief investigator of the Commission and then Commissioner of Labor for New York and then Secretary of Labor—recalled the Triangle Fire as the starting point for New Deal.

But 100 years later, have we forgotten the tragic lesson of the Triangle Fire? This year alone, 5,000 workers will loose their lives on the jobs. Many of these deaths are preventable, through better and more rigorous enforcement of current laws. Mine disasters, oil rig explosions and construction workers falling to their death are all too common. In postmortem investigations, we find that regulations were either inadequate or simply not enforced. We have slashed the budgets of regulatory agencies to the point that they can not function.

How many more workers need to die before we come to our senses? Do we need another Triangle Fire? I hope not. I hope that we can learn from history. So, on March 25, I hope you stop, remember and act on the lessons of the fire. 146 innocent workers died. Let’s not let them have died in vain.

About the Author: Richard Greenwald is a labor historian and social critic. He is currently a professor of history at Drew University. His essays have appeared in In These Times, The Progressive, The Wall Street Journal among others. He is currently writing a book on the rise of freelancing and is co-editing a book on the future of work for The New Press, which features essays from the county’s leading labor scholars and public intellectuals.

This blog originally appearing In These Times on March 22, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.


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Workers’ Rights

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I n looking back on growing up, I always remember 1957 and 1958 at “the two good years,” They were the only years my working class redneck family ever caught a real break in their working lives, and that break came because of organized labor. After working as a farm hand, driving a hicktown taxi part time, and a dozen catch as catch can jobs, my father found himself owning a used semi-truck and hauling produce for a Teamster unionized trucking company called Blue Goose.

Daddy was making more money than he’d ever made in his life, about $4,000 a year. The median national household income at the time was $5,000, mostly thanks to America’s unions. After years of moving from one rented dump to another, we bought a modest home, ($8,000) and felt like we might at last be getting some traction in achieving the so-called “American Dream.” Yup, Daddy was doing pretty good for a backwoods boy who’d quit school in the sixth or seventh grade — he was never sure, which gives some idea how seriously the farmboy took his attendance at the one-room school we both attended in our lifetimes.

This was the golden age of both trucking and of unions. Thirty-five percent of American labor, 17 million working folks, were union members, and it was during this period the American middle class was created. The American middle class has never been as big as advertised, but if it means the middle third income-wise, then we actually had one at the time. But whatever it means, one third of working folks, the people who busted their asses day in and day out making the nation function, were living better than they ever had. Or at least had the opportunity to do so.

From the Depression through World War II the Teamsters Union became a powerful entity, and a popular one too because of such things as its pledge never to strike during the war or a national emergency. President Roosevelt even had a special designated liaison to the Teamsters. But power and money eventually drew the usual assortment of lizards, and by the mid-fifties the Teamsters Union had become one corrupt pile of shit at the top level. So rotten even the mob enjoyed a piece of the action. The membership, ordinary guys like my dad, was outraged and ashamed, but rendered powerless by the crooked union bosses in the big cities.

My old man was no great follower of the news or current events, but he tried to keep up with and understand Teamster developments. Which was impossible since his reading consisted of anti-union Southern newspapers, and the television coverage of Teamster criminality, including murders, and the ongoing courtroom trials.

All this left him conflicted. His Appalachian Christian upbringing defined the world in black and white, with no gray areas. Inside he felt he should not be even remotely connected with such vile things as the Teamsters were associated with. And he sometimes prayed for guidance in the matter. On the other hand, there was the pride and satisfaction in providing for his family in ways previously impossible. He’d built a reasonable working class security for those times and that place in West Virginia. Being a Teamster certainly made that possible. But for damned sure no one had handed it to him. He drove his guts out to get what he had.

There were rules, and log books and all the other crap that were supposed to assure drivers got enough rest, and ensure road safety and fairness for the truckers. Rural heartland drivers saw it for the bullshit it was, but it was much better paying bullshit. For a little guy hauling produce from Podunk USA to the big cities, it still came down to heartburn, hemorrhoids, and longer hauls and longer hours than most driver’s falsified log books showed. And sometimes way too much Benzedrine, or “bennies.”

Bennies were a type of speed commonly used by truckers back then because of the grueling hauls. As a former doper who has done bennies, I can avow they are some gritty nerve jagging shit. Their only virtue is making you wide awake and jumpy, and after you’ve been awake on them a couple days, which many drivers were, crazier than a shithouse rat. Nearly every truck stop sold bennies under the counter. Once while hallucinating on bennies Daddy nearly wiped out a roadside joint. He recalled “layin’ on the jake brake, down shifting, and watching hundreds of the witches like in The Wizard of Oz come down out of the sky in the dark.” Somehow he got 30,000 pounds back onto the road while several folks inside the diner were pissing themselves in the windowside booths.

My daddy ran the eastern seaboard in a 12-wheeler — there were no 18 wheelers yet. It had polished chrome and bold letters that read, “BLUE GOOSE LINE”. Parked alongside our little asbestos sided house, I’d marvel at the magic of those bold words, the golden diamond and sturdy goose. And dream of someday “burning up Route 50” like my dad.

Old U.S. Route 50 ran near the house and was the stuff of legend if your daddy happened to be a truck driver who sometimes took you with him on the shorter hauls: “OK boy, now scrunch down and lookinto the side mirror. I’m gonna turn the top of them side stacks red hot.” And he would pop the clutch and strike sparks on the anvil of the night, downshifting toward Pinkerton, Coolville and Hanging Rock. It never once occurred to me that his ebullience and our camaraderie might be due to a handful of bennies.

Yessir, Old 50 was a mighty thing, a howling black slash through the Blue Ridge Mountain fog. A place where famed and treacherous curves made widows and truck stops and cafes bloomed in the tractor trailers’ smoky wakes. A roadmap will tell you it eventually reaches Columbus and Saint Louis, places I imagined had floodlights raking the skies heralding the arrival of heroic Teamster truckers like my father. Guys who’d fought in Germany and Italy and the Solomon Islands and were still wearing their service caps these years later, but now pinned with the gold steering wheel of the Teamsters Union. Such are a working class boy’s dreams.

I have two parched photos from that time. One is of me and my brother and sister, ages ten, eight and six. We are standing in the front yard, three little redneck kids with bad haircuts squinting for some faint clue as to whether there was really a world out there, somewhere beyond West Virginia. The other photo is of my mother and the three of us on the porch of that house on route 50. On the day my father was slated to return from any given run we’d all stand on the porch listening for the sound of airbrakes, the deep roar as he came down off the mountain. Each time my mother would step onto the porch blotting her lipstick, Betty Grable style hair rustling in the breeze, and say, “Stand close, your daddy’s home.”

And that was about as good as it ever got for our family. Daddy’s heart later gave way from a congenital defect and he lost everything. He was so scrupulously honest about debts he could never recover financially. Unable to borrow money, uneducated and weakened for life, he set to working in car washes and garages. After his union trucking days were over, we were assigned to the margins of America, a million miles from the American Dream, joining those people never seen on television, represented by no politician and never heard from in halls of power.

Now it was only a little house by the side of the road with not enough closets and ugly asbestos shingle siding. But it was ours, just like the truck and the chance to get ahead that it offered. And we had felt like we were some small part of America as it was advertised. All because of a union job during the heyday of unions in this nation.

It was also a period of Teamsters Union corruption, replete with criminal moguls such as Dave Beck, George Meany and Jimmy Hoffa. Yet the history of the few top lizards on the national rock of greed is not the history of the people.

If a few pricks and gangsters have occasionally seized power over the dignity of labor, countless more calculating, bloodless and malevolent pricks — the capitalist elites — have always held most of the cards, which is why in 1886 railroad and financial baron Jay Gould could sneer, “I can always hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” And why a speaker at the U.S. Business Conference Board in 1974 could arrogantly declare, “One man, one vote has undermined the power of business in all capitalist countries since World War II.” And why that same year Business Week magazine said, “It will be a hard pill for many Americans to swallow — the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more. Nothing in modern economic history compares with the selling job that must now be done to make people accept this new reality.”

The new reality is here, and has been since 1973, the last year American workers made a wage gain in real dollars. Hell, it’s been here so long we accept it as part of America’s cultural furniture. Only about 12% of American workers are unionized and even with a supposedly union friendly Democratic Congress, unions are still fighting to exist (although government employees are unionized at 36%, because the Empire allows some leeway for its commissars). In fact, things are worse than ever. Employers can now force employees to attend anti-union presentations during the workday, at captive audience meetings in which union supporters are forbidden to speak under threat of insubordination. Back in 1978 when I was working to organize the local newspaper, the management was not even allowed to speak to the workers on the matter until after the union vote results were in.

Then there’s President Obama, the guy soft headed liberals think is going to turn this dreadful scenario around. He talks a good game about unions, when he is forced to. But Obama is working on the things that will “create a legacy,” such as health care (which is simply a new way to pay the insurance industry’s blackmail) or the economy (by appointing the same damned people who fucked it up to fix it), and immigration reform, a nicely nebulous term that can mean whatever either side of the issue wants it to mean. Obama’s not going to publicly ignore the unions. But he’s not going to sink much political capital into this corporatized nation’s most radio-active issue either. For him, union legislation is just a distraction from the “legacy building” of a very charming,savvy, and ambitious politician. That is the assessment of Glenn Spencer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most anti-union institutions in America. (Many thanks to Washington writer Ken Silverstein for publishing Spencer’s astute observations).

Things are changing though. Union membership climbed 12 percent last year. Twelve percent of twelve percent ain’t shit, but at least it’s forward motion. At that rate it will only take us 21 years to get back to the 1956 level of union membership. We can expect no miracles, top union leaders are still among the Empire’s elites. And they are still technically accountable to whatever membership will still have jobs when the 2012 elections roll around. The least they could do is make it harder for Obama to lick off those millions of hard earned union support dollars from the top of the campaign contribution ice cream cone as he did in ’08.

But who can be sure? Because the new union elites and their minions are lawyers and marketing professionals. They’ve never come down off the mountain with both stacks red hot, or gathered on the porch of a crappy but new roadside bungalow, proud because they owned it, and stood up straight because, “Boys, your daddy is coming home.”

I’m not going into the current brouhaha about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) or the “card check” bullshit here. Because what it’s gonna take to restore dignity to laboring America, ain’t gonna be more legislative wrangling. What it takes won’t be pretty, maybe not even legal in this new police state, and sure as hell won’t be “within the system.” Because the system is the problem.

So it will be up us, just like it always has been … the writer, the Nicaraguan janitor, the forty year old family man forced to bag groceries at Walmart, the pizza delivery guy, the welder and the certified nurse…the long haul trucker and the short order cook. And they will snicker at us from their gilded roosts on Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some people are bound to get hurt in the necessary fight. In fact, people need to be willing to get hurt in the fight. That’s the way we once gained worker rights, and that’s the way we will get them back. The only way to get rid of the robbers’ roost is to burn the fucker down.

Anyone got a match?

About the Author: Joe Bageant is author of the book, Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War.Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland (AK Press). A complete archive of his on-line work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class may be found on ColdType and Joe Bageant’s website, joebageant.com (Random House Crown), about working class America.  He is also a contributor to Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland (AK Press). A complete archive of his on-line work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class may be found on ColdType and Joe Bageant’s website, joebageant.com.

This article originally appeared in Counterpunch on June 19, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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