Union Maid?

By: Grainne Rhuad

Now, there once was a union maid
She never was afraid
Of the goons and the ginks
And the company finks
And the deputy sheriffs who made the raid
And she went to the union hall
Where a meeting, it was called
And when the boys would come up to her
Lord, this is what she’d say

Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, I’m stickin’ to the union
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, till the day I die

Now this union maid was wise
To the tricks of the company spies
She’d take the dare
She didn’t care
She’d always organize the guys
And she always got her way
When she asked for better pay
She showed her card to the National Guard
Honey, this is what they’d say

Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, I’m stickin’ to the union
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, till the day I die

Now, you girls who wanna be free
Just take a little tip from me
Oh, get you a man who’s a union man
And you can join the Ladies’ Auxiliary
Because married life ain’t hard
When you got a union card
And the union life is a happy life
If you’ve got a union wife

Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, I’m stickin’ to the union
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, till the day I die

Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, I’m stickin’ to the union
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union
I’m stickin’ to the union, till the day I die
-Union Maid by: Woody Guthrie

I am staring in disbelief at the main wage-earner of our household as he tells me at the end of the month our insurance costs will be rising and there is nothing we can do about it.

As soon as my brain clicks back into gear I begin to hear the information that I will need but it still seems to make little sense.  The union that he belongs to, after much supposed negotiation has decided that it is better to pass the cost of insurance to the employee than to cut out even more jobs.  What this means is that the monthly amount the insured is responsible for (in this case) is rising from $358.00 per month to $700 per month.  But not to worry, the papers accompanying this bad news states the employer will still match the $358.00 that they have always matched.

We are also reminded via memorandum that we are required to carry health insurance.  That as long as we are employees of a county agency we cannot opt out of insurance.  This bit of information leaves me gobsmacked because some quick elementary arithmetic tells me we would save money by paying cash for our medical needs.

The reason is this: most doctors in our area are getting wise to insurance companies and their games.  They figure it is worth their time to take a reduced amount of cash in hand from their patients rather than bill at a higher amount and hope that the insurance companies pay them a third of what they are asking for.

Also prescriptions are becoming increasingly cheaper to pay for out of pocket.  At the same time that insurance premiums are going up, the co-pays for individuals insured are increasing.  What was once$5 co-pay on a prescription for me now cost me $40 in a co-pay.  Shockingly enough I have found that the same prescription formulated on site at a local apocarthy costs me only $45 for three months worth that’s an $85 savings on a cash payment for something that is supposedly covered under my formulary.

I make the flippant comment that I hope this is the death throes of the insurance companies and that it will all be over soon, but in my heart I know that is wishful thinking.

What has really died and what we should be mourning is the American Labor Union.  Those vestiges of the working class made by the people designed to work for the people.  To right wrongs and make things fair.

Union battles are becoming a lost history in our country.

Unions called by many, bastions of Socialism and Marxism were in actuality a way for workers to collectively bargain to gain rights for themselves both in regards to workplace practices and benefits.  Without unions there would have been no retirement funds, no healthcare, no maternity or vacation or even sick leave.  The safety standards put into place in so many workplaces was overlooked as a matter of course as was age limits for workers.  Individuals bargaining for their own rights had no recourse where unions and collective bargaining made all these things possible.

At the turn of the century, nearly everyone who was a blue-collar worker was in favor of labor unions.  Although not everyone would say so.  To do so would have been dangerous, and has continued to be dangerous even today.  In fact Glen Beck in his televised evangelistic show in May of this year spoke out against the “Socialist-Marxist (apparently the two are interchangeable in his mind) propaganda” being put forth by such dangerous folks as teachers associations.  But it was those people who were willing to fight for safety standards and wage parity that made it possible for all of us to progress in class in the United States.

Those days are far behind us now.  In a time when even professionals have unions to join, the unions themselves have become nothing more than glorified money collection agencies.  Too often the very unions that you are paying your dues to are using that money to garner favors and promote their own agendas in Washington.  Some even cut out the middle men and muck up the halls of congress, entering the lobbying trade.

All this would be fine if they represented the workers but they don’t.  Back at our own corner of the world we have learned from experience that our union representative does not answer phone calls or letters, does not take appointments and in fact it is very hard to tell if there is an actual human being in the office at all.  While their wages are paid out of dues taken from the paychecks of every county employee, they do not show up at negotiations and in fact make decisions on important issues like health care, flex time and maternity leave based solely on memorandums passed back and forth.  Their office most resembles a ghost town with their secretary the animated robot that tells you “Your Union representative has not yet decided on this issue and will send out notification when they do.”  Or “Your Union representative has explained the decision by memo which you will find in your monthly newsletter. “

Unions are on the wane. American union membership in the private sector has in recent years fallen under 9% — levels not seen since 1932.(as reported by AFL-CIO) Unions allege that employer-incited opposition has contributed to this decline in membership. I would challenge this ascertation.  My feeling is unions are losing membership because they aren’t doing their job for workers.  They aren’t bargaining for the benefit of workers and instead are bargaining to keep their own place of influence.

At a time when it is currently estimated that one in 6 Americans  are being served by at least one government anti-poverty program; One out of every seven mortgages in the United States is either delinquent or in foreclosure (reported during the first quarter of 2010.-This four years after the supposed housing bubble burst) and  the number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has risen over 60%,  we cannot afford to let our Union representatives sit back and collect payola.  They need to either start working their job or they need to be voted out.

Too bad most people are too busy working their own tails off to notice when the smallish sized memos regarding union representative voting goes out.  Too bad you have to be a friend of a friend of a cousin to actually shake hands with your union representative much less take up 5 minutes of their time.  And too bad nobody announces when or how to throw your hat in the ring to run for union representative

Yes our unions are letting us down.  But we shouldn’t be surprised, we are allowing them to and paying them to do it.  It’s past time to speak up.  And apparently our monetary hands have been tied.  Perhaps we should all quit and join Yosemite Bear in his organic garden chasing double rainbows…all the way.

11 Comments on “Union Maid?”

  1. You hit the nail on the head for me. I’m so sick ouf my union doing squat. I pay them $20 bucks a month (and that doesn’t cover the cost of our anual “Members Dinner”. We have to pay for that separate). My union sends out a supid questionaire every year with pre constructed areas of concern. These are always issues that are minor and don’t apply to me one bit. For the last 5 year I have been crossing the questions out and writing in for them to lobby for lower health care costs and furloughs (so I can do private practice and make up some of the money I’m loosing working for this agency). Non of them have been on the barganing table as of yet. Every year I stay at this job I am loosing money. No COLAs or breaks in bennefits. No nothing. I’ve decided to send them a letter telling them I no longer what to be in their union and to stop taking money out for my dues because I now have to apply that $240 a year to my increase in health care costs. I’m done. Unions suck ass! When Unions do win an increase in wages (say with teachers), over the next several year the school districts cut teacher positions to accommodate the budgetary increases incured by this “Win”. The teacher that are left and the kids end up suffering because of this. I’d rather work with the Mob.

  2. I worked in a union shop for 3 years – fortunately, I live in Texas (a “right to work” state) and had the option of remaining a non-union employee. Which was all for the best: the union had no real influence over my employer company and they knew it. Even though my employer company was a dick (they counted mandatory increases in the minimum wage towards our cost of living raises – which effectively kept real wages the same after adjustment for inflation), the union did nothing for the average laborer and joining them would have made no real difference (other than taking union due out of my already tiny paycheck).

  3. The problem with unions in the US is the way they were structured from the outset. My Europeans friends are amazed when I explain the union structure here.

    Still, I come from a union household, and if it weren’t for unions, many in my family wouldn’t have been able to send their children to higher ed or buy homes.

    A consequence of dwindling union membership has been the “Walmartization” of the workplace.

  4. Eddie I agree and this brings me the most dissonance right now. I know the good they have done, the hard fights won. I grew up expecting unions to take up for me and for any member. That they aren’t protecting against ” Waldemort” which is most vile, is a huge problem. They aren’t doing their jobs and that is sad to see.

  5. without a “union” history, we would be serfs .. but politicians, who owe their asses to “money” has gone out of its way to make sure unions are something for a PBS special to educate children about the 20th century .. big money talks and walks wherever it wants to .. we are fucked. Any attempt, such as universal health insurance, is dead on delivery because of power and money and the undue influence of corporate greed. Walmart is the result. Rich politicians don’t want to share any decisions with “the people”, they only feel comfortable with other rich people. Mine workers, early in the 20th century were shot as vermin, so were auto workers and shipyard workers, for awhile we were allowed to participate, but that day is over .. it is a sad time on America and it is only going to get worse .. does anyone think that the next governor of California, who will spend $150, 000, 000 of her own money to get elected is going to do anything that doesn’t benefit her base ??

  6. Sweet Holy Hell, I hope that woman doesn’t become governor, I’m not voting for her. You’re right though, PBS specials that don’t even get watched.

  7. Very good article, Grainne. I knew that insurance companies were scams, but I never quite realized how the same could be said about unions. The most influential union I guess would be the screen actor’s guild, and that whole debacle didn’t turn out so great. I guess everyone’s just gotten really lazy the last 20 years.

  8. Unions came to Alaska as a strong arm. Prior to the building of the pipeline, most homes and businesses were constructed by local handymen; the guy with a plow, the one with a tractor, the certified plumber, the experienced carpenter with his handful of trainees…

    They were muscled out by the Union. It wasn’t long before all construction labor had to be contractual, from the first cement block set down to build your house, to the final pipe fitting for your toilet. Small businesses were forced to join the Union or perish. Several family owned construction businesses were burned down and their equipment destroyed when they refused to hire anyone except family members.

    The fights became small, private business and Union labor became bitter. It took the support of the local communities to keep the small businesses afloat. Beyond the lack of service Unions in recent years have given us, one of the things we think is ironic is, the Union jobs are the only ones that invade a person’s privacy before hiring; asking questions that are completely non-job related simply to reveal the person’s social/ political leanings; and practically the only ones that drug test. You can get a job working for the State or in law enforcement without drug testing but you can’t get a job bagging groceries without passing the test. Somehow, i find that just a little bit hilarious.

  9. I worked under OCAW when I worked at AMOCO/BP. During the Reagan and G.H.W. Bush years, between the union-busting of the administration and the union reps selling out for expensive dinners in fancy hotels, it was, as you said, little more than a money collecting agency. They took a portion of salary and in return told us that we were allowing the company to lower benefits and salaries in order to save jobs.

    It has been some time since I’ve been union employed, but I can imagine that it has only gotten worse considering the Dubya years. Of course, instead of the Pinkertons, these days they have Xe who has much more advanced surveillance and weaponry, so trying to fight against a corporation as union employees once did would be an almost certain death sentence.

  10. [quote=SpaceEagle]Of course, instead of the Pinkertons, these days they have Xe who has much more advanced surveillance and weaponry, so trying to fight against a corporation as union employees once did would be an almost certain death sentence.[/quote]

    This is why half-measures like protests and strikes are ineffective today – if you want to empower the working man against his oppressor, arm him so that he may fight fire with fire. Even those Blackwater/Xe (or whatever name they go by nowdays) mercs will think twice before pulling their weapons on a gathering of protesting workers if they are all armed to the teeth: remember that mercs fight for paychecks – it wakes no sense to escalate the conflict into a shooting war if there’s a significant chance that the guys on the other end of your sights know that you’re there and are willing to shoot back at the drop of a hat.

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