Thursday, November 19, 2009

Labor Unions' Dirty Secret

No, it's not some trumped up corruption that Republicans like to talk about.

Labor's dirty secrets is that they treat their organizers like shit. Although I hate seeing negative articles about unions in the media, the Times is absolutely right here. The piece focuses on UNITE-HERE using personal details of organizers' lives against them and forcing them to reveal these details in organizing campaigns to gain sympathy from workers. But it goes much deeper than this. Organizers are forced to work 70+ hour weeks for very little pay. There is often little dignity in the job as well; certainly, good treatment from supervisors is unfortunately rare. This is really hypocritical--unions expect their organizers to work in conditions that they would never accept for the workers they are trying to organize. They manipulate these organizers, appealing to their commitment to justice to get them to give superhuman efforts. If this was a rare thing at the end of campaigns, that would be one thing, but it's often a day-to-day occurrence. There is union of union organizers, but it's probably the weakest union in the entire AFL-CIO and any work action on behalf of organizers would be crushed faster than an American textile company can order an organizer in Colombia killed and thrown into the river.

I know of what I speak. My own professional union organizing experience was absolutely horrible. Luckily, I left after a few months. Sadly, it left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I've had trouble committing the time and emotional energy to campaigns ever since because I don't want to take that risk to my emotional and physical health. I feel lame, but it's how I feel.

I love the union movement. It's decline has been sad and has hurt this nation in profound ways. But it'd also be nice if unions treated their own people well. I know this is not universal, but it's common enough.