Saturday, February 18, 2006

Union membership is patriotic

I remember in my childhood, in a fiscally conservative (although socially more libertarian) household, that "UNION" was a dirty word — Jimmy Hoffa and the Mafia and going on strike because there weren't enough paper clips for the union newsletter.

I'm watching on C-SPAN right now a replay of a hearing in which mine workers testified about their experiences in union and non-union mines. The difference sounds almost like the Emerald City versus the evil enchanted forest, but the reality is a hyperbole beyond fiction. (In other words, this truth is stranger than fiction.) Scott Lepka accidentally severed his thumb, but, even though he followed the safety protocols to the letter, his supervisor made him drive himself to the hospital, after seeing himself to the surface in a vehicle with a nearly-dead battery.

And I've worked in union mines. I know for sure had this been a union mine first aid would have been administered immediately, an ambulance would have been called and waiting for me when I got outside and someone would have been appointed to monitor my condition and transport me outside.

I'd like to speak about another safety issue, also.

In the union mines, you have the right to a safe workplace, you have the right to withdraw yourself from a dangerous situation. You also have a safety committee that you can address about safety concerns or problems. In the non-union mines, you have the right to withdraw yourself under federal law. However, I can tell you from experience, most men won't due to fear for their jobs, and most men don't feel comfortable pointing out safety issues because if they complain too much, they're singled out and given less attractive jobs or even fired.
Yes, unions can be fertile breeding grounds for corruption, but so is Congress, and so is the White House. The fact remains that unions provide the rank-and-file workers with a voice, with the leverage to take appropriate measures to ensure their own safety, even at the expense of an occasional slight hiccup in production. As the horror stories from the mine workers in non-union digs make clear, the ability to unionize can become a matter of life and death.