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Laborers Need Union Protection in the Wake of Covid-19
From:
Brandyn Cross Brandyn Cross
Los Angeles , CA
Monday, July 20, 2020

 

The viral pandemic is projected to take the lives of as many as 260K Americans by the November election. Indeed, this is a sobering thought.  Nothing compares such staggering loss of life. We are still learning about the persistent and long-term health effects on those who do survive while searching for a reliable therapeutic and/or hope for the development of an effective vaccine. 

Sadly, this may not be the last pandemic some of us may encounter in our lives. Concern over job security and economic woes are of concern to most Americans. We don't know how or when our economy will recover because we have no timetable for managing this now endemic communicable disease.

Back in the mid 1990s, I had just graduated from college and returned to a seasonal position in the animal care department of a county run zoo. With a degree behind me, I was eligible for full time job as a zoo animal keeper. My passion and purpose of becoming full-time zoo employee had come to fruition. It wasn't until I left the job for a part-time administrative post that would allow me to finish graduate school in a timely manner, did I realize just what I had relinquished.  As a member of the Teamsters Union, I was afforded job security and protection and benefits that would make any job appealing. But those were the good old days. Things soon began to change for the laborers.s

While labor unions once afforded so much protection, it was thought that one would have to commit a heinous and violent crime on the job to get fired. Today's unified laborers have lost both clout and job security.

Filmmaker Brandyn Cross was a railroad conductor before a tragic but preventable work accident rendered him wheelchair bound. He knows all too well that without union protection, American workers, are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by their employers. In 2001, the former Union Pacific Railroad employee lost his left leg and sustained significant nerve damage to his other from an injurious fall. The railroad company was not only negligent, they tried to deny culpability.  While his life was changed in an instant, his injury served as a source of inspiration for a future he embraced with determination and conviction. The author, singer and song writer has become a staunch advocate for our nation's workforce and the return of labor unions.1

 

Since Cross began to share his story with wider audiences, the ominous threat of Covid19 contagion in the workplace reinforced the significant need for laborers to unionize.   Protections historically and inherently afforded the working class from America's labor unions pale in comparison to what they offered in the 1970's.

It has taken a pandemic to realize what has truly been lost for the working class. The clout formerly held by powerful labor unions has evaporated.  Essential health care workers may be the hardest hit, but all Americans have something at stake and much to lose from disease contagion and the impotency of labor unions. According to Cross, "Unions didn't just fall out of favor; They rendered themselves obsolete."

Indeed, the dangers have become immeasurably clear for health care workers, but the lives of grocery store employees, fast food workers, restaurant delivery personnel, warehouse labors, ride share drivers, law enforcement, civil service employees and others are all in peril and when they go home to their families they put their loved ones and ultimately communities at risk.

Since unions began to disband or at least lose power and influence in the 1980's, unionized laborers have lost more than benefits; they have lost job security. Following an illegal strike by The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired more than ten thousand union members who failed to return work upon his mandate. Shortly thereafter, the union was decertified, but a precedent had been set and the bargaining power, which America's labor unions once leveraged was forever undermined. Furthermore, the job security our working class had perhaps taken for granted was dramatically and irrevocably destabilized.2

Because other unions essentially failed to support PATCO following their strike, albeit illegal, apathy and inaction lead to the eventual demise of labor unionizes industry wide. Employers jumped on the opportunity to regain power over workers. In some cases, companies replaced union workers with nonunion laborers. Other simply took advantage of their weakened bargaining power.  According to Cross, "The railroad industry had been particularly opportunistic and responded almost immediately. Citing a crippling recession, they called the railroad workers' union back to the table to negotiate and demanding that workers give up many of the benefits they had fought for decades to receive." He said, "The union leadership caved in because the railroad execs offered a deal that current employees couldn't refuse. A deal was negotiated whereby only future employees would be subjected to slashed wages and benefits packages." Consequently, a wedge was driven between old and new employees.  Employees were pitted against each other, which diluted the potency of the union's power even further. And the union reps were incentivized to serve the employers rather than their fellow union members.

Since the 1980's unions have continued to lose power. Now, in the midst of a communicable disease pandemic, unified laborers can't even bargain for on the job safety. Besides obvious challenges for healthcare workers, the dangers have also become immeasurably clear for the likes of grocery store employees, fast food workers, restaurant delivery personnel, warehouse labors, ride share drivers, law enforcement, civil service employees and others. Occupational safety seems almost trite when you contemplate the hazards of just showing up to work. One can become exposed to the viral disease and ultimately transmit it to one's family. Indeed, without unions, the working class has absolutely no leverage.  They can't organize nor unify. Hence, working class laborers are essentially sitting ducks just waiting to be dispatched.

Unions had once ensured that working people were treated fairly within and across a wide spectrum of industries. Because of unions, laborers received fair and better wages, job security and health coverage for their families and a retirement pension. The benefits conferred to unionized workers have also proven to serve the interests of nonunion workers
with respect to wage inequality facing our workforce3 and the public at large.3 If we can't protect our health care workers, we can't protect the public.


 

 



 

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Jordan Carlton Schaul
Dateline: Los Angeles, CA United States
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