Timothy B. Simpson, Sartell
After reading Ron Scarbo’s most recent column, I feel compelled to respond to his attack on organized labor. Ron may never have been a dues-paying member of a union, however, he and every working person in the United States has benefited from the efforts of organized labor. I generally attribute attitudes such as his to either jealousy or ignorance. Jealousy is a basic human emotion, so it can’t be changed, however, ignorance is the absence of knowledge and that can be corrected. So, to provide knowledge, I’d like to point out some of the concepts which have been won by, or been championed by organized labor.
In these times of companies, large and small, treating their employees as expendable, it might be good for all of us to reflect on what organized labor has done for us. Also, I’d like people to ask themselves if they really believe any employer would have given these things to their employees out of the goodness of their hearts. You may be the best employee ever, but I doubt if any employer is going to just give you health insurance, life insurance or a pension.
I’d like to start with the concept of retirement. Prior to the rise of organized labor, retirement did not exist. You either worked until you died or until you were no longer useful to your employer, at which time you were cast out. In cases where you lived in a company town, you lost your home and your ability to purchase anything because it was a company store. There were no retirement plans or pensions and there certainly was no social security or Medicare. Unless you had been able to save money, you were completely dependent on family or the good will of others. If you had neither of these, you spent the remainder of your life in poverty.
What about when you were working? The hours and days you worked were completely at the whim of your employer. There was no 40-hour work week and there certainly was no time-and-a-half for overtime. There were no paid holidays, no vacation time and no sick days. You either worked or you didn’t get paid, no matter what.
There was no minimum wage and if you were female or a particular ethnic or racial group, there was no equal pay for equal work. There was no recourse for any type of injustice. There were no child labor laws and no safety regulations. Workman’s compensation did not exist. There certainly was no health or life insurance, and if you were injured or died on the job, it was just too bad for you or your family. If you became unemployed, there was no unemployment insurance and once again you were on your own.
I could continue to list other examples of where organized labor has improved all of our lives, but I think you get the idea. So, the next time you want to complain about unions, I suggest you take a minute to think about all the circumstances in your life where unions have benefited you and ask yourself, “Do I really want to go back to the good old days and were they really all that good for the working person?”
After that, if you can truly and honestly say you have not benefited from any of these things, then go ahead and denigrate unions and union members.