Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Anti-Union Blog

I'm a bad liberal. I dislike unions.
Oh sure, I get choked up when I see Sally Field holding the UNION sign in Norma Rae, and one of my favorite musicals that I've done was The Cradle Will Rock, the pro-union rock opera written in the 1920's. But that was the 1920's. This is now.
Today, we almost have enough federal laws to protect workers from discrimination, all workers (that are citizens, at least) are protected from slave and/or child labor, and we do have litigation options in the event of other forms of violation. It's not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination. But the imperfections will not be fixed by the segregation of union workers versus non-union workers. The existence of unions today, I believe, do more harm than good.
Although I live and work in Los Angeles, I'm not directly affected by the current writers strike, but of course, I'm hyper-aware of it.
Earlier this week, I was questioning myself on why I just can't get worked up on the writers' behalf. I realize they have a point...but I also know that pretty much every worker in America today is getting screwed on some level by someone, and why should they get special treatment?
This article gives a good overview about those workers that are affected by this strike, yet won't gain any protection. Do you think the caterers are going to be able to claim a percentage of DVD profits? Or the secretaries that work in the studios?
And let's say the strike is effective for the writers. Does Tina Fey actually think that NBC is just going to give up that money without anyone else being affected? Can anyone say "salary freeze"? Or lay-offs?
I became more sensitive of this issue when we had the grocery workers strike a few years ago. Over the holidays. I knew a family of five where both parents worked at the grocery store, and the strike dragged on so long they were making a whopping $50 a week each in December. When the strike was finally over, the husband did not get the promotion that he was supposed to get before the strike. Two grocery stores near my parents' house closed down...wonder what happened to those workers? It was all done quietly away from media attention, but you better believe that the big bad grocery stores made up the losses!
It is naive to believe that this kind of "fight for fairness" won't be incredibly unfair for those that live and work outside the umbrella of a union. And that happens to be a very large class of people, including myself.
Do I get to just stop showing up for work because I was denied a promotion? Or because I didn't think my raise was big enough (nor is it ever enough to truly meet the "standard of living" pay-out increases)? No. I gotta suck it up and deal.
Then, there's the question of how accountable these unions' leaders are. The grocery workers' strike had more to do with the unions' bad money management than the "outrage" of the rise in health care costs. The members had been paying into a fund that was supposed to cover the difference when the grocery stores inevitably had to raise the cost of insurance, but the union had squandered that money. While my neighbors were trying to survive on $100 a week, the union leader continued to take home his $2 million/year salary!
Oh, yeah. And then there's the point of: hello! Welcome to the 21st century! The REST of us non-union workers have been swallowing the rising costs of insurance for years. Why did you get to be immune for so long to this nationwide problem?!?
A few friends of mine belong to a production-related union. I've NEVER heard them say a positive word about their union. Ever. They've had their 401k funds screwed up, they haven't gotten the raises or the chances of promotion that they should be getting, they've had their union dues go up to the point of taking home less money from year to year...and yet, to remain in their job, they're REQUIRED to be members of this union.
Which leads me to another issue with unions. The loss of freedom. Suppose there was a writer somewhere in Hollywood today saying, you know. I'm all right with it. I have a nice, good steady job, getting to do something I love. I recognize that MOST Americans don't even have that right now. I recognize that some Americans are getting their limbs blown off in Iraq right now. I recognize that some Californians lost their homes in fires a couple of weeks ago. I'm quite thankful to have what I have, and I'd rather just keep doing it.
But they can't. They can't because if they cross the picket line, they're barred from the union for life. Which means that if and when the strike is over, they can't be hired because the writers have to be union. Are REQUIRED to be. Even if you think the union sucks, even if you didn't personally vote for the strike. You either strike or forfeit your right to ever work in this town again. But, really, it's for your own good.
And it's the good fight, right? The creative talent is getting pushed around by the big, bad corporations.
I'm not saying they don't have a point at all. But we ALL do. We all have to suck up some unpleasant aspects of our job because that's how the real world works.
And those of us in the real world need our escapism. The entertainment industry counts on our need to escape in order to exist. Well, we need them right now. It may be pathetic and sad, but I get through the day by thinking about what I have to look forward to watching that night. Monday: "How I Met Your Mother" and "Samantha Who?" Tuesday: "Boston Legal" Wed: Yay! "Pushing Daisies" and "Dirty Sexy Money" Thurs: the big night! "My Name is Earl," "The Office," "Grey's Anatomy."
This is what I think about when my alarm goes off at 5:30 am. This is what my friends and I talk about when we're not bitching about work or our kids. This is why I want Sylvia to finish her homework already so I can see what's on my List, and pull out my knitting and stop thinking already! Stop worrying about the fact that my credit cards are already maxed out and I haven't bought a single Christmas present yet. Stop wondering if I'm caught up on laundry enough to not do some tonight. Stop adding to the growing and growing grocery list where all I hear is "ka ching..." The only way I can ever listen to President Bush is when it's followed by Jon Stewart's "he he he" impression. And, yes, try not to think about the fact that I'm quickly approaching the dreaded 35 with the brightest hope in my future being, at least I'm not still with my ex. Try not to feel alone, lonely, depressed, sorry for myself, sorry for my kids...just not feel. Or project my feelings into someone else's story, at least. Make myself believe that I'm crying because Kitty Walker's baby died instead of crying for myself.
Or get a little self-help in humor...shaking my head at the incredible thing that Steve Carrell just did/said on "The Office." Feel better about by myself by thinking, well at least I don't work there!
I'm well aware that there are other forms of entertainment. And I do read a lot, too. (No, really, I do!) But you can't knit and read. And sometimes, the reading just inspires more thinking and makes it hard to sleep at night. Sometimes, I just don't even want to work that hard! I just want to stop. I just want someone to indulge me by entertaining me.
So, yes, I feel personally slighted by the strike as well.
It's a sweet concept that a group of people standing up together can make a difference. And they probably can. For themselves. But until we all belong to the same union, we will not all be able to stand together.
To truly make a difference, we need to stand up united as the working class. Anything else just creates greater division.

6 comments:

LunaNik said...

Very well said. I feel the exact same way about tv as a source of pure entertainment to take me away from the worries of day to day life. (Like the show Samantha Who?...I love that show!) I have never given much thought to the downside of union, although I will now!

BTW, I posted about feminism and divorce today...check it out when you have a free moment =)

Mark Woodward said...

Hey April welcome to the darkside!
Goddamn girl you sound like me!

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Anonymous said...

I was once a struggling actor, and as you may know, there is a labor union for actors, ACTOR'S EQUITY. But it is one of the hardest unions in the world to get into, and consequently this makes it a lot harder to break into acting. If you're not Equity of Screen Actor's Guild(Also very hard to get in), you just can't audition for certain shows or films, and when you go to an Equity audition where they let non-Equity actors come, the non-Equity actor has to wait 10 times as long as the Equity actor to audition-if you get to audition at all that day. Equity was founded to protect actors back in those hardscrabble touring show days, but they really sound like a pain in the rear. What do you think?