Monday, April 27, 2009

My Husband the Hero

My husband, Tom, was fired last week, not for any rational reason, but because management is on a campaign against the union, and Tom is/was a union steward. Two union stewards were fired from the plant last week, and another one is being systematically harassed (both before and after her stroke). Tom has thirty days off with pay, after which time, if the "concurring official" concurs (as he probably will), Tom will be "removed."

We're a little stunned, but we're going to be okay, at least that's what my cool-as-a-cucumber husband keeps telling me. I'm scared, a bit, sometimes, but mostly not panicking, although occasionally, in my weaker moments, my mind goes drifting off in that direction.

I told Tom today that I feel like a cartoon character, innocently strolling along in a lovely cartoon forest, blithely waving to all the fairies and furry forest creatures. Then, all of a sudden I look down—Ach! I am momentarily suspended in midair. I strolled right off a cliff! I look at my cartoon audience, my eyes wide with shock. Where did the ground go? <instant plummet earthward>

But no, really, there's every reason to be hopeful. Management doesn't have a case. Of course, the union (the American Postal Workers Union) is going to bat for Tom. But this is likely to take at least a few months to get resolved. For any time that Tom is off work, he may or may not get back pay. There are no guarantees.

I generally avoid getting personal in this blog, but in this case the personal is political, as it so often is. Tom and I have become a case in point. So I will do my best to present the case and make the point.

Tom and I are blessed with truly wonderful family and friends, who have kindly expressed their support and encouragement. A few have asked whether there is anything they could do. Why, yes, now that you mention it, there is one thing. Do it for us, and do it proudly.

Please support the Employee Free Choice Act.

First, educate yourself about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Find out what it is, what it isn't, who's for it and why, who's against it and why. Then write to your senators and representative and ask them to support and vote for EFCA. Ask them to make EFCA a priority because of all it will do to strengthen our economy and the middle class in particular. Sign the petition at I Am Progress, and then talk to your friends and family and ask them to do the same.

Unions are a threatened species in this country, and with the economy in such terrible shape, we need them now as much as ever. We have the Labor Movement to thank for so much in this country: the 40-hour workweek, the 8-hour workday, the middle class—to name just a few.

But big business is terrified of workers regaining their power and their solidarity and is determined to use any tactics available to prevent workers from forming unions. An entire industry has formed whose sole purpose is helping businesses prevent their employees from forming a union.

As a result, the power of labor has been systematically gutted, until even the best unions have only a shadow of the power they once had. That the middle class has shrunk as the power of unions has waned is no coincidence. Strong worker unions and protections lead to a stronger middle class, a more robust economy, and less disparity between the rich and the poor.

According to columnist Sharon Smith, Corporate America's anti-union crusaders have raised $200 million to combat the Employee Free Choice Act. "True to form, business leaders reacted with collective hysteria to the introduction of legislation in the House and Senate on March 10 that would make it just a bit easier for workers to unionize."
The Chamber [of Commerce], the National Association of Manufacturers and other anti-union corporate crusaders have raised $200 million to combat EFCA. And they have only just begun to fight, framing their defense of workers' "right" to a vote by secret ballot in a union election as if this were a struggle to preserve a sacred cornerstone of democracy--by preventing unions from simply asking workers to sign union cards if they would like to join the union."

In reality, EFCA would maintain the option of voting by secret ballot, but transfers the decision to workers instead of employers, where it currently resides.
Big business is pulling out all the stops in its campaign to paint itself as the wronged party in workers' efforts to form unions. They're trying to paint themselves as the "populist" choice. But remember, workers in this scenario are David and Big Business is Goliath.

Big Business, whose success is a direct result of workers' productivity, is free to exploit workers, unless those workers realize that it is in solidarity with each other that they have a voice. Labor is the original populist movement, composed—oddly enough—of regular people who have thrown their lot in with each other, banding together to make their voices heard.

Here's Rachel Maddow's take on EFCA:

Support Tom and me, and workers everywhere in the country, by contacting your senators and representatives and asking them to support and vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. Our greatest hope in restoring our economy and rebuilding a robust middle class is in strengthening workers and restoring worker solidarity.


  1. Mary and Tom, you have my entire support, sympathy, and outrage at the post office. Thank you, Mary, for including me in this mailing. I have other friends who work for the P.O. and so I am somewhat "up" on the situation. I do believe (and learned in school) that the delivery of the mail is one of the central responsibilities of the federal government. And that responsibility has consistently been undermined in recent years by factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the dedication, competence, and sense of responsibility of the postal workers -- but they have been the ones forced to bear the burdens and the consequences of that undermining. I wish you and Tom the very best outcome. Love, Susan

  2. Thank you so much, Susan, for your support and understanding. Your kind words and love mean the world to Tom and me.

  3. I second what Susan says (although I don't know anyone else who works for the post office). Am I fan of unions? They serve a purpose - it is clear that large companies cannot be trusted to do what is the decent fair thing. I think the only problem is when unions start behaving like they are large companies and become more interested in protecting themselves than the people they are supposed to represent. And I ALWAYS support the right of employees to decide if union protection is appropriate for them.

    Personally, I think Tom should also consider getting private legal representation in this matter, especially if there is any doubt of whether the union is doing all that it should in his case.

    Best wishes and hopes for you both.

  4. Unions are like any other human organization: some good, some bad, mostly mixed. The only remedy is for people to get involved and do their part to make it better.

    Fortunately, Tom's union is pretty good, and he's happy with his representative. He says it's not time to get himself a lawyer.

    Thank you for your support, Terri!

  5. The sad fact is that NO ONE has a right to a job. If you or your husband do not like where you work, do not like your employer, find another job. The idea that government should limit the ability of management to manage is reprehensible to those of us who above all value freedom. If I can not manage what I own, is it really mine? And once you admit that government can overrule the owners for any reason, including its favoring of unions, where does the interference stop?

    I think that the answer, somewhat blurry under the reign of unprincipled Republicans is now coming into focus: It will stop when we are bankrupt slaves to whatever those in power dictate. Government backed unions helped (yes management helped too) destroy the Auto industry, and that plus the boom/bust destruction of our economy caused by the Banksters in our Federal REserve/fractional reserve banking system, has led to the disaster we see today. To dust off tired nostrums of yesteryear, to give more power to the unions, will just make the situation worse.

  6. Workers have a right to make the most of their own work. The employer in my husband's case is the United States Post Office, which should certainly be held to a high standard, given that it is a government service. Instead, it is one of the worst offenders in terms employee harassment. There's a reason the expression "going postal" has made its way into the vernacular. It's not an positive work environment, to say the least.

    The flip "find another job" is insulting and callous in such a terrible economy.
    Employers do not have the right to abuse or harass workers, and workers have a right to protection from arbitrary discrimination and abuse.

    If you object to government "interference," then be sure not to accept anything at all from the government. Don't walk in a park, don't breathe the air (it's cleaner than it would be without government "interference"), don't take out the garbage, don't put your money in a bank. Whether you like it or not, everything in our lives involves government services and protections.

    The auto industry has not been destroyed. Its current crisis was not caused by the unions but by poor management, lack of vision, the absurdly high cost of health care, and the state of the economy. It's an easy cheap shot to just blame the unions, when there's so much else involved.

    No need to dust off the tired nostrums. Continuing to give even more power to big business is what would make the situation much worse, as was done under "the reign of unprincipled Republicans."

    Giving more power to the unions, reducing the enormous gap between the rich and the poor, and strengthening the middle class is what will dig us out of this mess.

    Obviously I don't agree with your comment, but I appreciate you reading and commenting all the same.

  7. The Employee Free Chice act will destroy America. Hundreds if not thousands of small to medium size business' will be ending their dream and the loss of jobs will be horrendous! Is that what unions want? Fewer jobs but those who survive will get another buck or two in their paycheck!

  8. EFCA will restore middle America. Workers know how to organize in their own best interest. They want to partner with business, not bring it down.

    I'm kind of astounded that of all the places to voice your opinion, you've picked this tiny backwater of the blogosphere. You're entitled to your opinion, wrong as it is, and I wish you well.

  9. Wow. I just read your post and all the comments. Mary, I am behind you and Tom 110%. I support the EFCA.

    I love you both!


  10. Thank you so much, Kristie! We love you too!

  11. I sure understand the triggers for people at the post office to go postal. I have a ver dear friend who works for the po and has for many years and her stories of on the job harrassment have become worse and worse over the years. It seems as if several of her superiors (in the p.o. hierarchy only!)have vowed to dedicate their lives to the destruction of her soul.
    The incresing privitization of normal p.o. services is bankrupting the system and we KNOW that's intentional. We learned all too well how the post office can be misused by those who control it for personal gain. Do you know the story of what Benjamin Franklin did when he was post master general?
    I think the work your husband is doing is incredibly brave and important. Kudos!!

  12. Thank you, Susan! Tom and I have repeatedly noted that the PO is run "just like old country," and that those wishing to privatize it would like nothing more than for it to fail.

    Tom's supervisors make less money than he does, and they have no training on what's required to to fix the machines. Their job's only perk is power. So naturally the sort of people that job attracts are people who are particularly susceptible to the lure of petty power.

    There are no penalties for them when they don't follow the rules set down in the PO's agreements with the union. They have no incentive to deal fairly. It's an utterly toxic work environment. And they seem to delight in harassing the workers and making arbitrary, irrational decisions that have profound effects on their work lives.

    The only recourse is for the union to file grievance after grievance. So that's what Tom and other union stewards do. He has been a real thorn in their side, which is why they drummed up this pathetic premise for firing him.

    His work is indeed incredibly brave and important. I married a wonderful, principled, compassionate man, and today is our 16th wedding anniversary. Cheers! And thanks again for your outstanding support!

  13. "The Employee Free Chice act will destroy America."

    I'd love to hear the person who posted that cite some specific way that the EFCA will destroy America.

    As for your husband, I'm sure he'll land on his feet Mary Ray; good people usually do.

  14. Thanks for your vote of confidence, Zach. I'm sure he will too.