The significance of organized labor being an important component in establishing a strong middle class, I believe that a necessary element in winning back those who voted for Trump, it is imperative that members of the progressive movement put pressure on our elected officials, whether Democrat or Republican, to put forward legislation to safeguard the rights of disenfranchised blue-collar workers, many of whom voted for Trump, to defend worker’s rights to collective bargaining. Many states have worked to erode those rights, Wisconsin and Michigan being current examples. Legislators in these states have failed to step up to the plate to back labor unions in their efforts to improve and protect the blue collar working class in America thereby opening the door for an unscrupulous, authoritarian leaning politician like Trump, to seize the political moment.
An example of how unionization works to ensure public services and win worker protections, and thereby votes, are tree trimmers who have the skills necessary to make certain that the country’s electricity flows and are first on the scene when the power goes out, making it possible for linemen to get lines repaired and power restored. Without union representation, they were continually abused by the corporations that employed them.
A group of approximately 150 Mid-Michigan tree trimmers recently voted for union representation in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board. The need to organize became a necessity for the tree trimmers given their work environment and low pay provided by their corporate employer. The corporation was paying them, on average $16.00 per hour, provided no pension, and no 401K options. Health insurance, if they wanted it, cost them 65% of the insurance premium. Finally, the tree trimmers worked ‘at will.’ In other words, the corporation could use the threat of ‘termination without reason’ as a means of insuring employee compliance to their demands and wishes.
If injured on the job, their corporate employer did everything it could to make sure no worker’s compensation claim was filed. In one instance a trimmer had his face cut open and teeth broken by a falling tree limb. The injury required a trip to the hospital with several follow-ups. Despite prescribed medication for pain which made him drowsy, he was required to report for work against doctor’s orders the next day. To avoid a worker compensation claim, the corporation had the injured employee sit in a work truck, unable to work, for days on end. Once the Union became aware of the injury, a compensation claim was filed.
The list of corporate abuses of their employees was endless. Workers were treated by the corporation the way workers were treated at the turn of the 20th century, before New Deal labor reforms.
Although the tree trimmers voted overwhelmingly to join a union to break out of their involuntary servitude, the struggle wasn’t over. It took nearly two years to get their first collective bargaining agreement. They negotiated substantial wage increases, significant reductions of their share of their health insurance premium costs and other benefits. Most importantly, they ended their ‘work at will’ status, and have a voice regarding their working conditions.
The tree trimmers action is a prime example of how solidarity and worker resolve lead to results. We need our members of Congress and our state representatives to once again champion legislation that will improve and preserve America’s working poor and middle classes instead to catering to the corporations and special interests that pour money into their campaign coffers. America has always been great. Now we need to work to take America back from those privileged few whose greed knows no end, and whose disdain for the common laborer knows no bounds.
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