Will we ever learn?

The recent spread of swine flu may be a good thing. Stubborn as Americans are, sometimes it takes an epidemic for us to realize how important good habits are. Like washing your hands properly. Like covering your mouth when you cough. These things used to be polite and a marker of someone fit for going out in high society.

Maybe also it will help us remember why we have sick days. Yes, they make taking care of yourself a whole lot easier. You don’t have to be sick AND worry about how you are going to make the next rent check. And, yes, they are the right thing for a beneficent and caring boss to do. Show a little compassion for the poor wretch who normally puts up with being your employee, when they most need it.

But, it was also good social policy. If sick people didn’t feel pressured into coming to work (because they need the money, because they fear losing their job, or because the organization is so light on staff that your job responsibility it just that, your responsibility), then they might stay home when they are sick and get better sooner. And if sick people stay home when they are sick, fewer of the rest of us get sick.

Get it? Sick leave isn’t just a personal benefit, it is a social good. We all benefit when we structure the workplace to take care of one another, when we treat one another like human beings.

We all should get sick leave, regardless of how long we have worked at a particular location, regardless of how many vacation days we are allowed and have used, and regardless of whether we work for an hourly wage or annual salary.

Perhaps those bosses who make it nigh on impossible to take a day off when sick could be held responsible for their actions? Would it be possible to hold them liable for any employees who pass on their illness to other employees or customers? After all, some employer groups seem to think they control the workplace and everything that is allowed (or not allowed, in the case of union organizaing) on their property.

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Taking on the workers

I love it when a number of my interests intersect in one post. A superb post over at Education Week captures everything that is wrong when people criticize the unionized nature of this country’s school system. As Diane Ravitch suggests Unions are Not The Problem:

I must confess that I have always been puzzled by people who insist that the unions are the cause of everything that is wrong with education. If we only could get rid of the union, they say, then we could raise performance.

Her arguments seem oriented around three points:

1. If unions were to blame, then school systems that are less unionized, such as in the South, should be doing better. They’re not.

2. It is not that getting rid of poorly performing teachers is difficult. Most of them grow disenchanted and leave within their first few years. There’s not much difference here between heavily unionized schools and less unionized schools.

3. The right to form and join a union is a basic human right.

And it was this last point that got me to thinking about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which currently seems to be every conservatives favorite punching bag (after President Obama).

The crux of the issue with EFCA centers on how easy it is for workers to organize and form a union. The EFCA effectively makes it easier for workers to recruit others, thus making it easier for workers to have the option to join a union where there is currently none. Sounds good to me – unions are by, for, and made up of workers. Surely workers should be able to form unions however they want?

Ignore for a moment that economists think that unions help boost the economy by raising wages. It seems that pro-business organizations are coming out in force against unions, against EFCA, and against raising workers wages. For example, the unapologetically anti-labor Center for Union Facts spent $20 million on ads in 2008 against EFCA. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has vowed to spend another $10 million this year. Just think how many jobs or workplace improvements all that money could have funded!

While these corporate interests claim that signing petitions somehow infringes on workers rights, they never get too agitated at managers who force workers to sit through hours of anti-union videos during work time, who pressure workers not to join unions for fear of losing their jobs, and the labeling of workers as troublemakers if they so much as mention the word ‘union’ on the workplace. Talk about thuggish behavior!

Nope, this has nothing to do with improving our education system, not a whole lot to do with improving our productivity and economy, nor with protecting workers from other workers. It is the same-old class warfare that our history has been littered with – with the bosses wanting to control the every means of production and workers being grateful for any crumbs thrown their way. Anyone would think the workers created the current economic malaise!