2011 News

‘You are now entering the United Corporations of America’: Please leave your union card at the border


From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
April 2011 Edition

Deb RigieroBy Deb Rigiero, RN
MNA Labor Organizer

“You are now entering the United Corporations of America. Please leave your union card at the border.”

It seems silly even to propose this, but someday could those words be posted on a sign that greets us at the Canadian and Mexican borders? If you look at the trend that is happening across our country, we are not that far from being the “United Corporations of America.” Let us look at what is happening right now in this country.

  • There are only six mega-corporations that control almost all the nations’ media, including TV, newspaper and radio: Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., CBS and Comcast (which recently acquired NBC Universal).
  • Clear Channel, which dominates the radio waves and owns nearly every billboard, was the antiunion corporation which, locally, permanently replaced all its striking painters a few years ago.
  • Health insurance companies have consolidated and dominated the market so that we have few choices when picking an insurer. Look at the Massachusetts market and then at how many insurance options you have at work.
  • Hospitals are also consolidating and many are becoming for-profit. Many experts predict that in a few years Massachusetts will only have four to five hospital corporations. Gone will be the independent, freestanding community hospitals.

Similarly, how many choices do you have for your cable and/or phone company? How many choices do you have for credit cards (there are only 10 major credit card companies in the U.S.). What about banks? Many of those have consolidated as well, as have mortgage companies.

Do you see the pattern? Are these all getting “too big to fail?”

If you swing this pendulum to the other side, an area that SHOULD be protected from the antics of big business is under assault: public sector unions. Just turn to Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to gut collective bargaining rights for public employees have paved the way for other states to attempt the same:

  • Ohio wants to prohibit collective bargaining for 42,000 state workers and 19,500 college system workers.
  • Idaho wants to limit schoolteachers’ collective bargaining rights.
  • Iowa is trying to curb collective bargaining rights for public workers.
  • Michigan wants to allow the state emergency power to break union contracts in order to revive failing schools and cities.
  • Indiana is pushing to pass several measures that would restrict workers rights.
  • New Hampshire is trying to pass “right to work” legislation that prohibits collective bargaining agreements requiring employees to join labor unions.
  • Kansas passed a bill that outlaws employee payroll deductions for union dues and political action committees.
  • Tennessee wants to pass a bill that would end teachers’ rights to negotiate their working conditions with boards of education.
  • In our own state of Massachusetts, a representative is proposing legislation that would allow the state to expand management’s rights to change hours and job descriptions of state employees.
  • Also trying to limit public worker collective bargaining are Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Washington, Alaska and Arizona.

As horrendous as the aforementioned examples are, the next two states are sure to win the award for “the most shocking proposed legislation:”

  • Some legislators in Missouri want to repeal child labor laws (no, this is not a typo).
  • There is a proposed immigration bill in Texas that would make hiring an “unauthorized alien” a crime … unless that same “unauthorized alien” is hired to do household chores (really, you can’t make this stuff up).

With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows unfettered corporate spending on elections and the commercials from Carl Rove’s group pitting worker against worker it may seem like the corporations have the upper hand.

Assess what is happening in your place of employment, right now. Is management trying to walk over your rights by implementing any of the following tactics?

  • Do you work “off-the-clock” to get your work done or fear being blamed if you cannot get your work done without overtime?
  • Are you working longer hours, doing the work of two or more people, or risking injury because of lack of staff or equipment?
  • Do safety issues at work plague you? In addition, does management avoid dealing with these safety issues?
  • How many times have your co-workers complained about working conditions but prefaced it with, “I guess I am lucky I have a job.”
  • Has management told you that you are lucky to have a job?
  • Are you facing “takeaways” at the negotiating table?
  • Has there been an increase in disciplinary actions at your workplace?
  • Are you working part-time because that is all that is available?

As a labor organizer, I have had many people say to me, “In the past we needed unions, but now unions are passé.” Well, even though I never agreed with that philosophy we are rapidly becoming the workplace of the past … the workplace without safety regulations; the workplace without workers’ rights; and the workplace without recognition of and appreciation for the worker.

Where will we be once “the union”—the last line of defense for the worker—is torn apart?

We cannot leave this legacy to our children and their children. Now is the time for the American worker to become “too big to fail.” We need to unite in order to win this battle for the working class. Now is the time to form a union if you do not have one.

Stand up to management if you do have a union! Stand up to politicians who do not appreciate the work you do! And stand with your union brothers and sisters every chance you get in order to show your solidarity, because there is still time to make sure that the sign on the way back in reads “You are now entering the United States of America: Brought to You by the American Worker.”