Re: Technical Writing Union

Subject: Re: Technical Writing Union
From: "Steve Arrants" <stephena -at- compbear -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2001 14:18:42 -0800

"Bruce Byfield" <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com> wrote:
> Steve Arrants wrote:
> >When unions first formed in the US, there were very real,
> >dangerous problems within the workplace that couldn't be solved by the
> >you don't like it, leave" approach. As bad as our jobs are sometimes, it
> >isn't even remotely close to that of mineworkers in the 1920s.
> >
> Maybe not, but why is that relevant? Just because a situation could be
worse is no reason to endure it.

I think it is relevant to the fact that when anyone mentions the "U" word
around technical folks, they start
foaming at the keyboard :-). To date, at least in my experience, there
hasn't been any mistreatment of me
or people I've worked with that has motivated us to say enough is enough, we
need a union. It is like putting a frog
in boiling water--he's gonna jump right out and run away. Put him in a pot
on the stove and slowly increase the heat,
and he'll get used to it until he passes out and is cooked. As much as I
hate analogies in this kind of argument, I think
it has some use in the union vs. non-union argument. Conditions in the past
and right now just aren't that bad to make
technical writers and such see a union or trade association or whatever as
the only option. All of us in the industry (well,
those of us old fogies with a little history) have been incredibly blessed
in the past twenty years or so. Our jobs HAVE
gotten easier with automation and computers and tools. (Try writing a parts
manual or installation guide on a manual
typewriter, having it set on a phototypesetter, and pasting up the boards
before printing. A change to a few lines? Damn--
have to reset and re-layout a huge chunk of the book...) We've been courted
by companies begging for workers, gotten used
to Friday Beer Busts, in house massages, free food and drink, etc. Now with
this economic downturn a lot of people are
grateful for just having a job, and tsk-tsk'ing those who talk about the
good old days of just a year ago.

I agree that "Just because a situation could be worse is no reason to endure
it." But it has to get significantly worse before people will
stand up and act.

Perhaps the old style unions aren't the answer. Perhaps what is needed is a
reinterpretation or reformation of the worker-employer relationship.
Something to make it a little fairer. One thread I've seen run through this
whole discussion is the "if your employer acts bad, you can leave." That
really isn't an answer. It doesn't address the real or perceived unfairness,
doesn't improve the work process or the company or the employer OR the
employee. Maybe separating major benefits from employment--e.g., health
insurance, which, for many people, is one reason to keep taking crap from
point-headed bosses--so that benefits are somewhat portable, and beyond the
current COBRA statutes in the USA. I had a co-worker who just was not happy
in her job and with her assignments because the boss KNEW that she couldn't
leave--she needed the company health insurance because of diabetes.
You can't get affordable, good health coverage when you have or are
perceived to have or may develop a chronic disease.

Disability and Unemployment Insurance are other things that could be
separated from corporate employment. All these coverages I've mentioned are
for the post part paid partially by the employee and by the employer.
Making these something that a worker can take from job to job would solve
the grievances of some workers and help make the labor-capital relationship
a bit more equitable.

Ugh...I'm getting off topic here, I think.

steve arrants, a union Baby--IBEW Local 1070 on my father's side and ILGWU
local 14 on my mother's side.
steve arrants Certified Cruelty Free
"The dream was marvelous, but the terror was great.
We must treasure the dream, whatever the terror."

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