tall and carry a union card
It is 10:55 p.m. and my husband and I are at our stations,
waiting for our 17½ -year-old son Bill to come home.
As we are waiting, I am wondering if we’ve prepared
him for the life that lies ahead. I am also thinking about
how our home lives mirror our work lives. (Stick with me,
I promise you this will all make sense.) My husband is looking
at the clock. “10:59 p.m. Bill’s cutting it close.
I told him to be home for 11:00.”
11:00 on the dot, the front door opens and in comes Bill with
a smile on his face. He just made it. So I think that yes,
Bill understands the importance of being on time and will
be able to get to work on time (when he has a job). Although,
I’m sure that Bill is not going to be the type to come
in a few minutes early, I am confident that he will be able
to meet deadlines and be reliable.
Next comes the “management” meeting and the drug
screening. Bill knows the routine. First, there are two of
us and one of him. This gives the advantage and intimidation
factor to Mom and Dad. He gives me his usual hug and my nose
immediately does the “sniff-test,” which he passes.
Next he hugs Dad, who looks into his eyes and does the pupil
check. Then Bill takes the hot seat to tell us what he did
for the last few hours. He handles himself well. No slurring
or stuttering. He looks my husband straight in the eyes and
can answer the questions rapidly thrown at him. Yes, Bill
has the ability to meet with management and handle the intimidation
of two against one.
In our house, Bill is a “child-at-will.” He has
no contract with us and we do not offer to let him have a
representative with him during our meeting. There are no Weingarten
rights in the Smith household—although, on occasion,
we will allow Bill to have a representative with him (his
brother or friend).
Next, comes the negotiating phase of our meeting:
Bill: “I’m going to Hampton Beach
Dad: “We haven’t decided on that
yet. Why do you need to drive?”
Bill: “Ben can’t drive and I
am the only one legal to drive. Don’t worry; they’re
all chipping in for gas.”
Dad: “I don’t want you driving
fast, no fooling around in the car. 495 is a busy road. I
want you to use your head.”
Bill: (with a smile on face because he thinks
he has won) “Don’t worry Dad, I’ll be careful.”
Yada, yada, yada. The end result of the above negotiations
is that Bill can go to Hampton, but only if his summer reading
is done. Bill walks away from the negotiations thinking he
has won. My husband and I know that we would have allowed
him to go anyway—but now we have a few extra chores
that Bill negotiated to do and a guarantee that his summer
reading will be done or he won’t go.
Hopefully, the lesson Bill will take with him from this negotiating
session as a “child-at-will” is that he really
only got what we were willing to give him. We can take away
the privilege at any time if we chose. Even though we allowed
him to participate and have input in our discussions, the
ultimate authority remains with management (Mom and Dad).
Throughout his short 17½ years, Bill has learned some
other important lessons that will prepare him for employment.
He has learned that:
There is no freedom of speech or right to privacy in the
workplace (home). He can be disciplined without cause. He
needs be considerate of others and to think before he speaks.
Also, management (Mom and Dad) reserves the right to go
through his room and car because they are our property.
There are some co-workers who take pleasure in reporting
to management any real or perceived breaking of rules (this
would be Bob, “the informer,” Bill’s younger
brother). Although, the “informer” has changed
tactics and can now be called the “extortionist”
because he has you pay for his silence. Because of this,
Bill has learned that honesty is the best policy and on
occasion he has even reported himself.
There is a grievance policy in place at Smith, Inc. Bill
is allowed to argue his grievance, occasionally have a supporting
witness (Bob) and sometimes this works. However, the final
decision concerning the grievance is management’s.
Our “child-at-will” has no right to call for
a neutral third party to arbitrate the grievance—although
Bill has attempted to have his grandparents represent him
and argue his case.
Life is not fair. His co-worker, Bob, may get better benefits,
more pay or special treatment. He can complain about the
unreasonableness and unfairness of this, but that does not
make management change its mind. Management can, and often
does, show the door to the employee who complains or wants
to make changes.
There is strength in numbers. Bill has a better chance of
making changes when he and his co-worker provide a united
front. Also, deep down, Bill cares about what happens to
his co-worker. He realizes that what impacts his co-worker
also impacts him.
are the lessons Bill can learn from this?
He learns that being an employee-at-will is nothing more than
an extension of a child-parent relationship. When you are
an employee at-will, you are not treated as an adult. You
don’t have the authority to make changes. You don’t
have the right to arbitration. Without a union, you do not
have the leverage to negotiate a fair and equitable contract.
You do not have a “real” voice.
There are glaring differences between family and management.
Often, we hear nurses say that work used to feel like being
part of a big happy family. Management has changed that and
in reality we were never a big, happy family. We were more
of a family of obedient children and domineering parents.
As parents, our goal is to have our children grow up to be
independent, productive adults who make a difference in the
world. Management wants their employees to tow the company
line. Management fights hard and spends lots of money to prevent
their employees from unionizing and gaining a seat at the
table. The last thing management wants is their employees
to have a “real” voice through the power of being
Bill and Bob have been on picket lines, strike lines, protests
marches and rallies. They watch the news and the Daily Show
and are knowledgeable about current world events. They join
in with us when we debate about politics, Wal-Mart, what it
means to be American, and what it means to be union member.
As they travel down the road of life, we hope they love, laugh,
cry, fight for their beliefs, walk tall—and carry a
Disclaimer: This article is a work of fiction. Names are the
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events or persons is coincidental.