Monday, February 6, 2012

A Letter to the AFL-CIO.

This morning, I heard a story on NPR about how a new advertising campaign is being tested in Pittsburgh to highlight how people are working together through the AFL-CIO to create a neighborhood that creates a nation. This ad was simple and tactful: highlighting how each of us is a piece that fits into the puzzle that is the United States. A real tear-jerker...if you're into that sort of thing.

My father retired from the mill (what mill doesn't matter, it could be any mill. Couldn't it?) last year, and Mom continues to work on the non-union end of the same company where Dad retired. Dad's got a decent pension plan, but is permanently disabled from his work there. They believe in the power of unions to make a better life for workers. They believe in the power of an organization to create a union that provides a living wage and safe working conditions to its employees. They marched in the Labor Day parade under their local number x. They're some real goddamned Patriots. 

My husband came home from a contract job (his second) in Iraq this September where he serviced vehicles and machinery for the military for seven days a week, twelve hours a day. It was hot and merciless and he came home only once in a year. We were grateful though, because this was the only job that he could find that came to providing a living wage for our family, while still allowing us to pay our insane student loan bills and put any money away for a rainy day (you know, like now). He's home now. He's jobless. Without job. On unemployment like the 8.3% of the nation that is actually reported for the 8.3% statistic. Even with my mother's recommendation at the mill, he can't even get an interview for any job there. Don't worry, though, the rampant nepotism that fills the union jobs ensures that the sons, cousins, and dog walkers of the men already in the union will have jobs for years to come. How is this enriching America in the way that your advertising campaign cries? I suppose that getting your bratty kid a job is the way America works now. So really, good job guys!

My own brush with union work is just as enriching. I tested and was accepted into a local here in Pittsburgh, where I began an apprenticeship program whilst studying to become a journeyman. This local hired tons and tons of first-year apprentices and paid them nothing (I made more working at that devil Starbucks. You know, the one that won't unionize.), while their four-year apprentices were laid-off. Seasoned journeymen had to deal with greenhorns mucking up the jobsite and not even having the basic skills to really aid the site and the work, while fourth-year apprentices with experience and poise collected unemployment checks. Union execs sat in their offices with cherry desks and autographed baseballs in glass cases, whilst men and women shuffled to find ways to live on sixty percent of their income. When I handed my tools back to this man, I could see that the calluses on his hands had softened a long time ago and his head was harder than ever.

I can understand that your cause is a noble one, but not for our family. My parents and I differ greatly on what the union has done for our family and we are but one of the crowd that you wish to reach with this advertising. Good Luck with that. While there are plenty of men and women that you have “helped,” keep in mind that your campaign will not touch my jobless husband. Blame it on the economy if you want, but your campaign has clearly pointed out that we’re all in this together. Where will your culpability lie?
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