You Have the Power to Improve Your Working Conditions

            I was talking with a fellow lawyer earlier this week and he said to me, “Your business must be great, everybody wants to join a union.”

            My daughter had to get her blood drawn yesterday, and she was talking with the phlebotomist, who was particularly good at her job. My daughter complemented her; they got to talking, and the woman said she had been drawing blood for thirteen years. My daughter said to her, “You must really like your job.” She smiled, nodded and said, “Yes, but I wish I made more than nineteen dollars an hour.” I wish she did, too.

            Then earlier this evening I was reading in The Athletic magazine that the New York Mets multi-billionaire owner ($15 billion, to be exact) Steve Cohen was convening an unprecedented meeting with representatives of Mets minor league baseball players and a New York state senator to discuss wages and working conditions for Mets farm league players.

            In a matter of just a couple of days, there were three signs from three different sources talking about disaffected workers and a need to take charge of their lives at work. The landscape has been changing for workers now for a couple of years. The causes have been abrupt, and real change has been persistent but slow in development.

            So we have seen workplaces like Amazon in New York organizing workers. But at the same time, Amazon workers in Alabama rejected a union. Some Starbucks employees have organized their shops while others have declined.

            There is disruptive energy out there, but the action is not always going in the traditional direction. Workers are angry, particularly over working conditions and wages. Inflationary pressures have made financial uncertainty a greater concern than usual for many workers.

            The feeling of vulnerability is uncomfortable and that has led workers to start exploring options. Many have left jobs for what they hope is better opportunity. But changing employers does not necessarily bring a change in work life. The paycheck gets signed by a different person, and the car gets parked in a different lot, but not much else changes after the honeymoon is over.

            I am starting to think that we are poised to see workers begin banding together to improve wages and working conditions. But I am not sure that is always going to happen through the traditional union organizing route. I still think workers fear the process of joining a union. I still think employers are well-prepared to stop a union drive in its tracks.

            Ultimately, I am a believer in unions that do the work to improve lives of employees. It is important. And I know that employers are not the enemy. Without employers, there are no jobs. But often employers have to be forced to listen to their employees and do right by them.

            But where a union is not the right fit, workers can still take action to benefit themselves by opening up lines of communication with their employers. In this economy, employers are anxious to retain good employees. Employees have leverage in the marketplace to improve conditions that could have lasting effects.

            Professional assistance can be useful for employees who do not know where to begin. But the time is right for action, and employees need to think about taking action now to improve their lives.

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