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This is a crosspost from AFL-CIO Now.

Those of us in the union movement often are asked: Why would anyone need a union today?

Our recent My Bad Boss Contest just turned up more than 2,500 reasons.

Among them:

The boss who told his part-time staff person she had to work longer hours even though she wanted to spend more time with her dying mother.

The boss who made his employee pay for his own chair at work.

And the boss who "GooglesTM" employees to dig up dirt on their personal lives and spends time walking around the office barking like a dog, whinnying like a horse and making cicada noises.

But the real winner is the millionaire dentist who, because so many patients canceled appointments on Sept. 11, 2001, took the money he would have made that day out of his employees' paychecks.

"Cat Scratch" worked for that dentist, and was selected grand prize winner from among the thousands who submitted their employer horror stories to the My Bad Boss Contest. The AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America, which sponsored the contest, will give Cat Scratch a much-deserved week's vacation getaway and $1,000 toward airfare, compliments of the AFL-CIO membership benefit organization, Union Privilege.

Throughout the five-week contest, visitors voted for a weekly winner and Cat Scratch was selected from the five finalists, including those noted above. (Nearly 50,000 votes were cast throughout the contest.) Working America now offers "10 Tips for Dealing with a Bad Boss."

Another finalist reported trying to get his boss to okay a psychiatric hospital stay for a patient traumatized by images of the Iraq war, which stirred up flashbacks from his years in Vietnam. After the boss refused to approve the request, the patient fatally shot himself in the head. When the employee, traumatized and unable to stop crying, took the rest of the day off, the boss had this to say to her supervisor:

I don't know why she had to take the day off. People commit suicide everyday.

Why, indeed, would anyone need a union today.

Along with posting reports of jaw-droppingly bad boss behavior, Working America, which represents more than 1.5 million working people nationwide, featured commentary from distinguished panelists, including the indomitable Al Franken and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, economist, author and president of Last Word Productions Inc., a multimedia production company.

Malveaux, whose books include Wall Street, Main Street and the Side Street: A Mad Economist Takes a Stroll, notes the blatant discrepancy between the rosy picture painted by the 2006 Economic Report of the President--which she calls "one of the most intriguing pieces of fiction that I've ever read"--and the reality of a tight employment market that engenders such fear in workers they are willing to play with the Devil, Prada shoes or not.

When people talk about their bosses, they are really talking about imbalances of power, the absence of civility, and a disrespect for working people that is reflected in the fact that the average CEO makes more than 800 times as much as a minimum wage worker. Lots of folks have good jobs with good pay, but an increasing number have good jobs with good pay and poor working conditions.

In the 1990s, 9to5, National Association of Working Women, held annual bad boss contests that seemed to have generated far more reports of sexual harassment and gender-biased bad behavior than we saw in Working America's contest this year. (One of the more notable entries in the 9to5 contest was the boss who asked his secretary to sew a hole in his pants while he had them on.)

But whether there is more or less such gender-based behavior in recent years, one fact is certain: The manner in which U.S. bosses behave toward their employees--and what they get away with doing to them--isn't going to change without intervention.

As we say in the union movement, Got a Boss? Get a Union.

Originally posted to Tula Connell on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 06:11 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I've been fortunate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, mariva

    Never had a boss like these, not even in the military where they can get away with a lot of things a civilian boss can't.  I feel for those who have to live with those bosses.

    -5.88, -4.82 "He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste." Job 12:24

    by slothlax on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 07:31:58 AM PDT

  •  Where's your tip jar, Tula? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Especially now that your diary has been rescued.

    Mariva's Guide: A magablog of fun, useful, interesting stuff.

    by mariva on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 08:26:44 PM PDT

  •  Worst boss? Was Bush nominated? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, ksuwildkat

    Did you see this?

  •  Unions not always good (0+ / 0-)

    I spent many years being a supporter of unions until I had my first real interactions with two – the NEA and the AFGE.

    The NEA has done wonders to improve education in general and the standing of teachers in particular.  Given that a majority of teachers are women, their work has had an even bigger impact on society.  But their stances on teacher testing and alternative certification are just plain wrong and they cause me to believe that they have placed their existence as a union over any concern for education and pay for teachers.  No competent teacher is opposed to testing to verify they are qualified to teach.  If students have to take test to graduate, teachers should take tests to continue to teach.  Alternative certification is an area they are even more backwards on.  We have a shortage of teachers.  We have people looking for second or third careers who want to teach.  We should be encouraging these people with real world skills and experiences to go into teaching and take the professional education courses necessary to ensure they can get certified.  Instead the NEA is more interested in putting up more barriers to entry and perpetuating the old saw “those who can do, those who cant teach.”

    My experience with the AFGE makes every bad boss look like a good day.  I have seen them defend sexual harassers, drunks, violent employees and those clearly incompetent.  I was recently told I needed to “accommodate” employees who wanted to smoke directly outside the door of a work area and next to where gasoline was stored.

    Unions have done much for American workers but some have lost their way.  They have developed an “employee is right” stance that is taken to extremes.  They lose creditability and cause people like me – long time supporter of unions – to believe they need to go.  What I don’t understand is that employees fail to value themselves enough not to work for bad bosses.  If my boss docked my pay unjustly, I would find a different job immediately.  Good businesses learn that turnover cost money and instead of needing a union to insure good management practices, they use management evaluations to do the same.  Workers need to learn that businesses exist because they are willing to work.  If your workplace sucks, find a new one.  

    It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

    by ksuwildkat on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 08:51:15 PM PDT

    •  Yes, and (0+ / 0-)

      you might well also argue that when the balance of power is tipped so very very much in favor of extreme environmentalism, bad things can happen.  That's not quite the most pressing imbalance issue to worry about right now, is it?  Neither is what might happen if unions had more power than big business.


      by AdmiralNaismith on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 09:34:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Are you in a union? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      What is a union?
      A union is a group of workers who form an organization to gain:

      • Respect on the job,
      • Better wages and benefits,
      • More flexibility for work and family needs,
      • A counterbalance to the unchecked power of employers, and
      • A voice in improving the quality of their products and services.

      From what you have written, I cannot tell if you are a member of a union. If you are, then become proactive; let your opinions be known, vote for union leadership, become a shop steward, etc.. Unions are as good, or bad, for that matter, as the involvement of its rank-and-file members.

      "Fear grows in darkness; if you think there's a bogeyman around, turn on the light." -- Dorothy Thompson

      by gabriella on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 10:42:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am not (0+ / 0-)

        My job is one that does not allow unions but at this point even if it did I would not join because of my interaction with them.  

        I agree with all the goals of unions but I have come to believe that in many industries they have become a crutch for employees who lack the will/desire to achieve these goals themselves:

        • respect yourself first and you will get respect on the job
        • Better wages move to better skills.  Get those skills.
        • Some jobs are lack flexibility.  Don’t take those jobs if that is important.
        • Unchecked power of employers is rooted in economic dependence and lack of fiscal restraint.  Get out of debt and stop needing your job more than your job needs you.
        • Become competent enough that your voice is sought not forced

        I fully recognize that the only reason I can have a good, non-union interaction with my employers is because of the work of thoe before me who used unions to force change.  But now it is time for some unions to examine if they still need to work in those areas.  Others clearly do (mine workers come to mind) because the employers are still evil.  Others have become more a tool for job protection for the lowest common detonator than anything else.


        It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

        by ksuwildkat on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:12:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  There is no goddamn shortage of teachers (0+ / 0-)

      Here in Chicago this summer, 18,000 teachers were fighting over 2,000 jobs. In Chicago -- one of the most notoriously headache-inducing bureaucracies in the country. If your school or district can't attract candidates for open teaching positions, you need to ask yourself what's wrong with your school or district that's driving those candidates away.

      Also, lots of principals won't hire career changers who've gone through alternative certification. They don't consider them "real teachers."

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:45:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly (0+ / 0-)

        Teacher shortages could probably be solved by teacher movement. I know parts of Kansas are desperate but I am not moving there....again.....  :)

        The "real teachers" thing is exactly right.  The true shame is that few of the "real teachers" I have met with more than a few years of teaching have stayed current on their craft.  Professional development is a joke because of the barrier to entry that keeps people out of the profession.  Bad pedagogy is the norm in most American schools because there is no competition, no external pressure.

        It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

        by ksuwildkat on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:01:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I want to thank my former boss (5+ / 0-)

    for being such a prick.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have quit and started my own business, which I have been operating for the past six years.  

    Here's to you, Greg! You douche bag.

  •  Something that may be interesting (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, cwaltz

    A surprising number of people have negative opinions of unions. Most of this is due to corporate propaganda. However, I recall something from when I was growing up that may play apart in this.

    When kids are old enough to get part time jobs, they will often work in a store or supermarket. Quicley, word got around that you didn't want to work at a supermarket. They only paid minimum wage ($3.75 back then) where as Burger King paid $4.25. In addition to that, unions took $10 per week for dues for ten weeks. At that age, you worked on average mabey 12 hours per week. So the very first impression teens got in the first paycheck they ever got was that the union took over 25% of their check, more than double SSI, federal and state taxes combined. A lot of kids would end up quitting as a result.

    I have no issues with charging dues, but it may be wiser to say spread out payments further for part time rs, or mabey have something like free movie passes for  teens starting their first jobs. I don't know, but lots of kids get this poor first impression and don't learn otherwise until much later in life how important unions are.

    Karl (Rove) is a shameless bastard. Small wonder his mother killed herself. -Larry Johnson

    by McGirk on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 11:30:37 PM PDT

    •  I agree and in addition (0+ / 0-)

      it is important for union leaders to explain to people fully that the decisions they make may also effect how future union members view that union. For example, while it was beneficial for then present day employees to take a buyout on bonuses and get a lump sum payout....It is now one less benefit for future members to point at and say I have this because of a union.

      I'd also say the same thing for the members who decided it wasn't that important for folks without seniority to have access to good medical care for a year and a half at Kroger. If I had to bet I would say that at $6.25 an hour without medical care a person would be hard pressed to not go to Walmart where the pay is better and you get medical(albeit worse medical then what an employee at Kroger gets after their year and a half)within 90 days.

      Unions need to be real careful that when they negotiate they realize that how they negotiate has consequences for how future members view their importance.

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