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.
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.
"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.