Monday, September 3, 2007

Faces of Labor

I am the face of labor.
I am a long-term university employee. I belong to a union whose charge it is to build and safeguard all those things that make a fair and safe working environment. My union must work to ensure its members receive equitable wages. My union must strive to ensure its members work in a humane workplace. My union must battle to make sure I have adequate health care for myself and my family. My union was my rock when rules were broken and my rights were ignored in the name of "doing more for less." Although my union isn't perfect, I am grateful to have one, and I can count on its advice and assistance when I need it. Having that security to rely on brings a peace of mind which makes me a better, more productive employee. For that, I am grateful.

I am the face of labor.
I am an adjunct faculty member of a small private college. I belong to no Union. I have no rights. I have no benefits. I have no job protection whatsoever. I am grateful for the yearly appointments that I have secured for the past 14 years, but worry every August that the next one might not come through. Money for institutions of higher education is a constant worry, and when things get tight, adjunct faculty are the first to go. Because we have no benefits, pensions or health care, we save the college thousands upon thousands of dollars each year, meaning we are both cost-effective and expendable. It is a most unenviable Catch-22. I cannot and will not complain because financially, I need this job, and professionally, I love this job. So I put up with the unknown and often pay for expenses out of pocket to properly do my job. Despite my lack of security and employee ownership in this small private college, I care deeply for my students. They deserve no less than my full commitment to their education, even when the college cannot or will not commit the same to the person providing that education.

I am the face of labor.
I work every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and I never receive a paycheck. I am a cook, a chauffeur, a teacher, a psychologist, a handyman, a doctor, a banker, a lawyer and personal secretary. I am a single parent. I get no days off, no presidential proclamations and no parades. I have no second or third-string replacements to take over when I'm tired, sick or need a vacation. My job is a permanent, life-long appointment and the compensation for a job well done over the decades includes no golden parachutes, fancy watches or expensive trips. The work is all-consuming, but the rewards are immeasurable.

I am the face of labor.
I work but do not receive any monetary compensation. I am a volunteer. I work very hard, but I must admit it often doesn't feel like work at all. I volunteer to help others, and in doing so, I am building stronger friendships and stronger communities. Despite the lack of a paycheck, I know my work is important to others, and to myself.

Labor Day shouldn't just be a day to pay tribute to The American Worker and American Industry. It should honor all the faces of labor and recognize that today, the average American worker is anything but average. Some enjoy rich benefit packages and golden parachutes. Some live from paycheck to paycheck, hoping the next grant or temporary assignment will come through in time. Some receive no wages at all, and instead work to care and nurture family or community. But each is important and all of them deserve respect.

To the faces of labor --
To the union worker with a contract and security,
To the temp worker with no guarantee for tomorrow,
To the parents doing that hardest unpaid job in the world,
To the volunteers working for the people of today and for the good of tomorrow,
Thank you.

Happy Labor Day.
Have a waffle.

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