There’s a misguided move to end collective bargaining rights for unions for all the wrong reasons. Those supporters who want to end collective bargaining see it as a cost saving measure. Those clamoring to end collective bargaining rights are looking to return to the past glory days without collective bargaining. Well, the past was not so glorified for many workers in the US.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the New York City Triangle Fire where on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers died after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company. The mostly girls and young women, who were killed, were locked in the factory to prevent them from taking breaks. Many perished through the fire or jumped to their deaths from the 8th and 9th floors. At that time, there was no union or collective bargaining to protect their rights or require basic work place safety for the workers.
After the fire, the New York legislature passed laws requiring automatic sprinklers, unlocked doors during working hours, doors that swing outward for easy exit access, to name a few . Just like today’s dissenters of collective bargaining, the same rhetoric was heard 100 years ago. Sprinklers were called “cumbersome and costly”. Others warned the new laws for safety measures would drive business out of the city and state of New York. Does this sound familiar today?
Everything always boils down to cost cutting over safety and saving lives. If today’s House Republicans and Wisconsin Republicans were alive in 1911, they would call these basic fire safety measures “job killers”. Big business and special interest groups have always fought against rights for the working people, as too costly or too expensive. Corporate interests argued against basic minimum wages, child labor laws, minimum work day hours and overtime pay, all at the cost to working people. Over the years, unions through collective bargaining have fought for the rights and safety for working Americans.
If we allow collective bargaining rights to be stripped, we will return to the days of yester year when workers were not safe. By way of recent example today, the National Traffic Air Traffic Controllers Association has long requested that air traffic controllers not work alone on night shifts. Ever since 2006, the union has argued for 2 person late night shifts. And just this week, one lone air traffic controller at Regan National Airport allegedly fell asleep, resulting in 2 planes attempting to land without his assistance. Paul Rinaldi, the head of the union representing air traffic controllers, has long argued against single person late night shifts. The cost to hire 2 air traffic controllers to work on night shifts far outweighs the costs to lives perished in an airplane crash, as the one occurred in 2006 in Kentucky, due to a lone traffic controller, at the helm.
There’s an old saying that says sometimes you need to learn the hard way. When it comes to lives and basic safety, I’d rather not learn the hard way. I’d rather continue with unions and their collective bargaining efforts fighting for safety. Unions are not perfect. But, the risk of loss of lives without them is too much to bear. Safety has a price. And lives are priceless.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and legal and political commentator. She is frequently seen in the media. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.