The Post Standard’s lead article on Sunday focused on a common problem with our current work culture, unfortunately the Post attempted to sensationalize the issue, rather than look at the underlying issues they uncovered.
They even asked the right question–would you still have a job if you were caught soliciting a hooker on work time, while driving a company car that the police subsequently searched and found marijuana? To the newspaper the answer to this question was self-evident. Most workers would be out on their ass, that afternoon.
The worker in question, a DPW paving crew chief for the city of Syracuse, is still employed. How did this happen? The worker is unionized and has certain rights in his union contract that ordinary workers do not have. The worker was dismissed by the city and under union rules was able to have an independent arbitrator examine the charges against him and determine if he should be reinstated.
Much later in the article we discover that the arbitrator found significant problems with the alleged solicitation of a hooker. According to the arbitrator, a lawyer and former mayor of Penn Yan, the undercover officer screwed up. This was the officer’s first attempt at this type of sting and it was not at all obvious that the worker was intending to solicit the officer for sex. As for the marijuana charge, the amount was extremely small and the worker sought addiction counseling. Based on these facts, the arbitrator had the employee reinstated.
At this point, the article could have discussed how most workers in America are employed ”at will.” They do not have a contract and they may be fired at any time, for any reason. The only recourse most workers have is to attempt to prove that the employer violated their civil rights by firing them on account of the worker’s race, sex, age, religion or national origin. This is a very difficult thing to prove, the government bureaucracy is time consuming and the cost for legal representation is borne by the worker.
This issue gets to the heart of unions and collective bargaining. One of the most important benefits of forming a union is not economic. A union acts as a collective voice for its members, allowing individuals a say in their work lives. Without a union, the worker in question would have been shuffled out the door without a second thought. Unions extend the protections of our democracy into the workplace–it allows workers to present their case and be heard.
So the answer to the Post Standard’s question is an easy one. The worker in question still has his job because his union has his back. If only all workers were so lucky.