Monday, August 27, 2012
The Union Thing Again
Those who are familiar with my work history know that I once was a member of a union - the CAW - which happened to be the largest union operating in this country's private sector. By and large, the union didn't have much of an effect on my life. Nominally, they were in place to negotiate a new employment contract with my employer (they didn't) and to be a check on the powers of managemtient (they weren't). Near as I can tell, the union that was there was there to gobble up dues and to make sure I never had to set foot in the dish pit again, which is more ordinary refuge when pissed off in a kitchen. Those who know me know that back then I was a lot angrier than I was now, working under higher stress with less control over my emotions - never a good combination.
Still, I can't blame the union for what happened to me and the manner in which I arrived at losing that particular job. For one thing, I was pretty much presaged for failure from the word go - I had the least experience of any cook on staff and any new hire in years, I had a predisposition toward hating that particular manner of "cooking" (throwing hot pockets in the microwave doesn't count, ladies!), and I was a particularly irritable person working with a number of particularly irritable people who all (myself included) thought we were God's gift to the craft. Being a polymath doesn't help you much in that environment, especially when you are a polymath who is always right, and one who is disinclined to be particularly nice to your fellow jerks at 8 AM, which is a perfectly reasonable time to be up. Yeah, I pretty much dug my own grave on that one.
What annoys me is that the union rolled over. I don't have pay stubs any more (that filing season has passed), but I did pay close to $80 a month for the union's protection, which extended to mandatory lunch breaks I couldn't always afford to take (time is more valuable than air in a kitchen), discounts on work boots, and the aforementioned immunity from the shame and frustration of washing dishes. My friends still tell me that the contract that expired over a year ago still hasn't been replaced. Employees who were worse than useless (downright counter-productive) were immune from all but the most minor punishment and employees who put their heart and soul into their work were constantly being drummed up before the bosses and disciplined for petty infractions, some of which happened off property and off payroll. I remember quite clearly being told to cut my hair standing beside the man with the three-foot pony tail... but that's neither here nor there. He was a genius, a true master of the craft, and he deserved any indulgence he asked for.
Looking back on it now, I suppose I must have been pretty mediocre to hotel management. Hotel cooking has more in common with the fast food industry than with fine dining, and I was never cut out for a life of pressing pizza dough and dunking French Fries. That's not the Union's fault.
All this to say, of course, that I don't blame the union for losing my job. My anti-union perspective has little to do with my own history, or indeed some inherent hatred for the labour class - a class to which I, along with everyone else I know, happen to belong. A part of me wants to blame them, sure - it's easier than admitting to myself that I'm the only one to blame for that fiasco. But I have an actual grievance.
Labour Day's coming up, and it's always nice to have a day off. So are statutory holidays, the 40 hour week, and then $10/hour minimum wage in this province. None of these are things I especially benefit from, except maybe the minimum wage, which, by the way, is only sufficient if you actually get a 40-hour week. Health benefits would be great, except by and large they take a cut out of my wage, an unnecessary cut considering basic medical care is covered by the provincial government and even my 'scrip is cheap. I like statutory holidays, and I really liked them when I was still plying the trade, because you almost always work stats as a cook, and getting paid time and a half to do so was fantastic.
Thing is... I'm not a service industry employee any more. Bar opening my own restaurant, I'm not likely to ever be again - the spectacular way in which I flared out at the hotel was more than enough to consume the already flagging fires of my passion for cuisine. I'm left with a few tender embers now, embers that need to be carefully stoked and built up again. No, I'm not a service industry employee, and a retail union wouldn't get very far. The things we want would cost jobs, rather than create them. Hard to get people to rally behind that.
No, I don't hate unions because I didn't get my grievance. I would have lost it anyway. I'm anti-union because I'm anti-waste. Workers in the western world are, by and large, fighting for more of the benefits they already have. A few fight fights worth fighting - cooks at my old hotel totally deserve more than what they're making right now. As a block one cook I was making less than I"m making now, even without the performance incentives. Lots fight for stuff they just don't deserve. $18 an hour to clean toilets and mop floors?
Man, for the kind of hours you get, I would do your job for the minimum wage. Oh, and, uh, throw in that optical you're getting on top of that pay. My eyes are always a little bit worse than I think they are.
For those who think that being anti-union means you hate the little guy, remember the name.