Thursday, March 10, 2011

Labor Matters

I stand with the workers of Wisconsin. Just to get that out of the way right off (and a big hat-tip to Bob Salvatore who said this sooner).

And it should be no surprise to long term readers, given my support during the writer’s strike (remember that? The big issue was that the management couldn’t tell how successful all this streaming technology was, so how could they offer to pay the writers anything? Of course, immediately since, the firehose of streaming tech has been unleashed).  And my folks were both public school teachers, and collective bargaining made it possible for me to go to school in the district that they taught (and mind you, when I was young, my father spent his “summers off” painting the very schools he taught in).

But I’ve never been part of a union. My training is as a civil engineer, and while we have professional societies, we don’t “do” unions. And my work as a corporate creative is very white-collar and not typically union, either. Plus almost all the gaming industry might be put in one room and still qualify for a small business loan. And as a freelance author, organizing writers for lunch is hard enough, to say nothing about collective bargaining.

But I support unions because they protect the rest of us as well. And here’s the tale:

When I started working for TSR, I punched a clock. We had time cards and checked in, checked out for lunch, checked back in, and checked out at the end of the day. Hitting a time clock is a bit weird for a creative operation, in that creativity is hard to measure by time-motion studies (though that did not stop us from trying). Plus, deadlines and schedules seem to be created without thinking that someone in only putting 8 hours a day in (something that continues to this day).

Anyway, we working, and punched in and out. And when it became clear the writers were working much more than forty hours a week, we got a memo telling us to knock it off. Of course, the deadlines didn’t move, and we were told that those had to be made regardless. So the end result was that we would work eight hours a day, punch out at the 8 hour mark, then go back upstairs and work into the evening to finish the project.

And that went on for a couple months, until there was a layoff and someone dropped a dime on this particular arrangement to the Wisconsin State Labor Relations Board, and they came around asking questions. And management informed me  I was supposed to write up a letter detailing how many hours unpaid overtime I worked and I did and explained that THIS WAS OK because, after all, I needed to get the work done.

What can I say? I was young and stupid. OK, MORE stupid.

The end result was a fine on TSR and a small chunk of cash to make up unpaid work and all of a sudden the game designers and editors were no long hourly employees. Now we were SALARIED and had salaried benefits as a result didn’t have to worry about putting only 40 hours a week in (and now could work weekends).

So I became a full-time salaried employee. And I owe that to unions. Without a strong union presence (and state support of that presence), the natural tendencies of all corporate organizations are unchecked. And mind you, that would often be with the support of their own workers, who “don’t mind” putting in the extra time to make sure everything works, which soon turns into standard operating procedures.

So yeah, I support the right to form unions and to collectively bargain, even if I don’t always agree with the results of that bargaining. Because it is there, it helps the rest of us.

More later,