Union Yes!

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Song is Alpha VX. Click to play. It's from Alan's Techno Midi.
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"I'm not getting ready for bed!" my oldest daughter shouts. "I'm on strike!" She sits in a kitchen chair, her legs straddling the seat, smiling from ear to ear. Oh, how did I arrive at this sad situation?

I helped establish a union where I worked. Five years ago, the Press-Citizen carried the news as a small article. A hospital in the next county had outsourced its labs. Another hospital had instituted cutbacks. I breathed a sigh of relief that Jacob and I were still childless. Should something happen to my income we could do without it until I found another job. We were no longer trying to conceive. The attempt to make a baby had placed way too much strain on our own marital happiness, and both of us agreed that had to come first.

I read the articles in the paper with some disquietude. That, after all, could be my job. I was buying a Sunday paper and a few groceries one morning when I had to stop in a coffee shop frequented by students. The young man drank coffee at his table alone. He looked up at me and asked me point blank if I worked at X hospital. I told him I did. He asked me how I enjoyed my job and about the working conditions.

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I laughed and explained that I was a pathology technician. I help prepare tissue samples for analysis and assist with the messier work of autopsies in the morgue. What I do depends upon which shift I work. I like the job. It is varied and interesting work and it pays reasonably well.

"Well you're aware what is going on in the neighboring county, aren't you?" he asked. I said I was and then the young man introduced himself as a labor organizer for the BLANK union. He wanted to help organize the lab techs. I laughed. My colleagues had told me what happened when the nurses tried to organize. Those who wanted to organize got bad reports and were fired for "incompetence" or financial exigency. That is how the game is played.

"You're approaching me because I don't have kids and because I cut up dead bodies," I said. "You think I'm expendable."

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"Nope," said Dave the organizer. "I'm talking to you because you are willing to fight. Any one who does your kind of work and who is willing to be open about it has a tough stomach."

I reminded Dave that dead bodies and lumps of tissue can't fight back. Management is another animal. "Do you want your job to get outsourced?" asked Dave. What could I say? I wish I could have said I saw the future. Maybe I never gave up hope.

So it began. My husband, Jacob, who was in a union on his last job was supportive. Starting a union when management is hostile is like waging a clandestine spy battle. My fellow techs in the upstairs labs and the pathology crew downstairs developed a code, those of us who were in the know that is. We met in people's homes and in student-friendly coffee houses. We kept an eye out for strangers and agent provocateurs.

Then came the big day when we filed the papers. We got the assistance of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) to supervise the elections. We had a deadline, and the campaign began for real. We had three weeks. Of course by then I was pregnant. It had happened without trying. I was past the point of being sick and had a due date two weeks after the certification vote. To start a union, the majority of the techs would have to vote to organize. I remember standing in the hospital conference room as the NLRB official broke open the box of mail in and hand delivered ballots. Since there are not a lot of us, we were going to do this count by hand.

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A suit from human resources stood there too as did the other side's slick lawyer from Des Moines. Our own attorney had come down too. We sat on opposite sides of the table as the counting began. The NLRB official did the count. He counted once. He counted again and then we saw it. We won -- by four votes! We had our union! I threw my arms around Dave. This was not easy since I was rather big in front and then --

One of the butterflies in my stomach stung me and urinated. I was covered with broken water and doubled over with my first contraction. I remember calling Jacob and asking him to bring some clean clothes and the baby things from their hiding place. We were going to have a daughter too.

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Web page and graphics by Thadea. Last updated 4/15/01.