Roll The Union On
October 10, 2019 9:28 AM   Subscribe

“The truth is that while labor law reform remains critical to the future solvency of American unionism, nurturing the growing sense of class consciousness among today’s workers is more important than any single tweak to our labor code.” If “Industrial Democracy” Wasn’t Already Dead, Trump’s NLRB Just Killed It (Strike Wave) The Radical Guidebook Embraced by Google Workers and Uber Drivers : A book based on ideas associated with a labor group from the early 20th century has provided a blueprint for organizing without a union. (NYT) “Three days before President Trump signed the tax cut bill, in anticipation of then-chief officer Stephen Kramer’s promotion to C.E.O., the company’s Compensation Committee voted to increase Kramer’s compensation package to include a base pay of $408,500 and to make him eligible to receive more than $2 million in stock, in addition to a $510,625 bonus. Last year, Miss Mahin’s pay went up from $15 to $15.50 an hour, while my mother says she never got a raise.” Private daycares prepare children for success but often leave their employees behind (Harper’s)
posted by The Whelk (9 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
God, do I ever wish Bright Horizons employees would unionize nationally! I had kids at Bright Horizons centers for five years and while I do think it seemed like a better employer than a lot of smaller-operation daycare centers in terms of benefits, the rates they charge at Bright Horizons are exorbitant compared to those other centers in many markets, and so much more of it should end up in teachers' pockets. It is punishing physical work taking care of classrooms full of very small kids - not just the heavy lifting and the diapers, oh the diapers, but also we had one teacher quit on us because she just could not shake a respiratory infection after six months of sinus issues, an adenoidectomy, and a bunch of time off. Every time she was getting better she picked up another damn cold from the toddlers and her doctor finally told her that, really, if she wanted to not be sick anymore she needed to find herself a new line of work.

BH charges more in large part because they operate for longer hours and take only the bare minimum of holidays. This makes sense - the parents who can afford BH tuition are generally working white-collar jobs and often can't accommodate the weeks off in winter and tons of other random holidays that a lot of smaller centers take - but as a result teachers in these centers get all the pain of other sorts of teachers but with few of the lifestyle benefits in terms of time off and shorter hours.

The turnover is so high, and it's hard on the other teachers and even harder on the kids. And I think a lot of the teachers who stick around for a long time do it because they genuinely love caring for the smallest children in a classroom setting (as opposed to nannying) and they're well aware their other options locally are worse - mom 'n' pop centers are often even more abusive, for even less pay, and often very shoddy benefits. But a strong union at Bright Horizons would move the whole industry forward, I have to hope. They are so influential and it seems like a lot of daycares in my area informally peg their tuition to a percentage of BH's.

I guess tuition would probably go up a lot, and it's already not what anyone considers affordable; I mean, that CEO can't survive on less than almost a million in cash a year, don'cha know. But at a certain point BH can't raise it more because they're competitive with 1:1 nannies.
posted by potrzebie at 11:40 AM on October 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

And I think a lot of the teachers who stick around for a long time do it because they genuinely love caring for the smallest children in a classroom setting (as opposed to nannying) and they're well aware their other options locally are worse - mom 'n' pop centers are often even more abusive, for even less pay, and often very shoddy benefits.

That, and daycare work (like many other pink-collar professions) uses a lot of pressure and the assumption that working women are supported by a man's salary in order to artificially reduce the salaries and respect that should be commanded by these professions. It's really common to insist that teachers and childcare workers should take love for the children in lieu of pay, respect, reasonable working hours, health benefits, or other tangible forms of support, and it really bothers me to see it so commonly touted in even non-partisan contexts. (Not that you are doing that here, potrzebie; I'm "yes-and"ing, not trying to rebuke you.)

A union is really important, but caring strongly about the people you are serving often serves to undermine solidarity for these kinds of pink-collar workers and undermine willingness to withdraw work until pay and care for the workers returns. I know for a fact that I have shown up to teach through a brief TA symbolic strike for a number of reasons (fear of reprisal and loss of a good working relationship with an otherwise supportive instructor; lack of trust in the organizing and planning behind the strike given extremely short notice; the knowledge that the federal-tax-reform based goals behind the strike had recently been repealed), but probably the chief among those reasons for showing up to work was knowing that not showing up to work would absolutely fuck over both my students and also my instructor and lab coordinator. When you don't have tangible support--and I do better than a lot of other instructional staff--it can be really terrifying to threaten the warm and fuzzy bonds of appearing to be a generous and loving woman who tenders aid to the needy, because what do you have if you lose even that? Those expectations are classic, textbook benevolent sexism, after all,

I compromised with a brief speech to my students explaining why I was present that day, what the strike was about, why I was choosing to forego my own interests in order to help them, and encouraging them to register to vote and to be politically involved in paying that generosity forward for other people as was possible in the future. That particular section happened to include several vocally progressive students, and I still remember one of them asking me in surprise when I turned up to work, "What are you doing here?"

I am still conflicted about that day, almost three years later. I think I made the best choice I could for myself, but it was not my proudest moment, either. And I was very resentful about the poor organizing that gave me less than a week to work out what to do and how to protect myself from public reprisal, too.
posted by sciatrix at 12:14 PM on October 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I mean, I definitely oversimplified my reasons behind why daycare teachers stay there and why BH teachers stay at BH in particular. I think in many cases in the center where my kids used to go, the teachers are here on visas and BH is less hesitant to hire them than other smaller childcare employers who want to avoid the whole visa system. There are not many legit jobs out there for people who are okay doing childcare, want to work legally (i.e. not willing to take under-the-table nanny jobs), and have any complications to their legal status, as most daycare centers are smaller businesses. BH is the rare large corporation with savvy lawyers in this space, and can take on that level of legal challenge - and it means lots of their teachers have few other options, and everyone involved knows it. So that's a whole other angle.

I'm definitely not ignorant of the relationships and emotional bonds that keep teachers in the classroom when solidarity demands they walk (my mom taught elementary school and was a union rep for years), and BH parents overall would be furious about having to find childcare through a strike. Many of them are in the "managerial class" and tend to side with bosses instinctively, because they are bosses themselves or were raised to think of themselves as being on the side of bosses when it comes to labor issues, like many Americans are. But even those who are more inclined toward labor solidarity would get frustrated with a strike that lasted more than a couple days, just because it's really hard to find anything else to do with very young kids if you need to be at work! The BH brand rests on high availability of care, it's literally their primary competitive advantage, and the company would be highly incentivized to get those teachers back into class. It's obvious they have a hard time filling positions at the rate of pay and benefits they're willing to offer.

I clearly have just a ton of disjointed thoughts on this. But in short, oh MAN do Bright Horizons teachers need a union.
posted by potrzebie at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

That Strike Wave piece is great. Thanks, as always, The Whelk!
posted by materialgirl at 5:16 AM on October 11, 2019

Oh and by the way, the book profiled in the NYT pricier is available for free at libcom LABOR LAW FOR THE RANK AND FILE
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

"But as the largest American socialist organization in decades, even modest successes for DSA could bridge the decades-long divide between labor and the left, and help to transform the labor movement in a few large urban centers."
posted by The Whelk at 10:21 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

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