You have heard, no doubt, that unions are a dying vestige of the days when people knew who Pete Seeger was. As Labor Day 2015 comes and goes, there are two examples to show that labor unions still have a few niches. Ironically, those niches benefit the rich and/or powerful.
Start with that poor, mistreated middle-class worker Tom Brady. The NFL superstar, backed by the players union, overturned in federal court the four-game suspension NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had imposed for Brady’s role in Deflategate.
Because his union rescued him, Brady and family will not find themselves penniless and on the streets.
However, no union has come to the rescue of John Jastremski and James McNally, the two underlings his team suspended indefinitely for their role in the scandal. “I certainly feel terrible for them that they’re not able to be with us right now,” Brady told reporters. “But I think right now for me, I’ve got to think about what I need to do to help this team win.”
How’s that for sticking up for the little guy?
Meanwhile, last week in Broward County, there was a huge outcry when an Arby’s worker allegedly refused to serve a Pembroke Pines police officer who was in the drive-through lane.
The incident involved a 19-year-old worker named Kenneth Davenport and a 22-year-old manager named Angel Mirabel.
Details are a bit murky, but it appears that during a rush period Mirabel told the officer, Sgt. Jennifer Martin, that Davenport didn’t want to serve her because she was a police officer. But Davenport’s story is that he was so swamped he couldn’t process her credit card and asked Mirabel for help. It was joke that went horribly awry, according to Davenport.
Police union officials went ballistic. Arby’s fired Mirabel and suspended Davenport. Arby’s CEO Paul Brown flew to Broward County to apologize in person and to offer free meals to all police officers.
I am happy that police have union protection. I understand the outrage if a worker refused to serve an officer. But the incident highlights the fact that there is no union to represent the fast-food workers, get their side of the story and make sure they have rights that can be defended. If you’re waiting for a fast-food CEO to fly into Broward County to talk about making sure his line-workers enjoy adequate pay and benefits, you will be waiting a long time.
Sunday’s lead story in the South Florida Sun Sentinel was headlined, “Florida worker pay gap widens.” The story reported that, “Pay for the top 10 percent of wage earners in Florida grew 25 times faster than for the bottom 10 percent from 1980 to 2014.”
In his self-congratulatory Labor Day piece for Context Florida, Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, simply ignored that pay gap.
And politicians in Florida and the nation will continue to ignore that pay gap until something makes them pay attention. Unfortunately, it looks like unions won’t be that “something.”
Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.