By John Kubinski
Last summer I went with my family to Hershey Park. The Hershey experience is much more than just an amusement park. The entire town is devoted to the memory of Milton Hershey. The famous chocolate tycoon created the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was home to the original Hershey chocolate factory and Hershey created the town so that his workers would have a nice place to live.
The amusement park is the result of Hershey providing rides and games for his employees at their annual picnic. Hershey was devoted to his company and his employees. This is all chronicled at the Hershey museum and in various other locations throughout the town, including on the tour trolley which takes you past Hershey’s home and the school he founded for orphaned children.
You would assume that Hershey employees relish their jobs and can’t wait to come to work every day. I found out this not the case. As co-founder of the workers advocacy group The Middle Class Action Project I often stop to talk to working people in various locations and at various events. I’ll talk to ticket takers at stadiums or fast food workers at rest stops or casino workers etc…..
Just to see how working people are being treated and to talk to them about the benefits of being a member of a union. While waiting on line for the monorail I talked to a young man who operated the ride. I asked him if working at Hershey was a dream job (at this point my head was filled with all the pro-Hershey propaganda). He told me he was exhausted and that he was only in the middle of working a double shift, 16 hours. He went on to tell me that it is a regular occurrence and that some nights he sleeps in his car because he has to be back so early in the morning it is not worth the ride home.
I tried to lighten the mood by telling him he must be happy with all the overtime he was making. He told me he didn’t receive any overtime benefits that he was paid straight time at a little more than the minimum wage. When he told me that he sometimes worked more than 50 hours in a week I asked him why Hershey treated their full-time employees so poorly. He told me he wasn’t full-time and that he was considered part-time seasonal help.
At this point I was ready to organize a union right on the spot. I was positive this kid would jump on board. I said to him, you guys should find a union to join. His response all but floored me. He said “Aw, Unions, those guys are always on a break”.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This kid who slept in his car because he was so exhausted and so over-worked was against unions because they were always on a break. I told the kid he sounded like he could use a break and a raise and what the hell, maybe some health benefits too.
This is a major problem in our country. The corporate media has used its power to brain-wash people against unions. The fictitious portrayal of unions as corrupt tools of organized crime and thuggish brutes that extort money from union members has permeated throughout our society.
Our elected officials that have become rich from private business owners and corporations propose anti-union legislation and have the audacity to call it “right to work” laws. As more and more of our factories are being closed and these jobs are being out-sourced overseas to countries that pay their workers less than a dollar a day and violate their human rights, the companies performing these atrocities are blaming unions for “out pricing” themselves out of the job market.
These companies want the workers to take the blame for their greed. They have actually convinced working people that earning a decent living is bad for business and that they’d better get used to taking less or they won’t get anything at all. Since giant corporations control all aspects of the media, very rarely will you be able to hear the truth. You rarely see Union representatives on Sunday morning talk shows or on news outlets. Our politicians rarely even utter the words Union or Organized Labor.
The decline of Middle Class wages is a direct parallel with the decline in union membership. It is fact that when Unions were strongest in this country, we had a striving and successful middle class. Now, with union membership at its lowest point since the Great Depression, we have a struggling middle class and growing amount of working poor. The only jobs being created are service industry jobs that pay minimum wage. Working people are burdened with bailing out banks and paying for tax breaks for billionaires while their wages remain stagnant and the cost of living keeps rising.
It’s time for the working people of this country to WAKE UP. We need to start standing together. We need to realize that the myth of working harder gets you more. It only makes the rich richer. It’s time for higher wages, fair schedules, vacation time and paid sick leave. It’s time for workers to start taking back the power.
No riches were ever earned without labor. The best defense against corporate greed is organized labor. Unions are the only groups dedicated to making things better for working people. Union members need to start spreading the word. Union leaders need to take to the streets. Organizers need to step up their games. We need to destroy the myths about Unions and start telling the truth. We need to WAKE UP, STAND UP and FIGHT BACK.