Columnists are probably the earth’s most unappreciated people. We research; we write and rarely hear from our fans, always from our critics. Over the last decade I’ve certainly developed my share of those.
President Kennedy liked to joke that if the London Times had granted Karl Marx’s request for a halfpenny a week raise we might have avoided the slavery of communism. But like the Times of a century ago, publishers often don’t have any respect for the brilliant opinions written by people like me. They regard us as a necessary nuisance, published to amuse their readers.
That’s why I’m going to form a union. That’s right, a union that will stand up for the rights of disadvantaged columnists all over this state. Few of us are left handed and I’m going to use that as a niche. That way I’ll have a specialty that will be recognized by the Federal government as a disadvantaged group requiring exceptional treatment. I’ve even come up with a name for it: Left-handed Columnists Read All-Around Pennsylvania. It will catch on quickly with the handle: LECRAAP.
I’ll get help from all the big hitters in organized labor. No doubt the AFL-CIO will line up behind me. I’m looking for the support of the Communications Workers of America. CWA is one of the finest unions I’ve ever encountered and with their support no left handed disrespected columnist in this state will go unheard!
In the past this kind of organizing effort would have been impossible. I would have had to travel the whole state, convince my constituents to join and then get enough signatures on a petition to have a secret ballot. In turn, before the vote, the newspaper publishers would have several weeks to make their case that my union was a bad idea. They might give some of us raises, recognize our work and generally treat us better. On the other hand if they were stingy we could go privately into the voting booth, form our union and demand better treatment.
That is the American way but, like a lot of things in the Obama administration, with the help of my old friend Arlen Specter, that’s about to change. When it does it will be a lot easier for me to form LECRAAP.
President Obama supports a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act, it has been nicknamed ‘Card Check’ and, with Specter’s support, it is likely to become the law of the land. It is organized labor’s highest legislative priority. For a good reason: Union membership in the United States is at an all time low. From it’s height in the 1950’s when 35% of the workforce belonged to a collective bargaining unit, as of 2006 in the private sector, only 8% of workers held a union card. The brightest spot for union leadership is in the government sector. On average 36% of government workers belong to a union. In states like Pennsylvania that number is contrived as public school teachers are forced to pay union dues.
When Arlen Specter votes for Card Check organizing LECRAAP will be a breeze. All I’ll have to do is mail signature cards to potential members. They’ll sign them and the U.S. government will certify our union. If the publishers balk at our demands President Obama will appoint an arbitrator to dictate how much we get in pay, benefits and time off.
But most newspapers are struggling. If my demands are forced on them they are likely to go out of business. I’ll have wasted my time, won’t get anything for all of my hard work and will have fewer outlets for my brilliant opinions.
Last week Senator Specter promised organized labor that they would "like his vote" on Card Check. Boxed in by Pat Toomey on the right and probably Congressman Joe Sestak on the left, he is desperate for re-election in 2010. Like my union, my old friend is struggling for a vainglorious victory. If he loses it would have the kind of sadness attached to a last hurrah in what has been a brilliant, historic career. That is why someday soon I’d like to save the money I’d spend forming LECRAAP and buy Senator Specter what he really needs now. A fine gold watch to honor his retirement.
Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research; a Harrisburg based non-profit educational foundation. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania. He can be reached at [email protected]