Monday, September 2, 2013

Let's hear it for Labor!

Labor Day is here again, and for many of us that marks the end of summer, though here in Virginia we expect the weather to be hazy, hot, and humid for a while longer. But this day is about more than the end of "official" summer (a.k.a. fun relaxing time) and the return to our regularly scheduled programming. Labor Day is the day set aside to officially celebrate the working men and women who made our country what it is. Today, as you dive into the pool, or serve up burgers from the grill, take a minute to celebrate Labor on our 119th Labor Day!

I am an entrepreneur with my own business, as well as a card-carrying union member: Actors' Equity Association  (100 years strong)  SAG-AFTRA (born from a merger 17 months ago), and SEIU. So I have a unique perspective on worker's rights. I know some unions have been riddled with graft and corruption in the past, but so has just about every other entity in modern times: business, government, religion... I won't supply links here because I would be doing internet searches all day. I am sure you can think of your own favorite institutional scandals. The fact of the matter is unions protect workers. Few can argue with that--though I keep crossing paths with people who try. But once you throw in a few facts and personal stories, those argument wither.

A year ago I was "management" as a producer of my play, Becoming Calvin, here in D.C. Many people told me what I already knew: I could cut my budget significantly if I hired non-union actors. But the play was my baby, so I wanted to make sure she was cared for by the best. I spent a disproportionately large part of my budget hiring the right people, and I was glad I did! Sure, non-union talent might have been available for longer rehearsal hours, but the professionals I hired showed up on time and always completely prepared to work. There may be a surfeit of talented actors and stage managers out there, but the ones who have worked hard enough to obtain their union cards really are worth it. Every penny you pay them, every dollar you put into the union pension fund, every form you have to fill out. Professionals. You get what you pay for!

And I wold be remiss on this Labor Day if I did not tip my hat to SEIU, which now covers my employment as Adjunct Professorial Lecturer at American University. Thanks to the recently ratified collective bargaining agreement with AU, I will now be paid a higher "terminal degree" rate that recognizes my academic rank as a Master of Fine Arts. The non-arts department I am teaching for had a hard time figuring it out, ("How can you be terminal? You're not a Ph.D!") but the SEIU agreement was pretty clear. I am sure without that backup I would be teaching for whatever rate the department deemed sufficient.

Go Labor!

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