It’s been a bitter week in the Promised Land. My plant got a whole bunch of new people from a plant that’s closed. So they laid off all the part-timers, who have been there since January. The vibe is very, very different. The part-timers were, by and large, young and Black, and happy to be working. Many had been laid off from other jobs, and were looking forward to getting rolled over to full-time sometime soon. Nearly all had been working 40-50 hours a week. Part-time. Yeah, right. But, rules are rules, right? The plant that closed brought a lot of high-seniority people, and stripped them of their seniority rights. It seems like a tactic to run them out, so they can be replaced (or not) by tier-two workers. We have skilled trades people with 15 years working on the line. That’s not the way it’s supposed to go. But that’s the way it’s been going. I have absolutely nothing against the tier-one workers, I’m in their corner. I just wish I could get a little of what they have. Which brings up the next bitter, bitter pill; the one that hurts the most, really. The benefits package for the new people, the tier-two workers. The real and true stepchildren. We get nothing. The benefits cover practically nothing. No office visits, no annual exams, no preventative care. Fucking Starbucks offers better benefits at 20 hours a week.
Maybe it’s just me, but I always remember that the UAW was the gold standard of pay and benefits. I mean, if someone wants to express how excellent something is, “Cadillac” is the adjective used. Cadillac is a descriptive word. It conjures the whole auto industrial life in one fell swoop. But here we are, in the New World Order, where things are upside down. Working in a factory is just….working in a factory, like it’s the goddamned 1850s. People did these jobs because they were supposed to provide some kind of decent, dignified life. The understand was that if you work hard, you are well-compensated. This isn’t the soup kitchen, we’re not volunteering. No one does this work for the deep intellectual stimulation of screwing in bolts for ten hours a night. We do this work for the sense of well-being that comes from being able to do for ourselves. But now, working 40-50 hrs a week, I still have to go get my annual exam at Planned Parenthood and tell them that my insurance does not cover it. I am humiliated, enraged and broken-hearted at this state of affairs. I’m in tears as I write this. I had to go to the clinic when I waited tables, and had no insurance at all. I didn’t have a regular doctor. But I wasn’t humiliated by that; I was a student and a waitress. There was no reason to be ashamed; I hadn’t been betrayed by any agreement. I, and my second-class brothers and sisters, work our asses off. We make half the money that other people make, with no raise promised. We have to use that money to pay for basic health care because we have none. We were told that the union had to make a lot of concessions during the bankruptcy to protect the retirees. I get that. My grandfather was one of them, and I watched those proceedings in horror at the thought that he might spend his last years in penury. I knew, going in, that the old glory days of the auto industry were not the ones we’re living in now. I just had no idea that we would be treated like living organ donors: toiling, sweating, and for what?
Stepchild in the Promised Land.