Saturday, October 07, 2006

Religion and Union Organizing

Now, here is a very, very delicate issue, on which I would welcome comments. I apologize if it makes you uncomfortable, but it was an important moment, and I think it deserves exposure and debate.

Recently, a person affiliated with unions in Massachusetts (not the SEIU) said to me, "As one Jew to another, I would hate to think that you would be publicly taking the kind of position you have been taking on this SEIU matter." I was really stunned by this -- to think that this issue would be couched as a matter of religion, rather than being addressed on the merits. My response to him was, "As one Jew to another, I would like to think that you would be ashamed of me if I did not stand up to an undemocratic approach that undercut the rights of a group of people."

See the posting below on union activities for background on this issue, and then answer the question: What do you think? Was he out of line? Am I?

13 comments:

NDoyle said...

He is historically correct. You are correct in this century.

Jeanne Brady said...

Wow! Yes, I think he was totally out of line. And somewhat incomprehensible. What does being a Jew have to do with union organizing? What was his point? I think your comments have been totally fair, balanced, sensible and unemotional. Everything the situation calls for. BID employees are lucky to have you as their leader and, as a member of the community, I feel confident that whatver the outcome, it will truly be the wish of the majority of BID's employees. As it should be!

Anonymous said...

OIY VEY :)

Monica said...

was he out of line? i dont think so. as jeanne wrote above, i'd expect my hospital leadership to be fair, balanced, sensible, and unemotional in strategic decision-making. But, I dont think this requires you to leave your faith at the door - in my own life, its precisely my religion that directs me to be fair and seek equitable resolution at work. his question was appropriate, as was your response.

Paul said...

Yes, but every one of the world's religions is based on tolerance, understanding, and justice. Yes, we all hope people will be guided by those concepts. So, if I were Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu would you expect a Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu person to say the same kind of thing to me?

Bwana said...

OMIGOSH, this is VERY complicated.

Several levels at work here:

1. He has an agenda. You have a different position ... one opposed to his agenda. He perceives you have an agenda. He has no argument to refute your position. Therefore, he appeals to a deep-seated emotion putting you in the untenable position of either agreeing with him or declaring yourself a not-so-good-Jew.

2. As another comment notes, there i some historical baggage here. Businesses have been known to abuse workers. Unions have been known to abuse businesses, but let's not go there for now. If you think of the Jewish religion as having a tradition of standing up for the disadvantaged, perhaps there is a historical nexus.

3. Religion has been used as a motivating element from time immemorial. The world is particularly attuned to this in the context of using Islam as a vehicle to promote agendas. See para 1 above.

4. Unions to some extent represent an "Us vs. Them" mentality. He may just have been expressing that and no more -- appealing to his sense of kinship with you.

I wouldn't give it any more angst.

cheerz...Bwana

MDSpencer said...

Was he referring to the tradition of 19th and 20th century involvement in the labor movement? Was he trying to make a connection between persecution and labor rights? Was he faking a Talmud-like observation about caring for others? Was he drawng on Hillel's exhortation to love your neighbor? OR IS HE JUST A PUTZ?

Richard Wittrup said...

A union election is an adversarial proceeding that pits the interests of the institution against the interests of its employees. In such a contest, it is the responsibility of the CEO to vigorously represent the interests of the institution.

I should also be noted, however, that employees who feel respected, fairly treated and valued seldom vote to unionize. If you believe that employees ought to be respected, fairly treated, and valued, then a vote to unionize can be seen as a failure of management.

Paul said...

Richard raises a good point, but I note that he talks about an election. Is there anyone out there who feels that a decision on whether a union should be certified should NOT take place under an election? (Please see my earlier posting, Union Issues, which raises this question more directly and explains the other approach favored by some in the labor movement and by some politicians.)

Monica said...

So my thoughts on this are perhaps irrespective of the right/wrongness of the union issue. In response to a point made above, if one should expect another Catholic/Hindu/Muslim individual to make the same comment, no I dont think anyone would expect it - but I dont see why its inappropriate either. Thinking of the posting made earlier, about the colleague who you encouraged to see a dying relative, it seems that we put worthy and politically correct emphasis on acknowledging personal circumstances at work, but not when it involves religion. By encouraging an employee to go spend time with family, you urged them to be a daughter first, manager second. I dont see why we cant also encourage someone to be an individual directed by faith first, chief executive second.

Paul said...

I have always felt that religion is such a personal issue that I would never use it to try to influence someone's behavior in the work environment or in the social environment. I believe it is not my place to suggest to someone that his or her position on an issue should by influenced by MY interpretation of what the traditions or scripture of our common religion might say about the issue. The exception, of course, would be if the person has ASKED me how I might interpret something in the context of our common religion. In the case I related, though, the person and I were talking about the merits of various labor relations questions when he made his unsolicited statement about religion to try to sway my views.

Anonymous said...

Just went back and read the original posts. I am at a loss as to why anyone would bring up religion in this matter.
As a member of this union and not impressed with how they represent me, I wonder where on earth this person was coming from and also what other tactics they might be using in this.
Religion is personal. Unions are not and one should not try to "guilt" anyone into anything having to do with a union.

Anonymous said...

The socialist tradition has long been strong in Judaism - witness the kibbutzim in Israel. There was a time in the early- to mid- 1900's when to be a Jew meant being a union supporter, because unions stood for things like solidarity and social justice - and delivered on those promises. However, your colleague is approximately 75 years late in his analyisis. As a red-diaper baby, I can say that this is certainly *not* the same union my gandfather joined those many years ago.

Judaism survived and thrived because it was able to change with the times - as it must now. It is possible to stand for the traditional Jewish ideals of justice and solidarity without endorsing every single union. In fact, I believe to stand for this issue without subjecting it to the vigorous questioning for which Judaism is so beloved (you know - two Jews, three opinions!) flies even more in the face of our tradition.