Growing up in Detroit, I quickly learned about the UAW, AFL-CIO and other unions that frequented our local news. As collective bargaining and negotiations ebbed and flowed, I grew accustomed to watching striking automotive workers. I remember heated debates, pre-cable TV, about whether unions were still viable. Although I was too young to understand the politics or the nuances of union membership, I knew there was something much bigger at play than just picket signs and work stoppages.
Perhaps the greatest memory born from those early shared experiences with my father was the importance of supporting those who were wronged and cheering for those who were standing up for the “little man.” Although my father was not in a union, many of my family members were, so he made it a priority that we (my siblings and I) pay close attention to what was going on around us. Workers and what they represented were such a valuable part of our national infrastructure and culture.
He used our discussions about the union as an opportunity to discuss the larger idea of respecting a [wo]man’s work whether it was with his hands, his mind, or some combination of both. His father had been a millwright with Ford Motor Company and after working on an assembly line just one summer, my father promised his father that he would finish college. By father recounted that not only were the hours long, but the work was strenuous and back breaking. My father never went back and he eventually graduated from college and became a teacher.
My father’s lesson: Never look down on a [wo]man who is trying to make an honest living.
At the core, he wanted us to understand the power of empathy. That lesson stuck and it was rekindled recently as I was traveling back from vacation. Before we left, the government shutdown was a threat. Upon our return, it was real. As I read accounts of how the shutdown was impacting families, medical services, national parks, and even the federal job application process, I reflected upon how our current state of political affairs is forcing people, including essential employees, to work involuntarily without being compensated. Other government employees are just one paycheck away from financial ruin. One federal worker is even cited as stating, “I worry every day about food.”
For those of us who are not directly affected by the shutdown, it may be easy to just look the other way and proclaim, ‘politics as usual.’We may even think that shutdowns have happened before and that it is just a matter of time before the branches of our government come to an agreement and this becomes yesterday’s news. Hopefully, this will be resolved soon, but in the meanwhile, apathy is not the answer.
Because the federal government relies very heavily on outside contractors, some of the people directly and indirectly affected by the shutdown are contractors, self-employed individuals, small business owners, and freelancers. And, as most of us know, it is very difficult when you don’t know when your payment will be processed or if/when it will be made.
In other words, these are difficult times that deserve our attention and if nothing else, our moral support. As a corporate body, made up of freelancers, we often advocate for fair pair, equity, and just compensation for work done and services provided. I hope that during this new year, we will also think about those who find themselves without employment, those who are underemployed, and those who, in the words of my father, are just trying to “make an honest living.”