Stacey Chamberlain looks back on her days as a young woman just entering the work force in Ohio. It was the mid 90s.
Growing up on a farm, Chamberlain learned the value of hard work early. That drive has helped push her to exceed expectations.
When she’s on the job, she may be a woman, but at work there are no genders. She receives equal pay for equal work.
She sees the headlines and studies and knows that’s not the case with most jobs.
She credits unions, including her own, the International Union of Operating Engineers IUOE Local 18, for making that a reality.
Looking back, Chamberlain says she is ecstatic about the role she has played in the workplace helping to break down those barriers so that there’s equality in the workplace.
But nowadays, Chamberlain fears her world being turned upside if the ‘Workplace Freedom Act,’ or ‘Right to Work Act’ as it is more widely known, becomes the law of the land in Ohio.
“If advocates of the ‘Right to Work Act’ are able to fool states like Michigan, it scares me to think about this because that means this ‘Workplace Freedom’ is an actual possibility in Ohio,” worries Chamberlain. “This whole law, ‘Right to Work,’ ‘Workplace Freedom,’ or whatever cushy name they want to call it is aimed at confusing the misinformed, and unfortunately it’s working for them.”
Chamberlain goes on to explain that ‘Workplace Freedom’ proponents claim that in order to obtain a job where a union is present, workers are forced to join the union; a concept that was abolished by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.
“It’s just a ploy to increase workload while lowering wages, safety, and security,” Chamberlain warns. “I was certainly never forced into the union. Most people end up joining because it benefits you financially, medically, and mentally because of job security. Who wouldn’t want that?”
Yet one of her biggest concerns is something that is rarely debated, women’s equality.
Before Chamberlain joined the union, attaining respect in a male-dominant profession from her co-workers and superiors was a brutal task. Working at a factory making car parts for brands like Ford and Volvo, Chamberlain not only had a hard time fitting in, she had a hard time getting by.
“I was heading nowhere despite my best effort. It seemed like day after day another man was coming in, starting out with more money than me, getting promoted over me, even though I had more experience and better production,” Chamberlain depicted of her pre-union days. “There was one time when a promotion came up to be a forklift operator, and I had to exhaustively insist my qualifications just to take the corresponding test!”
Chamberlain thought that those days were behind her when she joined the union in 1999, becoming a journeyman operating engineer after a 4-year apprenticeship. Now on an even playing field with her male counterparts, Chamberlain has been able to provide for her three daughters with her husband, an electrician and fellow union member.
Chamberlain believes this will all change if ‘Workplace Freedom Act’ promoters are able to convince people that their law is better by playing up the 1920s stereotype of a Mafioso-like union.
“It upsets me because the claims are as dated as women’s inequality should be,” said a passionate Chamberlain. “Before being lucky enough to being asked to join the union, I was disrespected almost on a daily basis. It’s funny, the propaganda [‘Workplace Freedom Act’ influencers] put out there about unions seems like the exact reason why they started this ‘Right-to-Work’ campaign to begin with.
Her claims were backed up by Ohio’s Local 18 union business manager Pat Sink.
“These ‘Workplace Freedom Act’ advertisers are misleading the uninformed into believing that unions are full of these early 1900 kingpins, surrounded by gunmen, smoking their big cigars, as they tell people they’ll be sleeping with the fishes,” Sink mocked.
According to Sink, the ‘Right-to-Work Act’ was started so that company “bigwigs” could take control of production, increasing unskilled worker presence while pushing out the skilled workers that cost more.
Added Sink, “that’s called modern-day communism.”
Currently ‘Right to Work’ states are averaging $5,538 less per year than states without variations of ‘Workplace Freedom.’ What is worse, according a source close to the ‘Workplace Freedom Act’ crusade who wished to not be identified, is that with so many unskilled workers in one place, safety at the workplace is a concern.
Those concerns seem to be backed up according to a recent study. In ‘Right-to-Work’ states, workplace deaths are 52.9 percent higher than states without the act, and even higher when non-fatal injuries are included. With 14 years of experience, Chamberlain believes she knows the reason for the increasing casualties.
“I went through a 4-year apprenticeship before I was able to think and act for myself, and my job is all about safety, inspecting machines, fluids, tires, control systems, everything,” says Chamberlain. “Now you have workers who have never worked with these dangerous machines being given a brief tutorial and heading out on the floor. That’s just a disaster waiting to happen, and unfortunately has happened.”
It is incidences and tragedies like that, that gets to Sink, a dedicated union man, the most.
“We care for our workers, and appreciate their skill and dedication to their craft,” empathized Sink. “You know, what we as a union do, and don’t do, for our members directly effects their families. Especially when discussing prevention and safety. It’s life and death.”
As a woman, Stacey Chamberlain believes safety is just one of two obstacles her gender would have to face if the ‘Workplace Freedom Act’ came to fruition. Looking back at her pre-union days when a five cent raise was a moral victory for her, she takes a dark-comedic look at her potential adversities if Ohio became a ‘Right-to-Work’ state.
“I guess I’d rather inequality than death, but should those really be my only choices?”
SOURCE: Keep Ohio's Heritage
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