An epidemic of apathy, perhaps complicated by cowardice, is wasting us like a flesh-eating disease.
Two hundred fifty UPS personnel in Queens were recently fired almost on the spot after they took a few minutes off to protest the insensitive termination of a colleague. Assuming this action was a contractual violation, there no doubt were remedies far short of such draconian action by management. The sackings were not about the rule of law but rather about the raw exercise of unbridled executive power. That’s what the traditional beneficially adversarial (though not necessarily antagonistic) relationship between bosses and workers has degenerated into these days.
To the credit of management, it subsequently reinstated the workers and imposed 10-day suspensions on them instead of leaving them to twist in the wind, as originally intended. Whether UPS mitigated the penalty because of pressure or a sudden flash of enlightened decency doesn’t matter. It did the right thing, though I suspect begrudgingly.
Whether we are union members or not, we should feel outraged at the breakdown that prompted the original slaughter. No doubt the rash and severe action first taken by UPS will be slavishly imitated by management elsewhere.
When UPS fired the workers, there should have been a deafening public outcry from all segments of society. Maybe the sympathizing workers deserved some disciplinary action, maybe not. They could have been docked or censured. But to obliterate their livelihood is like imposing capital punishment for putting your recyclables out on the wrong day.
In another case, a sanitation worker, with an unblemished history, on one occasion this past dark winter slipped up and reluctantly accepted a $20 expression of thanks from a resident who had insisted on showing her appreciation for extraordinary thoughtfulness. He was axed.
Whether allowed by labor law or forbidden by the apparently anachronistic common law of decency, is this heartless penalty another illustration of American “exceptionalism”?
In Europe, masses would have taken to the streets in sacramental indignation. Over here, not a peep and hardly a ripple. Incitement to riot is not the answer. But a wee dose of responsible civil unrest may be prudent. Let there at least be protest by all right-minded New Yorkers.
Although elements of the media have established in many people’s minds an artificial demarcation between union workers and other aspiring middle-class residents’ interests, those interests apply to us all and should unite, not split us.
No matter what party or wing you belong to, if you possess the spiritual values that all faiths teach us and which most people profess to share, you will be angry and hurt by the unjust treatment of ordinary folks in the workplace.
And the abuse of power will be replicated all across this city and indeed the nation if the backbone of our country, wage-earning workers, doesn’t rise up resoundingly though within the law, to re-assert the unspoken, unwritten agreement that we are all human beings who deserve fairness and, now and then, compassion even beyond the mandates and protections of technical contracts.