Even President Obama's most vociferous enemies would grudgingly admit that the man is a brilliant orator. His speech yesterday (April 8) on the subject of women being paid the same rate as men was nothing short of inspirational. His well-rehearsed remarks included everything: steel-trap logic, a sense of fair play, the historical imperative.
But if Obama were serious about helping women obtain equal pay for equal work -- and wasn't simply trying to convince eligible females to vote for the Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections -- he would have told them the truth. He would have told them that the only sure-fire way of being guaranteed the same rate of pay as a man is to work at a union job.
Unfortunately, given the success of anti-union propaganda sweeping the country, Obama would very likely lose votes if he dared mention the virtues of organized labor, and no politician, even an orator as gifted as Obama, is going to utter a word that risks losing votes. So with women earning 77-cents for every dollar a man earns, Obama is forced to pretend that it's the job of the U.S. Congress to remedy the situation.
The truth of the matter is, without a union contract stipulating precisely how much each job pays (regardless of who's working the job), management will try to finesse the word "equal" until it is practically drained of all meaning. They will always find a way to prove that the jobs being done by a man and woman are not "equal," and that what the man is doing is worthy of more pay.
I have mentioned the following example before, but it bears repeating. There was an African-American woman who worked in a big-time factory. I shall call her "Lisa." Lisa was a heavy-set woman in her mid-thirties, who struck everyone -- union and management alike -- as being "surly." She took no guff off anyone, and was quick to remind you of that fact. Had she been a man, she would be considered single-minded and resolute. But because she was a woman, she was considered a "bitch."
If this hadn't been a union shop, they never would have allowed Lisa her shot at the top machine operator job, and they would have had a dozen reasons to back them up. They would've said she was too overweight to move about fluidly; they would have cited her "grouchiness"; they would have insisted that she didn't have the mechanical aptitude; and they would have said she wasn't "open-minded" enough to be taught new things. They would use any excuse to deny her the job.
But because it was a union shop, when it came Lisa's turn (via her seniority) to be promoted to first operator, she was given that promotion. And wonder of wonders, she proved to be the second-best (of 24 others) operator in the whole department. More surprisingly, she was put in charge of an all-woman machine crew, and this crew, with Lisa leading the way, out-performed 23 of the 24 other machine crews. In short, she distinguished herself as an exceedingly valuable production worker.
To the company's credit, they admitted that Lisa's demonstrable ability blew their minds. No one dreamed she could be that good. Again, if this hadn't been a union shop, this overweight African-American woman "with an attitude" would never have been given the opportunity to prove herself. And prove herself she did. It ain't Congress that's the answer, Mr. President. It's organized labor.
David Macaray is a labor columnist and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd Edition).