Unions, bruised and battered over the past few years, stand in the middle of a struggle over fundamental American values. Do Americans wish to swing toward a society demarcated by lower and upper classes or a society more equitably constituted by working, middle and upper echelons?
As Verizon would tell it, the decline in revenues over the past few quarters or so justifies an immense reduction in its union employees’ health care and pension benefits, affecting nearly 45,000 union employees. All the while, top-level Verizon executives continue to make millions of dollars in annual compensation. Does this sound fair?
Fairness has lost its meaning in 21st-century America. Fairness is not efficient, fairness is not always economically logical, and fairness is for suckers who don’t know how to play the game. But while not perfect, fairness is what has propelled so much of American history – fairness to women, immigrants, different religions.
The decision by Verizon to squeeze out its middle-class employees is not just an attack on the bedrock of our republic, it’s an attack on the very ideas that have permeated America’s fabric since its inception. It is an attack upon what is right for the American worker, the laborer whose work supports the freedoms we enjoy every day. Verizon has chosen this moment to fundamentally undermine unions, believing the political winds to be blowing in its favor. But what is fair and just is always on the tip of every American’s tongue.
Published in the Richmond Times Dispatch on 8/28/2011.