Not in Kansas Anymore: Basketball can't Beat Benefits

Member Spotlight: Caitlin Boley

Not in Kansas Anymore: 
Basketball can't Beat Benefits

This digest features AFSCME member and treasurer Caitlin Boley, clerical worker at the College of Pharmacy. 

Growing up in a union household in Kansas, a wildly anti-union state, I knew that unions weren't as awful as people said; they aren't filled with terrible people (my dad's puns may be terrible, but he isn't). But when I started my working life, the stability of a union job seemed out of reach. 

Since getting a job at the University of Minnesota with benefits (thanks to the union members for fighting for the good benefits) and union membership, my life has improved because the security of working a union job and doing it in a state that isn't a right to work (for less) state has allowed me to start planning for the future (and retirement).

Since Kansas is a right to work (for less) state, you have absolutely no job security. That's a tenant of right to work legislation: at will employment. At will employment is sold to the employee as you have the right to quit whenever you want for any reason, but that's not what it really means. At will employment really means that an employer can hire whomever they want and they can fire whomever they want without giving a reason and with no regard to seniority. One of the jobs I've had in my life was a position in a nursing home where I served as the back up for the 1 person HR department and I remember the awkwardness of sitting in as a witness on terminations where the employee was surprised and not receiving a reason for being fired.

Part of at will employment is pitting you against your co-workers because you feel powerless. And it's pretty successful because people are so scared they might get canned for any reason or no reason at all that it's much harder to collaborate on projects when everyone has an "I'm only looking out for me" attitude.  It also makes trying to get a union nearly impossible because everyone is afraid of being fired for trying to organize. In an at-will-employment state it's a lot harder to prove you were fired for organizing since the employer doesn't need any reason at all to fire you. This is why it never occurred to me that I would ever be able to work in a union job. However since getting a union job here at the U, not only do I have a reasonable amount of job security, I don't have to negotiate my benefits and pay by myself.

Another big tenant of right to work (for less) legislation is an incredibly paternalistic clause about how you can just directly negotiate with the employer because the employer cares about what's best for each individual employee instead of not being able to talk directly to your boss because the union is stopping you. Sure it sounds nice and caring, but it is setting up a very unequal relationship, similar to a parent child relationship. Why do I say unequal?  Because I am not a lawyer and didn't have one on retainer, I was not on equal footing with my employer who did have a lawyer on retainer. Additionally the power imbalance is pretty clear when it's one employee vs the employer -contrast that with our union, a bunch of employees together is much more powerful.

The concept of dealing with each employee individually set me, personally, up for some trouble with my co-workers and supervisor while I worked there. I took a job as an admin assistant at the nursing home a couple years out of college. After about 3 months I got a dollar raise because I had a college degree. Which was nice money, but I could tell that my direct supervisor was not pleased about it. That had me worried because she was definitely angry and it seemed like it was directed toward me.

Later I realized that she had reason to be upset; she had 10 years more experience than I did and was supervising 3 people, but since she didn't have a college degree, I was making more than she was! Not only did that put me in a really uncomfortable position with people that I needed to work closely with, but there is no way, NO WAY that my college degree was actually more useful than her 10 years of experience working in an office environment. And since I sometimes did payroll, I can definitely tell you that the men were generally paid ore even when they had less responsibility than the women who were working there.

Overall, I am so much happier and less stressed out working at the U as a member of the clerical union than I ever was in any of my jobs in Kansas. While I occasionally think, maybe I will go home, it isn't realistic. Kansas has so many other problems that it makes Wisconsin look like a well funded state; no matter how well the Jayhawks or the Shockers play!

Caitlin Boley has been at the University since 2011 and is the treasurer of AFSCME Local 3800.

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