Here’s some useful evidence that unions matter for women’s upward mobility. But quality of life is about security and justice as well as economics, and Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center on Economic and Policy Research, explains how so in a recent Guardian post, “Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the union maid.”
Fact is, DSK attacked a member of a labor union. She has protections that U.S. workers without a union do not. Without the protection of a union, would she have had the confidence to come forward? Here’s how Baker poses the question:
Housekeepers are generally among the lowest-paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage. It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management. If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she have been prepared to risk her job to pursue the case?
This is no outlier. Today, the New York Times reports about a similar attack at another “high end” New York hotel:
The supervisor of a housekeeper at the Pierre hotel was suspended on Tuesday after she failed to report to the police the housekeeper’s complaint that she was sexually assaulted by a prominent Egyptian businessman, causing a 15-hour delay in the investigation.
As Baker mentions via a link to this New York Times article without union protections, hotel housekeepers recognize that they “simply have to accept sexual harassment and even sexual assault as “part of the job”.
Baker has another agenda in his article worth noting.
The IMF has also urged western European countries to eliminate or weaken laws that prevent employers from firing workers at will. These laws, along with unions, are seen as “labour market rigidities” that prevent labour markets from operating efficiently.
So, workers can get fired at will. It is only “efficient.” Where’s the bias? Dean Baker is reminding us that hotel housekeepers can tell us. You think efficiency arguments and “textbook” economics don’t serve the interests of power? Do the math.