Favoritism in the workplace

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(NNPA)—I have many discussions with people who claim that they do not need the help of a labor union in their workplace. These individuals will even go so far as to suggest that they can get ahead on their own and that a union will get in their way.

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It is difficult to argue with someone who is intent on believing a myth. It is sort of like those people who continue to believe that the world is flat or that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the 2003 U.S. invasion. No matter what sort of proof you put up, they have an “answer.”

But for the rest of us, it is worth considering a common workplace problem: favoritism. If we are honest, we all know that if someone is personally close to a supervisor or manager they can frequently count on better treatment. Most of us expect that to happen and take it for granted. Still, that does not make it right. In fact, favoritism in the workplace is a major source of demoralization for the workers. You work hard and expect to be rewarded, only to find out that someone else who just happens to be friendly with management is being treated better than you.

Perhaps you are lucky and there is a human resources department at your workplace. Maybe it is just one person, but in any case, you can go and speak with them. If you do, I am sure that they will offer you coffee or tea, and an opportunity to share your pain. At the end of the discussion, however, nothing has changed.

Absent a labor union, a workplace has only the rules that are demanded by government or created by management. The thing about management’s rules—and this is the kicker—is that they do not have to go by them. That’s right. They can set up a “personnel policy” that says that promotions are based on the best qualified person and, presto, the best friend of the manager gets the promotion and there is not one thing that you can do about it unless you can show that there was some sort of discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin or disability.

Another, and very ironic side to all of this, is that someone who was playing footsy with a supervisor could find themselves in a very different situation if a new supervisor appears on the scene. The conditions that supervisor X set up can be changed by the new supervisor Y. The person who was the recipient of favoritism, in other words, can find that they are on the “outs” with no explanation or apology.

In the USA, many if not most owners of companies do not want to be obligated to follow any rules. This is why so many companies objected to legislation to create health and safety protections for workers. The owners simply did not want to be accountable to anyone.

The most consistent answer to such lawlessness, then, ends up being a labor union. A union can negotiate a contract/collective bargaining agreement with an employer that emphasizes fairness in personnel decisions, including promotions. None of this is onerous. It is just ensuring that workers are treated with respect. This is what always makes it so odd when you hear politicians attacking unions. Why are they afraid of workplace fairness?

(Bill Fletcher Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of the new book “They’re Bankrupting Us—And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.” He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.)

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