Life outside the union


Here I am writing my column on Christmas. I’m not sure if I’m even supposed to be writing this for tomorrow, but well, I could use the money to fund my Christmas presents splurge.

I also worked on the third part of my “What’s at Stake” series, that is in part about the teacher’s union and its critics. For the series I’ve been doing some research about unions, and looking at what the different sides have to say in today’s climate.

Honestly, as I sit here writing on my laptop at my kitchen table, it seems like it would be great to be part of a union. Paid vacations? Health care? Sick days? Wow. That sounds great. Where do I sign up?

The only time I’ve ever been part of a union is when I worked for Lunds in the deli department when I was 18 years. Well, I worked in the deli department for about three days before I sliced my thumb on the cheese slicer and had to go to the emergency room. Then they moved me to the bakery, and afterwards to the checkout counter. Luckily, they paid for my hospital visit. I remember paying union dues, and at the time I was annoyed about it, but I suppose in hindsight those union dues were worth it — they offered me protection as an injured worker to not only receive workers’ comp but also to keep my job.

Since then, it’s not that I haven’t wanted to join a union. There was a time where I really thought it would be a great thing to join the Actor’s Equity Association — if only I could just get cast in an Equity house and have them give me an Equity card. That was the dream. Well, I did get cast at an Equity house — I played a very small part in “The Deception” at Theatre de la Jeune Lune — and I paid a hundred bucks so I could participate in the Equity Membership Candidate program, where you get “points” that go toward being a union member. I got eight whole points! You need fifty points to be eligible to become a member, and even then you need an Equity contract to join.

That was in 2007. After that, the only acting I’ve done has been non-union. No points, and maybe you get a $100 or $200 stipend for the run of a show. But that hasn’t stopped me from acting. Because dreams die hard.

In 2008, I started writing for TC Daily Planet. What started as a moonlighting expedition has turned into a kind of career. I freelance other places now too, and make hundreds of dollars in my real, bona-fide writing life. Would I rather be a full-time staff member at a union house? I really don’t know. As I mentioned in the beginning, it sure sounds nice to be getting paid more than I do now and get benefits that come along with a job like that. But I’ve never had the opportunity to make that choice. Nobody’s ever offered me a union writing job.

Technically, I’m not really a “scab.” That would mean that I was crossing a picket line and working for a place that has a union when the union is on strike or locked out. So, at least I haven’t done that. However, I have been making my living as a non-union worker in fields where union workers exist, so in that way I feel a bit scab-ish. So sometimes I do feel guilty about that. And, while I’m quite fond of my rather unconventional way of doing things, and having the freedom to do projects as I please, if I had a chance to do this work as a union member, I’d enjoy it even more with paid vacations, health care, and sick days.