I had an oh-my-god-I'm-working-for-the-man moment yesterday. I went to a meeting of the local building owners and managers association, because they were talking about the likelihood of new major office buildings getting built. ( I do geek out on the commercial real estate.) The meeting was held at a country club in the 'burbs. We'd just finished breakfast when a group of protesters trooped in -- about 20 people, I think.
It was the local janitor's union, and they were there to demand a meeting because their employers were refusing to discuss health care benefits. They said that of the 4,200 people in their union, only 14 of them had health coverage for their families. That's not 14 percent, it's 14 people.
A man who identified himself as a pastor spoke first, calling it a moral issue. And then a number of others kept repeating their demand for a meeting. One woman started telling the story of a man who didn't have coverage for his gall bladder surgery. They were mostly met with stony stares and silence.
Meanwhile the meeting organizers had called the cops and the protesters were soon evicted, to the sound of clapping from the audience. There were a few jokes, which got hearty laughs, and a few references by the speakers to "the earlier excitement," but that was about it.
I really have to admire the courage it took for the protesters to walk into that room. It's a lot different than protesting in front of the federal building downtown, where you probably won't confront a specific person with your issues. These people walked into a private country club and a room full of suits, probably aware of the reception that they would get. I don't know all the ins and outs of their beef, but I have to take it pretty seriously if they are willing to do that.
But I was uncomfortable sitting there, clearly in the "suits" camp. I mean I'm aware that I'm a suit, but I wanted to somehow let the protesters know that I wished them well. Or perhaps find a way to yell "Preach it!" without a) looking like a dork, and b) alienating the magazine's audience, which could be detrimental to my job prospects. Then there's my role as "the media," but working for a magazine that would not cover such an issue -- we tell "the good news of business."
And indeed, writing about business will tend to make you see their side of things. The health care costs for employees are threatening businesses, too.
So here's the thing: The workers with crappy health care coverage and the overburdened businesspeople should get together and go after the damn health care industry! Why should they get away with having that kind of power over you?! Why should they bleed you dry?! You could take 'em! I love an unlikely alliance.
I know I'm just a cockeyed optimist, but I think it could work!