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Portfolio Project – Norma Rae Essay

2043 words - 9 pages

“They are free to exploit you, to lie to you, to cheat you and to take away from you what is rightfully yours - your health, a decent wage, a fit place to work” (Asseyev, Rose, Ritt, 1979). In the movie Norma Rae, union organizer Reuben Warshovsky, delivered this powerful speech to workers at the O.P. Henley textile mill. He warned them that without union representation they would continue to be taken advantage of by management. The movie, set in 1978, showed textile workers in a small, southern town who were forced to work long hours for a measly wage in deplorable and unsafe conditions. These workers were characteristically “poorly educated and largely unskilled” (Leiter, 1986, p. 951). ...view middle of the document...

The on-site mill doctor insensitively diagnosed the mother’s problem as an expected side effect of working at the mill. To this Norma Rae angrily declared to her mother, “They don’t care anything about you” (Asseyev, Rose, Ritt, 1979). Furthermore, Norma Rae’s overworked father, who was paid only $1.33 per hour, keeled over and died after being denied a break by his supervisor when he was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. Textile workers were oppressed and dissatisfied, but had no voice in the mill.
When workers become increasingly “dissatisfied with their present employment,” they may seek to improve their workplace by forming a union instead of leaving the position (Fossum, 2012, p. 7). Fossum (2012) suggests that dissatisfaction alone does not mean that unionization will occur. Employees must also feel that they are unable to influence change on their own and believe that collective bargaining would enhance workplace conditions (Fossum, 2012). In the textile workers’ case, the mill was their livelihood. Unionization would be their only chance to improve their quality of life.
By gaining union representation, workers hope to present a unified voice to management to negotiate acceptable workplace provisions. Unions give workers “a voice in decisions that affect them” (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2007, p. 467). In the movie, Reuben stressed to the mill workers that by joining the union they would have strength in numbers to achieve labor unity. By joining a union, workers also expect to secure improvements regarding wages and benefits as well as improve nonwage issues. “Unionization aims to increase the power of workers to increase their share of the firm’s revenue” (Fossum, 2012, p. 257). Furthermore, studies have shown that union workers are paid significantly more than nonunion workers (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2007). On top of improved wages, union members enjoy benefits such as medical and life insurance. Therefore, the likelihood of better compensation and benefits serves as an incentive for workers to join a union.
In addition to wages and benefits, there are nonwage issues that workers hope to improve which include working conditions, hours of work, and grievance procedures. “Working-condition issues involve health, safety, and comfort concerns” (Fossum, 2012, p. 473). The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) enacted by Congress in 1970, gave government the right to create and enforce safety and health standards to ensure that employers are providing a hazard free workplace (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhart, & Wright, 2007). However, during the period that the movie was set, political figures were not firm in setting or enforcing OSH Act dust standards on the mills (Lynn, 1976). In fact, President Nixon accepted campaign contributions from the textile industry in exchange for his promise to deregulate the enforcement of dust regulations in the mills (Lynn, 1976). Fortunately for union members, studies...

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