Misinformation Society

May 2004


Union representation is the best and sometimes the only defense we have against workplace injustices. Finding out about unions and what they can do for you just makes sense.

Our society and our economy are increasingly tied to a global information base. Anyone you've ever met is in there, and you are, too. We usually only think about it when we worry about our credit ratings. We all know how things that are simply not true can get into credit reports.

But this is just the tip of the information iceberg. In most states, fair employment laws limit what an employer can say about you after you have left their company. The idea is that people occasionally have bad feelings and those bad feelings should not prevent you from obtaining future employment. So, in most states, they can only say good things about you, or they have to keep their opinions to themselves.

The same is not true of background reporting companies. They spend absolutely the smallest amount of money possible to turn up alleged facts about you. Then they report to their clients everything they find or don't find. The fact is that your future employment prospects depend on this lowest-bidder, minimum-wage process .That's scary. And more and more people are changing jobs more and more frequently. So the already overloaded background check companies are rushing to keep pace without increasing costs -- a recipe for greater errors.

And in most states, these background check companies aren't even liable for providing accurate information. They can defame your good name all they want, just so long as they can point to some theoretical source and say, "We just said what they said."

What can one person do about this situation?

Individual acts are depresingly ineffective. You can lend your support to politicians or organizations that seek to reduce this kind of privacy invasion and impose more state controls. Generally, however, there is very little one person can do on his own that can really affect this kind of thing in his lifetime.

The only truly effective means we have as ordinary people to influence this kind of workplace issue is to join unions. As a member of a union, it is much easier to raise such an issue to the level of discussion. The union probably can't stop your employer from using background checks, but it may be able to reduce the company's reliance on these kinds of services during promotions or performance reviews.

For example, assume that Jack's brother Bill has a small business. Jack takes out a loan and gives the money to Bill to help him out. But this time, Bill goes under and Jack has a really hard time paying the loan -- he even has some late payments. Should those late payments keep Jack from getting a promotion he deserves? Obtaining union representation is really the only means the average person has to influence what goes on in the workplace.

It is really a shame that so many people in the United States have lost sight of what a union can do, of what a union is supposed to do for you. You owe it to yourself and to your family to be informed about unions -- to learn about what unions have done in the past and what they're trying to do today. Knowing this, you can make an informed choice about whether you want to join with other people in your profession and fight for your rights collectively, or wfile:///home/hwm/Weblocal/global/ram/misinformation_society.htmlhether you want to fight in the world alone.

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