Working Is Slavery

Editor’s Note: If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, allow me to say that I am taking this idea of commenting on a “letter to the editor” from a friend of mine on whose blog I used to work. I hope he doesn’t mind.

I received a call from a friend of mine saying the Sunday, March 13, 2011 edition of the Florida Today newspaper had letter to the editor that had to be read to be believed. He read it to me over the phone and I didn’t believe it. I went online and read the letter there.

I still don’t believe it.

One Helen Bennett of Rockledge, Florida took her pen / keyboard / pencil / crayon in hand and wrote the following for all the world to see:

Unions defend workers’ rights as ‘human being’

I have worked in the Florida public sector in two different professions, teacher and public librarian.

Teachers had a powerful union; librarians were not unionized. There is simply no comparison in the human dignity with which we were treated in the two professions.

Teachers had a significantly higher starting salary, although more education was expected of librarians.

Teachers had better working conditions, whereas librarians worked miserable hours and had no representation when faced with administrative injustices.

The teachers’ union representative was always by my side, in person, to defend my rights as a human being.

To me, the difference between belonging to a union and not having that option was like the difference between being a free American worker and slavery.

Helen Bennett

First, a little fact checking is in order.

According to the United States Department of Labor:

Salaries of librarians vary according to the individual’s qualifications and the type, size, and location of the library. Librarians with primarily administrative duties often have greater earnings. Median annual wages of librarians in May 2008 were $52,530. The middle 50 percent earned between $42,240 and $65,300. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,190, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,130.

For teachers, the Department of Labor reports:

Median annual wages of kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers ranged from $47,100 to $51,180 in May 2008; the lowest 10 percent earned $30,970 to $34,280; the top 10 percent earned $75,190 to $80,970.

Not exactly what Ms. Bennett portrayed, is it? Given the facts as stated by the Department of Labor, librarians actually make more than teachers. I am sure that there is a great deal of disparity in pay across the country and perhaps Ms. Bennett moved from one location where wages were generally higher to a place where wages were generally lower.

But comparing wages across the board Ms. Bennett is wrong that teachers make more than librarians. Even if teachers do make more, doesn’t that show more of a value on people who teach, rather than people who guard books and help people find information?

When one also factors in thousands of dollars in mandatory union fees, there can be no doubt the Ms. Bennett is wrong on the facts.

Yet that is not what is troubling about this letter.

You see, somewhere in the back of this woman’s mind is the idea that having a job and getting paid for it was akin to slavery.

Tell us all, Ms. Bennett, when you were a “librarian slave,” did you go home at night to a home of your choosing? Were you able to call in sick and take time off? Did you fear your children might be taken from you and sold as cattle? Were you able to resign from “librarian slavery” on your own? Did you accept the job on your own?

At the end of the week, were you able to receive money as payment for your services? Did you use that money to purchase things you wanted? Did you have a home that was heated in the winter and cooled in the summer? Were you able to marry the man you wanted?

Because, Helen Bennett of Rockledge Florida, slavery was none of that.

You weren’t a “slave,” Ms. Bennett. You were a free woman who had the ability to make choices.

Thomas Jefferson was right about people of your ilk when he wrote,

He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.

“Slavery” indeed.


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