“Act Your Wage” – Work to Rule

ACORN International NLRB Unions

            Pearl River      I pretty much lower the hip quotient whenever I walk into a room.  In the blazing new age of social media, I gave up on keeping up many years ago.  Twitter or whatever it’s called now was X’ed out of my life for all practical purposes when I couldn’t keep up with the constant barrage.  Now, in the time of Musk-ovites, I would like to say that I feel like I was ahead of the pack.  I’m sure Instagram is amazing.  I can remember sitting in a small park if front of the campaign office when we were working on a field program for a left-party in Quito, Ecuador with the candidate making me look at her phone and the many choices she had on how to present her picture on Instagram and wasn’t it wonderful.  Well, maybe, but that convinced me immediately that I didn’t have time for that.  Then there’s TikTok, which sounds amazing, and an ACORN Canada organizer told me that in tenant organizing, if she said tenants were doing something at a certain address, then TikTok would share that with all of the other users at that address, helping them make contacts, and gain support.  Now, as an organizer, that seemed very valuable.  I’ll encourage all of our tenant union organizers to use TikTok like that for sure.  For me, I’ll have to pass.

All of which is a long way of saying that I missed all the memes and giddy-up about the phrase “act your wage,” but I love it.  I do still read the papers, so I have the Times’ “Shop Talk” column to thank for cluing me in on this.  Basically, according to that piece, the phrase “…became a slogan among workers who said they weren’t underperforming; they were doing exactly what they were paid to do.  It picked up in 2022, and posts with the hashtag have since racked up millions of views.”

At our union, next to low wages, we hear this problem more than almost any other.  Hoppers, who are sanitation workers on the back of garbage truckers, are constantly being asked to work other routes and longer hours, because the company can’t find enough workers.  The need for more workers at nursing home facilities is estimated at more than 200,000 around the country and is national news.  Who do you think is having to do that work now when they are understaffed and the beds are filled with clients?  Bus drivers in our Texas units are doing longer routes.  The other day bargaining on a cleaning contract at schools in the New Orleans area, caucusing with the workers, we heard the same thing over and over again.  Ironically, the employers sometimes complain to us about being short-staffed.  Several have even tried to intimate that we should help them solve this problem.  As I always say, we’d be glad to help, but they would have “to put a lot more sugar in the coffee.”  The meaning is clear.  They would have to pick up the pay for that privilege.

We hope that “act your wage” goes mainstream and is picked up by workers everywhere.  For unions, this is another way of saying “work to rule,” a common tactic to force employers to reckon with the amount of extra work and work out of classification they are routinely asking workers to perform for nothing.  The work has to be done, and those on the floor end up doing it, but it takes acting your wage and working to rule to force companies to understand when they are not paying enough workers to do the work required, they ought to pay more on the hourly or in bonuses to the workers who are leaving their sweat on that job.

The US Department of Labor says that the number of available job openings exceeded unemployed jobseekers by 3.3 million in August.  In plain English, that means there are tens of thousands of workplaces that are shorthanded.  They need to put tons of sugar in the coffee of millions of workers.  Airplane pilots, UPS drivers, and others are seeing sweeteners in their drinks, but a lot of workers, especially those without unions, are hardly getting a thank-you.  The NLRB has now extended protection to workers advocating for their rights on social media, so even if I’m not hip enough, the rest of you need to spread the word to “act your wage” and work to rule, not just on the boss’s rules, but to have the power on your job to rule.