I was quite anxious to start with. I was about to go through a major hand surgery. Three to four hours under general anesthesia. Admissions called my name and asked me directly how I’m gonna pay. Wait, you told me to just bring my photo ID. “Well, sir, is this your billing address?”
Five hours later I come out of the fog on a hospital bed, and pinch myself. At my age, I’m just glad I made it through surgery alive.
For thirty years I’ve swung a hammer as a carpenter. I’ve made many millions for my bosses and every single dollar was extracted from my body. Aside from the accidents: the broken arm, the various stitches, the eye injuries, there are the wearing down of almost all my joints. The extreme pace of work means a carpenter today does a hundred years’ worth of work in their thirty years.
Our hands are our first and main contact with the world. My fingers have been variously crunched, pinched and split open. And I am a very, very safety-conscious worker.
A few years ago I developed arthritis in my fingers, creating severe pain, especially at night. Years of high productivity that yielded fat profits for my “owners” had cost me considerable loss of use in one hand. Surgery was my only way forward.
In the recovery ward, high from an anesthetic cocktail still running through my veins, I made a rousing-drunk-gratitude speech to the nurses and workers who were there during this pandemic. I think I said something about unions too. That got some positive, if not less boisterous, feedback.
A few weeks later, at home, I got the bill. $37,909.
I was lucky. For thirty-plus years, I’ve been a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, my union. I’ve fought many times for my union. I’ve fought my own union leaders. But the union has been there for me. The cost, to me, for my surgery, for the full use of my hand, to end the sharp debilitating pain? $20.
We all need UNIONS! We all urgently need Medicare For All. Greed and profit have no place in healthcare and should be driven out of it.