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Edward Ring

Unionize the Personal Assistants to the One-tenth-of-one-percenters

It came as a shock to learn that some of those who were around when unions first started infiltrating local and state governments actually welcomed the process. These were the days when unions were driving jobs overseas because of their unwillingness to negotiate new contracts in the face of foreign competition. “Let them come,” some observers said, “they’ll finally show these politicians what it’s like to try to run a unionized organization.”

We know how that turned out. The unions took over the government. Now they run nearly every city and county in California. Business and finance leaders play ball, or they’re targeted. And where the corpses of bankrupt industries once littered the American landscape, we now face the prospect of bankrupt cities and counties.

So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s embrace the process. Forget about the fight for a $15 minimum wage. That’s small thinking. Forget about unionizing home care professionals. That’s retail politics. Let’s aim for the pinnacles of power. Let’s force the elite of the elite to embrace unions where they live. Let’s force them to see what it’s like to run a unionized organization – their own household. Let’s unionize personal assistants to the super rich.

Here are a few guiding principles:

(1)  Rotating staff chosen by union. You cannot keep the personal assistants you’ve worked with for decades. Just as businesses that submit to project labor agreements must contact the union to send personnel of their choice to operate their equipment, the ultra-rich will have to contact the Personal Assistant’s Union (PAU) to fulfill their household staffing needs.

(2)  Negotiation required for each narrowly defined job description. Just as school teachers are unable to supervise playground activities, or municipal workers must call in a separate individual to, for example, move a piece of furniture, the ultra-rich will need to hire a separate individual for each household task. Shopping? Cleaning? Cooking? Balancing the checkbook? Each of these and countless other tasks will require a separate employee.

(3)  Pre-clearance for all new jobs. Whenever an ultra-rich person wishes to add a new responsibility to their unionized household staff, they will need to negotiate with the union (PAU) to define the job and the compensation. If they wish one of their existing staff members to add this job to their responsibilities, they will have to clear that with the union bureaucracy.

(4)  Mandatory diversity in all hiring. In the interests of justice and equity, the ultra-rich will be required to staff their households with individuals from diverse backgrounds, with preference going to members of protected status groups. For example, if a personal assistant sent by the union does not speak English, the employer will have to also hire a translator. And, of course, accommodations will be required for any personal assistants who have disabilities or special religious needs. Can these assistants bring their therapy dogs, cats, turtles? Of course. Allergic to cats? Take a pill. It’s a therapy cat.

(5)  Volunteer support is prohibited. The ultra-rich will not be permitted to allow their friends or loved ones to perform jobs that have been assigned to their personal assistants. While exemptions can be granted, for example if a family member wishes to bake a birthday cake for another family member, they will have to clear this in advance with the Personal Assistant’s Union (PAU). They will have to prove familial ties, and contribute to a fund to compensate those workers who will be displaced by this usurpation of their job duties.

(6)  Mandatory means testing to determine billing rates. Just as wealthy people pay more for traffic tickets in Scandinavia than poor people do, the wealthy will have to pay their fair share to employ personal assistants. The Personal Assistant’s Union (PAU) will set a base hourly rate for personal assistants based on the average net worth of a U.S. household. Wealthy people in the U.S. will pay their unionized staff a multiple of that rate based on their actual net worth.

Here are some examples of how means testing will work:  Using 2013 as a base year, the median net worth of a U.S. household is $63,800. People in these households will pay their personal assistants $15.00 per hour. The household of Bill and Hillary Clinton, by contrast, with an estimated net worth of $111 million, will pay their personal assistants $26,097 per hour. California’s fabled financier turned activist Tom Steyer, with an estimated net worth of $1.16 billion, will have to pay his unionized personal assistants $378,527 per hour. And good old Donald Trump? If the Wikipedia estimate is correct, he’s worth $4 billion, so he’ll be paying his unionized personal assistants $940,439 per hour.

Of course these personal assistants won’t see all that money. They will get $15 per hour. The excess will be used to pay the executive team running the Personal Assistants Union, who will, of course, be exempt from means testing when they pay their personal assistants.

Unionize personal assistants to the super-rich! That’s a bipartisan bit of “sample legislation” that everyone can get behind! Maybe it will finally show the one-percent-of-the-one-percent what it’s like to try to run a unionized organization.

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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

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