Queer Eye’s grooming expert and resident Jesus lookalike Jonathan Van Ness talked labor unions on his podcast Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, which I had no idea existed until two seconds ago. “I feel like over my life, I’ve heard a lot about unions,” Van Ness said. “I think Jimmy Hoffa. I think mob, I think—I don’t know what a union is! Like, I’m a millennial!”
Van Ness invited Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, to help answer his burning questions: “Unions, what are they? Are they something from the ’40s? Why does the Supreme Court seem to hate them? Like, what’s going on?”
“There are still about 15 million Americans in unions,” said Givan. “At the most basic level, unions are just groups of working people who come together to speak in one voice because they can speak more effectively when they go to their bosses for something together than if you as an individual go to your boss and say, ‘I’m really struggling to get by, I need a raise’ or ‘I noticed a safety problem at work.’”
Thus begins a 40-minute conversation about the history of unions, opposition to them, the ins and outs of collective bargaining, and exploitation of independent contractors and freelancers.
“The best way to fix things like that [unsafe workplaces, low wages, exploitation, lack of flexibility] is by letting workers be in unions,” said Givan. “If you don’t have the protection of a union, even if you are classified as an employee, you can be fired pretty much at any time for any reason or no reason at all. You have basically no protections with just a few small exceptions.”