Who’s On First, Virginia?

In 1938, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello created the iconic dialogue referencing baseball in which Bud announces that he would be joining the Yankees as manager. Invited to New York to be part of the team, Lou inquires about the names of players and their field positions. Bud initially replies:

Well, let’s see we have on the bags, Who’s on first, What’s on second, and I Don’t Know is on third.

But Lou seems unable to follow Bud in the succeeding exchanges, although the new manager is clear about the essential baseball rule that only one defensive player at a time is assigned to a base or other field position.

In late August of this year, a report by Oxfam–a global organization fighting poverty and injustice–listed Virginia as having risen from last (i.e., 52nd) to 23rd place among US jurisdictions ranked as the best locations for workers. In 2018 and 2019, Virginia was rated the “worst state for workers” based on Oxfam’s analysis of worker protections, union organizing rights, and wage laws. The Commonwealth leapt 29 notches in the course of a year. 

In the same month, CNBC offered its opinion that Virginia has maintained its good standing among employers as the media network ranked Virginia the country’s “top state for business” in 2021 — its fifth time in the top slot. By the numbers, it is indisputable who’s first. But at the pace the worker team is moving, it could conceivably result in both employers and employees being first or equal.

According to CNBC, the year’s Top States study “was always going to be a verdict on which states were best poised to succeed coming out of the pandemic, and Virginia is a clear winner on that score. Not only does it have the talent that companies are craving, it has also taken major steps in the area of inclusiveness, which is especially important this year.”  This criterion would obviously include all workers who also emerged from the pandemic and either continued their employment or found new work.

NPR quoted a Virginia GOP county official regarding the worker ranking receiving what can only be described as an answer to a different question.

The rankings “present a very narrow view of the economic picture of Virginia,” says Geary Higgins, chairman of the 10th District GOP. “Businesses in the state continue to struggle to fill jobs after the pandemic forced establishments to close,” he says, “and the jury is still out on whether collective bargaining will make governments work better. [Higher] wages for employees don’t necessarily equate to efficient government operations.” 

Perhaps the official is confused about the differences between right to work and collective bargaining.

Similar to the Abbott and Costello routine confusing Lou, the name of the player in right field is never revealed. Perhaps the official is uncertain about the differences between right to work and collective bargaining. Persistence pays off as Bud and Lou eventually identify the catcher as Today and the pitcher as Tomorrow, with Why in left field and Because in center.

It is imaginable that, under the rules of ranking best employer and best worker locations, a team in both leagues could win first place in their divisions without violating any rule concerning base runners or fielders. Lou, finally frustrated by the seemingly enigmatic answers by Bud, responds: 

I said I don’t give a darn!

True to form, Bud says: Oh, that’s our shortstop.

Some in Virginia do give a damn, particularly the political class, which thrives on promoting economic gains and growth along with the entrepreneur and investor classes. Employees and workers have little incentive to root for position in that race for first. Yet animosity has pervaded relations between the employer and worker populations in the Commonwealth, although each must function with one another and in the same ball game.

A columnist for the Virginia Mercury repeated a cherished term from baseball commentary by “Red” Barber, a 1940s-50s broadcaster who often characterized a crucial moment in a game for one side or the other with the phrase that the team was “in the catbird seat.” Here, workers are seen to be sitting pretty. The Mercury writer further offered:

It’s about time, many workers around the commonwealth retort. You wonder whether retailers large and small underpaid their employees for years – simply because the market dictated they could get away with it.

The new playing field isn’t something to lament. The pandemic has allowed many Americans, fortunate enough to have survived this ongoing nightmare, to reconsider what’s important.

[Employers and workers] are not adversaries but, in fact, members of the same league. If they don’t look out for the interests of both, can either really prosper?

Employers in Virginia and their fan base may finally receive the message that employees are not a replaceable commodity in an economic equation similar to capital. Labor is not a mere ingredient, as free-market purists insist. They are people, human capital, the engine of production and consumers of production. They are not adversaries but, in fact, members of the same professional cohort.  When the interests of one another fail to be appreciated, the prosperity of both is jeopardized.

Thus, Who’s on First, Virginia, need not be mutually exclusive nor a zero sum contest.


Categories: Issues, labor and unions, Local, politics, State

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