Some of the houses being built around us are being constructed primarily by Amish and others by the help of either Mexican or central American craftsmen. Their skill levels appear to be similar, work ethic is unquestionable and commitment to craftsmanship is indisputable. I’m pretty sure, however, none of them are union workers. Having been a member of the Railroaders’ Union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the American Federation of Musicians, my assumption may be pretty accurate.

I’ve heard so many people diss history and it’s lessons that it worries me because, if we don’t learn from the past, we’ll keep doing what we’ve stupidly done before. Since I’ve been on both sides of the picket line, I feel qualified to elaborate on the pros and cons of our current situation.

If we look at the early years of the Industrial Revolution, it’s pretty clear that all human beings, like the ones removing radioactive graphite in the HBO mini-series, “Chernobyl,” were seen as biologic robots. The Industrial Revolution employees were simply a means to an end. They were expendable and dehumanized with complete callousness. During a similar era of extreme wealth and poverty, Marie-Antoinette was famously accused of saying, “Let them eat cake” because she was supposedly so out of touch with the suffering of the people when she was told they had no bread, she thought they could just eat cake.

During those early days of the Industrial Revolution, human beings became necessary tools to make the widgets and, except for a few owners like H. J. Heinz who treated his employees with tremendous respect and generosity, and Henry Ford who paid a living wage, it wasn’t unusual for early workers to be beaten, abused and even shot by their industrial-magnet employers.

During those dark labor times of exorbitant extremes of wealth and poverty, the workers began to ban together to take more control of their lives and futures. They took the power. The unions became stronger until a robust “middle class” of American workers was formed. Interestingly, the middle class drove financial gains to the wealthy by becoming dedicated purchasers of their products. Then, of course, the pendulum swung too far, and some unions resorted to extreme violence while a few union bosses lived the lives of the rich and famous.

After making major gains in wages, conditions and leisure time, the pendulum began to swing back again as jobs were taken from our workers and shifted internationally where employees could, once again, be treated like widgets, that great middle class began to disintegrate, and the unions became less powerful.

This is where I’m a little conflicted because I could see both sides of this equation. So, when I became a CEO, I decided that, If you treated all employees with respect, dignity, and transparency, and if you were fair and did everything you could to share the profits in equitable ways, there really wasn’t a need for them to unionize to fight management.

Well, in the current “Let them eat cake” mind-set, 540 or so billionaires now pretty much control the United States. Our data is taken from us without compensation to create mega-corporations, jobs are being outsourced to foreign countries and our minimum wage doesn’t even permit first-year teachers to afford to live in any major city in the United States except Pittsburgh. All of this while the 200 top CEOs make an average of $18.6 million each (Nearly $9,000 an hour) and the top 10 CEOs are making an average of $150 million a year.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back, or maybe it’s too late? Think of the Hawthorne Affect, “Workers behavior changes due to their awareness of being observed.” If you treat your employees right, they will treat your customers and patients right