Workplace and Partisan Politics: Why Are the Rockettes Any Different Than Bakers or Pharmacists?


Photograph by Seth Vidal on Flickr

Through the year-end holidays, one news story dealt with whether the Rockettes would perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration. First let me say that I’m not sure the Rockettes are the group I want to see during a Presidential inauguration, but be that as it may, their performance raises interesting political and workplace issues.

The controversy arose because some of the dancers did not want to perform in celebration of the election of a man they did not—and do not—support. After much discussion between dancers, their union, and the Rockettes’ owners, each dancer will now be able to individually choose whether or not to perform.

The reason some dancers objected to performing is the same reason many individual citizens and groups have objected to Donald Trump’s election—they dislike his opinions or his personality or his tactics. Some Rockettes indicated that President-elect Trump “stands for everything we’re against.”

Each individual citizen should have the right to hold such opinions and to voice those opinions. The question is, how far should each person’s dislike of a candidate, elected official, other public figure, or political position be permitted to take one in the workplace? Who decides whether the performance should ultimately take place—each individual worker or the management of the organization?

In this situation, we have workers—the dancers—who object to their talents being put on display for a cause they disapprove of. Yet, at least initially, their bosses told them the Rockettes had been hired to perform and they should therefore perform. The end result, however, is that individual workers can opt out of performing their job duties.

The same liberals who think this is a victory for the individual Rockettes would nevertheless force pharmacists to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and abortifacients that they think are morally objectionable. What is the difference?

And these same liberals who don’t think the Rockettes should be forced to use their creative talents for President-elect Trump nevertheless think that cake bakers and florists should be forced to put their creative imprimatur on LGBT weddings and other events that they do not approve of. What is the difference?

The difference is solely that these groups approve of the objections to President-elect Trump and they disapprove of businesses and employees who “discriminate” against liberal causes. This is hypocrisy; it is not the First Amendment (which has no sway in relations between a private employer and its workers anyway).

We are all going to have to watch our own hypocrisy in the months and years ahead.

This is not solely a liberal issue. It is also not only a workplace issue.

Conservatives will have to watch their own arrogance, now that they control the White House and both houses of Congress. While Republicans do not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, as the Democrats had from 2008 through 2010, Republicans are still going to have to avoid the arrogance that Democrats displayed during that period.

“I won” is not the end of the debate. We will have a better result if our government works for bipartisan solutions, or at least listens to opposing viewpoints and incorporates some acceptable positions from the minority.

And we must remember, if individual rights are good for people on one side of an issue, they are good for people on the other side. If they are good for some citizens, they are good for all. And if they are good in some workplaces, they are good in all.

Where do you see hypocrisy in government and the workplace?



Filed under Politics, Workplace

4 responses to “Workplace and Partisan Politics: Why Are the Rockettes Any Different Than Bakers or Pharmacists?

  1. Well, the Rockettes and Mormon Tabernacle singer stories aren’t exactly what they appear to be. There’s not room for either entire group to perform. They both require too much space. There will be a number of Trump supporters in both acts who won’t be able to go, so they might as well allow opt-outs for other reasons.

    I worked in retail, in the entertainment industry, and in several health care professions before retiring last year. Each of the three types of careers had vastly different lists of what is and isn’t allowed.

    There are clear legal differences between requirements placed upon performers, bakers and pharmacists. General merchants must serve any customer who is willing to pay for what they sell, and who does not behave in a manner that disrupts trade. That is a condition of business licensing in every state.

    Pharmacists have to take oaths (as do nurses and technicians) to fulfill any legitimate order from a physician, or they can’t remain in professional registry. Doctors, by comparison, CAN refuse to see a patient and write an rx they desire, though they must refer to another doctor.

    Performers are bound by the rules of their entertainment employment contracts, which are not the same as either general merchants or the regulations placed upon health care professionals. The contracts entered into with artists are negotiated group by group. Some groups get wide latitude on how many performances are required, in exchange for accepting a lower salary. Others choose more money and less freedom in how often they must perform.

    • Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the legal distinctions you’ve made.

      However, if the Rockettes organization gives its employee dancers options on which performances they will do, why should employee pharmacists also not be given the same options? Many pharmacies have multiple pharmacists. Ditto for bakers. (And obviously, these are just a few of the many examples of workplaces where workers could be asked to do something that violates their religious or political beliefs.)

      My basic point is that I believe we should be able to accommodate people’s sincere religious and political beliefs, not pick and choose which we will accommodate.


      • Religious accommodation has legal limits in many kinds of jobs. You can’t join the infantry and refuse to shoot a gun for religious reasons, for example. Health care professions have a hierarchy, as does the military. Though you can have a drug store or hospital with multiple pharmacists, every one of them is below ANY doctor in rank. They take an oath to fulfill the orders any doctor gives, and their only option in most cases is to either do it or quit.

        There are Catholic hospitals where the doctors (and their attendant nurses) are allowed to not perform abortions, but their pharmacists still have to provide birth control pills, which many women take for reasons unrelated to contraception (like some forms of acne). In some states, the pharmacist is allowed to refer patients elsewhere, but that’s not true in most places. I’ve seen ones who refused get fired on the spot by hospital administrators, and I knew one well who spent six figures in court trying to get his job back. He lost, went bankrupt and quit the profession. The law takes a dim view if you accept a job, then voluntarily refuse to do what the job requires (for religious or non-religious reasons).

        In the retail world, most employees are not allowed to call the selling of goods a “religious activity” and demand first amendment protections. One could work as a clerk for the bookstore in a mega-church, but the commercial transactions will not be considered a religious activity under law, even if the church profits directly. They still have to pay sales taxes and maintain a business license.

        Performing arts groups are not arranged in a professional hierarchy like health care, the military or government work. Each group has its chain of command, but every organization competes in a general market for customers, like retail.

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