18 October 2006

The Caterpillar Cometh

Following up on the Somali cab-driver story, what I'm afraid is turning into a caterpillar of a problem drops its next boot in this story of a Minneapolis bus driver refusing to drive buses carrying ads for a gay magazine. The driver claims that his religious beliefs prohibit him from driving the bus. The bus company has decided to accommodate him; his union objects. I suppose that I should come down on the side of accommodating religion, but as with the Somali cabbies, I just can't.

As long-time readers of the blog know, I misspent my youth at a large New York corporate law firm. Then, as now, law students as a whole tended towards the center-left and competition among the top firms for the best students was intense. This meant, first and foremost, that we got paid significant amounts of money. But there was also competition among the firms to prove that they weren't just a dead-weight social cost by having strong pro bono programs. This is a system by which law firms provide legal services to poor people and the lefty social agenda at no cost to the client. Associates also feel quite proud of their pro bono work, and it's one of the firm attributes always emphasized when interviewing season comes to the law schools.

It wasn't until about a year into my tenure at big New York firm that I noticed something kind of obvious. My fellows and I were paid a salary that varied not-at-all depending on the sort of work we were doing. Work on a pro bono case. Get paid. Work on a corporate takeover. Get paid. We were proud of doing our bit for society, but we should have been proud of getting paid top establishment lawyer salaries for putting the screws to the establishment. The only one sacrificing for the public good was the firm, and it was getting good publicity, an arm up on recruiting and, while it was about it, associate on-the-job training on cases where a screw-up would have at most a negligible impact on the bottom line. While I'm willing to sacrifice for my principles, it is infinitely better to have other people sacrifice for my principles.

Similarly with the bus driver. He's not saying that his religion requires him to quit a secure union job with a company that, for money, promotes the gay lifestyle. He's saying that his religion requires his company to custom design his job while paying him exactly as much as if he weren't adding to their administrative headache.


Susan's Husband said...

You should have tied this in with the post about Stuyvesant Town. After all, all three issues have the root cause that you elucidate there. To me, it's all about who owns what. The busses, the houses, the right to pick up riders at the airport. I always side with the property owner.

Hey Skipper said...


Just as long as one is clear about what property is at issue.

With regard to cabs, is it the car, or the hack license?

Susan's Husband said...

Both. Moreover, there can be additional property rights involving the right to pick up passengers at the airport.

My over-arching point is that this is not a religious issue, but a fundamentally American one about property rights.

M Ali said...


Why did you quit being a lawyer?

David said...

I switched to running a business. Now I'm trying to figure out what to do next.