The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Strike, Struck, Stricken

Ran across something today and wondered how universally known it was. Not that this readership isn't pretty darned smart, but I'm just not sure how well some of this stuff is known outside the industry.

Being the Oral Reporter, I thought it my duty to...well...report it.

When you see picketers at a construction site do you assume they are employed by the firm they are picketing? I mean, based on your historical knowledge of unions and such, it doesn't seem to be a leap that those men and women carrying the picket signs are actually wronged employees of the firm they are "on strike" against.

You guys know that's not how it works, though. Right?

I mention this because, believe it or not, I had to run down to 'Hell' today at lunchtime (a quick errand and it was completely uneventful) and noticed strikers in front of the building. I didn't have to cross their line, I just happened to notice them as I drove past the building to park around back.

The first floor tenants are retail and one of them (a coffee shop/wine bar) is doing renovations and plans to open in the next week or so. Luckily, I am not working on that at all. The space sold and the new owner is responsible for the entire ordeal. My best to him.

It occurred to me, though, that if someone didn't know better, they'd assume that, because the strikers were carrying/wearing signs indicating that "BILLY BOB CONSTRUCTION Does Not Pay A Fair Wage", they were disgruntled Billy Bob Construction employees.

But they're not.

I've run across this phenomenon a GREAT deal in the last fifteen years or so. And I suppose it shocked me at first, but I've long since put it in that "yeah, whatever" category and give it barely a thought anymore.

Those strikers have NEVER been employed by Billy Bob Construction. It's possible some (or all) of them have never even worked in construction. Does that shock you?

Local carpenter unions, when they can't find work for their members, strike non-union jobs. And if their members (that aren't working on the construction job being picketed) don't want to do the actual striking themselves, the union will round up someone else to do it for them. The intention, as I understand it (and I've talked to union reps about it at length), is to force contractors to hire union workers. If they won't (or can't because of prior contractual obligations), the union will agree not to picket them...if they are paid a "donation". Can you say "extortion"? I knew you could.

Soooo, you're an unsuspecting carpenter and you sign up to be in the union. You're thinking you'll have a higher earning potential than a non-union carpenter, benefits, etc. But does the union solicit work for you? No. And by "no", I mean the union does not look into new work before it is contracted and try to get union contractors involved. They do not cultivate relationships with developers to use union shops. They simply don't care if the carpenters get work or not. It's easier for them if they can simply get the "donations".

Many union carpenters get fed up and quit the union. Not quite the same as getting out of a gang, but it leaves the union in a precarious position. Without actual carpenters, forcing the issue of employing the non-existent workers gets damned tricky. And "donations" slip off, too.

I'm not going to go into my feelings on unions in depth, except to say that I believe that, they served a great purpose at one time and were completely necessary for all of us working today.

The folks I saw at 'Hell' today, though, were not even in the union. In fact, they weren't even carpenters. They had never been employed by Billy Bob Construction in any capacity. Get this. The union had so little interest from its members in picketing, they HIRED temps to do their picketing for them.

A dozen men and women yelling enthusiastically that Billy Bob Construction treated people like crap. How the hell would they know? All they know is they're getting $5.25/hr. to walk back and forth on a piece of pavement and carry a sign. They couldn't care less about the union or the company they are picketing.

Worse, is that I don't think people driving down the street would ever realize that. And the union is manipulating us with the natural sympathy that we have for folks being mistreated to extort money. How's that for fucked up?

4 Comments:

Blogger MJ Norton said...

Before getting into the rest of it, yes, I knew that most construction sites that see picketers are merely one or more trade unions' attempts to get union workers on the site. That they would have to go so far as to hire temps... that one was new to me, though I can understand the logisitics of it if the local workers are employed elsewhere at the time. If, however, they're not working and can't bother themselves to pick up a sign it's, well, a bad sign for the unions.

Mixed feelings from me. I've come around and down a twisted path on unions over the years.

In my hard-hearted youth I looked down on unions, seeing them as a price-inflating, parasitic group that, like all organizations, quickly came to have a life of its own that became more important than the original mission. Some of these feelings are still stirred when word comes back from some place like the Philadelphia Convention Center that some non-union person was handed a flaming raft of shit for daring to unroll an extension cord and plug it in in a display he was setting up for his company, or because he decided to push a hand truck of his merchandise onto the floor.

Along the way I came to believe that the time for labor unions was long past, as you've stated, and that they'd done their hard work bringing us the 40 hour work week, vacation days, etc. This was boosted by all of the signs of corruption from the dying days of the larger, bloated unions.

However, as I look around at a system where people have been made to feel as if they're empowered when in fact they have precious little to say about more and more things in the workplace, where the top incomes have undergone phenomenal increases while the middle and bottom have been scraping along with inflation-driven increases that don't even take into account a growing healthcare burden... I've come to believe we're coming to need another era of fierce battles by trust-busting strikers.

Much as in the early days of unions and worker movements people will be vilified as communists and arrested as lawbreakers, and as I look at the current political and legal climate I see it's going to be even tougher this time, because laws are coming into play to essentially redifine effective (work-stopping) strikers as terrorists.

It may well prove that it's impossible to achieve and maintain an effective middle ground, and that we're forever doomed to swing between the excesses of a ruling elite and a corrupt mob -- both of which claim to be dealing in the best interests of the nation.

As we've been seeing unions knuckle under and fold we've been seeing a return to times of every man for himself, and that can be a terrible place to live.

So, for now at least, I've come around to a spot where I can't find it in myself to be outraged by a union's picketing-by-proxy, though I have to admit there's something hypocritical in paying minimum wage for it.

Maybe things need to get a whole lot worse. So long as beer and basic cable are cheap maybe there won't be enough fight left in most people to raise a fuss until it's too late?

I don't know... should I have just made this a blog post and linked to your piece? Maybe I'll still do that.

9/28/2006 5:22 PM  
Blogger Highlander said...

Wow. I had no idea this shit went on. Honestly. Eye opener.

Beyond that, Mike and I have had nearly identical evolutions in regard to our feelings about unions. In my youth, they just annoyed me; taking money out of my paycheck while working at various grocery stores, and not only not giving anything back, but at one point, actually managing to get my hours cut through their stupidity -- they got management to agree to provide benefits to anyone working at least 35 hours a week -- management had been giving me and all the other part times around 38; they cut me and the rest of us down to around 20 once the concession was made. Thanks, union!

But, now, well, we need something. It's a pity no one seems to be able to come up with some sort of middle ground between total capitulation and a complete walk out, but, yeah... we need something. The working person supports the wealthy in our culture (probably, in every culture); as long as we let them feed on us, they will be happy to continue doing it.

9/29/2006 8:13 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Okay, okay, I'll talk about unions.

As a student, I had enormous respect for the historical implications. Unions changed the workplace to some barely recognizable sham of it's former self. VERY thankfully. The improvements in conditions and salaries were much needed and should never be discounted or forgotten.

Once I started working in this industry (twentyish years ago), my feelings about unions started changing. I have personally met with union reps. I have talked to union carpenters/electricians/plumbers, etc. I have worked so many jobs that were picketed I don't believe that I can come close to counting them.

Of course, my experience is strictly with construction unions and I have no idea if other unions are run differently. My suspicion is likely not. But I don't know that.

It's all a graft-filled raft afloat on the backs of it's members. And that sickens me.

Yes, the fact that minimum wage for the masses doesn't rise with the cost of living, the fact that working conditions are often dangerous or more difficult than they need be, that employees are treated inappropriately by management, makes it clear that changes need to be made. I don't see the government doing them without some force driving them to it.

I don't see that force as the unions as they are currently established. Not remotely.

When, and if, any changes are made across the board, it will have to come from some new hero. The unions are played out thugs. Of course, that's just based on my own experiences. I'd dearly love them to prove me wrong.

9/29/2006 9:20 AM  
Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Having worked for a union organization (IBEW), nothing that concerns unions would surprise me.

I think I agree with most about unions. They were a great idea when women were perishing in fires and little kids were forced to work long hours, but like the royalty of England, the union is an idea that's long past its prime.

But unfortunately, they now have too much political and financial clout to clobber.

9/29/2006 11:46 AM  

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