There was a time when trade unions were the working man’s salvation. Before unions came on the scene, workers were exploited, they were forced to work in dangerous conditions, and they had no recourse. Speak out against an injustice and you were out the door. There is no question that unions helped shape American labor for the better.
But there is a flip side to that coin. In many instances, unions have gone too far. Way too far.
Last week Nick Balzano, president of the Service Employees International Union in Allentown, Pennsylvania, made national news when he threatened the city because they had allowed a 17 year old Boy Scout to clear a walking/biking path in a local park to earn his Eagle ranking. The boy spent 200 hours on the project, and earned the wrath of Balzano and his union, who claimed that only union members were allowed to “pick up a hoe or shovel, plant a flower or clear a walking path. There are to be no volunteers.”
Give me a break! What’s next, hassling Boy Scouts for walking little old ladies across the street? In the melee that followed, Balzano was chastised in news reports, blogs, and from political podiums. He resigned his position and stepped down, and rightfully so, I think.
It is this selfish, thuggish attitude that turned me off unions long ago. When I was a young man just getting my start in the newspaper business, the union representing the printing trade in Washington state demanded that I join the union. I told their rep I was a one man shop. What was I going to do, go on strike against myself? I sent him packing, and two days later I had pickets outside my door. I was a kid trying to build a business to support his family, but to them, I was a scab.
A few weeks ago the Elkhart Truth newspaper reported on a three year long strike at Vincent Bach, a band instrument company in Elkhart, Indiana. Jobs at the company had been handed down from father to son, and by all accounts, it was a good place to work, a “family atmosphere.” But when other companies moved to Mexico in search of cheaper labor, the management knew they had to do something to survive in the face of cheap Chinese imported instruments that undersold their products. They asked workers, whose average pay was $21 an hour, to agree to pay cuts averaging $6 an hour. Instead, their union called a strike.
Forty months later, the strike ended when a vote disbanded the union. But by then, workers had no jobs to go back to. The company had replaced them and moved on. In the meantime, many had lost their homes and cars because they could not make the payments. Some took jobs paying only a few dollars an hour. In a community ravaged by downturns in the RV industry, jobs of any kind are hard to come by. So what did they accomplish?
Years ago, copper miners went on strike in Arizona, and the company finally locked the gates and moved their operations to Mexico. Those miners, who once made big bucks, were left out in the cold. Again, what did they accomplish?
I know many union members who are as rabid as the hard corps, born again Christians, and I know this blog will make some of them mad. A while back, on an internet forum, somebody was complaining about problems with a Pontiac automobile, and I replied that my daughter bought a Pontiac Grand Am that was a total lemon, and that after two years of it spending more time in the shop than in her driveway, her attorney finally convinced the company to buy it back, and that she now drives a Toyota and loves it.
A retired UAW worker sent me a nasty e-mail telling me to cancel his subscription to the Gypsy Journal RV newspaper I publish, because I was slamming the union workers who built the Pontiac. Huh? I made a truthful statement, the car was a lemon, GM finally bought it back, and Tiffany now has a Toyota, which has served her well. How is that “slamming” union workers?
But you know what they say about religion and politics, and apparently this guy’s religion was the UAW. There was no gray area, just the union line of thought. Could that be a part of why our automobile industry is in the toilet and foreign imports have made such great inroads?
Tags: Allentown Pennsylvania, American labor, Arizona, automobile industry, blogs, Boy Scout, Elkhart Indiana, Elkhart Truth newspaper, exploited workers, Gypsy Journal RV newspaper, Mexico, news reports, newspaper business, Pontiac Grand Am, printing trade union, RV industry, Toyota, trade unions, UAW, union members, union pickets, union strike