WATCH OUT FOR STEREOTYPES OF LABOR UNIONS

By Fielding Poe

  I work for the Union, 'cause She's so good to me.  And I'm bound to come out on top, 'cause that's where She says I should be.

     I am a Union man, and I'll bet you are too, though you may not realize
it.  I am about as conservative as they come, and I don't vote for my own self-interest.  So be careful before you draw your stereotype.

     I have heard people make disparaging comments about labor unions,
and some people even lay the blame for every economic ill at the feet of
the unions.  But I can say that the union
naysayers have several things in common:

     First,  those who express disdain for the organized laborer usually sit in the box seats of life.  Many of the opportunities and pleasures that they enjoy are not measured out in daily doses of an hourly wage.

     Second, the education and positions that allow such people to rail against the malfeasance of labor unions are often purchased by the toil  of union workers.  I even heard one boss bad-mouth the union when it was well-known that his father's union wage sent him to college.

     Then there are those who ascribe their success to shrewd moves and hard work - they disdain unions for harboring the lazy and dishonest - yet they fail to recognize that sometimes life's blessings fall upon the worthy and the unworthy.  And here's a clue:  hard work, intelligence  and education are no guarantee of success.  Not every person is cut out  of doctor material or inventor cloth.  Does that mean that the working man or woman should not receive reasonable working benefits?  I think they should.  And sometimes the only way to secure those benefits and rights is to band together.

   Most of these self-described individualists participate in a corporate  act somewhere along the line.  Have you ever signed a petition?  Joined  a professional organization?  Donated to a cause or campaign?  Joined    a church or synagogue?  If so, do you, as a group, believe in something?  Would you have opposed those men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor?  I am sure breathing people everywhere have joined together at some time to accomplish some common purpose.  It's our nature to have a certain social dependence on one another.

   There are economic dynamics of supply and demand, and in that
respect even the unorganized worker, manager or entrepreneur has his
economic benefit influenced by the union wage.  Put quite simply, if  your employer or customer could get away with paying you 50 cents    per hour (or per widget), they would.  Generally speaking, the prevailing union wage has elevated the benefits of the non-union person.  Besides, if every laboring person only made minimum wages, how many people could pay the price of that SUV, McDonald hamburger or that widget you're trying to sell to me?  Certainly not enough to support our present economy.

     As an electric utility worker, I joined a labor union 20 years ago as a
requirement of my job.  I was not so pro-union.  I wasn't a soft-headed  social liberal even then.  I had a college degree and I had experience in training and development.  I worked hard and I was sure I could excel.    I would be promoted.  Well, sometimes things don't work out that way.  Now I am glad that neither I, nor the company, made the big mistake.  But through the years, I have seen many sides of employment that do   not support the image of the benevolent family company.  Sometimes everyone needs a defender and an advocate.  And sometimes a person does not deserve the treatment meted out by his employer.

     The company I work for was known 20 years ago as a "family      company."  Friends told me that I had it made for life when I got that  job.  Now, at least 15 years from retirement, the very real prospect         of   unemployment looms on the horizon.  In our present contract               negotiations,  we are bargaining tenuously for every benefit which was purchased by predecessors who struggled before me. 
It is interesting that this same company has banded with the workers by enlisting our help when it was politically and economically crucial for them.

   The next time you hear about labor strife, don't tune it out.  Don't be    a naysayer.  It means that real people --good people -- are hurting.  I'm a union man.  And in some way, I bet you are too.

   
The author is a lawyer and member of IBEW Local 1439.  He is also one of 26 West County-area Opinion Shapers who submit columns four times a year to the Press Journal.  This article is reprinted (with some revisions made by the author) with the author's permission.

The 1439 TIMES

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