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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

     The Changing Face of Unions

The American Prospect reports that the unions who recently departed the AFL-CIO umbrella, castrating its membership, and union dues revenues, by 30%, will meet in "St. Louis for a one-day founding convention of their own new federation". One departing union president, John Wilhelm, claims that the new federation will devote 75% towards union organizing efforts, reaching out to service industry workers that have been largely ignored by the entrenched union gangs.

Now, I believe in unions, as much as I believe in Marxism and communism. Great ideas that invariably fall victim to Animal Farm politics. I have a personal connection with the failure of unions that I would like to share, if only to explain that my best wishes, against all rational hopes, go out to the new federation.

My brother-in-law is in the trades. For a couple decades, he built up a reputation of competent craftsmanship and consistently scorned unions and its membership as lazy and lacking any sort of work ethic, short of acquiring that third family snowmobile and ATV. But he got a job that included union membership and had a conversion of sorts and put his considerable efforts towards unionizing. In fact, he ultimately became a full time union rep, helping workers organizing their own unions.

On the other side of my family, my own in-laws are Asian immigrants who eschewed union work, and their prohibitions on working too hard, in favor of companies that promise overtime work at time and a half pay. The difference in net weekly union pay and non-union pay heavily leaned in favor against union work, when that overtime pay was calculated, and that was the bottom line they looked at. Also, they were afraid of being forced into strikes at the whim of distant union bosses.

There were downsides that I found appalling, but they merely downplayed. Work related accidents, sometimes costing fingers, were paid off in lump sums rather than claiming workers compensation; on-the-spot layoffs without benefits; etc.

By the time I saw what was happening, and mentioned this to my brother-in-law, he had already become disenchanted with the union. "They don't want to hear about it. Those old farts are only interested in planting flabby asses in soft chairs until retirement."

As he had peeled the layers of union bureaucracy, his frustration towards the "don't rock the boat" and "seniority first, last and always" policies mounted. He felt that the unions were throwing way too much hard earned union money into politics and not enough on primary interests. His experience taught him that unions had devolved into absolutely no interest in unionizing. To hell with the movement, all they cared about was their, and only their, pension.

Ultimately, my brother-in-law got blindsided, not by a heartless corporation, but the very union who was supposed to represent him. See, he started advocating change, sponsoring, on his own personal web site, election of new union officers who wanted to change the union. The official (read: entrenched) union response was to accuse him of using union resources for personal use (he also ran the local union's web site for the membership).

So, you can understand that when 4 million union workers walked out on the union, I was not surprised. At least the rank and file hadn't forgotten the power of collective bargaining....


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