Squeaky has a post up about Unions…a subject near and dear to my heart…and I was going to leave a comment with this story; but, since I haven’t been struck with anything constructive to post today, and this will probably be too long for a comment anyway, I might as well make it a post of its own.
This story only involves me from a distance. It was my father that was really affected by it.
You see, we farmed more for subsistence and “extra” money than to make a living. I grew up right at the end of the era of the “family farm.” Most farming was becoming commercialized and is now so almost exclusively. We farmed in a relatively small way to uphold the family tradition, but to actually pay the bills and support the family, my father worked in a factory in Elwood Indiana. I remember it as Ex-Cell-O corporation, but it seems like it was called something else at some time during the general period. Anyway, my dad was a “tool and die inspector”…basically calibrated precision measuring equipment.
He worked at that factory for many years and was perfectly happy there. He enjoyed his work and, for the most part, his co-workers and never had any complaints about the working conditions, benefits or compensation.
Along came the union. First it was just the effort to form a union. Dad voted against it, campaigned against it and opposed it from the get-go. He didn’t think the union was offering anything that they couldn’t get for themselves. The Union won and was formed…at the time, however, union membership was not mandatory so Dad didn’t join.
The funny thing is that he, as a non-union member, negotiated his own employment terms; he got paid better and got more vacation time than the union members and had in his contract that he would not work on Sundays for religious reasons…a concession that the union didn’t get for its members.
Well, after several years of this, the union started stirring the pot to change to a “closed shop.” I was pretty young so I wasn’t privy to all the details of what went on, but I know it got ugly. The union went on strike to force the company to accept the “closed shop” union structure. Of course, my dad didn’t strike, he wasn’t a union member…he kept on working.
The union didn’t like that very much. I remember that his truck was vandalized at least once…I think more than that. He took a lot of crap for crossing the picket lines, but he stuck by his principles and did it anyway. He tended to not gripe in front of us kids so I didn’t hear many details, but I know that it was not a pleasant time for him.
***Sub-story warning…this part is not really crucial to the point but I think it’s interesting so I’m going to tell it anyway.***
At one point, someone came by the house and fired several shots in the general direction of our house. If I remember right, they shot into the foundation so they didn’t do any damage, but it really torqued my dad. He called the Sheriff, who sent a deputy by to watch over the house for a couple of nights. Of course, nothing happened while the cop car was sitting there (it’s impossible to hide a vehicle in central Indiana without parking it in a garage or barn…anyone that’s ever been there knows exactly what I’m talking about), but the first night that the deputy wasn’t available, it happened again.
Dad decided to handle it the old fashioned American way before the idiots shot a family member. The next night, he sat on the ground behind the big maple tree in our front lawn with his 870 Wingmaster 12ga and waited.
At oh dark thirty, a car pulled up in front of the house, Dad looked around the tree and saw a gun barrel, he whipped around the tree, yelled at the top of his lungs and unloaded that shotgun into the trunk of the car as fast as he could work the pump and trigger.
As far as we know, no one was injured, but they left ditches in the gravel on the side of the road 6 inches deep trying to get out of there.
We had no further incidents at the house.
***End of sub-story***
Anyway, the end result was that the union wore the company down and won. The factory went to closed shop and Dad had to join the union or quit. He joined the union.
Fast forward ten years or so. The union had re-negotiated contracts several times, had gone on strike a few times, and basically had gotten to the point where the factory was barely profitable for the company. The contract was being re-negotiated and the union wanted concessions on benefits. The company basically said that they couldn’t afford it. The union went on strike. Several weeks later, the company had tried to compromise but the union wasn’t having any of it. The company told the union that their demands would put the factory into the red, if they wouldn’t compromise, the only thing they could do is close the factory. The union thought they were bluffing.
Every employee of that factory went from having a good job with good pay and benefits to being unemployed overnight all because the Union was greedy and wouldn’t negotiate.
Oh…and the company didn’t sell the factory to another company or industry so it could be re-opened. It shipped all the equipment to Florida and turned the factory into a warehouse.
This is in a town of about 4,000 people with very little industry. It hit the community very hard.
Dad was in his 50’s, had been working for the company long enough to have some early retirement benefits and decided he didn’t want to start over at the bottom somewhere. He took out a loan, got a business license, remodeled the barn to turn it into an antique shop and that’s what he did for about the next ten years until he got too sick to work.
Oh…he also did some consulting work for Ex-Cell-O. That new factory in Florida? The new workers needed training, so the company paid my Dad to go down there for a couple of months at a time and train people. He did it several times over the course of a year or two and was VERY well compensated for it. No union was involved.
Anyway, that’s my union story.
I think that Unions had an important place in the history of our country, but at some point they morphed from organizations looking out for the welfare of the workers into organizations looking out for the welfare of the unions and the union bureaucracy. That’s pretty much where they remain to this day and that’s why union membership is a shadow of what it once was. It’s basically nothing more than a protection racket and most workers know it.
Because of that, I’m with Squeaky. Unions should be avoided at all cost. They are like cancer to an industry.