With all this talk on the news concerning unions, I've started thinking about it more. I've been a member of several different unions in my lifetime. All of which gave me no choice. I really wasn't thrilled with seeing dues being taken from my paychecks and did inquire each job and was told, I didn't have a choice and that I was receiving much more pay than if I hadn't had the union there for me. That may or may not have been the truth, I really don't have that kind of knowledge.
What I do have though is an opinion and some memories of unions in my past. I am not anti union and begrudge no one access to a union if they so desire. I do believe that the real need for the unions has been addressed and that for the most part they have become political action groups and are more of a problem than a help anymore. Every worker I know in a union, seems to get a raise every year, whether they work harder or not. They also seem to get a lot of time off and pay and benefits that are beyond that in the private sector. Is that fair to all? I'm not sure and I don't have a definitive answer for that question. It most likely is a union by union or case by case basis and unfair to broadbrush it.
I do have some memories that came from my father working with a union or I should say working against a union. My father ran a family business that had been in our family for over 30 years when he took over. It was called Lancaster Brick Company and was the sole manufacturer of bricks in Lancaster County shortly after he took over. It was extremely hard work. My father was always fair to his workers, many of them working there for many, many years. He had a loyal family of workers numbering anywhere between 35 and 50 depending on the demand for bricks. They were non union for most of that time.
One day in the mid 60's a union man came in unbeknowst to my dad and talked with a few of the foremen. He really shouldn't have been in there and he got the workers stirred up and thinking they should be paid better for what they were doing. The union could help them do that. A few of the men then approached my dad and he tried to talk to them about what unions were good for and what they weren't good for. He had faced off with unionizers in the past and had successfully fended them off. This time was to be different. The workers took a vote and barely won a majority for a union. My dad was crushed by that, knowing he helped numerous employees out throughout the years and was always a fair employer to them all. He tried to tell them that although he had never laid a man off in all his years, that with increasing pay and benefits, some may lose their jobs over time. Dad was always very proud of never having to lay anyone off in all the years of operation, even when snows collapsed some roofs and a fire almost wiped them out in the 50's.
It wasn't until the oil crunch of the 70's hit that it caused a problem. With costs going so high, the company needed to make some cuts and with the union contracts there was no way to do it. They ended up stopping production and 50 men were out of work just like that. Had it not been a union shop the men most likely would have taken a cut in pay for a while to keep things going. Even so, my dad took the time to help the long time employees find other jobs, some of them were much better off because of it, but the Brick Company stopped manufacturing and switched to distributing for a while and mostly because the union shop gave no flexibliity in the matter.
The other union story I remember hearing about was the time they got a lucrative contract to supply brick for a new building in NYC. Dad had been trying to make inroads in bigger territories for quite a long time and was thrilled to land this job. It was a big job and would be a boon to the business for the next year. The first shipment was trucked up to the city. Upon entering the city, the driver was forced to pull over by some harsh looking characters. They showed the driver their union cards and wanted to see the bill of lading and asked questions. They then informed the driver that he wasn't a member of their union and in order to make delivery he had to join the union there or pay them $150. per load as a union fee. The driver didn't know what to do and asked if he could make a phone call. After finding a phone, he called dad and told him what was going on. Dad made some calls and then reluctantly called the driver back and told him to turn around and come home with the brick load. I really felt bad for my dejected dad.
I also remember playing in a band back when the musician's union was large and in charge. Whenever we played out of town there would always be a union guy there waiting to be paid for the privliege of playing in their town.
In all my dealings with a union, I really never saw the need for them. Let me know what you think?
* The named members in the photo above:Clarence was my grandfather, Roy and Bruce were my great uncles and all were brothers. The man next to my Uncle Bruce was another uncle from my grandmother's side and I think was named Jerry.