When I Wore the Union Label

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Unions played, and often still play, an important role in the work force today. They are intended to protect the workers making a fair playing field for a safe and efficient workplace. During the industrial revolution, there were times when people were virtually working in forced labor with poor conditions for safety. Unions enable people to join together and have a voice. But times have changed since then.

I took some jobs when I was a teenager that could have considered workers rights more. But I was a young kid looking to make some quick cash. Honestly, the work I did paid really well considering I didn’t have car payments, mortgage, or any other real responsibilities. And we were paid mostly under the table without the tax burden or other “fees” taken out. I baled hay working long hot hours. If you’ve ever had hay on your skin or down your shirt, its not a good feeling. Combine that with sometimes very hot, muggy conditions. If it rained or there was a lot of dew on the ground, hay bales were 2 to 3 times as heavy to load. It was really hard work. But I made a lot of money doing it.

A bit later, a friend of mine had an uncle who worked downtown Kansas City in the train yards. Sometimes, there were jobs that a forklift or other machinery couldn’t reach. I once spent 18 hours straight digging with pick axes and shovels in the rain to remove dirt from an old train car that had been abandoned. Another time, we had a refrigerated potato car that lost its ability to cool. So I moved an entire car of 50 pound sacks of potatoes from a very hot train car to a refrigerated one. Since time was always an issue, we worked fast and hard. If Unions ever caught wind of what we were doing, I’m sure they would have found a way to organize us into labor relations. But these were small Mom & Pop operations without any overhead. This is why they could pay us so well.

Later, when I was on Active Duty with the U.S. Army, you could say that we could have used a labor union. But we knew what we signed up for. I was just thinking the other day, we really didn’t have set hours or limitations to work. If someone said we were going to be working 24 hours a day or moving in a convoy all night long, nobody would have given it a thought. Yeah, we weren’t happy, but that’s what you do in the Army. There wasn’t such a thing a labor rights.

Move on to when I was in college. I worked for UPS. Talk about good pay, the pay was great. But the working conditions were dangerous and contentious at times. We worked like dogs, especially during the Christmas Holidays. When I first signed up to be a loader, I wasn’t Union. I was on a probation period to see how we do. But after that first month and we passed the test, we were required to become a Teamster. That wonderful paycheck I had went to nothing for two months. My take home was like $20 since they take the Union dues up front. I have a hard work ethic and am athletic, so I worked my butt off. I would load 1.5 full-sized semi-trailers a night on my own. I was put on the top loads since they knew I could keep up with the work flow. The bad part was other guys would get behind and they’d send me over to get them caught up. Then my trailer would be behind. But I kept up. I won steak dinners and coupons for free stuff for the hard work I had put in.

One day, I’m working hard and I see a big guy at the door of my trailer. He calls me over and under his breath strongly told me to slow down. He said I was making the other guys look bad. He was the Union Rep for my section. Yeah, he couldn’t force me to slow down. But then, you end up with your brake lines cut, sugar in your gas tank, or a brick in your window at home. They had the power of strong arm persuasion.

My Dad worked for Ford Motor Company. He was a salaried employee not subject to Unions. But the workers were part of the powerful UAW. I’m a proud Ford truck owner today. But believe me, many of the Fords we had growing up were useless. He was often broken down and sometimes borrowed my car. I had this neat little Fiat X19. It was my first car. My Dad loved to drive it and would take it to work sometimes. I was so afraid it would be turned over on its hood or be vandalized in some way since the UAW frowns on foreign cars in their lots. I had several confrontations where I couldn’t exit a highway or other intimidation, most likely by UAW workers not liking foreign cars.

Fast forward to when I was an assistant professor at a University. I was asked to give a presentation for a Professional Golf Association event that was held at a golf course. One presentation involved how to deal with Unions. Most of the workforce was Mexican immigrants. They did an awesome job on the greens and fairways and everything in between. And they were very happy to work in such nice conditions. Yes, they were only approved to be in “caddy” areas and only use “caddy” bathrooms and such. But so were caddies, the greens superintendent, and lowly professors. So nothing new there. What was bad was that in Chicago, these big black limos from Detroit would pull up. They didn’t speak to the ownership. They gathered the workers. They wanted them to Unionize. I’m sure that some are naive to think that they are only working toward the workers greater good. But I’m here to tell you its mostly about Union dues. They want your money. And those fat cats up in the limos taking private jets all over are living off your hard earned money. And if you don’t pay the dues and Unionize, they put a huge inflated RAT visible to the public on the main access road showing that you didn’t unionize. You’re a SCAB because you don’t unionize. It was a really bad situation. They even threatened the families of the workers. There was no end to what they would do to get your money.

With technology and social media today, there are many means to protecting workers rights. We post one video of abuse and it goes viral. Yes, there are times to unite and to fight for safety and equal pay. But we shouldn’t be forced into paying union dues if we chose not to. We sign up to work for a company, not for a union. I think we should have the right to work. Wherever we are employed, we should know up front what we are getting in to. If we find 20% of our paychecks are being taken to support some Union boss’ expensive luxuries, I’d think twice about working for that place. If my ethic is to be a hard, loyal worker, then that’s what I want to do. I don’t want someone telling me to abide by the status quo and do a lesser job than I’m capable. It makes no sense for me to do that. Maybe if you are working in a coal mine, getting good pay, but needing the utmost worker safety, a union is the best way to go. But most of us aren’t working in those kinds of conditions. So we shouldn’t have to shed our hard earned money to pad someone else’s wallet. Its like taxation without representation.

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