Labor Day   6 comments

Woo-hoo! It’s Labor Day. This is the day when we (Americans and Canadians) are supposed to celebrate the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being on the country. It’s also the unofficial end of summer in most of the country and the literal end of summer in Alaska.

My dad was a union organizer and my parents met on a picket line. Stop! It wasn’t quite that romantic. Dad was picketing my mother’s employer – a tiny four-person cafe in downtown Anchorage in 1959 (the cafe is still there). My mother needed her job and she needed her paycheck, so she was crossing his picket line. The White Spot was popular enough that the customers were still coming, but reduced and on one of those days, my dad — who had a soft spot for dark women — got in her way. Mom had a temper and her boss had sat down with her employees to show why she couldn’t afford to keep all of them on if the union drove up the wages. So when Dad got in her way, Mom let loose with both barrels, telling him her truth, the reality of what the organization of her workplace would mean to her — the loss of at least one of her coworkers and, if they followed union seniority rules, she would be the one headed down the road.

Dad made a deal with her. If she would go to lunch with him and talk about it, if he didn’t convince her, his crew would stop picketing the White Spot. Dad was pretty confident in his persuasion skills and Mom was equally confident in hers. They spent the afternoon together and the next day the White Spot no longer had a picket line in front of it, but my parents were dating.

Image result for image of a labor day paradeDad may have lost that argument, but he remained a devoted union man and inside agitator. Mom eventually joined the union, but she always opposed picketing small shops and when I was in college encouraged me to cross a picket line to get to my own job. On the other hand, I worked as a picketer that very same summer for another union.

As with a lot of things, I don’t believe in black and white reactions. I am a union member because my employer requires it. The only benefit I’ve seen as a union member is the quarterly meeting where they provide the pizza for lunch and a free night at the Goldpanners Baseball game. My employer is big enough that they would be providing health insurance, paid leave and retirement anyway.

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed a day be set aside to celebrate labor. The Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor organized the first parade in New York City. Oregon in 1887 was the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty US states had officially celebrated their own Labor Days.

Image result for image of 1930s strikebreakersTo my dad, Labor Day was practically sacred. Fairbanks didn’t have a Labor Day parade because we have a community wide parade in July to celebrate the founding of the town and we never had a population big enough to field two full parades, but there were picnics and there’ll be a celebration at Alaskaland this year.

We’re discussing Labor Day today. Pretty appropriate, right? Check out what my fellow authors have to say on the subject.

 

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I’m generally opposed to the socialism of modern labor unions. Things like seniority rather than merit based promotion and increased wages that damage a company’s ability to remain competitive are stupid! You want to see where that gets us – take a really good look at Detroit or any other Rust Belt town rapidly declining into ghost cities. I favor negotiation between employers and employees, but that’s not what we have today. We have negotiation between thugs in suits and employers who can’t walk away from the table when the stakes become too rich for them.

My husband is also a union member — or was. He was an IBEW electrician for 13 years. When he was young, he asked to join the union for their apprenticeship, but they turned him down. He didn’t know why and he went off and worked a lot of other jobs while I began working on his father to get him to sign off on Brad’s apprenticeship under his company. Brad had enough hours to sit for the test, but his father never signs off on hours for someone who isn’t going to sign themselves to 20 years of slavery to Butch’s company. But if he wanted to see his grandchildren …. Yeah, I learned a thing or two while serving coffee at all those union meetings in my parents’ livingroom. Brad tested for the journeyman license and was working for a merit shop that was closing down when the IBEW business agent came through asked him to join the union, so he did. He quickly noticed how much slower the union guys worked than the merit shop crews do, but he admired how high their quality was. And then he noticed that they were dragging out jobs to keep getting paid — literally recycling work to stretch jobs out for weeks or months.

In his first year working under the IBEW, a friend who was not union brainwashed warned him that “Your dad’s a contractor and you tested outside of the union. You have cross-training in other trades. Right now, the union needs all hands on deck for this current expansion, but when the job pool shrinks, they will bum-rush you out of here.” Brad didn’t believe that until about 10 years later when the union was losing market share to some up-and-coming merit shops. Over the course of two seasons, had his work damaged by other journeymen who then claimed he was doing shoddy work, had a toolbox dropped on his head in a crew bus in a violation of safety protocols, and was electrocuted by an apprentice who also violated safety protocols and finally was told by another journeyman “Are you really that dumb? Do they have to kill you to make you leave?” Brad started his own business after that. He keeps it small to stay under the radar and has friends who call him from time to time to tell him if he’s “getting too big for his britches” because we all know former IBEW electricians who started successful companies only to have them destroyed by mysterious forces that the police, another union outfit, can’t find the perpetrators of.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. The current situation with unions like IBEW and the Teamster Unions is a direct result of a long partnership with organized crime organizations and communist/socialist groups.

The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, starting in the 1880s, promoted the social and cultural uplift of the working man, rejected socialism and “anarchism”, demanded the eight-hour workday and promoted the producers ethic of republicanism. It sometimes acted as a labor union, negotiating with employers, but it was never well organized, and it was battered by the Haymarket Square riot, which was a socialist/communist co-opting of the labor movement.

When my dad entered the union movement in the 1930s, there was a definite need for employers to treat workers better — better pay, more safety, sick days, etc. The first company Dad organized was one that, the year before, had pulled up stakes and stiffed its workers for their entire summer’s wages, leaving men with families living out of the backs of their trucks to starve that winter. That company needed to learn a lesson and they did. Ten years later, they were still in business, though owned by someone else.

But Dad was honest about unionism, to a certain extent. He explained that a lot of the protests that were caught in the newspapers in the 1930s and 40s were created for newspaper coverage. They’d put guys (and a few women) like my dad on the front lines of the barricades — people with big mouths who didn’t look physically threatening and could take a hit without getting angry. They would needle the cops and guards until someone lost their temper. “I’d take the hit and pop back up, blood streaming down my forehead and the cameraman would snap a photo, but never report what I’d said to get hit.” Some of his fellow strikers would keep small balloons of blood in their pocket to burst on their foreheads rather than take a bit. Sometimes those singular incidents would set off a wholesale beat-down and that played well for the unions in the press. Other times, the strike breakers were spoiling for a fight and it didn’t take much to set them off.

Image result for image of a picket lineRight now, the State of Alaska (my employer) is struggling with a loss of revenue because of low oil prices. I buy gasoline and heating oil like everyone else, so I don’t really object to oil returning to more historical levels. My department has experienced a 26% reduction in budget over the last three years and my region has experienced a 43% reduction in maintenance budget in the same time. We build, maintain and plow the highways and, in a state where 80% of the communities are not accessible by highway, we operate 100s of village airfields. While there are other state agencies that have taken very few cuts, DOT’s budget is back to where it was when Sarah Palin left office and Sean Parnell took over. When Palin left office, the State of Alaska went from saving the excess oil wealth for a rainy day to spending as quickly as we could. We burned through $13 billion in non-Permanent Fund savings in six years, essentially deficit spending. We could have done that for eight more years if the price of oil had remained high, but it didn’t, so now we have about a year left to adjust to the new reality. Some departments have done that. Northern Region DOT has cut itself about as far as it can without impacting wintertime safety.

Alaska State Employees are in the middle of union negotiations right now, dealing with the consequences of profligate spending. The State.of Alaska is asking employees in my union to take a two-day furlough (unpaid leave) this year and to postpone a 3% automatic raise until next year. That impacts my bottom line. I’m not happy about it. But it’s not as devastating as losing my job would be. But the negotiators haven’t asked me, so they’re banging on a table demanding workers’ “rights” and insisting the State can just tax the people of Alaska to cover the deficit and “give us the money.”

I would also be paying taxes and I can do math. I’d rather take the furlough and wait on a raise than pay taxes because the taxes would be more. But the negotiators are whispering strike.

Will I cross that picket line? I might. My job is important enough that I can reasonably say the public will be impacted if I don’t show up. I don’t believe in what we’d be striking over. I need my job to pay my bills. So …. Dad’s rolling in his grave and Mom would be so happy that I know how to think this through.

Image result for image of Chena Hot Springs resortYou might have guessed that Brad and I won’t be celebrating the labor movement today. I think most union workers are nice people who are doing good work, but the unions they are members of encourage laziness and divisiveness. They insist we should treat our employers as enemies instead of as partners. The unions need us to believe that it is okay to shake down enemies with crushing wage increases and ever increaing benefit programs, so the unions need us to believe that our employers are hiding wealth from us and deliberately oppressing us. I’m close enough to management to know that’s not true. So, why would I celebrate the rape of one class of people for the benefit of another class of people at the risk of ending all of our jobs?

I’m proud of what the labor union did when my dad was in it, but I’ve seen a lot of companies organized over my lifetime and what I see has not been something to be proud of. Times change, movements evolve (or devolve) and sometimes we need to analyze where we’re headed to know if we really want to go there.

The weather forecast is that there’s supposed to be a great day today. The plan is a parade of three with a yellow Laborador along a favorite hiking trail that ends at Chena Hot Springs Resort’s rock pool.

 

 

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Posted September 5, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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6 responses to “Labor Day

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  1. Loved the story of how your parents met! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. You have a great story about you’re parents’ first meeting. Love that.

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    • Mom told the story that she tried to hit him with his sign. Dad said she kind of swatted out from in front of her face and he said “Hey, lady, if you go to lunch with me, I’ll make a deal with you.” He lost the argument, but got the woman. Two very different people. I think that’s what they liked about each other.

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  3. I’ve seen both the good and the bad of labor unions. Many of the current government rules that provide safety for workers were put in place first because of unions. Just because companies are big enough to provide health insurance doesn’t mean they will. Are some of the rules put in place to protect union workers misused? Absolutely. But ask most workers without a union in a (misnamed) right to work state and see how they feel about job security, no matter how good of a worker they are.

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    • I’ve worked in both union shops and merit shops. Alaska is an at-will state, which means an employer can fire even union workers at any time for any reason. We also have 20% of jobs under union representation, which means those jobs are secured by contract that typically overrides the at-will basis of employment. Just my experience … but when a worker does a good job that helps to make the company profitable, job security takes care of itself. Employers tend to want to reward the workers who work hard and do quality work, which means you earn your job security. There are exceptions to that, of course. My father-in-law is one who believes his offer of employment is a slave contract. I don’t find his type to be all that common, though. Most employers get that the workers are what brings the profit in through the door, They pay fairly, they provide benefits when they can afford it, and they reward the better workers with better pay. Just my experience.

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