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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Union Movement

When I was a kid growing up in Lynn, Massachusetts, unions held a lot of importance for me.  My father was a firefighter and was active in the union, and my uncle worked in the General Electric.  I remember well the strikes that occurred there and the pall of concern that permeated those times.
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Coming from a Democratic working class family,  the need for strong unions seemed obvious.  Better hours, bettter working conditions, and better pay.
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There was a time in this country when businesses exploited the workers.  The unions forced minimum wage, minimum workweeks, child labor laws and other reforms that were badly needed and gradually became not only contract provisions, but the law of the land, embodied by the Department of Labor. 
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But once the major issues of fairness for working people were addressed by law, the unions still hung on.  I remember strikes at the General Electric for minor issues that seemed to hurt the union members more than helped them.
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Then, back in the early 80's I got a job as the Executive Director of the Lynn Housing Authority.   Of the forty employees, I was the only non-union member by virtue of my position as the executive manager.  Still, my upbringing and background caused me to be sympathetic to the union position.
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The time came  through Propostion 2 1/2 in the mid 80'swhen the people of Massachusetts voted for extensive fiscal cutbacks in government budgets, and I was forced to initiate substantial layoffs.... about 25% of the workforce or 10 jobs.   It was a time of anquish for me but I worked out a plan whereby, if all of the union members agreed to a modest salary cutback, I could save seven jobs and only have to lay off 3 people.
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I was sure that the "brother" union members would rally behind this plan.
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I was wrong.
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They turned on each other with a heartless callousness that astonished and dissapointed me.  What mattered most, was the seniority in the union and to hell with those at the bottom of the barrell.
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I was forced to lay off the ten least senion union members - when seven jobs could have been saved.
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That was an eyeopener.  Also the lack of thought by the members was atrocious.  The rank and file let the union leadership make their decisions and never seemed to think on their own.  It was like lemmings heading for the ocean.
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Now public teacher  unions in Wisconsin are showing the ugly face of a movement that is past its time.   Striving for benefits that far and away eclipse what the private sector provides.   Course the membership votes... and votes in a block.   BO has already jumped to a political conclusion in support of the protesters.  What a shock!

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