My Experience as a Union Member II

I was trained as a minister, not a profession highly represented by labor unions.  For various reasons, in the mid-1980s I decided to spend a few years working with my hands while I raised my family and learned a little more about life.

I got a job with Eastern Airlines which had just expanded its hub in Kansas City, MO.  A daily commute of about 40 miles each way made it possible to continue living in a small town without disrupting our children’s lives.  I joined the union as a condition of employment.  Missouri did not have regulations banning exclusive contracts.  Harry Truman supported the rights of workers to organize and did not allow “right-to-work” laws to take root in his home state.  By that time, my thinking had changed and I was in favor of belong to the union anyway.

The workforce I joined consisted of some old timers who had transferred from Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, and New York.  Many of them represented the old style of union workers: they had bad attitudes and resented the company.  But most of the workers were young, energetic, conscientious, and hard working.  Most had college degrees.  This was a time of high unemployment and they were smart enough to recognize an opportunity for a good job with good benefits.

Eastern had just entered a new phase of management and worker relations.  A new contract based on cooperation between management and works had taken root and was working.  Under the contract workers had agreed to concessions of about 18%.  In return they would form teams working to find more efficient ways of getting the job done and enhancing revenue for the company.  When the resulting savings could be demonstrated, an appropriate percentage of the concessions would be returned to the workers.

It worked beautifully.  Everyone had a good attitude (well, the old-timers kept their attitude to themselves).  Flights got in and out on time without luggage being lost or damaged.  It turned out that the people who did the job knew how to do it best.  Customer satisfaction was high and millions of dollars in savings were identified.

Then a new president was hired, a man who took pride in breaking unions.  He didn’t like the new ways of cooperation and wanted to go back to the old ways of fighting.  He demanded new, deeper, and permanent concessions–take it or leave it.

Overnight the workforce was demoralized.  Company supervisors were required to use harsh tactics and fire so many people they clogged up the grievance process.  I saw first hand how vicious and malicious corporate management could be in its attempt to control workers.

In particular, I remember the case of one man who had been appointed to the safety committee because he was so scrupulous.   He made sure all of his coworkers followed safety rules to the letter, to the point of becoming a friendly nuisance.  We would groan, but actually appreciate his concerns even in matters we thought trivial.  During the apocalyptic last days of the company he was fired on the spot when equipment he was operating malfunctioned.  The supervisor knew it wasn’t his fault, but he followed his orders.

The union felt it had been betrayed and vowed never to accept another concession.   Like old Samson, they would rather pull the financial house down on top of them than be bullied into submission.  And that’s what happened.  The end result was a strike, bankruptcy, and the end of Eastern Airlines.

People don’t like being bullied or dictated to.  They want to have a voice in their destiny, political or financial.

My Experience as a Union Member I

I grew up in a so-called “right to work” state.  Most of my family worked in some aspect of housing construction and made good money without the benefit of union membership.  I read articles in Reader’s Digest about corruption in the big unions and violence during strikes; so back in the 70s, I didn’t see the need for unions.

A few facts I didn’t realize at the time:

1.  During times of full employment non-union employers have to compete with union wages.   Non-union workers were benefiting from the standards set by union contracts.  During times of recession, though, employers can cut the wages as low as they want.

2.  Most of the people I knew making good money in construction were paid as self-employed “sub-contractors.”  Their take-home pay was good, but they had no benefits and had to estimate and pay in their own self-employment tax.  Unfortunately, most of the people I knew did not have the financial discipline and accounting skills to keep up with the quarterly estimated payments and ended up having tax problems.

3.  Many of the self-employed workers did never got around to getting health insurance or investing in a retirement plan.

4.  “Right-to-work” laws are nothing else than government regulations forbidding private businesses from entering into an exclusive contract with a labor union.

5.  I was unaware of the history of the labor movement and how violent and corrupt the opposition to it was.  The goons and thugs and corrupt cops worked for the corporations.

6.  Organization and representation in the workforce is an extension of democracy.  If we don’t accept taxation without representation, why should we accept employment without representation?

. . . more to come

The Governor of Wisconsin Doesn’t want Concessions

He wants to dictate concessions.

Faith in Reason?

Bill Moyers notes a  study from the University of Michigan “deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information.”    The study found that when people who had been misinformed “were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.”

We often base our opinions on our beliefs … and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

This explains a lot about politics.

I would also like to point out something about faith and reason, from a Christian point of view.

It is not an empirical reality that people in fact live according to reality and make decisions according to reason.  Reason is an ethical imperative.  We ought to live according to truth, reason, and reality.  The common human refusal to face reality is another name for sin, collusion in willful self-deception.

Faith, in the Christian sense, is not about clinging to irrational beliefs in spite of facts.  Faith is a commitment to living according to justice, peace, and truth.  Life according to justice, peace, and truth is the Way of Jesus Christ; and it includes making decision according to reality.

One fact of recent history is that the Wall Street High-rollers reckless ways destroyed the economy, forced middle-class taxpayers to bail them out, and made billions in personal profits in the process.  People are justifiably angry but they have no way to pour out their wrath on the guilty.  So they look for a target nearer at hand and they find the people who cut our meat, harvest our vegetables, changes the sheets in our hotels and perform other dangerous, difficult, or menial tasks that we prefer not to do ourselves.

We can’t punish them directly, so instead we choose to punish their children.

The children of undocumented workers have broken no laws.  The state representatives today voted to punish them by tripling their tuition rate if they chose to go to college in the only home state they know.

This is not a solution to any real problem.  It will not increase revenue, it will only prevent the kids from getting an education and contributing to the state economy.

Maybe our state senate will show more wisdom.

Presidents Day

I liked it better when we celebrated Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays.  I’m not sure a president should be celebrated just for getting elected.  He should have to do something, take a courageous stand maybe.

But I’m celebrating Presidents Day anyway, because I am glad we have 4-year, two-term max, presidents rather than hereditary monarchs, Presidents for life, Beloved Leaders or whatever else dictators call themselves.

The citizens of Wisconsin are showing there governor that he is an elected public servant subject to the laws of the land.  He cannot arbitrarily cancel contracts or take away the rights of teachers and other state employees to representation.

I am ashamed at house of representatives in my state who think that punishing the children for the sins of the fathers and mothers will somehow improve the economy.

Maybe the state senate will be wiser and more compassionate.

Children who came to this country under the age of 18, regardless of the circumstances, broke no law.   They grew up here, they have no other home.  If they stayed in school, stayed out of trouble, and graduated from high school, they should be welcome in our state’s colleges.

I hope one of our state legislators will introduce a law requiring citizenship class in high school for students who do not have legal citizenship.  I suppose states cannot grant U.S. citizenship, but they could grant a certificate of state citizenship to all students who graduate from high school in one of the state’s public schools.

John Steuart Curry–Local Artist

baptism in KansasWhen I lived in Nortonville, I frequently used to pass–or sometimes stop and read–a small historical highway sign pointing to John Steuart Curry’s birthplace.   He was with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, one of the three famous Regionalist painters of the twentieth Century.

He became famous paintings scenes of his native state and its people: an outdoor baptism, a tornado, or old John Brown with a Bible in one hand and a “Beecher Bible” (a Sharps rifle) in the other.  In the mid 1930s Curry offered a modest proposal to Kansas State University.  He would serve as an artist in residence in return for a reasonably salary.

His local university could not find the funds, or see the need, so Curry expatriated to Wisconsin in 1936 and became the first artist in residence at the agricultural college of the university in Madison.

His famous murals of life in Kansas were funded by contributions from newspapers, but some politicians delayed the project because they thought Curry presented negative images of our state:  People might get they idea from seeing his tornadoes that we have bad weather here!  Or worse, from seeing the murals of John Brown, that we have a violent past.

Of course, like all prophets, he was finally appreciated in his home state in the years following his untimely death.  The politicians even found the funds to erect a highway marker in his honor on old HWY 59 in Jefferson County.

[Links to online exhibits of Curry’s art here.]