My Encounters with Organized Labor

Workers on strike in Boston

It’s a holiday weekend (Labor Day) here in the US. I wrote this post in 2013. Since so few people visited this blog at that point, I revised it for today. You’ll be please to know that I trimmed about 100 words off the original.

The first time I came face to face with organized labor was in the parking lot of a machine shop that made gun barrels. The night before, I had worked my first solo shift running the drills. The daytime driller met me in the parking lot with a scrapped gun barrel in one hand and my tally sheet in the other. I wasn’t sure how he got the tally sheet; I had dropped it into a locked box. He informed me that I had drilled too many barrels, pointing to an edited count with the end of the gun barrel – “this is how many you will drill tonight!

I agreed, but later, I asked my father what I should do. Here’s how he answered:

“If you were battling him for this job, I’d say go for it, but you’re going to work here for 4 more months and then leave for college. Why make trouble for him? Besides, I don’t think the gun barrel was just for effect.”

Two years later, I was working as an “89-day wonder” for the Post Office. If you worked 90 days, you had to be treated like the union employees. If you worked fewer days, even by one, they could bust your butt. I didn’t care, the money was very good. The thing the Postmaster liked most about my situation was that he could schedule me for any hours during a day. A union employee could be made to work a split shift, but the endpoints had to fall within a 12-hour period. I was frequently scheduled to start at 3:00 am, work until 6:30 am and then return at 3:30 pm and work until 9:00. The 89 days passed easily. That was good since there was no complaining to dad on this one, he was one of the union guys.

My mail route was referred to as “Auxiliary” which meant that I delivered mail to all the major businesses in town that didn’t have boxes in the lobby. One of the places on my route was the state mental hospital where my mother worked. She was the switchboard supervisor, and when the union employees went on strike, she lived at her job for about a week. I stuffed a bunch of clothes and a few snacks into a mail bag and threw it into my truck. I drove through the picket line to a chorus of jeers and expletives, but nobody tried to stop the U.S. Mail.

Later that summer, the workers at a steel mill on my route went on strike. I drove up to the entrance to the mill complex, where a large man with a bar of steel in one hand stepped in front of my truck. Another man came to my window and asked me what I was planning to do. The large man quietly slapped the steel bar into his other hand while I decided. When I told him that I was supposed to deliver the mail, he suggested that I call the office from the guard shack. The man in the office complained: “they have no right to stop the mail” but he wasn’t looking at the human stop sign.

After college, I worked for Airborne Freight as a Methods Analyst. My first assignment was to perform a review on our Driver Manifest system. Since we implemented the system, our computing capacity had grown to the point where the manifest could be sorted in the order of the driver’s route. I thought that printing the manifest in that order would help the drivers load their trucks. Before implementing an idea that would affect station operations, we had to run it past three station managers – Seattle (where we were located), Phoenix and one of the big-3 (NY, Chicago or LA). I called the station managers and explained my idea. Seattle and Phoenix were impressed, less so the guy in NY.

“So, tell me college boy, are you going to come to New York and explain to my drivers that you know how to load their truck better than they do? ’Cause I’d like to see that!”

The steel mill expanded into other industries and was purchased by a foreign company. Its core operations were “spun off” and the mill was closed. The network of mental hospitals in the state was closed to save money. Airborne became very successful, expanded, entered the Fortune 500 and was purchased by DHL. Several segments were sold, and the freight/express operations were abandoned. The Post Office struggles in the face of budget cuts, lower mail volume and competition.

We celebrate labor today, but most of these businesses failed or were abandoned in the name of higher profits. However, the company that makes gun barrels is still going strong.

Happy Labor Day.


Since I’ve already shared most of the construction images, I decide to revert to some “regular” photos from a weekend, and a few from the Goshen, CT Fair.

69 thoughts on “My Encounters with Organized Labor

Add yours

  1. Wow, unions. Sometimes a touchy subject. They were and are necessary, sometimes. They also wield a great deal of power. My grandfather was a union man. He was proud of it but he also saw the dangers. I was in an association. Similar to a union. Perhaps not as powerful. Police up here can’t belong to unions. I don’t disagree.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’ve seen good/necessary and bad/ridiculous behaviour on both sides of the labor-management equation. The worst, in my opinion, is when companies sell out, take the money and run, and abandon the employees who made them successful.

      Like

  2. Oh, remember the days of union strikes? I remember the Teamsters worked for 8 months to get my group a pay raise – they succeeded. It also put me in a different tax bracket, so I ended up coming home with less net wages!! My one AND only experience with unions!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha – congratulations, you’re a winner! My dad didn’t like the union at the Post Office, but he realized that the guys in the big-city offices needed protection from the crazy scheduling practices, so he supported them. I didn’t care about the hours at the time, but those split-shifts were awful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Talking unions is like talking politics, but here I go anyway. I think when they started back in the day to make sure employees had safe working environments, they were needed. Are they really needed today? I don’t know the answer to that one, but it seems like any new ideas that don’t originate from the union are wrong – again, sounds like politics. So, I’ll move on to how great your roof looks. For new siding, do you have to take the current siding off or do you go over it? And, Maddie looks quite comfortable on her cot surrounded by those beautiful flowers. Weather is going to be 92 with high humidity today so I’m hoping you get to sit in a chair next to Maddie. Let’s face it – ‘us’ antique folks do need to rest every once in a while. :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Judy. I agree about the subject. As I mentioned earlier (in comments) I’ve seen good and bad on both sides. I don’t know if they are still needed, but tech-workers are starting to feel the pain of long hours without overtime and/or being labeled as independent contractors. Some are starting to fight back. There’s a work-life balance that can’t be allowed to get too far out of whack. I don’t have the answers.

      I have to repair a few rotted sections of the T-111 siding, but it’s essentially 3/4” plywood, so the vinyl siding can go over it. There are some challenging sections, but they’re small.

      I think we’re giving the crew s rest today. I hope you’re having a good weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You brought up something interesting about the independent contractor label because then you add how companies keep employees under the magic number for benefits, and they do have some current relevant issues to resolve. I went out and did what was necessary for about an hour, showered, and I’m in the AC and ceiling fans for the rest of the day. Too darn hot. :-)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I started working on the little roof over the side door. One thing led to another and I ended up being out longer than I wanted. But it was more woodworking / carpentry – no shingles. I was enjoying this little bit. But it got too hot.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. I hope you’re enjoying the long weekend. Maddie begs for walks and cot-time, but the union bosses in this place are the Tuxedo girls. MuMu screams to be brushed and MiMi demands to play ball on the steps. They always seem to get their way. Of course, if you step outside, be prepared to pay a toll (peanuts) to the army of squirrels. Us humans are pretty far down on the chain of command – maybe we need to organize!

      Like

  4. “So, tell me college boy”…..good gosh, Dan, what a situation to be in. My dad was in the Teamsters Union back in NJ…I think just about everyone was in the union. When I moved down south, all talk of unions ceased….I’m with Maddie–moving a bit slower today. Enjoy the day off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a good day to take it slow, Lois. I remember being referred to as “college boy” numerous times. I never quite understood the rationale for calling me that, but it never stopped some people. It was like I didn’t know how to work (but that is how I paid for college).

      I realized the importance of those unions (at that time) and I never criticized the organizations or the people in them. Still, mistakes have been made on both sides. I guess that’s human nature at work.

      Like

  5. I haven’t had any personal experience with unions, but I know several people who have. Some think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and others not so much!

    Hope your Labor Day is all fun and relaxation with those you love.

    I really, really like the photo that was taken on one of the yucky days. The one of the busy bee in that beautiful flower is great too. Of course, Maddie pictures win hands down, even if she had a bag over her head. 😜😜

    Happy non-Labor Day!!
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. Unions, politics, religion – all slippery slopes for a blog post, but these are the stories that fed my experience. I try not to judge, but I see mistakes being made on all sides, even when the answers seem simple enough, and the problems loom large.

      I think Maddie has the right idea – walk while it’s still cool, and sit in the shade once it gets hot – for a “dumb animal” she’s pretty smart.

      The hazy day was the yuckiest day we had all summer. I chenged clothes three times while working on the roof (in the shady section) that day, and I quit before 2:00 pm.

      I couldn’t decide between the couch pictures and the cot pictures, so you go t both today. I hope you’re enjoying the holiday, and I hope a burger falls off the grill for Murphy :-)

      Like

  6. basically except for a short stint at Bell I have always been in non union positions… I was on the “they” side. silly I never got why,,,, but I know to this day… I don’t like people trying to bully others, in any way. Thanks for the good read..of course seeing our wonderful pet curled up.. brought out the smiles to one and all I am sure

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree about bullying, threatening and relying on intimidation. I’ve never been in a union, but I have worked in places where I wished I could file a grievance.

      Maddie has a pretty good job. She seems to like it here.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting. When you started the post with the gun barrel story, it reminded me of a guy I knew/know from college. He worked at the post office one summer, sorting mail for more than twice the minimum wage of the time. He was criticized constantly for sorting too much mail too fast. If he went through too much mail, it made the other guys look bad. During that summer, he worked a lot, even got OT, good money, but he said, and still says, it was the worst job he ever had.
    I had an interview at a grocery store once, and the manager told me I’d work all weekends and all my shifts would be 2nd, which I think was something like 11-7, and that I had to join the union. Umm, NOPE. One of Sassy’s friends works there now. Guess what? It’s the same thing 25 years later!
    We’ve got friends who are in this and that union, plenty of stories. I feel like it’s same as many other things, good and bad, corrupt and benevolent — so much depends on the people. Everything is people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everything IS people. I worked for the Post Office for three summers and a bunch of smaller breaks. The pay was more than 3x minimum wage back then. I didn’t care what hours they made me work. When I got overtime, I was making more than I did in my first job out of college.

      That’s funny that that store hasn’t changed in 25 years.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Relevant updated post, Dan; literally looking down the barrel of a gun on this issue. I’m like you in thoughts about unions; I was part of a union as it represented us management employees (oxymoron) yet in my job I had to deal with union vs non-union issues on contracts. I was once part of a task force trying to negotiate with the union when we had to deal with in-house staff vs. contracting out some services and that was an eye opener how they drag out the mundane issues about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for months. In the end, I’m not sure the issues were resolved except that the unions gained some data collection from a new database being developed so they could object to the proposed services being contracted out.
    It’s good that retirement has less union issues but I still have to rely on them for my pension colas so my thoughts sway with the issues. We should all be like Maddie; napping, taking walks and trading being fed for being your best friend; let the “fat” cats be the boss to put the attention away from those than want a life uncluttered by contentious labor issues. Have a good Labor Day holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Gordon. There’s good and bad folks and tactics on both sides of the line. I’ve mostly been in management, and they’re definitely stuff that shouldn’t happen but does.

      Fortunately, I never had to negotiate anything with anybody. I don’t think I could take spending time on petty stuff.

      I’m looking forward to retirement and only having to deal with a reduced set of issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Unions. Both Protector and Villain, depending on your side of the line. You have held some diverse jobs, Dan. Oh! You caught a bee at work. 👏🏻Maddie looks totally vegged. I would have loved that fair. So would the hubs. All those antique tools. Haha! A squirrel planted the sunflower. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, they can be bad and good, and employers can skirt both sides of that line as well. You would think that by now, there would be a better way.

      The fair was fun, I could have spent hours in that barn looking at those tools.

      Maddie clearly knows how to prioritize.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. We have similar experiences but my best Union job was as a teamster. I drove a car for a movie production company. I drove it to the shoot. Sat on my butt for eight or so hours and then drove it back to the lot. Actors and stunt drivers used the car while the cameras were rolling but no one could touch the car after that but me. Talk about power.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha – Sounds like shades of Tiny the driver. That had to be an interesting job. Are you listed in any credits? I had a job before leaving Washington where we were only allowed to work on one project at a time. If the project was in testing or conversion, where I was only required 4-8 hours a week, that’s all I had to do. I have never liked being bored.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I was hired by the Operating Engineers (a branch of the AFL-CIO) to write the history of their union and it was very enlightening. Of course, there had been many scandals leadership wanted to forget so I had to whitewash them. But in general, I believe unions are a necessity in a capitalistic society.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That must have been a challenging project, Jan. I think there was a time when they were absolutely necessary. Then there was a period where some got a little too powerful. These days, I think we’re back to a point where lots of workers would benefit from some representation. Some companies treat their employees pretty well (I’m lucky enough to work for such a company) but many treat their employees like any other commodity.

      Like

  12. They Nurses Union was a life savor when I worked as a nurse. It set the wage rates and patient/nurse ratios. Negotiations did go on for months though! The Union always won! I’m with Maddie today. Get some zone out rest and down time, Dan! Happy Labor Day! 📚Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Christine. I’m glad you had a good experience. I think a lot of people did. I’m not sure how well it’s working these days. There’s a lot of struggles today. I hope we can find a way to work these things out.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I also have mixed feelings about labor unions. I’ve never been a member of one but I did enjoy many of the benefits they’ve fought for, including 5-day work weeks, 8-hour days, paid time off, etc. I saw a quote in my Facebook feed today that I thought apropos for Labor Day: Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Franklin Douglas.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that’s true in many cases, about people with power. I think we have mixed feelings because the results were/are also mixed. Sometimes the power is with the union, sometimes with the employers. The big problem with the companies mentioned here was that the finance people decided the companies were worth more to someone else, and that company only wanted the name, or the customers, not the products/services or employees.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Yup, as volatile a subject as politics or religion. I think unions were necessary “back in the day” when working conditions were often horrendous. I’m not as sure now and I don’t think people should be forcef to join a union or have their dues go to things they don’t believe in. I was irritated when I found out that the men who stand around with picket signs or around the big rat (which makes me immediately want to buy from that store) are often just paid to picket, not that they’re necessarily out of jobs. Finally, I think there’s not excuse for unions having stands on subjects such as abortion or which political party their members should support. Stand for the pay and working conditions and stay out of the rest. Let the members decide their stands and put their money and their mouths behind those individual decisions.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janet. It is a touchy subject. I agree that unions should stick to wage, hours and benefits. The dues they need to do that should be paid by all those who benefit, but I don’t agree with paying dues that are used for lobbying on broader issues. Then again, there’s waste on the side of the employers as well because they use money that could be profits, on issues that have nothing to do with business. It’s all very complicated.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Great photos, Dan. I worked with the unions when I lived in CT, and they were great to work with on the whole. My hubby is a union member – we’ve always had health insurance and he’ll retire with a pension. Phew. I wish unions were stronger in the US. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Those are the issues where I think unions do a good and necessary job. Wages, hours, conditions and benefits. I think they should stick to those kind of issues, and I think they have to consider viability in today’s economy. Some do good work, others are messed up, but it’s the same story with management.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Same story everywhere, Dan. I worked non-union for most of my life, and was paid less than the men for the same job. If I’d been union, that wouldn’t have happened. So, positives and negatives wherever we go. You’re right that management plays a key role whether union or non-union.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Don’t get me on this soapbox with Unions. Not a good idea. I’ve been opposed since I was little and watched my parents come up through the ranks. They were opposed and thankfully had careers that were advantageous to that. They were engineers. They hated the Union. They both wanted to be paid for their contribution, and talent to the company not by their hired in date.
    They both fought against the Union take over in Silicon Valley in their day and it worked really well for us. They were paid for their talent, time, and had wonderful benefits. Benefits and salary were negotiated then. When I started working it was the same and it worked very well for me too. I fear today that work philosophy has lost its way and doesn’t work at al that welll, and the new generation may very well be forced to bring in the Union if Corporate bean counters don’t look to the past and see the light.

    Back in time when corporations treated their workers like crap and didn’t pay a living wage, or offer benefits Unions saved the day. Silicon Valley in the beginning saw that and were wise to offer good pay and benefits, alas I see that shifting to days of old slave labor ways…those that begat Unions. Not smart en mon avis. Like I said Don’t Get Me on this Soapbox.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t worry about getting up on the soapbox, I like to approach things with an open mind and I like to hear different ideas. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in the tech industry. Some are still very happy with the way they are treated and compensated, but some are feeling the pain of being seriously taken advantage of. The very real threat of having your job outsourced or automated drives people to accept wages, conditions and benefits which don’t equate with what they bring to the table every day. When people complain about long hours, they are told “everybody works like that” but it isn’t the case. Select groups of people are made to work like that, because they are exempt, and because they have no say in the process. It seems that many are waking up to the fact that they are working longer, for less when compared to the people in their field 20 years ago.

      My father did not want to be in the union, but he was. He worked in a small town Post Office, where things were worked out between people. However, he saw how the employees in the larger offices were treated, and he did support rules that gave them better working conditions. That split-shift rule was huge. Having worked 3:00 am – 6:30 am and then 3:30 pm until 9:00 pm, I know that it was a miserable existence. You almost couldn’t do anything.else but work. The strike at the hospital my mother worked at was just about greed. People had good jobs, they just wanted more and eventually, the State shut down the system. Neither side seemed to care much about the people in that hospital, many of whom became homeless.

      Like most complex issue, there are no simple answers. Unfortunately, the world we live in is becoming increasingly polarized and binary, and simple answers are what many are being given.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Dan, You are right about abuses on both sides. I have had some personal experiences regarding sterling decisions by management. Dumb decisions usually generate pain. And I will just leave it at that. The thing that gets me is the safety issues. Unions play a role in policing them. And they have enough voice to counterbalance the company when they say ‘hurry up and get it done.’ So when someone says we don’t need unions anymore I will ask why scaffolding on a 6 story construction project collapsed. And no I am not in a union.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. That’s a very good point about safety. I think about that when I read about tower cranes collapsing in New York last summer. Bad decisions, usually decisions made for the wrong reasons, do lead to pain, and we are long past the point in time where they should happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Great Labor Day post, Dan. I realize it makes it seem that I’ve missed the point… but I have to say it. Maddie’s coat is just gorgeous in that second photo. She should do shampoo ads! :D
    The unions in this agency leave the execs quaking in their boots. So between the execs making more nonsense, and the unions forbidding everything (even simple communications)… I guess there’s no wonder nothing gets done.
    Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

Add your thoughts. Start or join the discussion. Sadly, links require moderation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: