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Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Tuesday, 8:45 AM. 31  degrees, wind SW, brisk at times.  The sky is pretty much overcast with very high, blue-gray clouds that may presage some snow.
    At the hazard of offending some sensibilities I am going to return to the discussion of unions, as seen through the lens of my own experience.  I am encouraged to do this because of increased visits to my blog, and some favorable commentary.
    Now, I am not against private sector unions in theory, and I have been a dues paying member of three AFL-CIO affiliated unions. It’s in the practice area where we part company.
     The first union I was compelled to join (union shop… join in order to get a paycheck…how’s that for stifling personal liberty?) was the Laborers Union, when I was 18 years old and working my way through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  The foreman on the job told me to jump down a nearby manhole when he saw the union rep drive up, because he didn’t think it fair for a summer employee working for his college tuition to have to pay dues.  So down the hole I went, like Alice in Wonderland, and hid there until the threat was over.  I didn’t meet the Mad Hatter or any or any other  characters that time, and eventually I was collared, like a fugitive, and initiation fee, dues and retirement subsequently deducted from my weekly paycheck.  The real Wonderland part came later.  As life turned out, I was a member of that union for a long time.  I never saw any of the funds that I was forced to contribute to the union in order to work; not a dime.  Now, I admit that I may have benefited from the negotiated wage levels, although at that point in my life it was not unusual to receive a bonus on top of what I was paid because I worked harder than most. 
    But the upshot of that first experience was that my employer was forced to collect union dues and transfer my money to an entity that did little or nothing for me and was used to attack the business, and I sure could have used the money that was confiscated.  For my employer, it was pretty much like the case of the hanged man being forced to buy his own rope, as the union was always anti-business and caused all sorts of mischief, including long strikes, during which nobody made any money.  And, never in all of this experience did I have a direct say in what the union did.  I never minded being told what to do by my employer, as I got a paycheck in return. But I never got a cent from the union.
    The Laborer’s Union was just a minor scam compared to the UE, the United Electrical Workers Union. It was a big time, burn-‘em-down, fire-breathing communist union at that time.  I was forced to join it when I worked nights at the big Allen Bradley plant on Milwaukee’s South Side while going to school during the day.  The massive plant had a clock tower where, it was said,  in a tone of mixed awe and derision, Bradley had a penthouse.  I don’t know if that was true or not, but at night the giant clock lit up a considerable area of Milwaukee’s South Side, and workers and residents alike called it “The Polish Moon.”
    When I went to work at Allen Bradley I felt like I had entered a true “Workers Paradise.”  Used to working conditions that at best offered a fire barrel somewhere and if you were lucky an outhouse, clean, safe, sanitary conditions seemed like a miracle, as did the company gym, and especially the cafeteria, with its virtually endless array of hot dishes, and white-uiformed chefs carving legs of beef, all for seventy-five cents a meal. There was a work break every hour. I could not believe that some lucky permanent employees were paid their full wages to practice and play on company sponsored sports teams.  Wages were tops and overtime plentiful, even for the likes of myself, and perhaps best of all the workplace abounded in members of the fairer sex, as Allen Bradley Corporation employed women on an equal basis with men.  Equally unbelievable to me was the open hatred the union workers had for the company, and how the union pressed every minor issue into a major confrontation, and agitated for more and more entitlements and mind numbing work rules at every hand.  All the comforts and benefits unilaterally given the workers by the company were labeled “patronizing,” because they might put management in a good light and weaken the hand of the union.  Frankly, it was an atmosphere I could not stomach, chef-carved legs of beef or not, and when the spring semester ended and the union stooges went on strike over something or other, I happily went back to slogging through the mud on construction sites, where more sanity and freedom prevailed. I don’t know whether Allen Bradley exists today as it did back then or not.  I doubt it.
    My next union experience was with AFSME, the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, and that was a very long Alice in Wonderland encounter indeed, which I will relate subsequently.
    When the mob finally gets tired of sleeping in its own filth and leaves the Wisconsin State Capital I may have a few things to say regarding that, as well.

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