All posts by Jesse

How the Trades Unions Killed Themselves

Mike Lucas was the director of organizing with the IBEW international office. Listen to the track below to hear a speech he made about where the unions lost their way in regards to organizing and how that has cost the unions everything. This speech was in the early 80’s and after it was made union activists secretly spread it through IBEW local 46 via cassette tape.

“I didn’t come into the union because I wanted a wage cut. And very frankly I don’t need the union to take a wage cut. I don’t see a whole hell of a lot of use in paying dues so I can take a wage cut. I came into the union because some rat contractor was paying me barely enough to keep me alive while he was doing his best to work me to death. That’s why I came into the union.”

That quote at the end really stands out to me. Mike Lucas was a very outspoken advocate of bottom up union organizing. He talks about needing to get the non-union worker into our unions and bringing their job with them. He talks about how if there are only two jobs left in town, those two jobs should be done at full scale.

Here is a link to an interview Mike Lucas did with Cornell University Labor Research Department.

The current trade union’s program around organizing seems disconnected from the work force, and because of this I think it is doomed to fail. Until we focus on creating opportunities for tradesman, union and non-union, to communicate about work we are doomed to lose workers to rat contractors. And until we recognize that a strong contract enforced effectively that provides great working conditions, fair pay and benefits is what organizes members, in turn with the inverse that it is organizing that wins strong contracts we are doomed to lose work to rat contractors. We need to stop the practice of buying jobs for union members at reduced wages and benefits at the expense of the non-union worker, and begin a serious campaign to organize those non-union workers into our unions, and make their jobs come with them.

Brotherhood is Worth More…

…Than Time and a Half

I am a first year apprentice. Like everyone else in the world I have money problems. My money problem is that I don’t have enough of it to keep up with cost of living in this city. This is not going to be a long-winded complaint about my low wages though, don’t worry.

So as a broke-ass first year apprentice I look for opportunities to work overtime. Not only are the extra hours at a higher wage great, but they also help me advance to my next raise more quickly. Well recently I found myself in a position where the only right thing to do was to refuse overtime, while I watched journeymen and apprentices alike put their consciences aside and take it.

It started a couple minutes before the end of the day on a Wednesday. My foreman came up to me and asked “do you want to work on Saturday?” My immediate reply was to ask if everyone had been asked because I knew everyone wanted overtime and I thought it was strange that he asked me when I was away from everyone else. He then told me I was one of only four people on the crew that was asked to go. I felt uneasy about this, and when he told me that the overtime would be on a different jobsite I became even more uneasy about it. Unfortunately I let my money woes get the best of me and I agreed to work anyway.

The next day I had class so I was not on the jobsite, but it is my understanding that word got out about the chosen few that were asked to work overtime. When I showed up to work on Friday the journeyman that I work with seemed to be in a particularly bad mood. I didn’t want to pry so I let it be. Towards the end of the day the journeyman finally told me why he was frustrated. He (a book 1) had not been offered the overtime while a book 2 had been. He knew I had been offered the work and he told me I should take it, but he also seemed frustrated that the two other journeyman asked to work would go even while knowing that each book 1 should have been offered the overtime before the book 2 if only a limited amount of wireman would be needed.

When I was forced to confront the fact I was offered overtime and he was not I knew I would not be working that Saturday. I know that I am nothing special. I am a first year apprentice wireman. That is it. I had no more right to overtime than anyone else on the job, and in fact I had far less right to it than the seasoned journeyman who was denied the opportunity.

The journeyman I was working with insisted that I still go work Saturday because as an apprentice it is not my responsibility to hold up certain aspects of the union dogma. I considered his advice and I decided that if I could make an excuse to not do what I knew was the right thing now, I would likely be able to do the same thing later on. At the end of the day I told my foreman that I would not be able to come in on Saturday. He then asked me why not and I told him it was because I was beat. He then told me I would have to tell the project manager in a threatening tone and I responded by asking where the project manager was so I could tell him, the foreman then told me I would be doing panel work in an attempt to bait me into working on Saturday, or possibly to help me out since I told him I was beat. I told him “that sounds great…… but I’m not working.”

The following Monday I found out that the other three guys that were offered overtime indeed worked on Saturday. I also found out that not one of them did any panel work. Before break time I found myself in the material room with the foreman alone and he asked me what the real reason I didn’t work on Saturday was. I told him the truth. I told him I didn’t like the cloak and dagger way he offered overtime to some people while excluding others. He then explained that is wasn’t cloak and dagger, it was simply a misunderstanding.

As the day went on the foreman pulled the journeyman that was excluded the week before off to the side. I later found out that he was the first person to be offered overtime for the coming weekend. At the end of the day everyone on the crew was given the same opportunity to work overtime and everyone took it with the exception of the book 2, citing a personal engagement he had already committed to.

It is probably most likely that the timing of the work is what created the expanded offer of overtime, but there is a small chance that my little stand influenced it in someway. Regardless of whatever impact my actions did or didn’t have I know I slept better knowing that I stood up for what I knew was right, and that was worth a lot more to me than the 8 hours of time and half. I have always believed that virtue untested is no virtue at all. What you believe only has meaning in those moments when words are manifested into actions. Well now I can add one more virtue to my short list and begin to look for the next opportunity to add another.