Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In Support of Unions

We respectfully ask that you read the entire post before commenting the first time, but for your convenience we have put a jump to the comments section right here, so that you can easily find them.

At The Balance of Power we are very lucky to know people around the blogosphere that read what we write, and occationally don't mind blogging with us. We are very fortunate this week to have the esteamed Jimmy B of The Conservative UAW Guy with us this week for your reading pleasure.

I would like to state right here and now what a great honor it is to be asked to contribute to the Balance of Power site. These folks here are awesome, and I am truly humbled to be in their presence. Especially, thanks to Zaphriel who asked me, and who I am sure, had the idea for me to be here.

If this is too long for you, please at least go to the end and read THE BOTTOM LINE.
I need an answer...

Stereotypes anyone?
Lazy, overpaid, simple, slow, pampered, greedy, uneducated….
You get the picture.

An example:
I get home from a rather hard day at work, and make a comment to that effect.
My daughter, all of about years old, says, "Why are you tired, all you do is sit around all day".

Of course, I am immediately incensed, and inquire of her, "Who the @#$% told you that?" (I never said I was a great parent!)

Daughter, realizing perhaps I differ with her on this says, "Well, that's what the kids on the bus told me..."

Rectifying conversation ensues...


Usually I have a sense of humor about this stuff, but it stung coming from my daughter.
I want to be her hero, like most dads do.
Zaph asked me to do a post for BOP on October, 8 2005, the same day Delphi filed bankruptcy.
(Ed Note: yes it takes that long to put together a BoP post, it's allot of work, hope you appreciate it. Z.)
Of course, being very close to Delphi (GM Powertrain), the Delphi filing hit close to home, and I decided that since most people, other than union workers and their spouses detest unions, that an inside perspective from a union guy, and a conservative one at that, might generate some interest and talk. Also, I figured that this is probably a rare perspective in conservative circles on the net.

I had a run of comments about this on a post that had nothing to do with unions or anything like that!!!

Anyway, I, jimmyb, am A CONSERVATIVE UAW GUY.
Really. Honest. No, really.

Fish in a tree, how can that be?!?!?
Here's how:

Who Is This Guy (The Short Version)?

I'm a Midwestern guy, born and raised in Ohio. My parents were college educated, smart, honest, had a good work ethic, and lousy (but noble) jobs. I guess you could say I grew up poor. Not starving poor, but struggling, worrying poor, with 5 kids; and they did a hell of a job.

I'm a husband, a father, and a pet owner (they're part of the family, too).
I'’m a Christian.

I've been a union guy for about 15 years, at two places of employment. I’ve worked at GM almost the last 10 years.
I used to be a liberal. It’s more comfy that way, but critical thought turned out to belie much of what I wanted to believe.

I work in a foundry. F-O-U-N-D-R-Y.
It is very big, very loud, very dirty, very hot, and can be very dangerous.
We pour molten (around 2500 F) iron into molds to make engine blocks, heads, and crank-shafts.
Not all auto plants are clean, high-tech assembly plants (a common misconception).
Where I work is a scary place to walk through the first (several) times.
It's the kind of place that the Gores, Kerrys, and Clintons would love to shut down (ya know, big evil corporate polluters!). The same people the union tells me to vote for.
Talk about a dichotomy.

I have been an electrical-type person since high-school. I work with voltages and currents that most people would rather not even think about, much less work on the associated gear with hand tools. I work with proprietary specialized controls, PLC, CNC, and PC industrial control systems as a matter of course. I also train others how to work on these same industrial systems at my plant, as well as teach at the local college about the same type of work. I'm also in business with my two brothers in a small engineering-consulting venture. Yeah, it sounds glamorous (heh).
Some of it's cool, some is dirty and dangerous.
I have a degree, and I worked hard to get it. I graduated at the top of my class.
I earned it.

I love the work I do. The clean and the dirty. The gravy and the painful.

According to my peers and supervisors, I do my work reasonably well. I love that, too.
Pride is a sin, but hopefully, taking pride in one's work is not.
I write this not to brag (well, not much) but to give background about the type of union person I am.

Most of my peers do great work too. Some of them border on brilliant.
You'll never hear about them. You'll here about a guy that got fired 5 times, or the guy that's late every day for 18 years.
But you'll never hear about the guy that shows up an hour and a half early, and busts his ass all day long, and wears out the 22 year old kids while he's 61.

I put in a decent days work, I'm fairly educated, I have a good work ethic, I do a job that many won't do, and I try to do it well.

My transformation from fairly liberal - to conservative - happened during my tenure as a union employee. The union way of life helped this transformation in some ways.

I am now a true conservative. I'm pro-gun (if you know anything about me, you know that!), pro-God, pro-life, pro-business, pro-capitalism, pro-states' rights, pro-cop, pro-military, pro-family and pro-marriage (love you, honey!).
I like big business; they sign my paycheck.

I’m a Republican that has been mightily disappointed lately.

I am also pro-union.
But not blindly so.

There are many more like me than most imagine...
I know many Republican and conservative union workers, and many liberal management people. Let's throw out the stereotypes. Most of my Democratic-voting friends are conservative on issues (gun control, abortion, law enforcement, terrorism, environmental, tort reform, etc.), but still vote Democrat.

I'm still working on that.

In Defense of Unions.

Unions, like any business entity, have good points and bad points.
I am going to forgo discussing the bad points for two reasons:

One - Just like with management, I criticize either one at my own peril. I already experience some repercussions as a result of my political views.
Two - there is no shortage of folk who are critical of unions. You can get that line of reasoning almost anywhere. I know there are things the union does that I dislike, as do others. The same is true regarding my feelings and General Motors.

So, let us begin with a question:

Is it wrong to negotiate, or be able to negotiate, wages and benefits with an employer?
At least on the surface, the answer to this question is no.
Indeed, do not people who go job hunting negotiate, or have the ability to negotiate, things like pay, vacation time and benefits?
When GM hires a salary person, that person negotiates for his package of benefits.

So the concept itself is not out of the ordinary.

Another question:
What is a fair wage? Who decides, and under what circumstances?
This is a bone of contention amongst many factions.
I would say that most of us could all agree that paying someone $0.37 an hour to make $200 a pair of tennis shoes is probably not fair, although it is free market.

Is it reasonable to expect a multi-billion dollar company to pay a good wage?
I'm not answering either way, but unions negotiate with the company, and that is part of the logic both sides use. If a company is losing money, however, raises are out of the question, in my eyes. Of course, that means for management and salary both, which has not been the case at Delphi, recently.

I fear that the auto industry is taking a cue from the airlines, and is going to use bankruptcy to break the unions.

While this may be cause for much joy among many, that joy may be short-lived.
Like it or not, auto-wages help communities immensely. Cutting pay by 2/3's will destroy many communities. A recent news report said that 1 out of 6 wage earners depend on the auto industry in one way or another. (I think I heard that on Rush.)

Likewise, there is a very real possibility that a steep decline in wages of auto-workers will cause wage declines in other areas. You think the local plastic factory is going to pay $14 an hour when the Big Three pay $12? The ripple effect could be staggering.

This can also ripple to others in non-manufacturing fields, like engineering for instance.
If Detroit drops engineers pay 25% or 33%, will others not be far behind?

As for my community, if GM filed bankruptcy and cut wages in half, or closed the foundry (which is a real possibility), many businesses will fail in a short time.
During the 7 week Delphi strike in 1998, I was off for about 6 weeks, and saw many businesses close down within the first week or two.

Point, unions help set a standard, a benchmark if you will. Again, maybe that is not the way it should be, but it is what it is right now. I don’t necessarily think that is all bad.

Will breaking the auto unions' backs ultimately be best for the country?
Some say yes, I say no.

The massive wave of breaking unions WILL take a toll on many. People think this type of thing won't trickle down to them, but it has happened before.

What does a union do?

Unions do much for their members and the community.

For the members, the union provides a safety net when it comes to workplace injuries.
GM is committed to safety.
The UAW is committed to making sure that GM is committed, and not just saying that.
Sometimes in the heat of the moment, hourly and/or salary people try to cut corners.
The union keeps that to a minimum.
Regardless of how anyone feels about the UAW, one thing they have done, and continue to do is save the lives of workers. That protection will be lost when they are destroyed.
Remember, I'm a pro-business guy, but this is a fact.

The union insists that skilled-trades (maintenance, tool and die, stuff like that) people get a minimum amount of training before gaining full journeyman status. This enhances safety, and produces a much better (i.e. skilled) employee for the company.

The union keeps people from getting fired due to personality clashes between bosses and workers. Yes, they keep people in that perhaps should not stay as well, but that is another essay.

The union helps people get help. The Employee Assistance Program consists of the union and GM implementing programs to help employees with virtually any type of problem that affects their lives (and of course, their work, as well).
This includes help with marital and family problems, financial problems (yes, it does happen), chemical dependency problems, and other mental health problems.
These programs have helped several people I know personally.

There are scholarships available from the union.
There is money for employees to take college classes (so much for uneducated).

The union holds fundraising dinners at its hall (for no rent) for people that are sick or have family members that are sick, to help with care, treatment, and other medical bills.
Even for non-union members.

The hall is also available for rent to anyone in the community for weddings, graduations, etc.

Our local union helps secure huge sums of money for charities.
They are very active, for instance, in charities like The United Way, Hospice, March of Dimes and The American Cancer Society. Honestly, there are so many I can't even remember them all. The union members give a lot of money to charities, and they solicit donations from others (on their own time) as well.

We recently collected quite a bit for hurricane victims.

This list could go on, almost forever. You get the point...

The union is also active politically. For some reason, I am never involved with these activities.

Synopsis: Unions are incredibly beneficial to their members and their communities.
Yes, their politics leave much to be desired from a conservative standpoint, but that is not all they do, by any means.

But I heard...

Common questions, statements, misconceptions:

Union wages are why cars are so expensive.
Economics 101 time. Automobiles cost whatever the market will bear.
Allow me to reiterate: whatever the market will bear.
If you think that if GM, or whomever, would cut their labor to pass the savings on to the consumer, you're high.
Put the bong down slowly and step away!
GM has been cutting jobs for 25 years. Ever see the overall average cost of cars drop? Me neither.

Here's the deal.
If GM can make a car for $1.00 (not a typo, a buck), and can sell it for $50,000 dollars, that is what trucks will cost.

70% of the cost of an auto is labor.
*sigh* Step away from the bong, again.
Labor cost in an average Big 3 vehicle is around $1600-$1900 per vehicle.
I guess it would be 70% if you bought a brand new care for 2600 bucks or so.
For an average vehicle price of $30K, that's about 6% of the total price.

Haha, you UAW guys are greedy, lazy jerks. Serves you right, you should have to go work for a living.
Been there, said that. This is a pretty common sentiment to hear from people that don't work in UAW shops. I know; I was one of them. I can only speak for myself, but some of that attitude came from being jealous. We feel better if we can bring people down to our (pay) level, instead of trying to get ourselves and others up to a higher level.
Nobody deserves to make (fill in more money than you make here…) for that job.
Actually, this is quite a typical union type statement:
CEO's, Bill Gates, etc. don't deserve to have that much money.

I know whereof I speak. I am a first generation union guy. No inborn sense of entitlement. I've had all the conversations on both sides.

You can't be a conservative and a union guy.
Man!!! I really hear this one a lot. From ALL SIDES!!!
Conservatives tell me that I'm just a hypocrite because of where I work.
Liberals and Dems just say I'm ignorant, or a traitor, or both.

Yes, I can be conservative and union.
Unions have a place and a purpose, especially in the automotive industry.
Do changes need to be made? Yes. On both sides.
We have some free trade issues that need to be addressed, too.
Which president signed NAFTA? Pushed for WTO status for China?
You know.



Here is where I am scared, and no one seems to be able to give me an answer that helps me sleep at night. I love my country, and this is killing me.

Let's play a game.

I'm a Republican. Free trade. Let the market decide. Competition.
Mmmmmmm......that's the good stuff. Hell, I'm a constitutionalist for the most part.
My heroes, Sowell, Limbaugh, Greenspan, Cavuto, Coulter, Walter Williams, etc, etc, etc. tell me the market rules, and other ways drool.

Ok. The majority of that bunch is better qualified than I to espouse on economics, especially because I am a biased union hack. I'll buy that. But I want an answer.
From anyone. A real answer.

I never hear conservatives bring this next foray into reality up, by the way.
And not really liberals, for that matter. They like to ship our jobs overseas, they just want better rights for them out of the deal...

So here is the game, and my questions:

The most powerful country in the world helps business, and lets the market shake things out in the free trade global economy. Honestly, this does not sound bad to me at first.
We become a "service" economy.
We push pencils, ship all our MANUFACTURING overseas, make depraved movies and the rest work at gas stations and Wal-Marts (where I love to buy my ammo!).

Ok, let us pretend that is cool, for a moment.
Now we get in a war. A big war.
And the Democrats aren't in charge and can't whine and surrender.

How do we MANUFACTURE the weapons of war?
Do you know how long it takes to start up a factory?
If your enemies make your machine tools, airplane and tank parts, microprocessors and such, what do you do?
Where do you go?

We have won every war we have ever been in (that liberals didn’t interfere in), because we had A: natural resources, and B: MANUFACTURING capability.

We could make:
Spare parts.
More ammo.
Oil filters.
Petroleum products.
IRON. IRON. IRON. (Yeah, that's my plant! J)
You get the picture...

So all those who don't work in factories, tell me.
How will that work?
How do we remain a superpower?

I really want to know.

This is one thing where I am 200% with the unions. And maybe you should be too...

Jimmy B (CUG) of The Conservative UAW Guy

I'm the daughter of a Union Man. Operating Engineers
Come to think of it... I'm a granddaughter of a Union Man. Operating Engineers.
My great-grandfathers were Union Coal Miners.

Point: The Union's made sure bread and butter was on my table during all of my growing up years. They made sure my mother ate supper each night and her father and mother too!

Every year here in Oklahoma, the people still celebrate the words, the songs and the vision of Woody Guthrie, a man who had seen the exploitation of workers in America and actively wrote, performed and helped build the melody of America's Union movement in the 1940's.

"You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union..."

"Ants got union and so've these bees
Boss don't want union for you and me."

These are some of his words and lyrics that still live on in Union history and in the music of America's folk singers.

Cesar Chavez campaigned and founded the United Farmworkers, to insure that those that are in one of the most lowly jobs would have adequate food, healthcare and benefits. Albuquerque, New Mexico has immortalized him by renaming Stadium Boulevard to Avenida de Cesar Chavez in Albuquerque's South side, where many humble Mexican farmers still reside.

Prior to the creation of the CIO in 1935, the "unskilled workers" of America took what they could get in work. It was, after all, the Depression. Times were hard, money was scarce and families were going under by the thousands. They wanted simple things really-- shorter working hours, a decent and fair wage and they campaigned for regulation of child labor and fair wages for women and children that were working to support their families.

Today, the Unions still campaign to ensure that the working conditions on the job are safe; the pay for a day's work is fair; the benefits of working your life in a Union job will sustain you should illness or injury befall you and make sure that your retirement years will still yield you enough money to live on. The Union is still providing safe buildings, safe roadways and safe working conditions in America's factories. It’s Union workers that make sure that "Made In America" still MEANS something!

Some say the days of the Unions are over. There are even some mega Wal--*cough* corporations that will not allow their employees to Unionize. Some say that the Unions are corrupted or outdated.

All I know is this:

My great grand-daddy was a Coal Miner. Had he not been safe in that coal mine, my grandfather would not have ever been here. He was responsible for making sure that many a Colorado family kept warm through a Rocky Mountain Winter.

My grandpa was an Operating Engineer and the Union made sure that when he became ill--he had the BEST care that we could give him. I still have his Union pins and am proud to be the recipient of them, because to me... it means that my Grandpa was a man who didn't believe in just himself, he believed in the word "TOGETHER". He taught many of my father's generation how to run the Heavy Equipment SAFELY and most of ya'lls house pads, dams, streets and roads in the states of Nevada, California and New Mexico are due to MY Grandfather... and the Union way!

My dad, when injured on the job... The Union gave him his disability money. When he had heart problems that required immediate and multiple surgeries--yep, the Union made sure he had it. Even though he has not worked now in the past 10 years the Union is STILL putting food on his table and taking care of business.
You like those easy roads and great sub-divisions in the Bay Area of California? How about that Castake Dam? How about all that power generated in the Four Corner's Area of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado? Those great roads in Nevada, in particular around Las Vegas - yep, you can tip your hat to my Papa! :0) cause he and the Union made it possible for you!

I hope that those that spend time Union bashing remember that it was those Unions that made sure that big business didn't get that way on the blood and injuries of your parents or grandparents. I hope that the lessons of standing up together, standing strong together are remembered when times are hard and we are tempted to go back to a dog-eat-dog philosophy. When money is tight and jobs are scarce that we always remember that TOGETHER--WE HAVE A STRONG VOICE THAT WILL BE HEARD.

Nariel of Ancient Eyes for Current Times

First, and foremost.
What a GREAT post that was! I have an ache in my neck from nodding my head so much in agreement. Welcome to Balance of Power, JimmyB. You're a keeper.

I've belonged to unions, in one way or another all my adult life. I've worked with Union families as a therapist, and know first hand the value of the Employee Assistance Program JimmyB talks about. And I've never seen the value of unions championed so eloquently as in this post.

Unions aren't, and never have been, the problem. The leadership of the major unions, and the left wing political ideology of their leaders is a huge problem, and has been for a long time. Folks like JimmyB may be the beginning of the end for the Democrat Party's monopoly of the Union vote, however. Let's hope so.

The issue of American jobs going over seas is an issue for another time. The loss of American manufacturing is a huge issue, and will indeed cause the American empire problems in the future. JimmyB's warning are apt, and need to be listened to by both sides of the political spectrum.

Mark White of Liberty Just In Case

I come from a long line of UAW employees myself and I also understand where you're coming from Jimmy. Sometimes, though rarely, the Republican candidate for an office is more in the corner of the working man than the Democrat. In a case like that, it's sadly ironic that the UAW asks its members to vote Democrat even when the Union knows they are making a mistake. This is why party line voting is a bad thing. We should vote on the issues men stand for, not the money a man is paid to say he stands for an issue.

I also want to quickly respond to your mention of the dangers of manufacturing plants. At my father's plant in Oklahoma City (GM), the overwhelming majority (over 60% at last check) of the plant's employees had major work-related disabilities. These injuries are typically the result of mechanical failures by equipment, general risk-hazard accidents and also irresponsibility of company staff in regards to employee safety. Sure, factory employees may make twenty or more dollars an hour but they are NOT getting paid for being lazy; they are being paid for putting their life on the line to increase the profit margins of a company that doesn't care about them. I understand you there my friend. I disagree that big business is good but as for the laziness people view Union employees with, I hear you.

You asked if it is fair to expect good wages from a multi-billion dollar company. I can only answer emphatically, yes. There is no excuse of value for a large company not to pay its employees well. I am not saying that the company should function in a communistic sort of way by sharing the wealth but they should offer at least decent wages for the work being done, decent insurance and a fair amount of vacation time. If they take care of the employee, the employee will take care of the company. This would be the case if Unions were not corrupt and often in the pocket of the company at both the local and national levels. You are totally correct that breaking the Unions will have a trickle-down effect on wages. If that happens, within a few years, it will be very hard to find good work of any kind. This will truly be devastating to the economy. The question to ask, if you ask me, is this: Are Democrats or Republicans truly dedicated to the people enough to address this problem? The Democrats, I think, are willing to work on it but not willing to put their politics on the line and make a strong stand. The Republicans, I fear, are too much in the pocket of the big companies and will not, as a party, make a true stand for the American people. In effect, I fear both parties will sell us out in the end in their own way.

Your last question is one that I ask myself many times a year. If we send our manufacturing capacity overseas, while our enemies like China are building theirs up, what will we do when we need that capacity and don't have it? Is it ever wise to sell to foreigners your ability to create things you need or may need? Never. In doing so, we are strengthening potential enemies, creating potential threats and weakening our ability to take care of said threats. In addition, by destroying the good-paying job base, we are weakening our economy and in doing so, placing severe financial restraints on the people. If a war breaks out under those circumstances, the people will be so poor that by losing one breadwinner, the very family structure may collapse. What will we do then?

In conclusion, I must tell you, my friend, that Unions must be protected and they must be given aid in protecting the jobs of hard-working Americans from the greed of the rich and powerful. This nation was built on the principal of giving an honest man an opportunity to make his way in the world. Our success rides on that principle. If we take it away, we lose the strength that has allowed us to endure and be strong over time. If we lose that, we lose ourselves and then everything goes. I that the future we want? I can only hope that everyone, Liberal and Conservative, has already answered in the negative.

Joseph Seals of The Independant Liberal
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