Friday, December 05, 2008

Imperfect unions

Actually, "imperfect" is being kind. Unions basically suck. Sure, I think they can still serve a purpose to protect workers from outright abuse, but by and large, their time has passed. The state in which the Big Three automakers in the US find themselves is due in large part to the unions, and their avarice has already killed off other heavy industries here.

Story time...

In a previous professional life, I worked for a small IT systems integrator and somehow wound up as designated trade show boy whenever we had a presence at any of the two or three industry events we participated in each year. This meant figuring out what we'd exhibit, getting expo floor space, all the logistics, etc. My first experience with this was at a show in Chicago in 1995. Having arranged for shipment of all our gear, I arrived in Chicago a couple days before the show was to open.

First thing Sunday morning after arriving Saturday night, I headed to the expo hall to see if everything arrived intact. I'd brought with me a small power screwdriver so I could open the crates, and went to our designated spot and was grateful to see that all my crates were there. I took out my Black & Decker and started unscrewing the first crate when I heard a voice bellowing "Stop! Stop!".

I looked up and some dude was nearly jogging towards me with his hands up, and the ensuing conversation went something like this:
Me: Yeah?
Dude: You can't do that.
Me: Do what?
Dude: Open those crates.
Me: They're my crates.
Dude: I'm the steward for the local carpenter's union...these crates have to be opened up by a union carpenter.
Me: Oh, don't worry...I think I can handle it.
Dude: This is a union workplace...you're not allowed to do that.
Me: ---
Dude: ---
Me: You're kidding, right?
Dude: No, I'm not. You'll have to complete a purchase order and drop it off at that desk over there and we'll send a union carpenter over to open them.
Me: And what if I choose not to hire you guys and just do it myself?
Dude: Work stoppage.
Me: Work stoppage?
Dude: Work stoppage. All these guys you see here? They all walk out. (There were at least 100 carpenters, electricians and other assorted unionistas setting up).
Me: (sighing) Fine.
Obviously, I wasn't about to be the one asshole who caused this rather large industry trade show to grind to a halt, and I had paranoid visions of ending up in the Chicago River. So I paid eighty bucks to have my fucking crates opened. When I bitched about the extortion racket to the lady running my credit card, she politely informed me that I wasn't done bleeding yet. I would have to pay two members of the stagehands union some $300 to assemble my booth, another thing I'd planned on doing myself. Oh, and that delivery I was expecting the next day at the loading dock? Twenty bucks for a teamster to put on a hand truck and deliver to our booth. I shit you not.

So, sorry if I don't cry too much over the union's woes.

1 comment:

Dave C said...

I lived in Michigan and have my share of union stories..

my favorite joke was at a construction job ( no unions there at the time) and the one carpenter took his hammer and slammed the side of a 2 x 4 and said, "Union Stamp of Approval".

I didn't find much middle ground on Unions..