Years ago, during an L.A. grocery employees’ union strike, I was flying into the city from some Midwestern town – I forget which one. I was seated beside a man who had been hired as a “scab” for the duration of the strike. He had been recruited to cross the strikers’ picket lines and work in the chain grocery stores. He told me he had been out of work for quite a while, and that he was happy to be making some money. He didn’t say much about the nature of the work. And he didn’t have much to say about the philosophy of what he was about to do. Honestly, in that moment, he was more excited about the flight: it was the first of his life.
Memories of that years-ago flight were triggered this past weekend. I was again flying into L.A. from another Midwestern town, and I was again seated beside a gentleman on his way to (possibly) work on the other side of a picket line. When he took the seat beside me, I noticed the “Bud Light” logo on his shirt. After a brief nap, I woke to hear him ordering a Bud Light beer from the flight attendant. When he pulled his book from his bag – Dethroning the King: The Hostile Takeover of Anheuser-Busch, an American Icon – I spoke before I was able to stop myself, “Dude! You really are a company man!”
He smiled and said that yes, he had worked for Anheuser Busch for 15 years. He also said he was a very slow reader and that it was taking him forever to get through that book.
He then told me there might possibly be a drivers’ strike at the Busch facilities in L.A. and that he was one of the guys being sent in to keep the trucks rolling. I said that couldn’t be a lot of fun. He shook his head in agreement.
We had a brief conversation about management problems in dealing with the drivers’ union, and how the union members were so very well-paid and – according to him – untouchable.
It’s never black or white. Unions came into being for the most noble, humane reasons. And they have been (and in some cases – continue to be) useful, important, necessary. So the mere existence of unions cannot be labeled as “the problem.”
Are there abuses? Absolutely. Should those problems be addressed and dealt with? Yes. Should unions be eliminated? Hold your horses.
It’s never black or white. We need safety guidelines. We need work regulations. We need to protect and promote the well-being of the human beings who keep our economy and our society in motion.
We do not need to allow certain individuals – certain abusers-of-the-system – to destroy the original, righteous intent of unions. If a jackass is taking advantage, whether he be a grocery bagger, a truck driver or a school teacher, he’s still being a jackass. It’s amazing just how much manure a single jackass can spread. And it stinks.
To be fair, a lot of union members are good, decent folks, who work hard and contribute mightily to our life’s experience. See? It’s never black or white.
After the plane landed safely in L.A. this past weekend, I wished the Busch fella well and said I hoped the situation would be resolved soon. He smiled and we went our separate ways. That company man wore a wedding band and may have children. He’s just trying to keep bread on the table. He’s trying to keep his job. He’s trying to do the right thing for his employer, while being able to sleep at night. And he’s doing it all without union representation.
It’s never black or white.