Organized Labor and Why They Fail: My Personal Account

I received an interesting comment from a union supporter over the weekend, it said, “like your weekend. Thank a union.”

Obviously, this person is saying that the reason we have weekends, and 8 hour work days, and basic benefits, and all that kind of thing, it’s because of the union influence.

The sad thing about that argument is because unions stuck their noses into the matter, we can’t say how things might have evolved under the free market. Things may have actually been better as companies developed more and more incentives to attract quality employees.

My experience on both sides of the management argument is that if you are a good or a very good employee, it is not difficult to sit down in front of your employer and ask for a day off, or adjust your work hours, or get the compensation that you need. I’ve been down the whole gambit on the organized employee issue, and my opinions are rooted in experience.

When I was the tender age of 19 a union rep was trying to get into the manufacturing facility I worked for, and I was identified as a person that could articulate an argument. So many of my co-workers probed me to head up the union attempt.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of a union. My grandfather and several of my uncles were involved in the auto unions, I had listened to their stories over the years while growing up, and to be honest, I didn’t know if I wanted to grow up with their world outlook, so a union was something I was skeptical of. Never-the-less, I did take the challenge from my co-workers to approach the company president about bringing a union into our facility.

Basically, what happened was I arranged to have a meeting with the company president, and during the meeting I asked him squarely what his reaction would be if the employees brought a union into the shop. He smiled trying to cover a bit of panic, and replied, “We would shut down this facility.”

“Really,” I asked. “Just like that?”

“Yes” he said. “I couldn’t afford to operate under organized conditions.”

I stared him down and assessed whether or not he was lying to me, and I concluded that he wasn’t. The man wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but he had married into money and that was the basic path he had taken to become president of the company. He didn’t earn it by being the best executive. In fact, he often excelled at getting into trouble running around with other women, wrecking boats on the Ohio River, and all that kind of non-sense. That man was not motivated to keep the doors open to that manufacturing company because he really wasn’t interested in the challenge of management. He was only in the deal for a pay check and his father-in-law knew that. So I concluded that the fear in the man’s eyes was that he knew that about himself, that if he had to deal with a union, and shop stewards, and a lot more regulation and strikes, that the job would simply become too hard, and he’d be prone to just get drunk somewhere and collect his pay check in some other manner.

I told the employees all this after my meeting with the president, and they elected to not vote for the union.

Now, twenty years later, that company is one of the few companies around that is still in manufacturing and owned by the same people. Many of the guys that still work there and decided not to vote for a union that day are approaching retirement age and have made a decent living for a number of years because they still have a job. If they had voted, it’s highly likely that the company would have shut it’s doors and left taking those jobs with it, which is what happened to countless manufacturing jobs during the 80’s and 90’s.

To say over the years that I’ve worked in and around organized labor is an understatement. I decided long ago that if I needed representation, I’d do it on my own, so I never joined a union, even though I worked in shops that were a part of unions.

I was able to do that because all those shops had suffered difficult labor disputes that had weakened both sides. The union labor force had engaged in strikes that cost the companies a lot of money but they hurt themselves in the process. And the companies responded by hiring temps as part of a screening process. What these companies were really after was employees that were motivated, and not a part of the union. That’s where I came in.

Once I had my foot in the door, and could easily out-work my co-workers that were often “milking” the clock and holding back their production numbers, on purpose, I would become a management favorite, and this caused tension with the other employees.

So there would be fights in the parking lots, and in bathrooms, and on the shop floors. Not just once, or twice, but many, many times. What I didn’t tell many people was that I had a martial art background. I also rode my bicycle to work each day and have always been in fantastic shape. Many of those people that challenged me to fights smoked and within 15 seconds of a high adrenaline fight, were out of breath. So it really wasn’t difficult to prevail in these conflicts. Fights don’t occur in real life like they do in movies. Most people don’t get in too many fights, so their only experience is what they see on TV, and once they feel bones break in their faces, or in their hands when they punch incorrectly, and their lungs start burning for oxygen when the fight is just beginning they often panic when things don’t go their way within the opening seconds of a man to man conflict.

What I did that is probably different from other people is that I didn’t report these fights to upper management or try and get the perpetrators fired. I figured the embarrassment in front of their co-workers was enough, so I had the respect of many of my co-workers even though I wasn’t in the unions. This allowed us to co-exist to some extent. And what happened in every one of those companies, and I’m talking about at least three major companies in the area over the years, is the companies were sold to foreign investment. Because I wasn’t in the unions, members of management would speak to me, and would express their frustration at the inefficiencies of these companies, and ultimately all of them were sold to foreign companies, primarily in Europe. And the workers on the floor would stand around the coffee machine and complain to each other in a futile attempt to hold everything together. They’d complain to me as I rushed back to my job as soon as the break bell would ring and tell me how the company was “using me.”

Whatever, I was using the companies to make money for my family. Because the union people weren’t interested the productivity of the company, and believed that if they held back the production of these companies that the work would always be there. Instead, what often happened is once contracts went delinquent, other companies picked up the work because the people that bought from us weren’t going to hold up their operations because the supplier union labor couldn’t provide product on time. So our sales people lost as many contracts as they secured. And when they got the contracts I was always standing there with my hand up to work weekends and other overtime to make sure the company could deliver its customer requirements.

And the union guys would stand around the coffee machine and tell me, “Son, this company is using you. You just don’t see that.”

My common reaction is, “You aren’t my dad, but thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.”

I was happy with these labor arrangements, until the companies would ultimately sell off to the foreign buyers. That’s where I’d get into trouble, because under many union contracts, work reductions had to be done by seniority, and as a temp, or new guy on the totem poll, I was always at the bottom. And that was the first reaction of all the companies that were purchased, is they’d seek a work reduction to send a message, and get finances under control.

So I’d be out of a job while the union guys would still be standing around that coffee machine complaining. “We told you, son. They were just using you.”

I’d shake my head at how stupid they were, and how they failed to see how their actions had caused the sale of the companies to begin with, because of their lack of efficiency. In essence, the heads of these companies were reacting just like the president of the first company I mentioned. If things were too much of a pain in the ass, their reaction is to take the money and run. Secure a contract that is lucrative to investment, and get out while the getting is good. Move to Florida and play golf. Let the new buyers deal with the union.

At one of these last companies mentioned tensions had gotten really out of control, because it was well known that the company that was seeking to take over was very anti-union from England. They were hiring a head-hunter to come in and smash the union. So of course I was an instant favorite of the head-hunter. I could walk into his office the way I did with the President many years before and ask, “Are you going to have a lay-off. Everyone on the floor is tense and wants to know.”

“Young man,” he’d say to me, “If I have my way, you’ll be running this place. You are the hardest working son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot. You routinely have an efficiency rating of 150% and that’s outstanding, but, your buddies out there that are operating at 50% efficiency and 60% are killing this company, and I’m going to weed them out.”

So I’d go back out on the floor and tell everyone what was going on. This made the shop stewards extremely angry, because I was affecting their power base. And they didn’t want their union members coming to me for information instead of using them.

Of course the head-hunter knew what he was doing. He was using me to break up the unity on the floor, because I had the guts to come directly to him and open dialogue, while the union chose to play silly games. This led to a stand-off between me and four of the shop stewards.

These were sappy guys who thought that because they were over 230 pounds that it somehow made them tough. Most of the weight was in their stomachs. One day while I was using the restroom, all four shop stewards came in and gathered around me while I was doing my business, and was in a vulnerable spot.

“Better shut your God damn mouth, son.”

I finished my business and once I had my zipper up and my vulnerably nicely tucked away, I could reply. “You ain’t my dad, punk.”

Shocked the four guys looked at each other, and then the 1st shift steward stepped in front of me. “You want your ass kicked! We’re sick of your Fu**ing act around here. We’re sick of you undermining us. We’re sick of you exceeding rate, even though we’ve told you to stop, and we’re sick of you’re god-damn-bicycle-riding-symphony-orchestra-listening ass!”

“Too bad, punk.” I never broke eye contact with any of them, and I made sure to meet each one during the exchange.

One of the third shift stewards, I have no idea why there were two because there were fewer people on third than any shift, chimed in, seeing that this conversation was going south fast, “if we fight in here we’ll all be fired.”

The man in front of me looked at me. “You’d like that wouldn’t you? That’s probably you’re plan…..to get us fired. You’ve planned this out with your buddy. We all get fired, and then he rehires you when he gets the union out of here.”

“You’re just trying to cover up the fact that you’re all a bunch of pussies.” I meant it when I said it. Such a conversation had never occurred with the Head-Hunter, but these guys knew I was ready to fight all four of them right there, and they were looking for a way out of the conflict and a way to explain their reluctance to fight me to the rest of the shop. And I wasn’t going to let them off the hook.

“You can’t call us that!”

“I just did……punks!”

“Fine, you want your ass kicked, let’s meet after work.”

“Ok,” I said, “Let’s meet at the vacant lot across from the apartments.” There was an empty lot near our facility that we all knew about.

The four of them started back slapping and getting themselves all psyched up for the fight that would occur after work.

The whole building knew this fight was going to go on between me, and those four guys. So at the end of first shift, everyone rushed over to watch. I was the first one there and stood in the center of the empty lot waiting for the fight to begin.

The four guys drove up and down the road leading to the lot revving up their engines and screeching their tires like some silly peacocks fluffing their feathers. But they never pulled into the lot. After about 15 minutes they drove off in frustration, and the whole company knew what had happened. They failed to meet the challenge.

The next day, and there-after, things got quiet. The union fell to disarray and nobody believed in those four guys any longer.

I ended up leaving that company on my own and went to work for a company that wasn’t run by an English parent company.

Now for a number of years I’ve been on the other end of things and have had to hire employees myself. The employees you hire are the sum of their previous experience. In some cases, the best employees are the ones that are fresh even if they don’t have physical experience, because they haven’t been corrupted by those meetings around the coffee machine yet.

I’ve hired many people that have worked for major unions, particularly from the steel industry, and all of them have had problems of some kind. They have skills that are desirable, but culturally, they have problems. They are the employees that cause the most trouble with other employees, and it appears they learned those tactics from the radicalized union behavior they experienced in their previous employment. Several of these employees have sat in front of me during reviews and demanded money comparable to what they made as union employees, and you have to be tactful how you explain to them that if they hadn’t made so much money in those positions, they would probably still be working there. These are the first employees to try and create legal trouble for you if you hire them and then find they are trouble, because they believe in the radical notion of it’s “us against them” “them” being management and ownership.

I have tried to help these types of employees under my leadership, and I have been burnt every way possible by them. My belief are that if you show them honesty, trust, empowerment, and those kinds of traits, they take it as a sign of weakness and seek to manipulate events behind your back.

I can only compare these former union employees to dogs that my wife and I have adopted from the pound. Now I am all for adopting pets, so don’t let my next comments discourage you from adopting an animal. Love can go a long way to helping those animals, and they need it. But, every dog I’ve ever risen that I got from a pound, which was an adult, I’ve had trouble with, because raising an animal from a puppy allows you to establish good patterns with the animal. Once they are adult dogs, those old habits are hard to break. Not impossible, but difficult.

My soft spots for abandoned animals sometimes moves over into people, and I have tried to help many lost people that have stumbled through life and had what seems like hard luck. But what you often find is just like those stray dogs, people are sometimes broken beyond repair, at least from a boss’s good intentions, and they will turn on you in a second no matter how kind you are to them.

Because at heart, they are broken, those union employees have been radicalized and truly believe that they are “owed” something and they seek to manipulate the world around them and will use your good will as empowerment to do mischief.

So in the future, I will be cautious of hiring union employees. I will if they are qualified, but I will look hard at their resumes and ask them extremely probing questions, because now I’ve seen union behavior at many levels, including how it works out in Hollywood, which is something outside my normal experience.

I did a thing for a friend of mine that involved fire whips, so they flew me out to work on a promo piece for some of the major studios to help develop a Real D 3D camera system. It was supposed to be an informal deal. During the shoot, I had a bit of an argument with the set “grip” because he insisted on handling my fire whip equipment, which was the fuel I used, the fire extinguishers and the whips themselves. Since there were only a handful of people in the country that handle fire whips, it was impossible for the guy to safely do anything with them, so I had to swat him back to the camera track and out of my way while I set up the shot, which he did an excessive amount of complaining to the director. But during that experience, I sat and listened to the make-up people complain just like the fabricators standing around the coffee machine, the camera people making tremendous demands on the producers, people complaining about the food that the catering truck brought, and actors complaining about having to share trailer time. After that experience, I can see clearly films that have been ruined because the people behind the films stayed to strict union rules. California’s labor unions have pushed films into other countries. I now understand why George Lucas makes his films in Australia, and England. He doesn’t want to deal with all that mess, and it shows in the films he’s made. You can actually tell if you know what you’re looking for.

Organized labor is a nice idea. But what ends up happening is that the worst in human nature is allowed to exist protected by the lack of competition. I can name numerous incidents where people like the Lakota Teacher that was busted for child pornography became corrupt because he doesn’t have to worry about his job and being terminated, and his income is secure so he didn’t have to worry about money, and the mind denigrates over time to the vices that exist in the backs of a broken mind. It works the other way too, I’ve known many, many born-again Christians that were former drug abusers or alcoholics that can use the extra time reading the bible and becoming clean. But most of the time, the security provided by organized labor breeds contempt and allows the employees minds to slide into a corrupt state of mischief. And for those of you who will say I’m not a psychologist and not qualified to make that statement, I’ll tell you this. I earned my opinions from the power of knowledge and observation, not some pin head without any life experience. And I’m a lot more qualified than most to cast an opinion because of my experience.

When the mind is void of competition, it rots. When a human being does not have to worry about losing a wife, he tends to abuse her either physically or mentally or both. When a person does not worry about losing their job, or competing to stay valuable, they become lazy. And when they don’t have to worry about where their money is coming from or the limits of not having enough, their minds have time to meditate on their vices.

Those are facts of life. My strategy has always been to show my employers how much money I can make them, then ask directly for the days off I need. So this is my answer to the question posed as to whether I like my weekends or not. I would have negotiated my own deal, so I do not have a union to thank for those things in my life. And I don’t see ANY value in organized labor based on my personal experience. They collectively bargain in mass and intimidation to hide their own laziness and have cost this country millions and millions of jobs and loss of GNP. They can’t argue directly. All they can do is make threats of violence or work stoppage, or vandalism. And that makes them thugs.

They can write me the nasty letters which I’ll laugh at, because I know the mind behind them is rotten. And I’ll keep those letters to prove my point at a future time when it will matter. (wink)

Rich Hoffman
http://twitter.com/#!/overmanwarrior
www.overmanwarrior.com

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