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Unions - My Story

Private Sector Union Members
Private Sector
Union Members

Posted on March 5, 2011

Private Sector Union: In my youth, after a four-year stint in the navy, I began the odyssey for making myself a living. The navy had done a pretty-good job preparing me for a future as an electrician. Upon completing my tour, I emerged as a pay grade E-5 Electrician (Second Class Petty Officer) which was equivalent to a low-level sergeant in the army. The navy had sent me to several schools, one of which I wound up as an instructor.

It was with these credentials that I sought to let the world know that I had arrived, but I quickly learned, I might as well have been back in kindergarten. The world of civilian electrical work was vastly different from the work in the navy. Cables were different, methods were different, civilians used conduit, and the devices were different. The only similarity between the two was electrical theory.

I learned quickly that to make a decent living, you had to belong to a union. But the unions, unlike now, did not invite you to join. Most locals of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) had closed their books to new membership, and without the union ticket, you could not work on any union projects. A ticket was your current dues receipt and classification.

I started working in the shipyards where membership was not required and, in the case of Jacksonville Shipyards, they had the IWU or Independent Workers Union, which actually did nothing for their members. Those independent unions were the creation of management to pacify those who were screaming that they needed a union while at the same time, kept the international unions out.

I was able to use my navy experience in the shipyards and was soon heading up various repair projects. My shipyard experiences led me to Pascagoula, MS where I was finally able to join the IBEW as a Marine Journeyman Wireman. Joining the IBEW was a significant step for me. It had taken 2 years to finally become a member. Being a member in the IBEW meant the difference between making 3 dollars an hour and 7 dollars an hour as a civilian construction Journeyman Wireman. That was huge back in 1969. But not so fast, I still didn’t have the skills needed for civilian construction. That detail meant working at Ingalls Shipyard in the maintenance division to hone civilian electrical skills. Working in maintenance was a good place to learn, because the work was half-marine, and half-civilian. The civilian half maintained the yard proper and required those skills such as conduit bending, using civilian cables, and working with both high and low voltage.

After spending two years at Ingalls Shipyard, I finally went on the road as a ‘traveler’ or out-of-town guest construction electrician affectionately known as a ‘tramp’. First stop – Richmond, Virginia. Ahhh! Local 666, I still have a lot of good memories from working there. Best of all, I managed to pay off the bills that had been haunting me for two years. Pay was over $7.00/hr and things were good. You can talk all you want about unions, but it was the good pay and jobs I received because of my membership in the IBEW that pulled my fat out of the fire. For the first time, I was able to buy a car, rent a decent place to live, and pay off the bills I had acquired with a couple of local Mississippi loan companies. Those little loan companies were the forerunner of the payday loan outfits that have sprung up all over the place.

I worked union jobs until 1979 when I went to work for ODECO, an offshore drilling company. However, I maintained my union ticket and finally retired from the union in 2001. In fact, I draw a pension from the IBEW and am still grateful for the opportunities I received from them.

The IBEW is a private-sector union. Private sector unions are not to be confused with public-sector unions. Public sector unions, because of their unholy alliance with politicians disgrace the union cause. The government is not like the private sector. For instance, IBEW locals have to negotiate with the contractors that have to pay those wages and benefits. Public sector unions negotiate with politicians who have no skin in the game. The taxpaying public gets stuck with paying for whatever the politicians and union officials agree to. Public sector unions spend millions to elect those politicians who are sympathetic to their cause and stack the deck against the people paying the bills.

Politicians who take campaign funds from the public sector unions have a conflict of interest. They cannot represent both sides of negotiations. In effect, the system allows the unions to select the state negotiators. Because of the contributions to those politicians by public sector unions, the unions own the politicians. Do you want to take a guess about the outcome of the negotiations when one side holds all the cards?

The whole idea of a public sector union is a conflict of interest. The present system does not properly represent the public. If we have to allow public workers unions, then taxpayers should vote on wage and benefit proposals. The taxpayer needs representation by somebody other than bought and paid for politicians who owe their allegiance to the unions.

Remember, politicians have nothing but their reelection at stake during these negotiations. They are not the ones who will have to pony up the money for those wage and benefit packages. Without having skin in the game, the politicians are free to curry favor with the unions at the taxpayer’s expense. I write this article because I wanted to express my support for private sector unions. But public sector unions are another matter. We should abolish public sector unions or, reconstitute them to be more reflective of the people who have to pay the bills.

To conclude, I see no problems with private sector unions raising money for politicians. But even in the private sector unions there is the problem of members' dues going to candidates they would not otherwise support. But that problem is far less severe than the problems with public sector unions. To have an effective voice, the private sector unions must act as one or there is simply no point in donating to any politician or political group. And please note, the private sector union political donations help keep the country from the extreme right, just as conservative contributors help keep the country from the extreme left. It is an artful dodge we make as a society to maintain equilibrium.

Trade Union Comment:"Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor."
- JOHN F. KENNEDY, speech, Aug. 30, 1960


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