Anyone who calls me anti-union simply doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. Labor unions are an important part of American industry, and when their leaders truly are interested in the welfare of workers, the positives may outweigh the negatives. A step back into the past reveals many strong arguments in favor of union existence, and I am one who has always believed in learning from the past.
Reverend Martin Luther King believed the union movement had earned high marks.
History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the standard of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.
Two presidents - one from each political spectrum - agreed with Dr. King’s view. John F. Kennedy wrote, “The American Labor Movement has consistently demonstrated its devotion to the public interest. It is, and has been, good for all America.” Dwight D. Eisenhower believed “only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of their right to join the union of their choice.”
And finally, words from the man I was about to wage war with, SEIU president Andy Stern: “Today I send this message to every emerging global corporation: justice, family community, and union are the same in every language and, wherever you go and whatever you do, a new global labor movement is coming to find you.”
As I soon learned, Stern meant what he said, and he and his union organizers were coming after me, and although most folks might be more familiar with the AFL-CIO, or the Teamsters Union made famous by their infamous leader James Riddle Hoffa, the Service Employees International Union had at least four important elements necessary to launch its crusade to infiltrate every global company: strength, power, money, and perhaps most important as I took them on, political power. Was I truly the “fool” President Eisenhower described above, was I being foolish in trying to dodge the SEIU, to keep them off our property and out of our business, to deny them what they believed was their right to unionize EMS? When organizers first contacted me in 2006, these were questions I asked with no clear answers readily available.
To better understand why I made the choice I did, one must understand how unions evolved in this country and what they were established to represent. Once this is clear, then focusing on the SEIU, their evolution and their march toward power and political influence follows.
To be certain, labor unions were the product of the endless relationship between workers and management stretching back to the early seventeenth century when English planters founding Jamestown complained about the lack of laborers available for duty. In 1786, just a year before the Constitution was adopted, Philadelphia printers staged a strike over lack of a good wage. A few years later, carpenters from the City of Brotherly Love did likewise based on their desire for a 10-hour work day “bill of rights.”
Unions were first formed about this time, but they didn’t band together in force until after the Civil War with the formation of the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor. In 1886, London-born Samuel Gompers organized the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and fought to secure shorter hours and better pay for members through organization and collective bargaining. By 1904, more than a million seven hundred thousand members belonged, including those with various occupations including building laborers, musicians, electrical workers and other skilled crafts.
More than forty years later, John L. Lewis would add to the union movement with the establishment of the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO). Lewis backed F.D.R. for president to the extent of telling workers “The president wants you to join the union.”
After World War II, the two labor unions merged as the AFL-CIO with Lewis at the helm. Prominent during this time was also the United Auto Workers led by Walter Reuther. He organized major strikes in 1946 while rooting out any Communist infiltration.
Restrictions on union activities occurred a year later through adoption of the Taft-Hartley Act. President Harry S. Truman called it a “slave labor bill,” and vetoed it before an override made it law. The bill addressed concerns over unfair labor practices, jurisdictional strikes, and picketing. In 1955, powerful leader George Meany was chosen to lead the AFL-CIO. Based on his resolve, four years later the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act was passed establishing a bill of rights for unions due to concerns over the ingestion of organized crime figures into the mix. Free speech and assembly were guaranteed along with safeguards from unworthy punishment, the right to vote regarding dues, and the right to participate in union activities. More democratic rights thus existed in addition to standards being established to protect union funds. Guidelines to elect leaders were secured through fair and non-arbitrary elections. Transparency was the call of the day with members having the right of notification fifteen days before elections. No union funds could be used for promotion of candidates with elections held at least once every three years. Most important, to hinder any repercussions against members concerning their voting rights, the voting was required to be completed by secret ballot with impartial election observers alongside to make certain no corruption occurred.
Such safeguards were essential to union member’s rights since the goal was for the union to protect interests regarding working hours, wages, and especially work conditions. Soon nearly every occupation had representation including police officers, airline pilots, doctors, writers, film producers and directors, actors, teachers, and factory workers. Instead of each individual member having to secure their rights, the union was established to do it for them through collective bargaining and other procedures. People did not feel they were alone, but had the strength of unity behind them especially when grievance situations occurred. Then the union stood up for the little guy or gal, and represented their best interest. What could be more American that this?
Companies that chose to recognize union representation could do so, or a majority of the workers could decide to unionize. Any attempt by the employer to dissuade union formation through threats or intimidation, or especially recrimination such as firing employees who advocated unions was strictly forbidden. The flip side was that unions could not threaten or intimidate workers into forming a union, one specific reason for the evolution of the secret-ballot vote, a true protection providing the guarantee of freedom of choice for each worker. When union members felt they were being unfairly treated, the right to strike permitted them power and leverage to gain the changes they felt necessary at the particular business.
Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, Congress had permitted workers the freedom of choice to be represented if they wished to do so, provided them protections against discrimination, and created a board to oversee management-union disagreements regarding their legality. Despite these protections, unions fell into corruption during the reign of certain labor leaders such as James Hoffa who many felt were more interested in lining their own pockets with gold than caring about the union members. Crusaders such as Attorney General Robert Kennedy sought to rid the unions of such leaders, and during the early 1960s, Hoffa and others landed in prison for their crimes. Violence and intimidation had been Hoffa’s calling card, but his imprisonment did not stop more violence occurring in 1970 when United Mine Workers reform candidate Joseph Yablonski was murdered at this Pennsylvania home. This decade also witnessed the United State Postal Service mass strike and the United Farm Workers protests, led by Cesar Chavez, against California Grape Growers. In 1979, the ruthlessness of employers bent on destroying unionizations was characterized in the successful film, Norma Rae, starring Sally Field.
In the late 1970s, more than twenty million workers belonged to unions marking an all-time high. During the 1980s, the plight of workers was once again front and center when Lech Wal?sa, later to win the Nobel Peace Prize, led a group of Solidary workers protesting government intervention at the Gda?sk Shipyard in Poland. Nearly a year later, the air traffic controllers struck over rejection of a government contract with President Ronald Reagan dismissing the strikers at will.
As the 1990s progressed into the early part of the twenty-first century, unions, based on a number of factors, declined in importance with union membership in the range of sixteen to seventeen percent, or lower. Strong shifts in job location also began to affect the work force as more jobs became available in the western and southern states where union organizing was more difficult. Women’s entry into the work force in larger numbers was also a contributing factor to the number of people joining unions since fewer women normally joined than men.
Many of those noting the decline of union influence in the United States laid the blame squarely on management, but other factors impacted the decline as well. Certainly the increase of foreign competition as well as the deregulation of many industries including airline travel, trucking, and rail shipping led to uncertain times. Foreign imports, the enemies of many companies who have seen their profits decrease due to the global ability to under price American goods and services, also contributed to the crisis. Management, in turn, complained that if the union demanded high wages, excessive health care benefits, and unwarranted retirement security, cost of goods increased substantially and the company could no longer be competitive. In 2008/2009, this was the cry from those lamenting the demise of the American auto industry where many workers, including hourly wage and benefits, were earning more than sixty-five dollars per hour.
All of these factors and more led to decreases in union membership and thus decreased revenue from dues. During the mid-twentieth century more than thirty percent of the work force belonged to unions as compared to less than 15% in 2004 and about 12% now with many of those government or public workers. One thing to remember – unions like SEIU are businesses too, non-profits yes, but businesses that must worry about the bottom line like any company existing today. They depend on revenues just like a normal business does to continue to exist. The revenues from dues are the lifeblood of the union along with donations or support from other entities. But unlike normal businesses operated with a capitalistic approach fighting for market share, the unions, at least the SEIU, operates under a structure replete with lack of integrity while using threat and intimidation as their calling card so as to impose unionization on those companies like ours who don’t want, and really don’t need, them around. It’s like forced marriage, telling someone they have to link up with another person they don’t want in their life. And, in SEIU’s case, doing it with poor business practices, lies, and other means that are just a smidgeon short of being illegal since officials always allege wrongdoing, but never accuse. Employees targeted are normally those who are naïve, easily manipulated, intimidated, have an ax to grind, or have a chip on their shoulder and are willing to give up their freedom and let themselves be controlled by union organizers who are much more interested in their own survival than the employees.
In effect, many of the unions like SEIU have been trying to sell a product the American people don’t want or need to buy. When EMS had an accountant take a gander at how the SEIU spends its money, he remarked “What a sleazy group” since very little of the hard-earned money goes to directly helping the plight of the union members in the form of wage increases, benefits, and other matters improving working conditions. Many times unions like the SEIU take advantage of people who are mis-informed and unfortunately believe much of the propaganda Andy Stern and his colleagues pitch at them, especially those at entry level positions like janitors, food service workers, security guards, day care center helpers, etc. If they took a close look at why they joined the union in the first place, and whether their way of life has really improved, they might reconsider being a union member especially at companies like EMS where the employees enjoy their jobs because they are treated right from the day they are hired.
Regardless, in the non-manufacturing sector where businesses such as EMS operate, union leaders decided to take decisive action to fight back and restore unions to their rightful place. One such leader was Andy Stern, who, as the newly elected president of the SEIU, separated it from the AFL-CIO in 2005 when they would not back his reforms. The table was thus set for the controversial Stern and his union to begin a crusade to unionize as many non-manufacturing companies as possible. As a part of this strategy, EMS was squarely within Andy’s crosshairs.