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I thought that it might be instructive to share how I've come to discuss unions with my father, since there are a lot of people out there who hate them (obviously not so much on DK, but I'm sure we all know a few).  As I wrote in my intro diary, I was raised in a pretty conservative (and fairly poor) household.  My parents split, and while they would have been probably around middle class together, they certainly weren't when they were apart.  My dad was a mechanic by trade.  He had gotten his degree in biology, then started working on diesel vehicles.  Mainly though, he wanted to farm.  

He bought a 40-acre farm, and basically quit going to work.  He was good enough at his job that they didn't just fire him; of course, this didn't go over with Mom very well.  After a while, she was tired of working to make farm payments, and he was tired of her not shutting up and doing as she was told (I think that's how it went roughly).  

Shortening the story a bit, we can cut to the chase: my dad quit a solid-paying job to grind out a living on a small farm.  It was a crappy existence, but he hated working FOR someone, having to be on the clock, and showing up every day.  

He has a fairly rabid dislike of unions.  I wouldn't call it a hatred exactly, but something that gets him fired up.  His dislike doesn't stem from some strong personal convictions against unions, but from jealousy, more or less.  He chose a hard life, while they chose a hard life with retirement.

A sample conversation goes like this:

"I was talking to this teacher.  She makes $60,000/year, and she's going to retire in 3 years!  And all she does is TEACH!  And then she's going to go back to work for the government AND STILL COLLECT RETIREMENT.

He's pretty offended by the idea of someone else having such a sweet deal while he grinds out his hours on the farm.

Instead of letting him troll me, I've taken to framing the subject when he goes off.  

Dad, I'd love to teach.  I'd be a good teacher, but I won't teach for 3/4 of what I can make as an accountant.  They go to school as long, or longer than me.  They're expected to either have a masters, or earn one quickly, for a job that averages less than I'm making as a staff accountant (I know that's maybe not the BEST source, but it's what I came up with.  Also, Montana teacher salaries kind of suck).  They are professionals, who are teaching our kids!  They have also negotiated the retirements!  They take crap pay, okay benefits, and a solid retirement!  That teacher you're upset about?  I WILL BE OUTEARNING HER IN FIVE YEARS!  WITH NO MASTERS!  
So, step one: I directly attack his idea that union members are somehow horrible people who are filthy rich because UNIONZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

More below the flapjack.

Well, the Unions may not be that bad, but the presidents and union administrators make too much!  They're getting rich!
I end up trying to frame this as well.
Dad, these people are basically an HR department.  They're basically executives.  They're running a bunch of guys, ensuring they're taken care of, and administrating.
This tends to slow him down a bit.  Finally, he tends to fall back onto the "business-destruction" aspect.

Well, that fine, but you see these auto-guys, they work on an assembly line, then retire!  They aren't doing work that's all that hard!  Why should they be able to force the company to pay them the way they do?!

This one is a bit weird: I don't TOTALLY disagree with him, in terms of the complexity of the work, but it is hard work.  Here's how I respond:

They may not have the most complex job, but it's hard work, and they negotiated the deal that they negotiated.  They took crappy pay in exchange for a nice retirement.  Plus, they didn't hold a gun to the company's head: the company negotiated the deal to save money on wages up front!  Unions are important!  If one man gets in trouble with his company, he's at the mercy of HR.  If he is a union member, unless he truly did something wrong (as opposed to pissing someone off), he will be protected!
He hasn't exactly fallen in love with unions as a result of our discussions, but he's a bit less rabid.  I dunno if this is helpful, but it helped me to give him a chance to present his issues and refute them, rather than simply arguing back something like, "Well, unions are good and companies are bad!"  

I welcome your feedback.  How do you talk about unions with friends and family members who tend to breath the "Unions are BADUHHHH" line?

Originally posted to TylerJ on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 06:29 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  All she does is teach (12+ / 0-)

    It's obvious that your father has never been a teacher.

    ¡Cállate o despertarás la izquierda! - protest sign in Spain

    by gjohnsit on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 06:36:22 AM PST

  •   I'm getting that your father is of the opinion (8+ / 0-)

    that if you don't break a sweat, you aren't really working.

    OK, if your dad works on a farm, I'm assuming he owns major farm equipment (tractors, harvesters, whatever). Ask him if his success is dependent on that equipment running properly. Then ask him about the people who assembled that equipment. Does he think that the job they do is pivotal to his being able to run his farm? Ask him how he feels when he gets into his car or truck and goes out on the road. All the vehicles around him are assembled by someone. Does he think it is important to his safety that all those vehicles were assembled properly? What about the people who make the tires, forge the engine blocks, assemble the  electrical componenets? Does he think the jobs these people do are important?

    Hopefully you can get him to see that a lot of what makes his work possible is the work of a lot of other people. It may not be the same physical labor, but it is vitally important. Then point out that unions work to make sure these workers are taken care of. A lot of union activity has been around worker safety issues. Happy, safe workers make better products. You really don't want the guy assembling your car's brake system to be fighting off the flu and couldn't stay home because his employer doesn't offer healthcare or sick days. Unions can even bring the ideas for job improvement from the workers to management.

    You might even point out that farmers have a union of sorts.  The Grange is still around and was set up to represent the interest of farm families.

    Don't know if you'll change his mind, but hopefully he can see that he has more in common with the workers that not.

    "Life is too important to be taken seriously" Oscar Wilde

    by Annie B on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 07:11:37 AM PST

    •  This is weird too (5+ / 0-)

      He always wanted us (his children) to get jobs that weren't manual-labor intensive.  I honestly think it's simply a case of not identifying with union members and listening to too much crazyradio.

    •  I read a story years ago (5+ / 0-)

      probably in Reader's Digest so you can take it for what it's worth:

      a gummint beeyourocrat was going around in support of a raise for state college professors.  He was in front of a group of farmers and wondering how he was going to convince this group of hard working men that paying a professor such a salary to teach maybe three-four classes was worthwhile.  He finally came up with this inspiration,,,

      "A college professor is like a bull. It's not how long he works, it's the importance of what he does."

      We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

      by bmcphail on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 07:53:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good to hear that you (7+ / 0-)

    at least got your Dad thinking. Most of the union haters I run into are younger than your Dad (probably) and could benefit from being in a union but as "rugged individualists" (aka, suckers) they refuse to see it. But things change.

    "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

    by tardis10 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 07:20:59 AM PST

  •  A couple of weeks ago (8+ / 0-)

    was visiting relatives, my uncle remarked "looks like the unions have killed Hostess".   If you knew my family you would understand how futile it is to argue with them about politics and religion.  I just said "I bet you wish it were that easy, don't you?"

    Funny thing is, he and his brothers were all electricians.  He worked independently and his brothers were IBEW with good retirements.  He's still working at 68.

  •  The value of union membership (8+ / 0-)

    My Father worked for a railroad hauling coal from the West Virginia mines to the steel mills of Pittsburgh. He belonged to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. Because of his union he was paid a living wage that fed, clothed and housed me, my four brothers and our Mother who was a stay-at-home Mom. My parents could afford to own the house I grew up in. Because of the union my Father was not a slave to the company he worked for. Because of the union we were protected with health insurance. Because of the union my Father had paid vacations to spend quality time with his family. Because of the union my parents were able to retire, modestly, on a pension paid solely through employee contributions. Because of the union and what it provided my family I had the opportunity to go to college (the first member of my family) and later to law school (also a first for the family). Unions are an integral part of creating and maintaining a strong and vibrant middle class and upward mobility. They are also integral to maintaining an enlightened electorate. Therein lies the primary reason for Republican dislike (hated?) of unions. Union members vote and they usually do not vote R.  

  •  Anything that can break through, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10, SilentBrook

    or even make a dent, in that massive stone-wall of denial and rw "i got mine" propaganda is golden, imo.


    Handmade holiday gifts from Jan4insight on Zibbet. Get 10%off everytime with coupon code KOSSACK.

    by jan4insight on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 08:31:58 AM PST

  •  Complaining about unions (5+ / 0-)

    I found it interesting, but not surprising, that your dad picked the UAW as his bad boy example for unions. My typical reply to complaints about the UAW is as follows.

    The UAW only builds cars they're told to build. They don't design them, pick production numbers, pick which vehicles are built, set the prices, safety test or market them. Those things are done by "management" under the guidance of a CEO. When the auto companies are making billions, management and the CEO accept the accolades and praise but we hear little or nothing about the unions role in the success.  But when profits head south, the union is automatically targeted as the reason for the failure or the companies inability to recover. It's a classic misdirection that takes the focus off the failure of management to keep the company profitable.

    The most recent example is when gas rose over $4.00/gallon Detroit lost billions because they had tossed all their eggs into the SUV basket. The unions had nothing to do with that decision to build, almost exclusively, SUV's, yet were implicated in the management/CEO failure to anticipate what would happen if the price of gas went up. A narrow minded oversight isasmuch as the price of gas has, on average, always increased.

    No being has inherent power, only the illusion of power granted by others who similarly have none.

    by Mark701 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 08:32:55 AM PST

  •  Many union members have similar feelings... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SilentBrook, Oh Mary Oh

    It's a dirty little secret, but while most dues-paying members like the idea of union and the wage supports...they mistrust their officers and negotiations.

    I am a layed-off Adult Ed teacher in Los Angeles. The Adult Division has a separate contract apart from K-12.

    After the RIFs were announced for June 2012, lots of irregularities emerged in the 400-age contract that was signed years before. Without boring with the details, rules as to Permanent Status and Seniority/Longevity had been changed and virtually none of us knew it. These were not noticed or communicated to members at signing - since all that is handed out to members is a page of key bullet points: salary and benefits.

    Add to this, morale losses due to negotiating bi-level contracts that shafted new teachers. Cronyism and favoritism.  Poorly drafted contracts done by volunteers without legal assistance.

     Unfortunately, it's darn hard to get a good selection of members willing to volunteer for union roles, so it ends up being the usual suspects. And to be fair, many, many of them are stellar and committed - and lost their jobs too.

    I was devastated to learn that 40% of union households voted to sustain Scott Walker. But all is not well in union-land, it's not the 30's anymore.

  •  My mom's journey (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    Mom grew up in/near small town in western PA. Her father was, without putting too fine a point on it, a bigot and an extreme conservative (which would probably place him slightly left of the current center of gravity in today's GOP).

    When All in the Family started, my father hated it because, "why would I want to watch a show about a jerk like my FIL". That conservative. In spite of his history away from the big city and its union denizens, he despised unions. As you might well expect of such a man.

    About 10 years ago, my mom was working her final job before retirement. While the salary/bennies were good enough for that purpose, there were very few people she liked at work. One person who she did like was the union rep. After a while, that friend asked my mom to become the shop steward. Based on those biases planted by my grandpa in her childhood psyche, she was very hesitant. But she trusted this friend, and chose to support her (explicitely, not the union) by tackling the role.

    About 9 years ago, my mom came to a union convention here in Chicago, where I've been since '01, and we had a chance to talk. She told me the story of her upbringing re unions and these bias scripts, and of how glad she was to have become active with the union, of how this was yet another instance of her father's polemics not living up to her real world experiences that had otherwise made her a liberal. And she told me of how good the keynote speaker at the convention had been. He was then-State Senator Barrack Obama.

    A winning campaign? You didn't build that...

    by SilentBrook on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 12:41:09 PM PST

  •  It sounds like your dad is tired (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    Farming is a hard thing to break into and a hard thing to keep doing. Most small farmers, unless they have outside income, have a rough go of it. Even when they get a break, it's usually time to repair equipment or do some of the other 40 million things that are left undone during planting and tending and harvesting or shearing or slaughtering or hauling or spraying or whatever. Add in livestock and the job is 24/7/365.

    Even for those in the best of health and energy, it's a hard job.

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