Labor Day, A Time To Think About Union Jobs
Are You Getting Paid For Your Time, Your Skills, and Your Body?

by James Glaser
September 1, 2003

It was twenty degrees below zero and I was building a plastic shelter around a concrete form for a new Boise Cascade pollution control building in International Falls, Minnesota. Conditions had been brutal all winter, but it was a union job and I was making money, with three kids and a new house, I felt lucky to be working for the winter as so many others were living on unemployment checks.

When the temperatures fall below zero injuries start increasing. Frozen fingers, frost bite, and broken bones from falls walking on slippery scaffolds. You start out in the morning with many layers of clothes, shedding them as work heats up the body and then freezing every time there is a slow down.

That winter was my first working for the union and it was great. Unlike other jobs I have had, this was my first job that both the company and the people I was working for really stressed safety. Here was a job that bosses kept telling us to think about doing the job right, quality was a good word on this job. I would never have believed it before working there, but the work seemed to go faster than other non-union jobs I had been on.

We were working a team system, where two carpenters worked together and after a while working with the same guy, things would be going so well that people had to stop you to take a break. Days flew by, mistakes were minimal, and you could see real pride in everyone's work.

This job was back in the 1970s, I had just finished up a stint in the Marines and thought I was in shape. All the guys on my crew were going out on work nights and they were there every morning ready to go. I was going home, taking a shower, and going to bed. I think it took me over a month to get into condition so that I wasn't falling behind. Eight to twelve hours a day climbing scaffolds, carrying plywood and metal forms, plus having a tool belt with everything you might need was killing me those first few weeks.

There were guys in their fifties that could run right by me in the afternoon, but everyone encouraged me and said it would get better and they were right. After that winter with the union, I knew I had found the best place to work. I stayed with union work until an injury forced me to build a workshop at home and build furniture.

The friendships I made working all over the state with men and now women in lots of unions have continued. I always liked the fact that union people were proud of their work and tried hard to buy American products, hopefully made by other union people.

For years I have had to listen to everyone from office workers to doctors complain about how much money union people made and how they were ruining the country. Sometimes I wouldn't say anything as I could tell the person was repeating a right wing Republican line he heard from his dad. More often than not though I would take the time to explain what it is like to work heavy construction for a union company.

The first thing I would explain would be how union workers are not only giving that company eight or more hours a day for their pay, but they were also giving their bodies. Go out on any job today and look at the average age. If you are near retirement, look back on your career and start counting all the people that were hurt bad, many can even count those that died on the job.

Think about how many guys have taken a fall. Start looking at how many old block layers there are. How many older construction workers can still play golf? Many have destroyed their bodies making that "big money."

I know so many carpenters that have blown out their elbow, backs? Thousands. There is a reason they call it Heavy construction. It is brutal work that destroys your body in the long term even if you have managed to avoid one of the many accidents that happen on every job.

I actually feel bad when I see an obvious non-union crew putting up a big hotel or office building. You can spot a non-union job as workers are climbing scaffolds with no safety rails, no hard hats and building materials laying all over the place just waiting for someone to trip on them. Usually you never see an American flag flying above the job either.

Working a union job instills a lot of pride in the workers, when it is finished, years later you can go by that building or drive across that bridge and tell your kids, "I built that."

But you know what, without a lot of work from current union workers and retired union people our children and grandchildren won't be able to say those same words. After all the sacrifice that former workers and their families made to get us strong unions, one must remember that union families suffered in every strike along with their parent who was striking for future benefits.

Right today many of the construction workers in major cities can't even speak English, let alone are they a citizen. Not only does America export jobs to foreign countries, now we import cheap labor to take your kids job. Think about that for a while.

So next time some jerk is going on about unions and how they make everything so expensive with their work rules and wages, try educating him or her. Talk about the pride of doing a good job for decent pay. Talk about the rate of debilitating injuries on every job. Most important today, talk about foreign workers taking the future from American workers, maybe their kids future.

Then when election time comes around, don't let the old timers do everything, get out there with your kids, work to elect people that respect your job. Be careful too, because there are Democrats that don't give a hoot for your job and yes there are even some Republicans that do. It is our future and if we want a good one for our kids, we will put in the time and effort that our parents did to make sure there was a union for us.

You would think that having a Union was a Right in America today, but it is not. Unions are built by people that demand to be treated with respect and be compensated for the labor they give along with the body the job takes.


One American Soldier died and two were wounded in Iraq Saturday


One American Special Ops Soldier was killed in a fall Friday night during an operation.

Two American Soldiers were killed and one wounded in a clash with Guerilla fighters northwest of Shkin in Afghanistan

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