18 August 2009

The Time the Union Guys Came

This was in the early 1980s: it must have been 1981 or 1982. It was a very different world. In those days, the Administration had a different structure and completely different personnel. Ed Hall and Patsy Harris were in charge; both are long gone now. Elmer ruled the Board with an iron fist. There are probably only a dozen or so current staffers who remember those times.

I was but a novice, a newly-hired LA with bright eyes and blissful ignorance of all that was going on.

It was a dark time for the System. Budgets were tight, and tensions between the Administration and the rank-and-file were high. Tempers were very strong on both sides. And eventually, someone unofficially contacted a Union organizer to come speak to the staff.

The meeting was scheduled for one evening after work time, at the Knights of Columbus Center. Ed Hall and Elmer, who were both completely livid, contacted one of Elmer's friends who was high up in the Knights of Columbus and had the Center shut down and locked. So the meeting took place in the parking lot.

I would say that a majority of the staff was there to hear what these Union guys would say. The Administration was absent.

What transpired was an education to this young waif. The Union guy, who looked like a stereotypical stevedore, jumped up on the back of a pickup truck to address the multitudes. He was flanked by a couple of associates who looked as scary as him. I firmly remember that they did not carry torches, although it seemed like they did.

The Union guy proceeded to tell us that if we wanted a Union, he would get us a Union. "We'll do whatever we have to. We'll bash in car windows. We'll bust heads. We'll get you a Union."

The crowd was silent. It was clear that no one had been thinking in terms of bashed windows and busted heads. (Well, maybe one guy was. He left the System not long after.)

Finally, the Union guys distributed cards for everyone to sign & turn in if they were interested in the Union. Those cards listed the Union dues, which were over $100 a month and possibly more...certainly much more than our hardworking, underpaid staff would ever consider. (I guess all that window-bashing and head-busting wasn't cheap.) The dues, even more than the scary talk, effectively killed any interest in the Union. We never heard anything else about it.

Things have changed since then, and it's a completely different world. I'm sure Unions of today are a lot different than they were in those days of yore. But I will always remember that scary night, under the glare of parking lot lights, when the Union guys came to assure us that they would bust heads if they needed to...and probably did the Administration a much bigger favor than Ed and Elmer every realized.

If you remember that time (and you know who you are), leave a comment.