Happy Labor Day! Let Me Tell You a Little Union Story …

Labor Day. It’s that one holiday in the US which basically no one knows how to celebrate. Are we supposed to go to work or not? Aside from eat too much food, what else is there for us to do? Maybe raise our glasses in a toast to the unemployment rate? Or have a moment of silence for the damage that organized labor has done to American jobs, product quality, and international competitiveness?

Yeah. Labor Day is a bit of a depressing holiday really. Not to be a wet blanket, but let me tell you a little story about the only time I was ever in a union.

Once upon a time, I was living in Monterey, California. I was twenty years old, and I really needed a job. After searching around and applying a few places, I got a job at Rite Aid in nearby Pacific Grove. I was very clear in my application that I could not work Sundays. Other than that, I had basically no restrictions on my hours and what I was willing to do. I got the job, and was soon greeted by two very unpleasant realities.

First, I had been scheduled on that first Sunday. Second, I was being forced to join a union: United Commercial and Food Workers. Ugh. So I scheduled a meeting with the store manager for an explanation.

“Hey. I know there must be some misunderstanding. But I said in my application that I don’t work Sundays,” I said politely.

“Yes. I thought that was just a preference,” my manager replied.

“Yeah. It’s really not. I don’t work on Sunday for religious reasons,” I said.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do,” the manager said comfortingly. “But in the meantime, will you work the Sunday I scheduled for you? Or find someone to cover it?”

“Sure. That’s fine,” I said, remembering one more thing. “Sorry. But I had something else to ask you to. I’ve gotten this letter from a union saying I have to pay to join the union. An initiation fee or something. It’s kind of a lot of money to me. And I don’t want to join the union. The letter says I can’t work here unless I do. Is there something I can do?”

“I’m afraid not,” said the manager. “The union will force me to fire you if you don’t join.”

“So I have to pay them to work for you, even though we don’t need them to be on good terms?”

“Yes,” the manager said.

It sounded a whole lot like the mafia to me, but I really needed the job. So I paid them their exorbitant initiation fee, though I had negotiated my own hourly rate and had received nothing from them yet but a bill and a strong arm. Imagine my surprise when, after a month of continuing to do nothing for me, they sent me another bill. Not just an initiation fee. A monthly due as well. I had to pay them every month or I would lose my job. I had no choice about it. They were basically holding my job ransom.

And it gets worse. When I quickly proved myself an asset in the store, doing some jobs that none of the other workers would do, and doing the jobs they were willing to do far better than they did, I returned to my manager and asked for a raise.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that. I would like to, honestly. But you haven’t been here long enough. Raises are based on hours worked. Union rules.”

“So if you gave me a raise, the union would be upset?”

“Yes, unless I gave a raise to everyone else as well. And it would have to be higher for some of them since they’ve worked here longer.”

“I see.”

So far so bad. Then, about three or so months after I had started working there, I started getting scheduled on Sundays again. So I visited the manager again.

“Hi. What happened? Why am I being scheduled on Sundays again?” I asked.

“Someone complained to the union. They said that no one else gets the same day off every week. So it’s not fair,” the manager replied.

“So?”

“So, the union won’t allow it.”

“But I am willing to work any of the days that the other workers want off. If one of them wants every Friday off, I’ll work every Friday. Why does the union even need to get involved? Can’t we all work this out like reasonable human beings?”

“I’m afraid that’s not how it works.”

“Excuse me, sir, but it doesn’t seem to work at all.”

I’m pretty sure I know who complained. All the time that I worked there, the longest-employed and therefore highest paid employee did as little as possible in the store and whined about his job constantly. Even to customers. He was also aggressively homosexual toward me, regularly inviting me to go to the seedy local “art” theater that showed pornography. He told me, with great frequency and insistence, that I could watch heterosexual porn while he … did things to me (not the words he used). He said a lot of heterosexual men frequented the place. I wouldn’t even have to feel gay, he said. Yeah. No. I told him over and over again that I was decidedly, emphatically, and incontrovertibly not interested, and that I would appreciate if he never mentioned it again.

I also said I would appreciate if he stopped flirting with me, touching me whenever he came up behind me, and generally being a creeper. That’s called sexual harassment, last time I checked. I even talked to the manager about it. His hands were tied. Why? You guessed it—the union. The long-term employee was, by the union’s protection, almost impossible to fire. And quite difficult to discipline. Further, most cases where men complained of sexual harassment were thrown out without being considered. And the homosexual angle weighed it even further in his favor, since he was a minority, and discrimination, and all that. Thanks, union!

So let’s recap. I was forced to pay the union a (mafia) due of my own hard-earned money every single month so that I could:

  • be paid artificially low wages,
  • be scheduled on days that violated my conscience, and
  • be sexually harassed by a homosexual who got paid more than I did for doing almost nothing.

Just fantastic, if you ask me. So. Let’s raise a toast to UCFW. Let’s raise a toast to unions! Just think about all the things that unions have done for this country. Man, it just gets me right in the feels.

But that’s just my story. Maybe you have a better one. Share it below if you want. And Happy Labor Day!