Walking the Line

picket1For the last 105 days I and the Union I am a member of ; The International Association  of Machinists have been on strike against Vought Aircraft Company. We finally accepted the company’s latest proposal  under duress and fear of ; being permanently replaced, the company moving our new Cessna contract to Dallas, and not having a job for another 6 months. People in our union were reportedly on the verge of losing their houses, cars, going bankrupt, and being served with divorce papers . I personally heard the testimony of one young fellow who with papers in his hand to inform the union he was getting out and crossing the picket line, said he had to because if he didn’t his wife had the divorce papers ready. He also claimed he had already gone through bankruptcy proceedings, and he was about to lose his house. That all sounded a little too dramatic but I don’t doubt that some of it was true.

My buddy Randy and I were on our gate: the Briley Pky gate where the FatCat (see above photo) blow-up guy and the Scab Rat were on display for so long. We walked every Wed morning from 4 am to 8 am.The Briley entrance to the plant was locked up so we didn’t have any action there. The only real action was when 11 busloads of replacement workers (scabs) came up Briley at about 6 am. I usually stood as near as I could to the slow-moving buses and looked them in the eye and waved to them (I know, I’m a real hell raiser). I figured that did as much good to try to bring shame to their little bitty, money grubbing hearts as cussing them and giving them the finger which my status as a follower of Jesus won’t allow me to do. I really, really wanted to though and I kept jokingly telling Randy (who’s a Christian too) ” If I’m wanting to do it this really bad, shouldn’t I just go ahead and do it”? We usually talked about the same stuff every week: The Titans, The Vols, our families, the bible, and the Strike. We drank a lot of coffee and had to pee a lot but since we were right there on Briley Pky  which posed a slight problem. But we solved it by walking across Briley to a street that comes out there, turned left, went down in a little ditch hidden to Briley by a vine covered fence but wide open to the subdivision in all other 3 directions. This was all before daybreak though so no problem. My head was on a swivel though every time but in spite of several close calls we never got busted. I bet they’ll wonder why the grass is growing so well there this spring!

Let me say one thing about replacement workers or scabs. A scab can be either a person from the union that crosses the picket line and goes back to work while everyone else is still out there or  a professional (I use that word lightly in this case) for-hire contractor who will traverse the country in his field working for the highest bidder. Also, scabs can be locals who are hired to do clean up, painting, and low-skill jobs,etc,.

I  don’t like calling anyone names even if they warrant it. People who cross a picket line who are desperate for work and their families are hungry I might could abide and I maybe  wouldn’t consider a scab. But the pros who are making great money to begin with, and they travel to Nashville to cross  our line? When we’re out there suffering and trying to improve our jobs? That’s about as sorry, low-down, and “no-count” as a man can be in my opinion. I equate it to to a man and woman having trouble in their marriage and another man, sensing weakness and need, makes a move on the wife, seduces her and wins her over, thus wrecking the marriage in the process. A home wrecker and a scab are brothers in this respect. 

Now while I’m on a roll, let me say this: the Salary people who have to cross our line I have nothing against. They have no choice. I have nothing but good will toward them and apologize for all they have to go through during the strike. It would be nice if all my union brothers felt the way I do and if most of the Salary employees supported us and some didn’t go out of their way to make a name for themselves by killing themselves to look good and us bad.

It’s kind of hard being a Christian and a union member. My friends and I talk about it a lot. You know,  like the passage where John the Baptist told the soldiers to be content with their pay. Paul basically said the same thing. Then there’s the scripture that talks about slaves obeying their masters and bearing up to wrong treatment with a good attitude It even said that God is pleased with that attitude.

But does that prevent seeking raises? Or negotiating the best possible benefit and pay package?

Notwithstanding,If I owned the company would I appreciate it if the employees said they weren’t going to do anything else until I negotiated with their representatives a contract they were happy with? I’d probably  feel like firing then all and get some more people who appreciated their job a little more. I don’t know. There is a certain honor in making sacrifices for others like we did in this strike. The thing is, beyond a couple of issues involving overtime and  job language, most of us who had significant seniority were pretty pleased with the original proposal . We refused to accept the company’s proposal and struck because Vought wanted to take away the defined pension of those employees with 16 years or less. That’swhy we did it. For them. Not us. So all these people on the Tennessean blogs etc,. who were ridiculing us and calling us greedy so and so’s come off to me as cowardly big mouths who have no idea what they’re talking about.

I’ll say this. I retrospect,  we were probably pretty stupid for not accepting the original proposal (but we refused it for the reasons given above) but I also blame Vought for being so asininely stupid and arrogant for choosing this time in history to try to cram the 401K down our throat.

At a time when when we, members of our families, friends and  people everywhere were losing tens of thousands of dollars, large % of their retirements, and in some cases all their 401K retirement nest eggs.

Please, Vought. Why not give it up this time and get your 401K next time?

Most of the real progress in negotiations is done in the last few hours before the stroke of midnight or at the end of the preceding contract. The impending moment has huge significance for both parties.If something isn’t settled the company has no workers, but also the bargaining unit has no jobs. So, both sides use that deadline to put a very real pressure on the other side. So, again,don’t think the unions  are the villains. It absolutely works both ways. It’s standard company practice  to try to make the workers look greedy and themselves as poor, innocent lambs. They slant their press releases and only reveal publicly the gains by the workers and none of the negatives.

It’s popular to say that Unions once had their place but that their time is past. Is that true? Do you think that there are less ruthless, money-hungry, business owners now than there were in the 1800’s? People who would work 10 year old children 18 hours a day on bread and water if it meant bringing their profit margin up? What about business owners who subject their employees to dangerous working conditions? I worked around constructions sites one summer and it was mind-boggling to see the crazy-dangerous things people were doing because their bosses told them to. Where was OSHA?

The thing is, normally in the course of a job, if a person feels like they need, deserve, or warrant a raise or they want to ask for some improvement or another to their compensation package they go to their boss and ask for it. They do so if they have more responsibilities or maybe  a certain amount of time has passed on their job since their last raise. But with a union job, that’s not possible. Lets say, the contract between a company and the union is for 3- 5 years. Whatever is negotiated at the time the contract is ratified is  for 3-5 years. There are no changes after ratification. So its imperative for the collective bargaining unit to get the best possible contract possible. I think any normal, intelligent person wouldn’t have any problems at all with that concept. It’s only when the union walks off their jobs and “holds the company hostage” that people get their panties all in a wad. How dare those union bums do that! Who do they think they are! I hope they get their butts kicked!!

Well, I think these statements reveal an ignorance of the basic rules of negotiations and contracts. I would bet that if the details of a good percentage of business deals and high dollar contract negotiations were made public they would be classified as cut-throat.But those type negotiations are considered normal, admirable and justified. Why are unions vilified for the very same tactics?

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3 Responses to “Walking the Line”

  1. Thanks for the inside information, I have never been part of a union and probably will not have the opportunity if I stay with my current job… but I’m glad I am a little more knowledgeable about what is going on. Glad you are getting back to work!

    Because if I were you I would be afraid SOMEONE was going to be able to out lift me here for to long…

  2. Donna Moffitt Says:

    Donnie, I know you are not this way but it seems like the couple of times I have had experience with union people (they were trying to get me to join one) everything was about looking for grievances and entitlement. Both of those concepts bother me in a lot of ways in the workplace. For example, at my work we can eat a free lunch if we choose to in the staff dining room. I think this should be looked at as a privilege. Well…a while back there was talk that we would soon have to start paying and everyone was fussing then as if they were entitled to this free lunch. They forgot it was a privilege to have it to start with. And all the stuff about grievances…it seems like when unions are involved people are thinking about grievances all the time. But like I say I know you are not this way at all but this has been my experience.
    I am so glad your strike is over.:-)
    It was wonderful to have you all over, too! Donna

  3. Booshkrieg E-dog Says:

    Glad you’re finally back at work bro! I don’t think that unions are totally useless. However, with all of the companies going out of the country to exploit the lack of regulations (labor, environmental, etc) it is becoming increasingly difficult for the USA to compete for a market share (cost conscious consumers). It is a conundrum for sure.

    As far as the 401K retirement issue, let’s not forget the ENRON fiasco where all of the retirement monies tied to that company were lost. So, company run retirement funds are not without risks.
    Vandy has only offered a 403B as a retirement option since I have been here and longer. So, I don’t that is a biggie and certainly not worth a strike. But, I understand the ideal behind labor unions and believe they can be useful for the workers in the future in light of the lack of integrity, loyalty, and common sense on the part of the ever growing list of corporate criminals.

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