Wednesday, June 10, 2009

No Contract, No Work

A member of Laborers Local 1075 hits the bricks on Saginaw Street

What would a visit to Flint be without a labor dispute? I took this shot this morning outside the old Hyatt/Character Inn, which is in the process of being converted into the Riverfront Residence Hall. (That's the Durant Hotel in the background, also being rehabed.)


  1. I am the son of a retired city employee who was also a local union president, that being said I believe unions are a part of what's holding Flint back. They were an important part of making this country great but anymore they are a barrier to Flint moving forward.

  2. Okay, not to be unsympathetic to the union to which my father once belonged, but does this guy not follow the news?

    His sign would better read:
    No Factory = No Jobs
    No Jobs = No Paycheck
    No Paycheck = No snowmobiling in
    the UP

  3. I bet there are lots of people who would do his work without a contract!

  4. Seriously, can anyone tell me how unions can have any strength in this economy? They were too strong to begin with is what I hear.

    Maybe unions will be like the companies on the stock market, and dissolve and re-create themselves.

  5. You'll get no argument from me that some unions have gone too far. Of course, management agreed to the contracts, so it's hard to simply say it's the union's fault alone. But I will say that people should be careful wishing that unions will disappear. Do you really think that your non-union job would be as good if there wasn't the threat of unions out there? Have you studied what working conditions were like before unions? Seriously, let's be realistic here. You're getting a lot of perks on non-union jobs that are only there because of the presence of the unions elsewhere.

  6. Those who badmouth unions now for being greedy and self-centered, must not have been very good students of American history prior to 1936 or so.

    There's a happy medium somewhere, where a majority of hourly employees of profitable manufacturing companies make a middle class living, but our manufacturing companies remain world-competitive on labor costs.

    Unfortunately, neither the Dems nor the Repubs seem to be capable of finding a way to that middle ground. I hope someday we can figure it out.

    In the meantime, I understand how it's hard to teach an old dog (i.e. unions and managements other than those few with superior leadership) new tricks.

  7. I agree that the Unions need to recognize the economic realities of our times and negotiate contracts accordingly. This happens at the bargining table. The picket line is the venue for the worker to make grievances known to the public and the employer.

    The union workers do not determine the product line or make the maketing decisions. When the captians of industry recklessly steer into an iceburg, it's the workers that go down with the ship. Let's not blame the victims.

    As a former member of the United Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the Kvijack Setnetters Association and a current member of the Michigan Education Association, I stand with the Union. Should we return to the days of Tom Joad and the company thugs? Too much blood has been spilled, as we from Flint shoud know, in reaching fair wages and decent working conditions for an honest days work.

    I believe the key is for both sides to bargin fairly, intelligently and in good faith.

  8. Honest days work... I think shop rats with a little overtime that are paid over 100K, backed up with a wonderful pension, is a little steep in any economy.

    Work for 30 years, then get paid a wonderful pension for another 30 years... too rich for me.

    I feel the same way about government workers.

  9. Today's issue of The Week is worth reading -- page 15, The Rise and Fall of General Motors.

  10. If you do not know history, you are destined to repeat it. And that makes me fearful for the young generation. My grandparents were in their midlife (hayday) during the period prior to the sit down strike's. And believe me when I say, they were afraid of their own shadows. They were like a soldier who had seen a lot of action. They would not speak about the things they had experienced. I do agree though that the union has become corrupt over the last 40 years. What I seen in the 70's and beyond was the union crossing the line. One example was a shop floor committee man, who was the person a regular worker dealt with on a daily basis. They were required to work on a regular job just like any other employee, and be released only when needed. Buick in Flint did not enforce this rule. So what you had was a union representative who was from the very beginning in managements debt. Many such rules were bent by management in order to have more bargaining power against the union. In other words, if you don't play ball with us, we can always go by the book. I remember one instance where I was written up and sent home for wearing the wrong shoes. When I went over my committee mans head to the shop chairman, I was told to get a hair cut and that would solve the problem. This was in 1974 and that was my choice of hair style. So I started wearing big clunky steel toed shoes and kept my hair. Shop politics have always been like this. We had one General foreman who liked to solve all problems on a "man to man" basis. This was done inside a boxcar with the door partially closed (Old school justice). "By the way, he was one tough cookie". Concerning our wages and pension people have some wrong figures. I retired in 2002,which was my best year. I made gross $54,000.00. My gross according to Social security over a 30 year period was just under $500,000.00. My first full year in 1973 was only $3500.00. As far as my pension I'm at the $30,000.00 per year gross. Concerning the comment about receiving a pension for another 30 years after you retire. The ones who fall into that category at this time are receiving under $10,000.00 per year. So maybe have a little compassion and try putting yourself in the other persons shoes. Walking into a General Motors plant every day is not exactly a party. The sign over the entrance to the G.M plant I retired from in Bay City Michigan stated "YOUR RIGHTS END HERE". And that's the true story.

  11. These guys were picketing a church this week. The church hired a local company that is organizing volunteers within the church. Perfect! The church saves money and members of the church get involved in the building.

    The union pickets a volunteer organization? Since when did anyone refuse their ability to volunteer?

    This particular union is full of "bad eggs."

  12. I hesitate to get involved in a conversation that deals with unions. Some of you may have read the post about my dad, who was Superintendent of Labor Relations at Fisher Body Plant #2 back in the 60s. It was in the midst of round-the-clock labor negotiations that he dropped dead of a heart attack in the hall outside of his office. I am convinced that the stress of those "negotiations" (dad shared with us some of his frustrations when he was able to join us for dinner) was a contributing factor to his death.

    I do agree with jbing50 (a good friend, by the way, who lived just across Ballenger on Mallery) who wrote: "I believe the key is for both sides to bargain fairly, intelligently and in good faith."

    In my (humble) opinion, "greed" is the underlying problem that has plagued both management and union. Much of the demise of our fair city can be traced to this source, I believe. Someone once wrote that "the love of money is the root of all evil." In my nearly 60 years on this planet, I have seen much evidence that this is true.

    Having said that, when we were building our 93,000 square foot, 6 and a half million dollar church building in Kimball, MI, a few years ago, we put out bids for brick work. We chose a non-union company who was $50,000.00 less than the others. In response to our selection, we were paid a "visit" for a "meeting" with a representatives from a local union brick layer. He and his friends came to the church to help us understand the "benefits" of rethinking our decision. I almost came across the table at this guy, as he spoke in veiled threats. It was only by the grace of God (seriously), I remained seated and explained how I had a financial responsibility to the congregation, and I couldn't justify spending $50,000 more for their services.


    Well, it may just be "coincidence," but the morning after our bricks were delivered to the project site, we arrived to discover that the metal bands which allowed us to move them around the project had been cut.

    And that's all I have to say about that.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at