Wednesday, July 11, 2012


My father was a plumber for 38 years and member of the plumbers’ union. He was 90 years old last April and still receives a defined-benefit pension from the plumbers’ union. He is in the center of this photograph.

“Unions struggled to eliminate abuses of early industrial society and improve workers’ lives by seeking higher wages and better working conditions for their members… [They] became an integral part of industrial society because they did not seek to destroy capitalism but, rather, to make employers more responsive to their employees’ needs and interests…” (from Jerry H. Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler, Traditions & Encounters).
·        Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.
·       Unions reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low-and-middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree.
·       Strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries.
·       The impact of unions on total nonunion wages is almost as large as the impact on total union wages.
·       The most sweeping advantage for unionized workers is in fringe benefits. Unionized workers are more likely than their nonunionized counterparts to receive paid leave, are approximately 18% to 28% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are 23% to 54% more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans.
·       Unionized workers receive more generous health benefits than nonunionized workers. They also pay 18% lower health care deductibles and a smaller share of the costs for family coverage. In retirement, unionized workers are 24% more likely to be covered by health insurance paid for by their employer.
·       Unionized workers receive better pension plans. Not only are they more likely to have a guaranteed benefit in retirement, their employers contribute 28% more toward pensions.
·       Unionized workers receive 26% more vacation time and 14% more total paid leave (vacations and holidays).
      Unions play a pivotal role both in securing legislated labor protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those rights on the job. Because unionized workers are more informed, they are more likely to benefit from social insurance programs such as unemployment insurance and workers compensation. Unions are, thus, an intermediary institution that provides a necessary complement to legislated benefits and protections (Data are from the Economic Policy Institute).
Also watch "Unions are in Peril":

Quicksilver by Richard Zabransky

for Glen’s Father

He anchors it, bare-headed,
Hair dense as steel. There must be forty
Front-facing men in the photograph--
In three rows,

Bottom on one knee, elbows cocked.
Top balanced on an invisible scaffold.
He is dead center.  Behind them, a brick wall
With a Hopperesque window, dead left,

Perhaps the supply building
Where meetings are also held.
One man’s hand clutches a snotty handkerchief, 
Or it might be the corner of the flag.

All wear their plumbers’ proud indignity,
A few prematurely balding or graying
Beneath newspaper boy caps,
Wide-brimmed fedoras,

One in a Brooklyn Dodgers cap,
All wide-eyed, some with jutting chins.
The foreground is a parched prairie
Beneath a sky with the promise of storms.

Something brought them together,
Some indignity.  A plate of spaghetti
Their lure, a shared Lucky.
A story for the wife or girlfriend.

Bragging rights count. 
They are as real as a goose neck,
A drain fitting, or the hot iron
That makes the solder run quicksilver

Along the joint of copper pipe--
A sort of wedlock,
Taken for granted, yet a trust endowed
To children, the grandmother,

The embarrassing Red uncle,
Or the wayfaring aunt.
The infrastructure of life
Should last.

But as I said, he is dead center,
And like Ahab’s crew,
The others lean away from him,
Giving him room to spiralize.

I have a suspicion he has as much
To do with the photograph
As shutter or film or tripod.
Perhaps more.

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