Monday, August 26, 2013

Thoughts on Labor and My Dad

Labor Day Weekend thoughts

My dad ran his own manufacturing business for decades. At its peak, he employed somewhere between 75 and 100 people. He was very old school, and consequently he was very anti-union. Now I want to make this perfectly clear--my dad was a very good employer. To this day, I run into people on the street who ask me if I am Dick Lane's son. When I say yes, they tell me that they used to work for Dad, and then they regale me with stories of how he was the best boss they ever had. Still, he disliked unions, and he felt them counterproductive to his business.

I'm pretty sure that the reason is that he always treated his employees fairly, so he saw no need to go through what he considered a third party to negotiate. He, like many small businessmen in small towns, know they have to live with these people, and his human empathy would not permit him to screw anyone out of a decent living.

However, the time came when I was working here in town for company attached to the banking industry, and it was running me and all the other employees ragged. I was making so little at that time that Dolores and I couldn't afford our own place, and we were living at home with him and my mom. At this time, I was honestly working 70 hrs a week, and I was on the road three to five days at a time. Dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table one night, and I was telling him about my job. I wasn't whining or complaining because he would have told me to suck it up if I did. I was just laying out my workweek to him.

When I finished, he got silent for a few minutes. He looked down at the plate in front of him, and I don't think he met my eyes when he said what he said next.

"Rich, you ought to look into starting a union there."

I was a young punk in my early twenties at the time, so it didn't really hit me how momentous that statement was. I've only felt it's full impact in the last twenty years or so. It was at that moment that he realized that not all employers are like him. Many don't give a rat's ass about the lives of those who work for them. He realized that unions *hadn't* outlived their necessity. I think the reason he wouldn't meet my eyes was that he was embarrassed that he had to go back on statements he had made to me over the years. I, of course, didn't even register that fact at the time.

All businesses are not alike. Some employers genuinely care about their employees because the management has true empathy for the plight of those in a less advantageous economic caste. To them, I doff my Panama hat. I always loved my dad, but my respect for him has grown even in the years after he died because I keep finding out what an amazing person he really was. But keep in mind that even if you work for or ARE one of those employers, there are hundreds and thousands out there who aren't.

That's why unions are still crucial.

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