ANOTHER OPINION: A Side Of Labor Seldom Seen

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BY JOSEPH J. DOUGHERTY, JR./ Unions have been part of the fabric of my life since I can remember.

As workers, we were taught to work hard and stand up for ourselves, our families, our union brothers and sisters, our contractors and especially for those pioneers who came before us who gave their blood, sweat, tears and for some their lives in order to establish the fair working conditions, benefits and wages that we now have today.

I have been fortunate enough to know and watch Philadelphia-area labor-movement leaders like Philadelphia Council President Pat Eiding and Philadelphia Building Trades President Pat Gillespie work passionately and with compassion every day on behalf of all union members and their families so that each and every one of us has a shot to maintain a job, fair wages, working conditions and standards. Firsthand over the years, I have watched my own father and other union officials like him dedicate their lives tirelessly to their members and to the labor movement with no ulterior motives other than to procure work and maintain standards.

If there are so many good people in the labor movement, why do we get such a bad rap?

Case in point: Just a couple weeks ago on a scalding hot Father’s Day afternoon I saw IBEW Local 98 Business Mgr. John Dougherty (no relation to me) and Local 98 Business Rep Brian Stevenson, along with several other Local 98 officials in the Roxborough section, demonstrating and handing out informational fliers to the general public to protest the hiring by the shopping center of non-union electrical workers to work at night. What was particularly inspiring was the fact it was Father’s Day afternoon in Roxborough and although he could have easily have sent his members, apprentices or retirees who lived in the area, John Dougherty was handing out the fliers himself with his other union reps. Maybe I’m weird like that, but to me, it gave me chills down my spine to see a high-profile union leader like Johnny Doc walk the walk, grassroots style.

As Johnny, Brian and company handed out the materials and spoke to the people, they did so in a very cordial and friendly manner. They were engaging and personable. There was no profanity or bullying going on whatsoever – just some concerned men standing up for the standards and wages they have worked so hard to obtain on behalf of their members.

What was amazing was the variety of different responses they evoked. Some people walked or drove by without paying notice, others stopped by or honked in support and yet others drove by shouting obscenities without really knowing what was going on. I couldn’t believe one lady, with little kids in her car, driving by shouting profanities. She could not have had a clue as to what was actually going on. She was reflective of a growing anti-union sentiment in this country.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why people increasingly feel this way. Are they opposed to fair wages? Are they opposed to fair working conditions? Are they opposed to 40-hour work weeks or weekends off? How in the world did unions and their leadership become the bad guys? The only logical reason I could come up with is maybe it’s because the 6 o’clock news shows large groups of people protesting without explaining the reasons, or maybe it’s because the daily newspaper prints an unglamorous picture of a union leader as he rallies his members to vote to go on strike to keep their health and welfare benefits.

It is apparent unions not only have an image problem but a public-relations problem as well. Currently only a small number of local unions use publicists or PR firms to enhance their images. Fewer aggressively use the often free tools available on the internet to do it themselves.

Sure, pro athletes, movie stars and the super rich, etc., like to keep their good deeds and charitable endeavors private – but they are already lauded by the general public for their celebrity. It is time unions, ignorantly blasphemed and ridiculed for their efforts on behalf of working families, should utilize the available PR resources to educate the general public about what we really do and what we are really about and much of the greatness that is bestowed within the union movement across the land.

Did that woman screaming profanities know if the non-union workers hired to work at night at the shopping center were getting paid fair wages with benefits? Did she know the men she screamed at from IBEW 98 – standing out in 95-degree heat on behalf of working families – had also spent the entire morning since 5:30 a.m. volunteering at the Gary Papa Father’s Day Prostate Cancer 5K Run? My guess is probably not!

FACT: In the city of Philadelphia alone, union leaders, members and working families make up a large portion of the fabric of our communities. They also support and contribute to a wide variety of community and charitable endeavors too numerous to list, that raise countless funds for the needy. Just off the top of my head, the aforementioned union leaders listed above alone are involved with charitable organizations ranging from the Delaware Valley Stroke Council to the Variety Club, the United Way and the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, just to name a few.

BOTTOM LINE: In relative obscurity, and without seeking the spotlight, union leaders and members here have worked tirelessly for years to not only make Philadelphia and the number-one union region in America, but to also give back and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Yet that positive part of union life has eluded the majority of the general public.

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One Response to ANOTHER OPINION: A Side Of Labor Seldom Seen

  1. It is great to paint a rosy picture of union membership while the unions control the majority of the construction work in Philadelphia. The reason why Pat Gillespie has been in power for so long is that he maintains he status quo so effectively. There is a situation unfolding now at 12th & Wood Street where a Developer is trying to build a project with a mix of union and non-union labor. The union members are picketing and making the Developer spenda ton of money on security. At the same time, a multi-million dollar dormitory project is being built on Temple’s campus. The one requirement for this state asssted project: union-only contractors. It is pure greed on the union’s partto work peacefully on a $80 million project and harass Developers creating jobs for minorities and Philadelphians right down the street. The unions control who get into their apprenticeship programs and subsequently, who works on their projects. As a non-union member, I would rather make $15.00 an hour and try to feed my family than to constantly be on the outside looking in at the guys working and leaving the City after clocking out.

    Michael E. Bell
    July 28, 2012 at 8:29 am

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