Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Unions

My father came of age in the Great Depression and he used to tell the story that his first dental patient after graduation was a bricklayer who needed to have his thumb drilled to relieve the pressure from an accident.  So it not surprising that he brought me up to feel that I needed to work.  I had the obligatory newspaper route and when I got into high school and college was expected to find employment during the summer.


An early job, when I was about sixteen was with the PG&E unloading wood from, railway cars.  My mentors were two, what I considered then ancient laborers of about fifty.  They were Union, and morning and afternoon took their negotiated fifteen to thirty-minute breaks, allowing me to tag along with them to the local tavern: a respite from the 100+ degree heat in the boxcar.  I forget how, but my status in their company allowed me to have my first morning beers and allowed me access to a lovely bartender who taught me cribbage and enabled my high school friendships to blossom as I became the purveyor of beverage for my underage friends.

Another job near that time was a manufacturing job: metal labels for office equipment.  I learned to stamp press, package and ship and actually felt like a journeyman on his way to learning a trade, a feat that used to be a Union function.  I don’t remember the shop as being Union.  The owner’s daughter, two years behind me in high school, was infatuated, something I didn’t handle too well.  I don’t know if her feelings got me hired or fired, when our romance became troubling to daddy, who sent her to live for a while with her aunt.

Fast forward forty years or so when I found myself hired as Dental Director for a Union company with a major client the Las Vegas Hotel and Employees union.  I remember the accommodations required: the different hiring and firing process, the need to use Union labor for all exhibit presentations; the need to use a Union shipping company (brown shorts and all), the “bug” on every publication.

And about that time I proudly joined AFTRA in an effort to bolster my lagging acting career.  AFTRA was a loose Union, easy to get into, relatively inexpensive, pretty non-restrictive to other than Union auditions, without a lot of benefits other than a little more money when the job was a Union/non-Union job.  I never made enough money to qualify for medical-dental benefits, nor to have any retirement benefit.  I longed to meet the requirements to join SAG or even AEA, where the jobs paid more and the benefits were greater.

Last year a new Union was formed; formed because only a small percent of SAG members found meaningful work.  The onerous requirement of having been cast in three SAG projects went away and job opportunity was thought to improve since projects could be cast with SAG/AFTRA members who were paid at SAG or AFTRA level, depending on which they held.

Hasn’t happened.

As SAG/AFTRA I am now forbidden to audition for any non-Union or “Other” projects, except for Print.  Where, as AFTRA I might submit through LA Casting for more than 50 auditions a week, I now have weeks where there are none I am qualified for by Union status or age.  Yesterday there were 52 postings and only one for my age and qualifications.

Mary, my wife, grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin where there was a General Motors plant since the early 1900s.  About five years ago it closed and the effect of losing about 2,500 jobs was devastating to a community of less than 50,000.  Detroit is an economic disaster.

I believe that the problem is that Unions lost sight of what they should be doing.  You might argue that the beer break was counter-productive as a health and safety issue, but that was the negotiation argument.  As someone who was a major participant in the evolution of tax-supported health care for more than twenty-five years, I feel somewhat responsible.  The ability to have a bottom-line effect on life style without increasing tax burden on either worker or employer made sense when it started after WW II.  Maybe now, not so much.

The idea of a secure retirement after working for a company for twenty-plus years doesn’t noodle out when workers move to four or more jobs in a career.  Even Japan has scrapped its “cradle to grave” work philosophy.

That is one reason why I feel the entire tax code has to be rewritten, and the individual has to become more involved in healthcare.

Unfortunately, with the present constituents and mood of Congress there is little likelihood of significant change in the near future.

My next post will be more positive as I describe my concerns over what I call The Elements of External Wonder.  I think you’ll like it.

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