My View

By Don Sorchych | April 9, 2009

Don SorchychUnions

Elections had almost been forgotten, but the eastern establishment method requires it. Hence Adam Trenk’s signs are abundant and union members marching down Cave Creek Road will be next. (Late news, an estimated 20 men with Trenk T-shirts rode during the Fiesta Day Parade.)

When I got out of high school what did I know? I knew to get the job I wanted I had to join the painter’s union. It didn’t cost much and politics were not on my radar screen. But $10 per hour was huge in 1949 and winters were layoff time with hunting and trapping in season.

Locally, in north central Illinois there were few union members and my dad was vociferously anti-union. He was not happy when he found out I was a card carrying union member.

I felt people were over reacting until I was shipped to St. Louis to work on the Memorial Bridge and the Chain of Rocks bypass canal. It was there that I learned about limits and squabbles in trade matters.

My first lesson came when I was shown a scaffold, got on it and pulled manually with ropes until I was about 95 feet high and able to paint metal strips. After finishing, I dropped to the ground and started to move the scaffold. A shrill whistle sounded, like those referees use.
As it turned out the whistler running towards me was a laborer Business Agent (BA). He said, “You can’t move that scaffold. By rule only laborers do that.” After almost coming to blows with this little creep a BA for painters arrived and took stock of the situation. The painter’s BA said, “He is right and he will get laborers to move your scaffold.”

The laborers’ BA went away and I told the painters’ BA that someone had to move the sand bags about 100 feet up to match what I was going to do. Painters BA said we are well aware of this and someone will handle the upper end.

So 45 minutes later I was able to resume work and after each drop, another hour or so would elapse before I could resume work.

The collisions of trades were frequent with many work stoppages before rules were figured out.

The various trades also had their own enclaves around St. Louis and if you were say a carpenter or bricklayer, you had better stay in your neighborhood.

The painters in my crew were heavy drinkers and party animals. They carried their trades openly and proudly with paint all over their clothes, usually white coveralls and caps.
I once, and only once, went on one of their forays. I innocently joined a group of four painters and where did they go? To an iron worker neighborhood bar.

The insults started before we sat down. Finally, one of my buddies was challenged and jumped up to fight with several iron workers as other iron workers converged.

I jumped up to help and it was the next morning when I awakened with a splitting headache and a lump the size of a tennis ball behind my ear.

What happened?” I inquired.

A compadre told me I was “sapped” by an iron worker, in a word, blackjacked.
As I went from job to job I often waited for hours as BAs argued from voluminous rule books. Sometimes “gratuities” were exchanged to settle the issues.

My bosses said such solutions were bid into the jobs and job awards were given politically.
I saw a tragic result on Memorial Bridge. The bridge deck was 100 feet from the Mississippi River. By rule, the home team had to hire a large percentage of locals.

The pay was good and so untrained men applied for a job and union card. The home crew did the rigging, by rule, which was scaffolding that we erected to facilitate their painting.
I was standing on a pier using a jack to hold one end of the scaffold with a long cable from an adjoining pier. Suddenly I saw a scaffold give way and two men fell to their death.
One had been a cab driver and the other a paroled bank robber who came to work for the high wages.

We were supposed to do their rigging. They got tired of waiting, improperly set their scaffold and were killed as a result..

After a hitch in the Navy and college I joined Radiation Inc., a small electronics company in Melbourne, Florida. We were non-union but also trained to stay that way.

When acquired by Harris Intertype we were concerned about unionized printing equipment divisions they owned. We found their corporate human resources personnel were trained to negotiate union contracts and to stay union free elsewhere.

It was part of executive management everywhere I went to be alert to union organizing and to stay union free. It has often been said. companies that get unions deserve it and that is usually true.

As I have said before, the heroic efforts on the part of firemen and policemen in New York during the 9/11 atrocity has rubbed off on similar organizations nationwide.

It is not true here. A top official in Rural/Metro conceded that if his firemen are at risk, they will let the house burn. This, in spite of the fire marshal’s letter in this issue.

I have a problem with Ryan Travis, the top Rural/Metro union man in Carefree who likes Cave Creek Town Council candidate Adam Trenk because he is also a member of Cave Creek’s Fire Commission. That is a conflict of interest now, and would be a continuing conflict if he is elected. We have had enough of those and don’t need any more.

Fire Marshal John Kraetz is the only Rural/Metro non-union member in Cave Creek and Carefree. He is paid to keep the peace. He and I had a long chat and his letter is the first one on the letters page. What do you think? My previous editorial and this one is in contrast to his view.

And last, Trenk has told confidantes he doesn’t plan to use the law degree he is currently studying for. That tells me his plan is first council, then mayor, then legislator and finally Washington.

We are not a stepping stone! Experience is vital – way more than ambition.