Youth dominate Project Bridge’s March for peace

Marchers line up before beginning Project Bridge March at south end of Groppi Bridge

Marchers line up before beginning Project Bridge March at south end of Groppi Bridge

Standing in a cold, pouring April rain, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett looked out upon several hundred similarly wet onlookers to declare that he was seeing the most positive actions among young people that he’d ever experienced in his nearly sixty years.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett  addresses rally under the Groppi Bridge

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett addresses rally under the Groppi Bridge

If the crowd standing before him was representative of progress among youth, he was right in his observation, since a majority attending this first effort of Project Bridge appeared to be teenagers, many of them members of groups that are dedicated to improving life in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.

Drawing the folks to this rain-soaked event was an effort by a community-wide coalition entitled Bridge Project Milwaukee, perhaps a name appropriate to the site of the event, the Groppi Bridge (the old 16th Street Viaduct).  It was the scene of many of the city’s civil rights struggles of the 1960s, when Northsiders sought to “integrate” Milwaukee’s South Side predominately white neighborhoods.

Saturday’s event began with marchers gathering at each end of the bridge, northsiders at N. 16th St. and W. Clybourn Ave. and southsiders at Cesar Chavez Dr. and W. Pierce St.  They marched to join in mid-viaduct, and then moved together down the ramp at Emmber Lane to a park-like area along Canal St., near to the bridge.

There the marchers gathered around speakers including Mayor Barrett, District Attorney John Chisholm, Alderman Robert Perez, County Supervisor David Bowen and others.  Speeches were kept mercifully short, as the cold rain intensified, but they drew a spirited response from the enthusiastic crowd that had been entertained by a drumming group.

Speakers also cited the elderly marchers scattered among the group, many of whom had participated in the 1960s civil rights efforts.

The marches and rally are a kickoff to the Project Bridge initiative that also inaugurated that day its online presence through a website and social media.  In June, the Project plans to produce a music video, using the anthem for the group, “United We Must Stand.”  Beginning in July, the Project will be encouraging the creation of Bridge Projects throughout Milwaukee neighborhoods.

A. Philip Randolph legacy in civil rights and labor traced

Norman Hill (left) with Nacarci Feaster, president of Milwaukee Chapter of APRI

Norman Hill (left) with Nacarci Feaster, president of Milwaukee Chapter of APRI

Far too many union members and African-Americans today may never have heard of A. Philip Randolph, not realizing the contributions he made both to the civil rights movement and to labor.

WIlliam E. (Bill) Johnson, retired business manager of Laborers Local 113, received the Milwaukee APRI Chapter's Achievement Award at the event.

WIlliam E. (Bill) Johnson, retired business manager of Laborers Local 113, received the Milwaukee APRI Chapter’s Achievement Award at the event.

Norman Hill, longtime labor and civil rights activist and president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, outlined the major legacy that Randolph left upon his death at the age of 90 in 1979.  Hill, of Washington, spoke at a program sponsored by the Institute’s Milwaukee Chapter in April to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of Randolph’s birth.

Hill traced Randolph’s life from his founding and leadership of the Sleeping Car Porters Union, the nation’s first predominately black trade union, and his leadership of the union became a springboard that led him to leave a significant mark on the nation’s civil rights and labor history.  Randolph brought pressure upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 to issue an Executive Order banning discrimination in defense industries, perhaps the first significant action by the federal government to end such practices.

Randolph today is best known for developing – along with Bayard Rustin – the famed 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech.  Hill recalled that President John F. Kennedy at first opposed the March, fearing it would become violent and create a backlash against the civil rights movement.  Hill said Randolph persisted and the March was held, its eventual success made possible by the inclusion in the program of both African-American and white leaders, particularly from the labor movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said, did not originally contain a job discrimination clause, and it was eventually included when Randolph persuaded AFL-CIO President George Meany to push for it.  The clause banned racial discrimination by both companies and labor unions, with Meany urging it cover unions, many of which then practiced discriminatory behavior and needed to “clean up their own act.”

Randolph believed that blacks would never be able to gain equality unless they got involved in politics.  He constantly called for blacks to engage in building coalitions with whites, “since whites were also affected by economic issues,” Hill said.  In 1965, Randolph founded the Institute that bears his name, settings its three main goals to promote voter participation, get black workers active within their unions and to establish a positive labor presence in the community

Thus the Institute provides a link between labor and the civil rights movement, Hill said.

He stressed the importance of engaging in political activity by outlining the anti-worker and anti-civil rights actions that were occurred under four U.S. Presidents that were elected without the support of organized labor.  Under Richard Nixon, he said, the Republicans “southern strategy” was created, a movement that called for a “law and order” agenda that were code words against civil rights.  President Reagan opposed both the voting rights and civil rights acts through appointments of administrators that stifled enforcement and gave a permanent blow to labor by firing the striking air traffic controllers in 1981.

Both Bushes, Geroge H. W. and George W., followed similar policies of appointing anti-worker persons to the Supreme Court or key commissions.

Hill said experiences under such Presidents show the need for becoming more active in political action.

Coalition-building is a vital goal to success, he said, urging the involvement of youth and reaching out to other community groups, including all of the civil rights groups of all minorities, including Hispanics, seniors, gay and other progressive organizations.  In that way, Hill concluded, today’s activists will “fulfill the legacy of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

 

 

Our words may have changed, but racism lingers on — particularly in Wisconsin

It’s hard to forget certain dates.  Today, April 4, is one of them.  It is exactly 46 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I remember exactly where I was when I learned of his death in Memphis, where he was gunned down on the balcony of the Loraine Motel while participating in a rally in support of striking sanitation workers.  The headline of his death greeted me on the following morning as I entered the coffee shop in a downtown hotel in Decatur, Illinois, where I was working on a labor union project.

An older union representative whom we called “Red” saw the headline about the same time I did and uttered something like “it’s about time someone got that b—–d.”   I forget his exact words, but that’s what he meant.

In 1968, Red’s attitude was fairly typical among whites who considered Dr. King a radical, a communist, a troublemaker and a danger (the nouns usually accompanied by expletives).  We’ve come a long way since then, and I’m certain there’s a rare union man or woman who would share Red’s feelings, much less speak out loud so hatefully.  Much of the nation has adopted Dr. King as a symbol of peace and we celebrate his life with a national holiday, full of honor and praise.

Yet, how far have we “really” come as a nation in rooting out racial hatred and in providing persons of color with true equality and opportunity?

Some of us in the North might think most of the barriers have been broken through.  In many ways, it is true: particularly in urban areas there is a cheek-by-jowl existence with persons of varied racial backgrounds that forces us to live and work together in a semblance of harmony.  We joke and share stories with persons of other ethnic backgrounds almost every day; yet, when we socialize or meet for lunch, we too often go our separate ways.

In Wisconsin, we should be particularly ashamed.  Just a few days before April 4, the Annie E. Casey Foundation published a report ranking the Badger State the “worst” among the 50 states for black children in an index measuring 12 key indicators at various stages of life, including home situation, educational skills and income.

The report is a true indictment of our state’s failure to deal effectively with this economic and social inequity.  It only confirms what most of us have known for years.

Sadly, the policies being expressed among our leaders in Madison will do nothing but exacerbate the situation.  Governor Scott Walker and Republican-controlled Legislature have cut several avenues to better health care by refusing to expand Medicaid while cutting back on BadgerCare.  It has further sliced such benefits as FoodShare that assist poor families; it has taken steps that have weakened the Milwaukee Public School system.  None of the actions of the current Administration will do anything but to make the inequities facing African-Americans grow worse.

You may hear occasional platitudes from Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan (the Wisconsin Republican who heads the House Budget Committee) honoring Dr. King, but don’t accept such hypocrisy.  Perhaps, if they were being honest with us, they’d sound more like Red in that hotel coffee shop in 1968.  Ken Germanson, April 4, 2014

A Packers’ fan shares wife’s lament over wiping out over half of figure-skating television show

My wife is among the many dedicated fans of figure skating in the Milwaukee area who were disappointed when the Journal Sentinel’s Channel Four nearly totally obliterated an NBS Sports figure-skating competition with its coverage of Sunday’s snow storm.

After showing only four skaters, Channel Four chose to replace coverage of the two-hour show with “Storm Team 4” on the job, its helicopters hovering over sections of highways, both where traffic was moving steadily and of accident machines.  From then on Channel Four neglected returning to NBC’s coverage of figure-skating and chose instead to repeat showing the same storm scenes again and again.

“That wouldn’t have happened if it was Packers’ game,” my wife intuitively said.

In another part of the house I watched the Packers game, barely aware of the storm coverage from the Channel Six crew.  To be sure, their weather folks gave storm up-dates by tacking them onto commercial breaks, and except in one case, viewers missed little of the game.   (Even that minor intrusion that caused fans to miss a crucial turnover brought about complaints, as reported by Sports columnist Bob Wolfley in the Dec. 9 pages of the Journal Sentinel.) http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/234975801.html

Why this contrast?  Obviously, viewership of figure skating on television is far less than that of our national obsession in pro football and that might explain part of Channel Four’s reasoning in so callously overriding the wishes of the fans.

But even with that, the storm was not much when compared to what’s to be expected in December in Wisconsin and certainly didn’t require such repetitious wall-to-wall coverage.  The only motivation that makes sense is that Channel Four must receive advertising revenue from its weather coverage.  Why else would the Channel bombard its viewers with such coverage for a three-inch snow?  Kenneth A. Germanson, Dec. 11,2013

When our noses smelled Milwaukee’s prosperity!

There was a time when you could tell by your nose where you were in Milwaukee.

When you felt the sour, sweet odors of animal renderings impregnate your senses you knew you were likely crossing the old 6th Street viaduct; scattered across the acres under the bridge and to either side stood Milwaukee’s thriving packinghouse industry with names like Plankinton and Armour.

If the rotten egg scent entered your head, you might be driving along S. First Street at about Greenfield Avenue, created by the old Milwaukee Solvay Coke Works that was cooking up fuel for foundries and other manufacturers or for residences that burned the fuel.  Maybe, too, the sharp scent of foundries stung your nostrils as you wandered  along South First or along Greenfield Ave. in West Allis.

Image

A 1954 photo shows smoke emanating during manufacturing process.

Also emanating from the Industrial Valley that rimmed the Menomonee River to about 50th Street were foul scents of tanneries like Pfister and Vogel; similar scents arose from along North Water Street from Gallun and around N.32nd Street and West Hampton Ave. and South Greeley Street in Bay View from the two Greenebaum tanneries.

Driving along West St. Paul Avenue about 20th Street you’d likely find a yeasty odor in the air brought on by the old Red Star Yeast Co.

At about South 43rd and West Mitchell Streets, you’re suddenly hit with the malty smell from the huge silos of Froedtert Malt preparing the goodies that filled Milwaukee’s four major breweries, Schlitz (the largest brewery in the USA in the late 1940s), Schlitz, Miller, Blatz and Pabst and two popular secondary brewers, Gettleman and Braumeister.

Gone from downtown is the sweet scent of Ambrosia Chocolate plant that brought smiles to the workers and lawyers entering the Courthouse or the students at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

As a child of the Great Depression and a teen during World War II, these were the smells that permeated my senses and all of Milwaukeeans then.

Some of the scents were downright nauseating – such as what occurred on stuffy summer nights when it was necessary to open windows to get priceless breaths of air, only to be greeted by a combination of all the scents.

The scents are gone from the city today, along with the jobs that created those scents as well as a comfortable standard of living for so many Milwaukee families.  At one time, Milwaukee was called the “machine shop of the world” and there’s no doubt that the industrious spirit of workers and ingenuity of many of the entrepreneurs were critical to the production of U.S. industries to help win World War II.

In addition, the city often ranked among the top three communities in the country for production in leather, beer, shoes, hosiery, machine tools and other areas.

We don’t wish the foul and intrusive odors to come back, though we’d welcome them again if it meant the jobs that created them were still here.  Ironically, with a mix of EPA regulations and modern technology such production could return nearly odorless.

No doubt about it, Milwaukee is a changed city.  Somehow all of our leaders and citizens need to figure out how to thrive in the new odor-free environment. November 16, 2013.

When Nature Rules

Some things you just can’t control.  That’s so true when it comes to nature.

We humans may try to fit into nature, but we can’t control it.  From caveman days on, we found garments to keep the body warm and developed ways to make fire to heat the surroundings.  Now, humans build anything from huge Mc-mansions to cardboard caves

The morning after the big storm Lower Clam Lake WI was quiet.

The morning after the big storm Lower Clam Lake WI was quiet while the sky remained dark.

over heating grates in order to protect themselves from the elements.

But no one has yet discovered how to control nature.

That lesson was driven home over a period of 17 hours as part of our family gathered in our cozy cabin in the heart of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.  At 9 p.m., on a recent Monday warm August night, a sudden thunderstorm hit, to be followed by seven hours of a continual natural light show: flashing lighting with loud, rumbling and sometimes sharply crackling thunder.

It was a pyrotechnics show that would be the envy of any entertainment tycoon from P. T. Barnum to Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.  Several of us sat on the screened front porch dazzled by the pulsating rhythm of the flashes.  We sat for several hours, enthralled by the sight of nature on full display.

We had a preview of the thunderstorm the night before when a similar but shorter burst of lightning and thunder hit at 3 a.m., awakening our grandson who charged to his parents’ bedside, frightened by the noise and light.  And this was a child who lived through several New York City storms – including Sandy.

He asked his parents why he was seeing “strobe lights” in the sky.  In his 10 years of life, he had never experienced an Upper Midwest thunderstorm.

The second storm hit, knocking out the power and sending us scrambling for candles and flashlights, along with a frantic filling of all available containers with fresh water.  (We keep several bottles on water for just such occasions when electricity stills our water pump; such outages are frequent in the woods as trees or branches fall across power lines in such storms.)

The following morning we awoke to face the prospect of no power, and it was another half day before the lights came back on.  This was a shock, since even deep in this forest, we are blessed with full electrical service, high speed internet and cable television.  (Our family so far has refused to sign up for cable.)

Yet, when nature has its say, as it did in this spectacular storm, we have use of none of the fancy gadgets.  Oh my, how will we ever survive?

Last night as we sat watching the light show, I swear I heard sounds of laughter in the rumblings of thunder.

Was that nature having the last laugh?

A tree of life — gone!

The Norway Pine had to be 85 years old – at least according to a counting of the rings – and it was sturdy and healthy, ready to live on.

But, it had to go!  Thirty-seven years ago, when we built our small cabin deep in the heart of the National Forest, this tree stood majestically and dangerously close to the foundation.  Thanks to the skilled – and most sensitive – backwoods carpenter who constructed the building, he made the roof overhang two inches shorter to accommodate the growth of the tree.  There was a gap then about two inches between the roof and the tree.

The tree grew and grew; it grew as the child who was still in our daughter’s belly when we debated about building the cabin to accommodate the tree, was born and grew into a talented woman with a strong appreciation for nature and all its wonders.  Was this strong healthy tree an inspiration to her?  It’s a sweet thought, anyway.

It watched over four other grandchildren who played catch and hide-and-seek in its shadow in the tiny clearing carved out of the forest for the cabin.  It became scented with the smoke from the chicken, burgers, brats and steaks grilled in the makeshift barbeque under its far flung branches.

It grew, its trunk hitting the eaves of the cabin and eventually moving into the eaves by nearly another two inches destroying the soffet, eaves and shingles.  Neither the restraint on its roots formed by the nearby basement nor the limitations on its trunk along the roof line seemed to impede its growth.

It was tall – at least 60 feet (I try not to exaggerate).  That was its Waterloo, its breaking point.  Lightning hits, far-too frequent wind squalls that whip through the woods downing sturdy trees as if they were matchsticks and the very real fear that the tree or one of its heavy limbs would come crashing down and into the bedroom which lay directly below it made our decision necessary.

So, we brought in the logging man; he needed a huge bucket truck and other equipment to down the tree, meaning that he’d have to clear out some of the nearby smaller trees, including three well-formed evergreens.

The trees on our two-acre lot in the National Forest are all second growth.  This area of northwestern Wisconsin was logged early in the 20th Century and pictures from the early 1930s show a nearly devastated land.  Now this lot is loaded with towering Norways, white pines, maples, clump birches, and popple.

ImageWhen we counted the rings, we learned that the Norway pine we had destroyed would have begun life about the same time as the author, who turns 84 in a few weeks; his wife is just a few months behind.

Like the Norway, we have lived through a Great Depression, a World War and any unfortunate number of smaller ways and “police actions,” great civil rights struggles and successes and now a growing nation of partisanship.  There have been scores of family tragedies, dramas coupled with joys and happiness.

The death of a beloved tree is cause for reflection.—Ken Germanson, July 27, 2013.

Labor’s Voice in Milwaukee for 73 years is gone; Now, how will workers be heard?

The end of the Milwaukee Labor Press:  Another sign of perceived impending death of the U.S. labor movement?  Not all all; it’s just a realistic look at the changing world of communications.

The cost of printing, distributing and paying for the monthly publication is just too much for the Milwaukee Area Labor Council to bear as it faces the impact of declining membership, due most recently to the passage of Wisconsin’s Act Ten that has gutted membership among public employee unions.  However, more and more persons, and especially young people entering the workforce, are depending upon social media, like Facebook, Twitter and the others to share information.  It’s good news that the labor movement is trying to keep up with this trend.

Nonetheless, the demise of the printed version is sad to see, at least for those of us who grew up looking to alternative, pro-worker views from the Milwaukee Labor Press.

The final edition of the Milwaukee Labor Press, with an abbreviated spelling of 'Good-Bye'

The final edition of the Milwaukee Labor Press, with an abbreviated spelling of ‘Good-Bye’

The newspaper was born in 1940, following the death of another Milwaukee newspaper that carried labor’s message, the short-lived Milwaukee Post which was a successor to Milwaukee’s longtime Socialist daily newspaper, the Milwaukee Leader.  Founded in 1911, the Leader’s first editor was Victor Berger, who guided the paper throughout most of its existence.  Berger became famous (his opponents would likely have said “infamous”) as a Socialist Congressman when he was jailed for his opposition to World War I.  Even so, he was reelected to the seat while in jail.  (For a fascinating look into Berger and his importance to the City, read this from Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College.) 

In 1917, when the newspaper’s editor died suddenly, Berger recruited John M. Work, a renowned Socialist leader and anti-war activist, to edit the paper.  Because of its anti-war stands, the Administration of President Wilson suspended the newspaper’s second class mailing privileges; yet its subscribers made extra donations to keep the paper alive during this difficult period.

Work stayed on through the paper’s remaining years until 1938 and continued as editor through its successor publications, the Milwaukee Evening Post, and shortly thereafter to the New Milwaukee Evening Post, and finally to the Milwaukee Post.

Brisbane Hall, early home of Labor Press.

Brisbane Hall, early home of Labor Press and its predecessor, the Milwaukee Leader.

It was printed at Brisbane Hall, which stood at N. 6th St. and W. Juneau Ave., just north of Milwaukee’s downtown, and the home of the new Milwaukee Labor Press in 1940.  The factory-like structure that housed the Leader then became home to the Labor Press until the building was torn down in 1965 to make way for the North-South freeway.  The Labor Press then moved its current location within the offices of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council on S. Hawley Road.

The weekly Labor Press concentrated mainly upon local labor union news for its coverage, though it did offer comment on national news as well.  It also offered readers a few enticing offerings, such as recipes (usually from union members or their spouses), pictures of pin-up girls (a practice it ended as the feminist movement gained influence), do-it-yourself articles and sports.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s – until the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955 – the Labor Press was the official paper of the Federated Trades Council, while the CIO Labor Council published the Wisconsin CIO News, which mainly carried news of the industrial unions in the area.

A series of colorful editors headed the Labor Press the longest tenure being held by Ray Taylor from 1954 until the 1980s; he was outspoken and a popular candidate for emceeing events, where he had a knack, through his friendship with most labor leaders of the area, to “roast” them in his presentations to the glee of the audiences.  Patsy Cashmore was the first woman to edit the paper, succeeding Taylor; in 2002, retired Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editor and reporter Dominique Paul Noth, took over.

The paper will be missed, to be sure.  It offered a chance for local unions to assure that their story got into publication.  During this writer’s life, he relied on the Labor Press to provide space for articles giving the workers’ side of the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild’s ten-week strike against the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1962, the efforts at gaining first labor contracts by AFSCME’s District Council 48 for municipal workers in the County after passage of the nation’s first collective bargaining law for public employees, and for stories involving strikes and issues for locals of the former Allied Industrial Workers at Briggs & Stratton, Harley-Davidson, and others.

The Labor Press at one time the largest circulation labor paper in the nation proved for years to be a bulwark against the often one-sided coverage of the community’s major news outlets, where the views of business seemed to hold priority.  Now it will be up to the new social media and other present-day communications forms to get the workers’ side into the public mind.

It’s critical that the views of working people not be lost as we write “30” to the printed form of the Milwaukee Labor Press, a great institution that served workers in Milwaukee for 73 years. — Ken Germanson, April 3, 2013

Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall! Where was Flint?

Perhaps the most memorable phrase in President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address was this:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall . . . “

As eloquent as this was, another landmark event was sadly missing.  How about Flint, Michigan, as a symbol of the great sitdown strikes in the cold winter of 1936-37 that became the rallying cry for workers to organize into unions?

It was hard not to be thrilled by the imagery expressed by references to Seneca Falls, where the women’s suffrage movement started, to Selma, where the civil rights movement began to take hold and to Stonewall, long a symbol of the battle for gay rights.  Each one of these symbolized how ordinary people were able to mobilize and move the nation’s reluctant leaders to embrace the right of women to vote, the lifting of many of the burdens that were carried by minorities and finally recognizing that our gay brothers and sisters have rights, too.

The worker movement of the period definitely belongs in this list as one of the four great mass movements of ordinary people that created change in U.S history.  It took thousands of demonstrations, rallies, speeches, essays and letters to the editor to bring about women’s suffrage and 72 years from the time of the Seneca Falls, NY, meeting in 1848 to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.  It took nearly 45 years from the “Bloody Sunday” march over the bridge at Selma in 1965 to the election of the first African-American President; and it took more than 40 years from the police bashing of gays in 1969 at the Stonewall Tavern in New York City for the Armed Services to recognize gay rights.

The fight for workers to win the right to join unions took about 70 years from the great railroad strikes of the 1870s followed by other tragic events like the Homestead Strike, the Pullman Strike and the Bay View Massacre.  The rights came with the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 that finally conferred the right to collective bargaining upon working people.  The law was fought bitterly by corporate America and it was only when workers began taking control of their own destiny in the sitdown at the General Motors plant in Flint that real change for working people occurred.  The workers were vilified by most in the nation’s press, but their courage to stand up became a rallying cry for workers everywhere; sitdowns sprang up throughout 1937, adding starch to working people, and eventually unions grew and thrived.

Many economists believe that the power of the labor unions during that period helped more than any other single factor to create the middle-class.

How could President Obama have not included a reference to workers and to labor unions?  There was nothing in the speech to indicate any awareness of the important of labor to creating the a decent standard of living for ordinary Americans.

Was it an oversight or a desire to avoid the topic that caused to President to fail to include the great unionizing efforts of the 1930s, 40s and 50s or to mention the role of labor in the 21st Century?  Either way, it was a critical omission, and one that signifies that he may have deserted the labor movement, even though the nation’s unions never deserted him during the last four years. — Ken Germanson, Jan. 22, 2013.

The myths of R-T-W laws

Myths continue to dominate discussions of the so-called right-to-work laws, as witnessed by letters to the editor and comments from columnists who should seem to know better.

The principal myth is in the name, “Right-to-work,” since the law confers no right to a job for anyone!  It’s an ancient bit of clever marketing by pro-business lobbyists to misname something so as to give advantage in a debate.

Myth No. 2 involves the view that leaders of unions – sitting in far-away seats of luxury – make decisions for the union’s members.  Nothing could be further from the truth: by and large unions are one of the most democratic institutions in our society, where decisions are made through voting, where strikes require extraordinary support and where officers are elected.  (To be fair, there have been situations where unions have acted undemocratically, but such occurrences have been widely overplayed and are now largely in the past.)

Myth No. 3 covers the principle of the union shop, which is often mislabeled a “closed shop” that has been outlawed since 1947.  The union shop merely requires all workers to pay for the right of representation, based on the principle that all workers who benefit from the wages and benefits bargained by the union should pay the costs of such representation.  In addition in “open shops,” where not all workers are members, the union is required by law to represent every worker – union or not – in grievances without discrimination.  Thus, the union must defend a non-member worker who is fired just as vigorously as a member worker.

Myth No. 4 is that unions cause a company to close, as referenced recently in the Hostess Bakery closing in Kansas City.  Recognize that a decision to close up shop is made by management, not the union; in fact, unions have many times worked hard to cooperate with companies to take actions to save firms in financial troubled.  In most cases, mismanagement or failure to keep up with technology is behind company closures.

Myth No. 5 is that if workers don’t like the wages or benefits or the treatment they receive at a company, they’re free to quit and go elsewhere.  That’s like saying, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”  Can the workers have NO say in these matters?  Today, finding a job is not as easy as the letter writer may think.

Myth No. 6 is that somehow companies will flock to Michigan now that it has this slave labor law in place.  Check out the reasons why companies move; far down the ladder are the labor laws.  Far higher up is the ability to attract skilled workers, something that better-paid union workers usually provide.

There have been many myths perpetrated in the labor law discussions, and they should not color the thinking of policy makers in Wisconsin. — Ken Germanson, Jan. 1, 2013