Today workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will vote whether or not to join the UAW. As you’d expect, this isn’t going over well in states that still think slavery wasn’t really all that bad, but the tantrums, lies, and tsunamis of dark money rolling in to keep unions out of South smack of desperation, and for good reason. Once a person actually experiences being in, or even working with a union, they quickly realize that all the propaganda fed them is, well, false.
Not only are unions good for workers, they are also good for employers, customers, and, duh, the economy, because secure, safe, and well paid workers spend money. But since it’s the so-called Job Creators who haven’t had a solid poop since the UAW threatened their plantation economy, let me calm their fears with a personal anecdote.
As Production Manager for a regional ballet company, I had the opportunity to travel from California to Canada, and work with two types of stage hands, expensive and cheap, and, wait for it, the expensive ones were worth every penny. Partly, because they knew what they were doing, but mostly because they also cared about what they were doing.
In halls where IATSE ran the place, every piece of equipment was in perfect working order, the space was flawlessly maintained, no matter its age, and an army of skilled guys (and lots of gals, even in the 1980’s) could unload, say, Cinderella, and hang it, with lighting, in about four hours. Yes, I had to pay for coffee breaks, and even the coffee, but the result was a little better than what I got with underpaid flunkies, volunteers, and yours truly, everywhere else.
In short, what unions do is protect owners from their own worst instincts, and everyone wins; not least the owners themselves. No one benefits when tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment lies idle because no one is skillful enough to maintain it; no temp is going to zealously insist that even if you’re staging Phantom of the Opera, no, you can’t put even one screw in our lovely floor, and certainly no one is going to not just tell you that your gigantic chandelier can’t go in the flyloft with its glass bowls, but then make safe “bowls” out of polycarbonate in just a few minutes and fly it up on schedule.
What I learned working with stage hands was that with their good pay, benefits, and paths for advancement came a reciprocal dedication to safety, quality, and a better experience for presenters and audiences. Yes, I had to pay someone to hold the ladder for me if I wanted to climb one, but with a proscenium forty feet high, was that the worst thing?
What the right is currently freaking out about is quite honest, albeit in the usual unintentional way. They know that their labor and economic model can’t stand real world experience, so they’re trying to make sure none happens. Let’s hope VW workers don’t let them.