State of the unions 

Street Smarts

Organized labor, which brought us laws including the 40-hour workweek, was met from the outset with hostility by the powers that be. How's it viewed today?

click to enlarge Beverly Sencenbaugh

Beverly Sencenbaugh of east of downtown is a substitute teacher

What comes to mind when you hear the term "labor union"? Studs Terkel. He'd say, "Have you ever had a paid vacation? Thank labor unions for that."

Name something negative unions are responsible for. Power corrupts. Unions piled up a lot of skeletons in their closets in the '60s and '70s.

Did your teachers discuss the labor movement in school? I remember talking about the Ludlow Massacre in high school. All they said, though, was that when miners went on strike over low wages, government troops were sent in to shoot them up.

How strong is the labor movement today? It's weak.

click to enlarge Helen Meyers

>Helen Meyers of Alaska is a retired college administrator

What does the term "labor union" bring to mind? People trying to get a fair shake.

Are you, or have you ever been, the member of a labor union? Being an administrator, I was always on the "other side" of the negotiations.

Have unions been more a positive or a negative force? The goal of better working conditions is positive, but sometimes they resorted to violence. I can't think of any actual instance, though.

Why is negativity toward unions so prevalent? Big business, with whom I'm getting increasingly impatient, is framing the argument in a way that lets them control wages and such. Also, some people think unions keep them from being able to negotiate individually.

Do unions have a role today? Yes. Working people aren't getting a fair shake.

click to enlarge Bradford Ricker

Bradford Ricker of Knob Hill is a sign designer

What does the term "labor union" bring to mind? Detroit. The steel industry.

Has the labor movement been a positive or a negative force? Unions gave us child labor laws and the eight-hour day, but they pretty much killed the auto and steel industries with exorbitant wage demands. And look at teachers' unions. They're more concerned about paying mortgages than with educating kids.

How strong is the labor movement today? They're losing members. Workers want to work for what they can get, not pay union dues.

Is there a role for unions today? Unfortunately, yes. Individuals still need to be backed up by the strength of a group, but I choose individuality over union collectivity.

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