Are Unions Still Relevant?

On Friday, the City Club of Portland is exploring a fascinating question: do unions matter?

Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, has written: “Organized labor is an aging, doddering prizefighter still relishing trophies earned decades ago.” But in the next breath, he wrote: “But it's the only fighter in that corner of the ring. There's no other countervailing force against the overriding power of business and finance.”

The speakers will be Tom Chamberlain, the president of the Oregon AFL-CIO; Leslie Frane, executive director of SEIU Local 503; and former Congressman David Bonior (D-MI) - famous as Newt Gingrich's arch-rival.

The questions for BlueOregon: Do unions matter? If so, how can we strengthen them? Should unions focus more on political activity - changing the legal environment for organizing? Or should unions focus on organizing - changing the social environment for politics? How can private-sector unions reach middle-class workers, and should they?

After the forum, use this post to keep the conversation going.

  • blizzak (unverified)

    Some unions fight against the overriding power of business and finance, but a lot of unions represent government employees -- making it a little difficult to explain who they're fighting against (politicians, taxpayers, high-level civil servants, ?). So, I would recommend that unions (1) focus on lower-paid workers in the private sector, (2) dis-associate from unions that represent government employees,and (3) stop sending Oregon union dues out-of-state to national chapters and national political organizations (i.e. keep political and organizational spending as local as possible). I understand that the "Fight to Win" coalition (or whatever it's called) is doing some of this.

  • red (unverified)

    I'm not being partisan here or anything, but if someone wanted to discuss the matter of the value of unions, why only have rabidly pro-union speakers? It seems to me that a good debate would include speakers from both sides of the issue


  • LT (unverified)

    Here is a balanced answer: Unions do some good things (only a large organized group could have taken on Sizemore in court, if a union agrees to endorse someone AND that brings both money and volunteers, that can make a big difference to a challenger who doesn't have big money donors otherwise)and deserve credit for the good they do. A neighbor drives a garbage truck and has a great deal as far as pay, health insurance from his union.

    HOWEVER, unions, like any organization, are run by humans. Some humans understand persuasion, others only understand coercion. There have been times, for instance, when union members attended Democratic Party meetings (vocal indiv. or large groups) and said all real Democrats were union members---were they saying those not holding a union card shouldn't work on Democratic campaigns? Way to lose an election and the respect of the general public!

    Someone I know who was once a union employee but later got a job in another line of work said "if your employer treats you well, why do you need a union to collect dues and tell you what to think?".

    There have been cases where union members did not all agree on a candidate, and that caused friction. For instance, if a national union endorses one candidate for president and the state union endorses another, aren't the delegates from that state who are friendly to the state union likely to be delegates for the candidate endorsed by the state unions?

    Here's another one. If 80% of union members support a candidate or an action, does that mean that the other 20% simply disagree, or are they disloyal?

    Does anyone ever win if a strike happens, or is it better in the long run to get a settlement by collective bargaining?

    About teachers unions (and for that matter classified employees)--what is the alternative? Should each individual teacher sign an individual contract with the school district? Like it or not, did teachers have a duty free lunch period or any sort of grievance procedure before unions? I've known small town teachers who said without a union they'd have no voice.

    I write this having never been a union member, but having been actively involved in party politics at one time in my life AND being a descendant of someone involved in law and politics at the time the UAW was first being formed. If you want to read some interesting stories about the birth of that movement, read about the Battle of the Overpass in Detroit in the 1930s. There was an overpass from the parking lot to a Ford plant and workers went across it to and from work. Versions vary about what happened one day when Ford goons attacked some workers and a newspaper photographer got a picture of it and put it on the front page of the paper. But folks, that was back in the days when photos were captured on plates about half as large as a man's back. One history of that time says the picture only made it into the paper because the driver of the news car slipped one plate up his back with his jacket hiding it, and refused to get out of the car when the car was searched and all the other plates removed by plant security.

    These are much different days. Lots of people work for small companies and sometimes doing professional work. It is not the same as in the industrial age. And if someone is working in sales, banking, or some other field and a corporate restructuring wipes out many jobs, how exactly does a union help those people?

    A local grocery store went Employee Owned some years ago, and on talking to one of the cashiers I learned one reason many supported that action was because UFCW people they'd encountered had been rude and bossy. As the saying goes, "you get more flies with honey than by hitting them over the head". Unions, like any other organization, have to EARN support--they can't demand support.

    Seems to me that there has to be some kind of counterweight. But if union activists are more bossy than helpful they won't win over the individuals they need to organize.

    This is a multipolar world, and sales people, creative people, and many other occupations are not likely to join unions just because unions have historically done good things. From the onset of the Reagan Democrats, it has been obvious that bloc voting of any type is a thing of the past.

    But many people who wouldn't join unions if they don't have to also have no use for Sizemore, Norquist, and the other anti-union types. There is more nuance here than some would like to admit.

  • theanalyst (unverified)

    It is interesting to me to see the change in how unions are perceived, especially by the right.

    If you look at certain modern papal encyclicals of the Catholic church, there are frequent mentions of the importance of unions to working people, how workers should not be treated as a mere labor commodity, and so on.

    And then during the Cold War, whenever someone listed the terrible things that communist countries did, the capper was always that they don't allow free trade unions! The ability of workers to join unions was one of the big things that differentiated between us good guys and the evil communists.

    Now, the right wing is convinced that unions are evil. A few years ago I was listening to a talk show on a "Christian" radio station, and one caller said that Jesus opposed unions . . . I'm not a Bible scholar, but I don't recall reading that in the gospels.

  • (Show?)

    if someone wanted to discuss the matter of the value of unions, why only have rabidly pro-union speakers?

    Red, because sometimes the folks who support a cause get overly defensive if an opponent is attacking them. If it's just supporters, then the conversation can focus honestly on shortcomings and weaknesses on their own side.

    Surely you've experienced this.

    Lincoln/Douglas debate or prosecutorial cross-examination isn't the only pathway to truth.

  • (Show?)

    A few years ago I was listening to a talk show on a "Christian" radio station, and one caller said that Jesus opposed unions . . . I'm not a Bible scholar, but I don't recall reading that in the gospels.

    Well, he definitely said he was against capital gains taxes.

  • Harry (unverified)
    <h2>LT sez: "Someone I know who was once a union employee but later got a job in another line of work said "if your employer treats you well, why do you need a union to collect dues and tell you what to think?".</h2>

    I have never heard a good answer to that question.

    I grew up in a HP town dominated by a big state university and a big HP engineering facility (hint: south of pdx until you smell it, west until you step in it). The HP employees were treated very well, and were quite happy. The 'labor' folks got along well with the 'management' folks, and I really don't think that anybody could tell the difference between them. High tech workers in general are like that (ie Intel, Cisco, Sun, etc). Stock options help, giving even the lowest rung on the ladder a share in the capital gains.

    I still don't have a good answer to that question.

  • red (unverified)

    Kari - Thanks for the response. I was honestly wondering what the answer would be. I see your point. red.

  • Varner (unverified)

    A few things that unions do that matter:

    1) Increase wages and benefits for workers. Generally speaking for workers in this country, those in unions earn higher wages and have better benefits. According to federal data, the 'union difference' for women ends up being about $4,000 a year before factoring in benefits, across all job classifications.

    2) Unions work on progressive legislation. Here in Oregon increases in the minimum wage, fights against measure 37, school funding measures and many others have been supported with field and financial support from unions.

    3) Unions often make companies run better. While I'm sure that this one will get disagreement, there was a recent article from a Stanford business school professor who argued that companies with strong unions that management has decided to recognize and negotiate with in good faith have better bottom lines and better operations than non-union or anti-union companies. Two examples are Kaiser Permanente and SouthWest Airlines.

    4) Unions are good for Health Care. Both in having health care workers represented and in terms of making sure that folks are covered, unions are a benefit. For example, here in Oregon the Oregon Nurses Association (aka, the union for RN's) has fought for better staffing levels for nurses. My union, SEIU, works on better staffing levels for all job classifications of hospital and health care workers. In addition, union workers are more likely to have health care coverage. Also, unions fight for things like universal coverage, including the recent laws in Massachusets and in other places.

    5) Unions are good for low wage workers. There are numerous examples for low wage workers such as janitors and home care workers where forming unions and building 'union density' in particular markets improves the wages and benefits of those workers. (oops, I guess this is redundant with point 1) A specific example here in Oregon is when Home Care workers with SEIU Local 503, where Leslie Frane is the elected leader, got health insurance for the first time after organizing a union. That was for a small group, only about 11,000 people.

    In summary, I would say unions do matter. But really only if you care about health care or quality of life.

  • Ramon (unverified)

    Unionism today = Public Sector unionism

    Membership in private sector unions has been overwhelmed by membership in public sector unions. This has resulted in significant change in unionism. Instead of bargaining, representation and grievance adjustment unions now concentrate on politics & legislation and have become the largest-spending lobbyists.

    The business of unions is not what it used to be so don't be fooled by the imagery and emotions of the past. Instead of appealing to the progressive/liberal roots of collective bargaining, unionism now depends on the force of authority, mandate and compulsion.

    The best example of this is the mandatory dues checkoff. If union contracts did not provide for the automatic deduction of union dues, by employers, unions would lose about 60% of their financial support. But as a non-Right To Work state, Oregonians who labor in a unionized workplace have a simple choice. Pay the full equivalent of dues or you are fired.

    In union rankings, Oregon rates among the "best states" in the nation.

    A quick look at the composition and actions of our Supreme Court explains why. If you need more convincing, observe how our public sector unions have exported picket-line thuggery to the elections process in other states, like Oklahoma.

    Progressive-minded Oregonians should re-examine their affinity for today's stripe of unionism.

  • Matt (unverified)

    Unions are definately neccessary in today's workplace. What is often forgotten about the concept of unions, is that they are a freedom afforded to workers that is protected by the First ammendment. We never ask if freedom of speech is neccessary anymore, so why ask the question of unions?

    So, as progressives should we support a strong freedom to form unions? Yes.

    The question of whether or not unions are neccessary should be addressed asking the following (similar to what Varner wrote):

    1. Is there a need to collectively bargain for the mutual benefit of our co-workers, and defend our interests in a concerted way, should we elect to do so? Ask workers who have recently unionized and I am quite certain they would say yes to this.

    Where we have possibly veered off the path is in the environment we all live in today. Politicians, businesses, employees and the marketplace has evolved in a way that makes us all more atomized and secluded than we once were.

    The changing nature of work has allowed interests against unionization to run afoul of a basic understanding that the ability to form a union is a choice of employees, and a freedom that needs protecting.

    The neccessity of unions is to be debated by employees who wish to unionize. It is their choice, and the government and Americans need to understand that trampling on one's freedom to form a union is just like saying you shouldn't have the right to free speech.

    So, are unions neccessary? Yes. Just don't forget that even asking the question is like asking if freedom of speech is neccessary. I would start there, and as progressives understand that unionization is not an abstract concept, rather it is happening all over the country.

    In fact the better question is why do we accept a culture that allows 1 worker every 22 minutes to be fired or discriminated against for trying to form a union (see

  • All About Capitalism (unverified)

    Unions have become big business. It is all about capitalism now for unions. Just like big corporate marketing campaigns they are trying to sell their product.

    What is their product? Too many will try to say something about social justice, but let's face it -- a union's product is man (and woman) hours.

    Unions number one objective is to sell man hours. Why? Because man hours mean dues and dues mean great influence and large bureaucracies for union leaders -- which provide them more power.

    Rights for home care workers? It is about man hours.

    Higher wages? It is about the percent of the wage the unions get from the man hours that go into their teasury.

    Project Labor Agreements? Making sure that if the job is not 100% union all workers on the projects still have to pay a % of their check to the union.

    BOLI suing the PDC over construction wage rates? Just trying to protect more union man hours.

    School funding? Man hours for teachers and classified workers.

    Opposition to TABOR? Protecting higher government spending and thus man hours.

    Tax Equity? More tax revenue for the state and thus more man hours.

    Universal Health Coverage? It is about more man hours to administer the government program.

    Opposing environmental regulations? It is about protecting union jobs at mills and creating union construction jobs.

    Portland Baseball Stadium? More man hours and dues.

    Face it. The union movement has gone from ensuring worker rights and safety standards to collecting dues and building large organizations with leaders who make a heck of a lot more money than the workers they represent.

    The Capital Consultants mess was just one example of the corruption that the system breads today. As Rasheed Wallace says "CTC -- Cut The Check." These are topics they should be talking about.

  • (Show?)

    Progressive-minded Oregonians should re-examine their affinity for today's stripe of unionism.

    Progressive-minded Oregonians generally have a strong relationship with today's unions, and here's why. We are the oldest and largest progressive organization in the state, and with 285,000 members in Oregon (130,000 of whom are members of my employer, the Oregon AFL-CIO), we work hard to advance values shared by most progressives I know.

    I'm preparing for the City Club speech, so I'll have to spell out what I mean by shared values later (unless someone beats me to it.) But if you're dying to know, you can check out the Oregon AFL-CIO web site in the meantime.

  • LT (unverified)

    "today's stripe of unionism"?

    Like the suit against Sizemore? Like support of progressive candidates? And what about min. wage? Or would Oregonians be better off financially with the federal min. wage or no min. wage at all?

    Will Wayne Scott rethink doing the bidding of the Oregon Restaurant Association?

    Is "today's stripe of unionism" wrong to fight the "tip credit" folks who want to weaken min. wage laws?

    And about TABOR----Colorado voters who weakened that law were all union members?

    No TABOR advocate has to say "as part of the spending limit I have a list of proposed cuts which you can read on my website"---because of course details on how to pay for something are not necessary as long as "big government spending " and bashing unions are effective distractions?

    Union people who have been around a long time will tell you I have not been a member and have often disagreed.

    But sorry, I don't buy "if only there were no unions this state would have no problems".

    And look at HB 2332--capital gains tax cut bill at req. of Oregon Restaurant Assoc., a tax cut which did not pay for itself. The competing bill HB 3114 which did pay for itself, was left in committee. It was co-sponsored by my state rep. Vicki Berger.

    Is All About saying that Berger is a union member? Is it possible unions do not color every debate?

    Or could it possibly be that economics and politics are more complex than merely the bipolar "pro-union" vs "anti-union" and lots of folks are not entirely in either camp?

  • Publius (unverified)

    Of course Varner is towing the line on big purple (SEIU) brand unionsim. At his union, they prioritize organizing high dollar (think dues) healthcare workers over the janitors. They even make the janitorial organizers work in basement offices while the rest are upstairs enjoying 20' hight celings. I wonder how much more staffers, like Andrew Varner, make than the janitors they "represent". His old SEIU boss pulls down 91k+ a year. Check out the I don't agree with the politics of the website but you can see how bloated these unions are and how fat the hogs at the trough.

    They have proven time and again that they have no problem hurting consumers to win "fair elections" agreements from employers. Unions , and especially SEIU, rarely take on an issue because it's the right thing to do. They are motivated by political utility and what will move their organizing drives. And SEIU is supposed to be the most progressive union out there. Andy Varner talks a good game about universal coverage but do you think the state employees represented by 503 are ever going to put political muscle behind merging their benefits delievery with medicaid consumers. You know the answer. SEIU has repeatedly opposed progressive moves to expand HC coverage in the state because they "weren't strategic."

    Folks, Andy Varner is schilling for his nickel. What he's telling you is smoke and mirrors to justify robbing workers for his wage.

  • Star Holmberg (unverified)

    Sometimes it seems as though some non-union folks talk about unions as though they are a phenomena akin to a passing fad or fashion. That if not as many workers are unionized as 20 years ago, then it must just be out of style, a thing of the past. Alas, what they do not realize is that the working folks of today are essentially just like the working folks from days gone by, just a newer generation of them, and neither their needs nor the rights that they deserve will ever go out of style. And in recent times, as the middle class gets squeezed smaller, the mass at the bottom gets larger, while disproportionate wealth at the top teeters perilously above, we need unions more than ever.

    Of course there are going to be swell employers who do the right thing, provide their workers with decent benefits and wages, and they essentially share the fruits of the labor with the laborers. But, alas, not all bosses do the right thing, and collectively workers can unite to bargain with management, and as a result order and fairness can prevail.

    And to those with horror tales about the rude and the ruthless union persons they have encountered, or the nasty labor thug tale that has biased their view since childhood, I can only say that humans of all types walk this earth. There are Christians who give Christians a bad name. There are politicians who give politicians a bad name, lawyers who give lawyers a bad name, and so on. But I am not gonna blame God for the Crusades…It’s flawed, mean human beings who pulled that off.

    So too there will be flawed and deranged union folks, and you might have met one of them. But stereotype not, please. At the core of the matter is a way of viewing work that affords human beings the respect and dignity they deserve.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Sorry to be blunt and negative, but what a load of crap we have here!

    We have the usual line about unions being unnecessary, antiquated, corrupt, a violation of personal rights, and a hazard to the economy.

    We have someone suggesting that private sector unions disown public employee unions because he can't decide who they fight against.

    I have many gripes with organized labor, many of which I've discussed on BlueOregon, but no one who supports the interests of working people and knows what the hell they are talking about would suggest we'd be better off without unions. We have unions because working people fought for them, peacefully and violently, but relentlessly. You need look no farther than a comparison of wages and benefits in a given industry to realize that workers do better with a union.

    Corporate interests have successfully hobbled unions with legislation like Taft-Hartley and the myriad international trade agreements that drive conditions of employment down to the lowest level, whether that is in Mexico, Vietnam, China, or [who's next, Burma?]. Then lapdog commentators [and their pathetic echoes] claim that unions are intrinsically unworkable. Bull!

    Unions will regain an even footing when workers get fed up with being reduced to serfs and elect people who will rewrite the laws and trade agreements that are pushing us back to the Dark Ages.

    Of course, workers would never have let things get to this sorry state if labor unions had not eviscerated themselves in the anti-communist fervor of the 20th century. Philosophically and intellectually, unions are recovering, but they still must deal with the legal framework that hobbles organizing.

  • engineer (unverified)

    Let me sum this up. In a perfect world we would not need unions. Is anyone claiming this is a perfect world?

  • LMAO (unverified)

    I support civil unions. Sadly, most unions lack civility (especially the UAW). What they lack in civility, they make up with Civiletti, who's never met a union he won't endorse.

    I expect GM to file for bankruptcy before 2008.

  • Publius (unverified)

    Let's look for a moment at one of the primary "change to win" unions; the Teamsters. After an intense, protracted fight by Teamsters for a Democratic Union to bring transparency to union business and end internal political patronage the gambit failed, due to scandal, and Jimmy Hoffa Jr. was elected. He and his cronies immediately went to work firing disident staff and even liquidating "reform locals, resulting in loss of shop for many who fought to make their union reflect their values. Now things are back to same old same old. That was a struggle for more than just control of the institution. It was a fight for the soul.

    You have the Carpenters and Laborers fighting with all the other trades over craft distinction on the job sight and the disintigration of the international building trades council crippling union power in a sector that's already been hard hit. The inability of labor leaders to get over themselves and rely represent the interest of woking people, checking their macho egos at the door, hurts workers and that can't be denied.

    A problem that has always plagued modern unions is allignment by craft. There are thirteen unions that represent railroad workers, for instance. These unions don't bargain collectively for their contracts and so the power of the whole is lost. And in the post-Regan environment where RR workers have lost the ability to strike, they are killed by their own division. Why don't the crafts consolidate into an industrial union? Because the leaders of those unions don't wat to lose their power, high wages and pensions.

    Organized labor is necessary for workers to get a fair shake, that's not even a point for debate, in my opinion. All workes have the CIO to thank for Social Security, unemployment insurance and the eight hour day. But what has labor done since George Meany threw out the reds and united the AFL business union with the CIO bent on organiing and sruggling for power? Not much.

    When the AFL-CIO failed to see the fundamental problems with globalization they launched a half-hearted "not this NAFTA" campaign. The result? Call the Machinists hall, if anyone answers the phone, and ask them. Now they can't put the genie back in the bottle and everyone is screwed by the prolifration of trade agreements that do more than keep labor cheap. They feed the destruction of the environment and put more money and power in the pockets of the big corporations who's primary legal obligation is return on investment. Profit. It's a vicious cycle that each year means less organized workers and more power in the hands of our opponents.

    I applaud the aggressive organizing proposed by "Change to Win" unions but until they read their history, clean their own houses of nepotism and waste and get over their egos I fear that the instiutions will remain third paties to their own memberhip and will continue to dwindle.

  • Rubber Ducky (unverified)

    Jimmy Hoffa Jr? Mmmmmm. What did his daddy do for a living?

    It's a family tradition.

  • (Show?)

    There's always an interesting discussion between those who focus on the fight between an organization and the outside world - and those who focus on the fight internally within an organization.

    They're both right, and they both bring a lot to the discussion.

    Are unions relevant in the fight for progressive values? You're damn right they are.

    Do unions need to continually reform their internal operations to stay progressive? You're damn right they do.

    Are those two things at odds with each other? Sometimes, but hopefully that's a tension that can help unions both survive AND keep up the good fight.

    [Disclaimer: I built the Oregon AFL-CIO website, and I'm a member of UAW Local 1981, but I don't speak for either, nor for the labor movement.]

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    Labor unions have done and continue to do so much good for workers, but unfortuanelty, some of them became complacent and/or corrupt, and that cannot be tolerated. I am thrilled to see unions like SEIU, Unite-Here UFCW, and a couple of others focus more on organizing. A union offical recently told me that his now agressive organizing union (part of the break away group) had the repuation even ten years ago that many unions had (and some still do) of staff that put in their 30 hours a week (if that) and misused their expense account. That union is now suddenly seeing some contract victories for workers, even in the Right to Work SOuth. I was appalled to hear a union offical brag about five years ago that when he didn't attend an out of town union conference, he would be paid the cash amount of his plane ticket , hotel room, ect... He's still high up in his union. Let us hope that is not standars practive for unions. Unions officials need to produce for their members, and the rank and file members need to demand honesty and a strong work ethic from their leadership.

    Although political acitvity is important, I think that somtimes unions throw too much money at candidiates who don't always deserve the support. Al Gore lead the fight on NAFTA, so why did the AFL-CIO and most of its unions endorse him the fall of '99? They should ahve stayed neurtral through the priamries. SEIU and AFSCME jumped on Dean's bandwagon in the fall of '03, even though his record of suppport for unions wasn't nearly as strong as that of Gephardt and several of the other candidates. They said Gephardt wasn't a winner, but soon found out that Dean wasn't either. The unions will say that their workers make those decisions, but that doesn't always seem to be the case. I think that sometimes the union bosses like Sweeney, Stern, and McAntee are more concerned about getting on TV with the "winning" canididates, instead of standing for the best intrest of their workers. Maybe term limits is a good idea for the leadership.

    There are obviously hurdles for even the stongest unions that work hard, organzie, and are faithful to their members. The Bush appointed NLRB is the biggest hurdle, along with right to work laws in many states and bullying tactics by corporations. To fight those challenges, labor has to do everything right and can't tolerate any of the internal problems and weaknesses we've had in the past. Union workers are still better off than their non-union coutnerparts.

  • Sammie (unverified)

    I have worked Union and non-union. I'll take Union every time. It took me a while to realize the Union was as good as I chose to make it. If I sat back and let it run without my in put then I found I did not always like the results. Once I got involved, became a steward and took some action the results were more to my liking.

    I thnk it is interesting that Blue Oregon has become a forum to bash Unions - even though there has been an effort by Kari to limit that - it continues.

    Politics - yup we do politics - with focus, people and money. Intersting all the progressives seem to want out money and nothing more. the democratic party has NO UNION members in leadership but yet they want as much of our money as they can get their hands on and then they call thenselves the Party for workers, ha! We are accused of being anti enviornment but yet Unions were some of the largest contributors to many of the pro enviornment ballot measures and anti corporate measures. did we get any credit for that? NOPE just a sock in the eye from the pure of heart who don't believe in PAC money...unless of course they need some.

    I am sick of the relentless attacks we seem to take from the very groups that benefit most from our efforts.

    My Union, AFSCME, was the first Union to contribute to the Bus Project, before they even had a bus, because we believed that they could and should make a difference. are there any Union people on their board? don't know and don't care - but it shows that at least one union, early on, believed that the next generation could make a difference. Now one of our Union reps is running for the House in Oregon, we think she will make a difference too. where's the Bus? with one of her opponents - but we gave them more PAC money anyway, not because we like it but because we still think they matter.

    So do Unions - if you don't like us then quit asking us for the money we work hard to raise. $5.00 at a time, one member at a time. I know I've done it.


  • John English (unverified)

    I don't think that the Bus Project has endorsed anyone in that SE PDX house race, although Ben Cannon, being a Bus project activist, cetainly has his share of support from bus people. I know some bus folks who are for Mary Botkin (and Lynn , and Mary Lou, and...). Even though I don't know Mary well, I e-mailed her late last year offering to help, in great part because of her union background, but never heard back. Part of Mary's weakness among activists is that she has raised so much from PACS and so little from individuals. That doesn't seem like much of a people powered cmapaign that busers like. AFSMCE also tends to be one of the more Republican unions. I was amazed to see some of their automatic endorsements where they gave R incumbents ratings of 80% or more.

  • Star Holmberg (unverified)

    Wow, Sammie has hit the nail on the head!! THE most intuitive comment I have seen so far:

    "...It took me a while to realize the Union was as good as I chose to make it. If I sat back and let it run without my in put then I found I did not always like the results. Once I got involved, became a steward and took some action the results were more to my liking."

    Yep Sammie, what so many folks do not get (meaning understand AND accept) is that for those of us who are in a union -- WE ARE THE UNION. We make it what it is...collectively.

    Thanks for shedding light on that simple (and so often misunderstood) point.

  • LT (unverified)

    When I was involved in Democratic party politics, I met a spectrum of people who were union members. On the bad end were the bullies (how dare anyone question the wisdom of a union member or action) but on the other end were people who'd become active and along the way learned to be inclusive and run better meetings (run smoothly, everyone given a chance to speak) than anyone else I have ever known.

    All organizations are run by human beings, from the real gems to the real lemons.

  • James Jacobson (unverified)

    The questions posed at start of this thread, I feel are the wrong approach in considering the merits of the organized labor movement.

    "Are unions still relevant?" and "Do unions matter?" are questions which reveal an inherent bias on the part of those who control this blog, or by those who came up with the questions. The nature of the questions makes me wonder if BlueOregon is in fact a true Progressive blogsite. I've seen way too much anti-union attitude and union-bashing at this blog. Let freedom of discussion reign, but don't demonstrate a negative philosophy of unions by the blog authors & organizers.

    Anyone who has even small knowledge of the history and significance of organized labor, the suffering and the many deaths involved in the movement for workers' rights would never proffer such questions as "are unions still relevant."

    May I propose that the issue of unions/organized labor should have a permanent place here. BlueOregon should include at least a couple of regularly contributing columns by pro-union experts or by union members or leaders.

    Further, I urge that BlueOregon include a discussion thread on unions/worker rights and current labor struggles at least every month!

    BlueOregon should go on record as being pro-labor rights, pro-union and pro-working families. Start with that premise and proceed with discussion threads posing questions such as:

    -"how can we help unions work better for their members" -"what can be done to increase the growth of membership and and member participation in labor unions" --"in what ways can unions become more effective in educating the public that the existence of unions and strengthening the labor movement will help ALL workers in the nation and the world enjoy a higher quality of life"

    Forward together in Solidarity!

  • Mary (unverified)


    Yes it is true – it is I – Mary Botkin. One of the 4 defeated by Ben. I have chosen to stay out of the bogging world forever – so much for my choices – I feel moved to add a little to this blog and comment on a couple of others.

    Duke is a great guy – pro buss – pro labor, pro environment and he probably like small animals and children too. Everyone – give the guy a break – Duke we love you! A lot of us in Labor love the Bus too. o more talk about the "rift" please - there is none.

    Are unions still necessary? You bet your life they are. Without them there is no answer to the corporate thuggery that tends to rule the planet. Look at the 3rd world where Unions don’t exist – I sure don’t want that for my future and I am sure nobody else does either. An environment that is destroyed, farmers too poor and too controlled to plant food for their own family.

    I love the Labor Movement, warts and all. I spend my days trying to activate members in their own self-interest. Do we do it wrong? Sure sometimes, just like everyone else. Can we do it better? You bet, just like everyone else.

    All in all Sammy said it the best. Just like everything else – if you weigh in and do more. Work harder and stay at it you can be the difference. I remember that once that we learned having a woman in a room full of men changed the discussion and the tone of the discussion – then the outcomes changed too. Perhaps the same is true of Unions. One true Union believer in the room can change the message, the tone and the outcome. Try it, you will see it works.

    I know one thing for sure – I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and find out the current administration made Unions illegal – just ask Poland or South Africa how that worked for them.

    Happy, happy – let’s all help make Ben a smash hit in Salem. What was that truck you were driving that ran us all down? (Did not dare to say bus)


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