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Unions Then And Now



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Unions Then And Now

To the Editor:

In 1940 a new immigrant refugee of 16 years was fortunate to find a job in depression-ridden New York at a handbag frame company, 810 Pennsylvania Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The wage was 30 cents an hour for eight hours work. Not 7:59 hours. More than one trip to the washroom was cause for dismissal.

He worked in the lacquer room. After 15 minutes without ventilation he hallucinated. After one week of this he collapsed. When a secret vote came to join the union, he signed up. The demands of the union: 35 cents an hour and humane treatment. The union had to call a strike and the 16 year old went on picket duty. The strike was successful.

Then in 1943 he worked for the Eastern Malleable Iron company, a foundry in Naugatuck, Conn. Everyone had black lungs from the coal-fired furnace. The temperature at the furnace made the Arabian Desert feel like Alaska. He poured molten iron by hand, 20 ladles of 60 pounds each.

Again, a union stepped in. He joined the United Steel Workers of America, CIO. The company, mindful of the war effort, responded without a strike. Better ventilation was installed and the pay raised from 75 cents to 85 cents per hour.

The 16 year old was myself.

But over the years I have watched with growing dismay, the unions of this country fall from their lofty ideals and engage in a relentless pursuit of higher wages and fringe benefits in total disregard to economic realty, their fellow citizens, and their country.

A prime example is General Motors. The one-time bellwether of the American economy went bankrupt. The result: Everybody lost — the unions, the company, and all the stockholders. Detroit right now is a city in shambles.

The unions must recognize that the success of their employer is also vital for their future. Neither one can profit without the other.

A special case is the public employees, whether state, federal, or town. Here labor holds a virtual monopoly and has pursued a merciless policy of: “Give me what I want or you will not be reelected.” And our politicians have listened with the result that property taxes are in the stratosphere with no relief in sight. Tenure in office, pensions based on last year’s earnings, half pay after 20 years, excessive health benefits, and forced arbitration, a wonderful idea in principle and a disaster in practice, must go — not later but now.

A total renegotiation of all labor contracts, state, federal, and towns is in order if we are to survive economically and not follow the course of the Soviet Union.

The unions must accept economic responsibility.

Oscar Berendsohn

34 Appleblossom Lane, Newtown                            October 30, 2010

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