Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Joe Hill’s Job Outsourced to Bojangles

We’ve told you before that the Carpenters union has taken on the characteristics of many good employers — finding economically competitive labor. In other words, they have turned to hiring the homeless to picket job sites where other employers are — my goodness! — using companies that prefer not to pay the union premium for their quality service. The Washington Post took note, and has a story this morning.

The Post reports that not all in Labor’s camp are thrilled:

Supporters of the practice consider it a creative tactic in an era of declining union membership and clout. But critics say the reliance on nonunion members — who are paid $1 above minimum wage and receive no benefits — diminishes the impact and undercuts a principle established over decades of union struggles.

“If I was a member of the general public, and I asked someone picketing why they were there, and they said they don’t work for the union and they were just hired to stand there, that wouldn’t create a very positive impression on me, nor would it create a very sympathetic position,” said Wayne Ranick, spokesman for the United Steelworkers of America.

It’s not just old-time union guys who are unhappy, though. Advocates for the homeless aren’t thrilled, either:

Some activists for the homeless are unhappy with the practice of paid picketing. They say it amounts to using people down on their luck rather than giving them a hand up. Ingrid Reed, who coordinates job placement and housing at the Community for Creative Non-Violence shelter, said the money the unions pay picketers would be better spent on training or apprentice programs that teach skills.

“These jobs won’t pay the rent,” Reed said. “If they’re out there every day Monday through Friday, when are they looking for a job?”

If there’s any positive lining to this continuing, bizarre tale it is that good business practices are good for one and all. Heck, the union even seems to be interested in paying people based on merit:

William R. Strange, 41, said he started working as a for-hire picket two years ago when he lived in a homeless shelter on New York Avenue. He is now paid $12 an hour because he plays the buckets during the demonstrations.