Written in 2007
The talk of unions in France reminded me of a funny story. When I was in my 20’s I worked for gyppo loggers. I was an independent worker without a union who bounced around from one logger to another as demand for work occurred, kind of like a free-lance worker. Gyppo’s made fun of union or company workers.
When I was about 22 (mid 1970’s) I got a job offer from Pope and Talbot. I was working for Tom Williams at the time near Cottage Grovc. Dick Scott, one of my co-workers whom I admired, therefore his advice was important, wisely told me to take the job. I was complaining about all the cumbersome safety equipment I would be force to wear, and he responded “I would go to work in Bermuda shorts if that is what they wanted”. The coveted aspect of the union job was benefits such as paid vacations and more steady work, so I took the job. I made more money in the three years I was there than any other time working in the woods before that. Plus I was close to home.
All union workers are grumpy and mad. That is probably because they have to shift blame from all the goofing off they do. We got a 15 minute break every two hours which by definition meant a 30 minute break, and the 1/2 hour lunch often became 45 minutes to 1 hour, including an occasional nice refreshing nap on a sunny spring day.
In the union everything is about working the seniority system until you get the best jobs. (Those who have been there the longest have the most seniority). It takes years because you have to wait until the job is vacated because of death or someone being promoted. Well, one of the bosses got his brother into a nice equipment operating job building roads, bypassing the seniority system. There were no doubt 6 men who had been drooling over that choice job to come open for a long time. The result was similar to current French unrest over corruption in government. Well, my falling partner Leo Knudtson and I were discussing this over coffee on one of our breaks and we came up with the scenario of instigating a union uprising just for the fun of it. He kind of dared me to do it, so I went home and went to work. I collected my colored markers and Kraft paper and began making signs. I called on everyone to stand up and be a man, fight back against the “buddy system” which term my partner and I coined over coffee by the fire on our break. (Hypocrites 🙂 ) Then I threw in a couple of quotes like “life is too short to be little – by Disraeli”. I snuck into work at midnight and put up all the posters in the shop and in the several crummies (worker transport vehicles). There was quite a buzz at 4:00 AM the next morning when I crawled all sleepy-eyed onto the crummy. The authorities were madder than a stirred up hornets nest. The next union meeting, which I think might have been the next Tuesday eve, it seems like there were 300+ guys there, as opposed to the usual 15 to 30. The union leader overwhelmed and truthfully disclaimed any responsibility whatsoever to the company, thus nothing was done and it all fizzled after one meeting. I was disgusted. I guess I wanted more fireworks for my efforts. Young and dumb.
Leo and I got many laughs on our subsequent breaks in the next few days. I was a bit in awe of my bravado at bucking the system and the impressive results, however temporary they were. Leo and I remained silent about the perpetrator, however. It only seemed prudent to let the matter die a silent death.