An early and continuing part of my daily drive during the Covid-19 year was through portions of nearby suburbs Newport, St. Paul Park and Cottage Grove, and Grey Cloud Island, all of which are along and part of, the Mississippi River environs.
In St. Paul Park is an oil refinery, a long-time fixture there that I knew little about.
My knowledge has ratcheted up lately. In late January, the Union representing workers there went on strike, and in recent days the action broadened to information bannering such as freeway exits by another union. Yesterday, I stopped by one of the bannering sites, and the friendly union members gave me a brief and useful information flier: St. Paul Bldg Trades – Marathon. This unions newsletter has more information. As noted in the newsletter, this began as a Teamster Strike, apparently a response to a lockout. (Such events are rarely as clear as they appear.)
I’m glad I talked with the folks holding the banner Sunday afternoon. I wish the workers success. Theirs is no frivolous action.
I’ve been a union guy for over 50 years. I was staff for groups that on occasion went on strike. I’ve been retired over 20 years. One time, about 1979, I was President of the Union staff group which went on Strike against the Union that was our employer (it made news).
There’s no crossing of picket lines for me; I honk in support when I go past the pickets. I don’t pretend to know the specifics of the issues or process at St. Paul Park. I do know, union members don’t strike for the fun of it.
Anyone who’s ever gone on strike – or been on the other side – knows that a work stoppage is one thing when the walkout occurs; something different to resolve differences and get back to work. To strike is a difficult decision to make; one with consequences for both sides, which is why strikes are rare. The players on both sides know the realities. A path is always found to settlement. The only question: how long the strike will be. The enterprise itself is at risk if there is no settlement. Then everyone is affected.
The workers on Strike against Marathon are out for a reason. The dispute is probably cast in economic terms – that is something everyone can understand – but likely the real issues are deeper, relating to matters generally described as working conditions. Regardless, both sides know that once out, they’ve got to get a settlement agreeable to both sides. In this case, a refinery without workers is as handicapped as a worker without work.
Unrelated to the above Strike, but at about the same time as the Strike began, I was nurturing an interest in seeing how many of my former Union colleagues I could reconnect with. I started with old e-addresses, about one-fourth of which were bad addresses (no surprise there), and of the remaining 42, I’ve reconnected with perhaps a dozen, and out of these may come some memories of our union days by Memorial Day.
Some years ago a fellow staff rep, I think it was John B., gave me some photographs someone had taken at a PSA (Professional Staff Association – the staff Union) meeting about 1976 or so. If you’ve ever wondered what teacher union staff actually looked like 45 years ago, here are over 20 (click to enlarge) I’ve only labeled myself, though I remember all of those pictured: PSA circa 1976. We were once young….
Unions are easy to kick around – you know this. Having been, and still being, one of the people whose career was representing people in a Union, I know that organized workers are the ones who built and made the prosperous society in which we still live. Money earned is money which can be spent, a fact often overlooked in the rhetoric about things like minimum wage and anti-union rhetoric.
Unions however named, are like every organization, take your pick, including corporate structures no matter how big or sophisticated. All organizations of people reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their members and leadership.
When I retired from union work. I was about 60 years old, which made me old within the union; but now, for me, 60 is just a kid, and when I was with the group in the 1976 PSA pictures above, I was in my 30s, not the oldest nor the youngest. (The photos were taken at a union meeting at the end of a long day of assorted meetings.) None of us were ‘fresh’ – in other words, we were tired. I’m amused at my picture in the group. I was pretty well exhausted by the days work, and hiding out by the chairs in the corner was a little opportunity to refresh.
A couple of years later I became President of this group and in my term we went on Strike. As the saying goes, I’ve “been there, done that”.
Having said all this – and this is my message to colleague elders – the world ahead will be made by todays youngsters, not people like ourselves. Watch the people in their 30s and 40s, especially. They’ll make the world they’ll like…or hate…in 30 years.
I wish the Marathon workers, through their Unions, the very best.
POSTNOTE March 13: The labor dispute remains unsettled as of Saturday. The bannering continues and there seems more public visibility by those striking. The Union staff photos drew quite a lot of attention. They were likely taken in 1979, not 1976 as I first thought. Unions contributed to a better society then, and still do.