Merry Christmas to all my friends and family out there. I’m writing this on the tail end of a 12 hour night shift. I get off in 2 hours and I’ll be back tonight.
I also worked Thanksgiving. I will be working New Years Eve and New Years Day, Independence Day, and every other holiday. I don’t mind, I’m getting double time and a half. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a few extra thousand on the paycheck.
Since I’ve been on the subject of labour lately, I want to talk about one of the pivotal times in history that really weakened the Unions in this country.
The year was 1987 in the small town of Jay, Maine. The largest employer in the town and the state was International Paper. At the time, the paper mill stopped production every Christmas so all the workers could spend the day with their families. The contract between IP and the local labour union (the Local 14) expired that year and it was time to negotiate a new one. Sadly, included in the new contract was the demand (from IP) that the mill continue to produce on Christmas. This would mean the mill operates 24/7/365. The Union didn’t like this, nor the fact that IP wanted to stop paying double time on Sundays.
Just for the record, starting pay at this IP facility was $16/hr and a High School diploma or equivalent was the only requirement. $16/hr was a lot of damn money back in 1987, so don’t think these workers are being shafted too badly here.
When IP refused to negotiate or back down on their demands for working Christmas and no longer paying premium Sunday pay, the local 14 decided to go on strike. All 1,200 Union workers walked out. The only non-Union employees were management.
In response, IP asked BE&K to provide replacement workers. For those who don’t know, BE&K is a very large contractor with a long history of strike-breaking, or offering “scabs” to cross the picket line and take over the jobs of Union workers on strike. My friend Bill was one of the “scabs” who crossed the picket line and took one of these jobs.
To add insult to injury, most of the scabs brought in were from the deep South, where BE&K was headquartered. The damn Yankees were none too pleased, especially after several months passed and IP refused to back down.
The strikers on the picket line would scream profanity, throw rocks at the vehicles of the replacement workers and even violently pull them from their vehicles and physically attack them when they crossed the line every day to enter the Jay Paper Mill. They would also break the windows of the scabs houses and harass them in any other possible way. In retaliation, the Southern scabs flew a massive Confederate flag from the top of the mill. Heh heh.
After striking for 18 months with no progress, the Union workers finally gave in and decided to return to work. Guess what? IP told them they already had plenty of workers and would be keeping them. 1,200 people were out of jobs, possibly forever. Labour laws meant that they would get first shot at any new openings, but that meant that a scab had to quit or die before a Union person could get their job back. When some of the former strikers did return to work, they scorned the scabs and treated them like trash. Then it came time for a vote on whether or not to keep the Union at the mill or not. The union guys suddenly changed their tune and begged the scabs to vote to keep the Union in the mill. Surprisingly enough, after enduring years of mistreatment at the hands of these Union workers, the scabs voted to decertify the Union and the Jay, Maine paper mill has been non-Union ever since.
All because they didn’t want to work on Christmas, these 1,200 peoples lives were ruined. Strike pay was only $55 dollars a week. Most had to sell their houses, use up all their life savings and spend their children’s college funds to stay alive while they were on strike. Many never recovered. Several committed suicide. Divorces were common. The community of Jay, Maine was destroyed and has never been the same since. Brother turned on brother and families were damaged beyond recovery due to the pro-Union and pro-IP lines dividing them.
Ever since this all happened, strikes have become much more uncommon because workers fear they will be permanently replaced and jobless if they walk out. Unions all over the country stopped trying to be hard-asses when negotiating contracts for fear that this could happen to them.
Moral of the story: These workers had very high paying jobs with great benefits. They walked out on them. Then they got upset when other people were more than happy to do these jobs and get these benefits. Be thankful for what you have, because if you aren’t….someone else will be thankful to take it from you.