Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Picketing a building over something important but we won't tell you what

     I don't understand people. 
     Or maybe I do; they're slow. And timid. 
     Maybe I better just tell the story.
     So Thursday, I'm meeting a friend for coffee on Wells Street, in Old Town. Quick two stop trip up the Brown Line. Easy stroll a few blocks east along North Avenue. 
     On the way back, I notice this gentleman, Bob Sheahan, picketing a building all alone. We stop and chat pleasantly. "Any relation to Mike Sheahan?" I ask. The former Cook County sheriff. No, lots of Sheahans. 
     Why did I stop? I'm in a union too, and I like to show solidarity with picketers, because nothing is worse than picketing. It's lonely. It's dull. It's often pointless. I hate it, and feel pity for anyone forced to do it.
     The building behind him, Sheahan said, was built by union steelworkers. But the framing out is being done by non-union (and, therefore, the implication is, inferior) labor.  
     Hence the picketing. They'd been picketing for six months. 
     Six months.
     He was eager for me to know about the situation, and I would take no issue with him. But I asked one of those probing questions journalists ask.
    "What's this cross street here?" I said, glancing around for a sign. For some reason that prompted Sheahan to usher me over to someone in higher authority, a guy in a car parked down the street whose name I didn't catch. The guy in a car was on the phone—maybe strategizing how to get more media attention—and didn't want to get out of the car or talk to me. He suggested I talk to someone at the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters.
    "Gary Perinar," he said. "And the phone number?"  He gave me a number. When I got back to the office, I phoned and left a message: saw the picket, interested in the issue. Please call me.  
     Nothing on Friday. Nothing on Monday, so I called again. Nothing. Silence.
     Hmmm...you picket a building for six months, why? You want the word out, right? You want people to know, to be aware that this particularly building is not being built in a desirable fashion. And all that time, these poor union carpenter foot soldiers, holding their signs—not the most efficient use of communications technology—to an audience of cars whizzing along North Avenue. The heart breaks. Support your guys.
     Yet should the distracted beast of the media pause and pay attention, they all scatter. Maybe it's the same publicity phobia you find in cops and fire fighters. Fear of the Man. They don't want to stick their neck out. Maybe they're like corporations. The gears turn slowly. I'll hear from them in a week.
     Whatever the situation, indifferent or a defensive crouch, silence doesn't  work in this information age. One reason it's so easy for unions to become punching bags is they don't speak up for themselves, not even when you give them an engraved invitation to do so. The paper is owned by unions now, though honestly, I'm not worried about them telling us what to do. Just the opposite; with unions, as with any organization, it can be a challenge just to get them to pry open their yaps and let words out. And the sad thing is, now they'll call. To complain.  


  1. I've encountered a similar puzzlement. You want some work done on your house or a tree cut down and call 3-4-5 outfits that can do the job and never hear back from anyone. I got a mailer from a major insurance company and called saying I was interested in talking to them about home/auto insurance. Never heard a word. A friend is looking for an apartment and called several (10-15-ish) and heard back from one or two. I don't understand people either. I guess the economy must be better than I thought since no one seems to be looking for work.

  2. as I'm sure you know, its not so much that the union pickets because they feel union workers do a better job though this is a part of it. its that non union workers aren't getting paid as much as union workers in wages and benefits and the picket is meant to throw light upon this disparity and shame the owner of the company who's screwing their employees. also meant to encourage the non union workers to organize and join the union . I'm not sure these are their true underlying motives . the unions seem anti immigrant, anti woman, anti minority. there is an intimidation factor though greatly reduced compared to the past. the union workers strive to dominate the market place and attempt to secure work for as many of their members as possible, over lower priced labor. the union picketing often is trying to shame another trade that is on the site along side the nonunion workers hoping their picket line will be honored in solidarity, which doesn't happen as much anymore. any way yay unions! good for all us working guys or it would be back to 7 day weeks with no overtime

  3. Yep, those union reps sure are a squirrelly lot. It's as if their only interest is collecting union dues. About 10 years ago they put in place a giant 15 foot inflatable rat in front of my office for a month. Imagine that, a nice guy like me.

  4. "But the framing out is being done by non-union (and, therefore, the implication is, inferior) labor."
    That's not the sole implication, and the inferior nature of the labor can be attributed to inferior or non-existent training. It implies that the workers aren't being paid a fair wage, safety protocols are being ignored, and the likelihood that other corners are being cut.

    The stonewalling is another matter completely, and a real head-scratcher.

  5. I would think the ostensible reason for the picketing is to "shame" the building owner and perhaps deter unionists from patronizing whatever will be sold there. However in this day and age in which Walmart, McDonald's and Trump thrive, while unions barely hold their heads above water, it's not likely to be effective. We've probably long since passed the tipping point. Possibly the real reason for the picketing is just to give the guys something to do when they're out of work, which would explain the lack of response to Neil's phone calls.


  6. It's puzzling indeed. Nice effort to show an interest, publicize it and possibly help, and one gets stonewalled. I can't begin to understand all the complex issues surrounding union picketing, but my cynicism is telling me there's a lot more here than meets the eye, and it's not pretty. Or maybe it's just plain apathy.

  7. I drive past the inflatable rat every day. It's in front of a building under construction. Not sure what effect it's supposed to have but I thought it was supposed to shame the workers who cross the picket line. Lots of cars going by but it has no effect on them.

  8. Unless it's a largescale protest, picketing seems to be a thing of the past.


  9. 30 years ago I was working toward a grad degree in public management and took a course on labor law. The professor spent many hours discussing what and when was legal about picket lines and as far as most of the students were concerned he could have been discussing the proverbial pin-dancing angels. Because it never occurred to him that he had to explain that a lot of people won't cross a picket line and that concept never even occurred to my fellow students.


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