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July 25, 2014

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Finding a different way of labeling unions

Whenever a member of a group goes rogue, you can be absolutely certain that other members of that group will pop up with the “bad apple” defense, as in, “Well, sure, there’s a few bad apples in every bunch, but that’s the exception.”

It’s a very legitimate maneuver, and I’ve used it myself when, for example, people point to the Catholic Church as a nest of pedophiles. The small percentage of evil men who happen to have hijacked the Roman collar don’t define the legion of saintly folk in the rectories, communities and places where Christians are moving targets.

So, it’s understandable that when members of Ironworkers Local 401 are indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges by the U.S. attorney, some people will rush to defend the labor movement and point to these self-described THUGs, aka “The Helpful Union Guys,” as aberrations.

I mean, just because a few misguided goons are suspected of arson, assault, battery, mayhem and terroristic threats doesn’t mean that every hard-working union man (or woman) is a psychopath.

I suspect that’s why Pennsylvania state Rep. Brendan Boyle immediately responded to the indictment with the following: “Certainly we don’t condone any of the alleged actions of a few individuals, but this alleged incident shouldn’t be used as an excuse to attack the important work unions do to reduce the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.”

I’d actually rephrase that last sentence as the “growing gap between the felonious and everyone else who obeys the law,” but perhaps that’s just quibbling. After all, as Boyle notes — twice — the union folk are innocent until proven guilty, just as Jimmy Hoffa is alive until proven to be fertilizer under the old Meadowlands complex.

Frankly, I’ve never been a huge fan of unions. The teachers, the Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, the Service Employees International Union and even sometimes the Fraternal Order of Police can make life miserable for the rest of us. Sure, they talk big about strength in numbers and how the people united will never be defeated (except in Wisconsin and Tennessee), but the days of Molly Maguires and the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedies are long gone. Most people want a job, not membership in a secular cult that demands tribute in the form of union dues and acquiescence.

Still, collective bargaining isn’t going anywhere in my lifetime, entrenched as it is in the American psyche.

But this recent indictment shows just how very much like the Taliban some union members become when they feel threatened. The 49-page document details incidents like the one involving a Quaker meetinghouse where three union members are alleged to have cut steel beams and set fire to a crane at the work site. Then there was the time the goons showed up at a Toys “R” Us work site in King of Prussia, Pa., and started smashing nonunion trucks with baseball bats and assaulting nonunion workers.

Quakers and Geoffrey the Giraffe. It’s amazing that the Ironworkers didn’t invade some random convent and start beating the nuns with Louisville Sluggers.

The surprising thing about this indictment is how surprising it’s not. For years, unions, especially those involved with the building trades, have cultivated a reputation for thuggery. The indictment shows just how valuable violence was on an Ironworker’s resume, to the extent that plum jobs were divvied up based on the frequency of a member’s participation in antisocial acts.

At this point, you’re saying: “Christine, what about that whole ‘bad apple’ defense you mentioned before? Isn’t it hypocritical to lump the whole labor movement in with these criminals?” And of course, you would be right to point that out, just as I have been right to note that less than 1 percent of the world’s clergy were involved in acts of sexual abuse.

The difference is that when you try to defend a priest, you get called all manner of delightful things that are rarely printable in family newspapers, while those who defend the unions are generally praised for standing up for the “little guy.”

Frankly, I’m sick of these sociopaths getting a pass for their criminal actions just because they happen to advance some twisted progressive narrative. A lot of hardworking people reject these glorified extortionists who divide the world into “union” and “enemy.” They simply want to be left alone to take the best employment offer or hire the most qualified worker. They don’t want to have to take their lives into their hands if they park their trucks in the wrong spot, or if they decide to do rehab on someone else’s place of worship.

Normally when I see a picket line, I get annoyed, particularly if that line is strung in front of a suburban school and a bunch of aggrieved educators are complaining about working conditions, health insurance contributions, longer work days, etc.

Excuse the eye roll from this former teacher.

But that’s nothing compared to criminals who wear the union label.

Hopefully, they’ll soon be wearing orange.

Christine Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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