Spreading misery via unions

A small company in North Carolina and its former unionized employees (mostly black) faces disaster. Kristin Collins of the Raleigh News and Observer reports:

The union workers at Moncure Plywood had no idea when they walked off the job in July that they would be on the picket line through the tropical storms of fall, the chill of winter -- and the near-collapse of the U.S. economy.

There were already rumblings of distress in the economy last summer. Might have been a time for people to tighten their belts rather than demand more.

Now, after seven months of picketing beside a rural road in Chatham County, they find themselves at the center of a rare and protracted labor dispute, fighting for shorter work weeks, lower health-care costs and other workplace rights in the worst of economic conditions.

High labor costs and restrictive work rules have killed the American Auto industry. It can do the same in plywood.

Laid-off workers from other factories flocked to take their jobs, (is anyone really surprised? - ed.) and in the past few months, the company has shed a third of its work force as the market for furniture dries up. The striking workers -- many of whom spent 30 or 40 years mixing glue, sorting wood or driving forklifts -- are faced with searching for jobs in the worst economy in a century.

So who are these people now out of work after decades?

The largely black work force of Moncure Plywood, which makes high-quality wood used mostly in furniture, unionized in 1968 at the peak of the civil rights movement. For years, the plant provided the best jobs in the region for young blacks who wanted to leave behind impoverished farms.

The union wages gave them a shot at the middle class, unlike the jobs their parents held cleaning houses or schools.

"I saw my mama and daddy struggle," said Charles Raines, who took a job in the plant 40 years ago.

(I guess it never dawned on any of these folks to use this job as a stepping stone to a better job. Looks like they all worked here 30-40 years!)  

"I wanted to do better, and I did. I refuse to go back to the '50s and '60s." ...

"We had two choices," Cameron said. "We could be treated like slaves, (ahem -- slaves were not paid for their work and didn't enter the middle class - ed.) or we could stand up and fight."

The strike happened when the company was sold and the new owners sought changes, including what the article reports as a demand "that they work 60-hour weeks, up from 50."

Of course, this work would be at time-and-a-half or better wages. No sane company would want this for more than a temporary situation, as it would be much cheaper to hire new workers for the long term.

I suspect that long work weeks are no longer a problem for the new workers at Moncure.

As the new Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis takes office and pushes through card-check/no secret ballots in unionization elections, more workers will gain benefits of unionization similar to those currently enjoyed by the unemployed unionized workers at Moncure.

Hat tip: Susan L.