Blaming unions

Saint Mary’s professor Larry Haiven thinks blaming unions for unnecessary snow days is silly:

This is part of a syndrome of “if in doubt, blame the unions.”  So convenient.  So wrong.

A few years ago I was taking a tour of the new Toronto opera house.  We were allowed to go everywhere except on stage, even though the stage was bare, with no current production going on.

larry_july_06-2-150One of the tour members asked the docent why we couldn’t go on stage.  The tour member said he had been on tours of all the great opera houses of Europe and had never been barred from the stage.  The docent looked serious and said “union rules.”  All of the tour members (except me) nodded their heads sagely in rueful agreement.

It just so happened that I had an interview with the head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (the stagehands’ union) on another matter later that day.  So I asked him if this were true.  He got very angry and told me that there was no union rule, no union prohibition and, in fact, the union was very much in favour of tours visiting the stage when there was no production going on.  He said that “union rules” have become a pernicious legend in his field.  I later phoned the management of the opera house to complain about the docent’s mistake.

What I found most interesting was not the docent’s duplicity but the tour group’s acceptance of it.  As a former union staffer and a person who researches and teaches about unions, I’m amazed at the difference between the real power that they actually lack and the perceived power people think they have.

As I said before, I regret making the union issue part of this discussion, because it permits people like Larry to wrap themselves in solidarity’s flag and ignore the core issues:

  1. In the management of risk, our society increasingly allows knee-jerk caution to trump common sense, and important social values like child-rearing suffer as a consequence.
  2. After their sub-par performance during Hurricane Juan was criticized, Environment Canada and the CBC began to over-hype forecasts of routine weather. Ironically, this monomaniacal focus on safety has created a very unsafe situation.
  3. Senior managers in our school system either belong, or kinda-sorta belong, to the teachers’ union. The apparent willingness of class-struggle buffs like Larry to countenance this absurdity is astounding.
  4. We have far too many snow days, and the ones we have apply to far too wide an area.

I honestly don’t know whether point three plays any major role in point four, but it ought to be changed anyway. No one above the level of small-school teaching principals ought to belong to the Teacher’s Union, and the law should be changed to reflect this.

As for the accelerating trend toward a New Jerusalem of ‘fraidy cats, Contrarian will continue to rail.