THE BLOG
03/04/2011 03:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yeah Unions!

If you are wondering why the right to collective bargaining is so important for union workers here is a story about my father.

My dad, Aldo, was a Longshoreman in Brooklyn from 1955 to 2001. In 1978 when the shippers wanted to containerize the docks they were going to save lot of money and a lot of union jobs were going to be lost. That is the way it would have gone down had it not been for my father's union, local 1814 of the International Longshoreman's Union (ILA). Led by Anthony Scotto the union organized bitter strikes and got a guarantee from the shippers that every man working gets 2080 hours of work a year (that's 40 hours a week) until they reached retirement age. Read Story. Before containerization it took 100 men a week of backbreaking work (e.g. carrying 100 pound bags of coffee beans off the ships). With the containers 45 men could do it over night.

Instead of losing his job my dad got guaranteed paid till the day he would have normally retired whether he worked or not. One condition was that he had to shape up every day. In other words show up and report to be ready to work. What happened is that the guys with the least amount of seniority got called to work first. Because he'd been there for over 20 years he had AAA seniority. By ten AM if he wasn't needed - and he rarely was - he got to go home and still get paid for the days work. Till 10 AM he hung out playing cards with his pals in the shape up hall. After 10AM he went to the diner in Brooklyn to continue playing cards and to flirt with Emelia, a beautiful waitress, who ended up as my dad's late life girlfriend.

What advantage then was containerization to the shippers if they still had to pay the workers for 40 hours a week? The ships got unloaded in one day rather than a week. Also there was no loss of products. Though a container here or there might disappear the content was pretty much safe locked up in the containers. Theft was a big loss item in the old days.

This was a great example about how the right of collective bargaining caused productivity gains to get shared by the workers and the employers. Normally what happens is the employers get richer and the workers get no gains or worse, lose jobs.

Also thanks to the union, wealth disparity was abated. Rather than the shippers making a lot more money because of the savings they only made more money while my father and his co-workers kept the income they had from their jobs. Over time as my father and his co-workers retired they were not replaced benefiting the shippers even more.

Finally my dad gave or lent his kids all the money he made in his senior years from that guaranteed job and my siblings and I started our businesses, bought our houses, or send his grandchildren to school. While I'm on the subject of my father he said to me when I was running for President of the USA: "Always remember, it's the working man who is keeping this country where it is. Not the guy who has two billion dollars and is telling everyone what to do. Have a little patience and the working man will take care of himself and you." Read more from my father in my book Raising Eyebrows, A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right.

Yeah Unions!