THE BLOG

Why Unions Get a Bad Name

05/27/2011 01:47 pm ET | Updated Jul 23, 2011

My dad was in a union, my aunts and uncles, relatives, extended family, all staunch union members. It afforded my sister and me, daughters of an immigrant, the opportunity to go to college, to law school. In law school I worked on the legal team for a union's collective bargaining rights in a case we took to the Supreme Court.

I love unions. They are necessary, are part of the fabric of American lives. They protect the working class from exploitation and anyone who thinks different should take a look at our present day situation and the plight of the fading working middle class. I was as taken aback by the events in Wisconsin just as I was when President Reagan took aim at air traffic controllers, when jobs went overseas because, well it's cheaper to produce so corporations, companies can make more money. Isn't that what capitalism is all about? Profits, all about what's best for me me me.

So even though unions have taken a beating in recent years, why do they still get a bad name? What's our beef? Why don't 'we' like unions? Well as someone who has fought for unions and then argued with union workers for what I considered unreasonable demands, I think I have been on and have seen both sides. It's not the unions per se, it's some union members, who give unions a bad name by using strong arm mobster tactics. When a production is exempt from 'going union' because of a low budget why do union members knowingly take these non-union jobs and then try and 'flip' the production, make it union? This happens a little too frequently with the film industry here in Los Angeles. Again this is from my limited experience and from what I have heard from friends and colleagues: when is a 'flip' a scam?

To my knowledge union members are not allowed to work on non-union jobs. So why do union members take non-union jobs in violation of their own agreements and rules with their union, don't state they are union members to the production, then, when shooting starts, demand the show go union and threaten to picket or shut it down or worse if it doesn't. Does this sound fair to you?

I've dealt with the requisite lawn mowers brought out in a neighborhood when a shoot comes in. All of a sudden everyone wants to mow their lawn and it takes a couple of hundred each for them to stop. Who in their right mind would want to shoot in places like this? A friend whose husband is a teamster adamantly insisted companies shoot outside Los Angeles for different reasons, to shoot non union and their film lacks quality. Well with most of film production I believe happening outside of Los Angeles, and workers, union and not, complaining about runaway productions, isn't it time to take a look at what goes on even if it is contributing a little to the problem? What gives unions a bad name? When union members take a job with the intention to 'flip' the shoot -- to make the producers go union -- well, in my book this is blackmail.

Why do they feel justified in tricking folks who are trying to make a movie, in one case a minority movie in a non-profit situation to top it off? Why are the union folk entitled to make union pay, benefits and fringes and damn everyone else if they can't afford it? Why do these union folks feel entitled to threaten to shut a movie down, not taking into account that folks had to toil, write the script, cast actors not to mention find money to produce the movie in the first place? Why do they have no rights? Are they not providing work? Are they not working themselves? Don't they have any rights?

I'm not talking about studios or big production companies. Contrary to what my friend says they have taken off for greener pastures a while ago, to Canada, to states and countries that offer incentives for filming and other benefits we lack here in California. So the low low budgets who can't go anywhere else because they don't have the money to go, get their feet held over the coals with a 'go union or we will picket you, we will shut you down threat' and a crew that turns into a 'us against them mentality' on the set and all of a sudden you can't trust that anyone is doing their job, you can't be sure no one is out to sabotage you and maybe not run that camera or deliberately work a little slower, or maybe drop that light.

I fear the general population who believe anyone who is making a film has money to burn and should and could pay is evidenced by another conversation with a friend. I asked for some advice and was told my producer friend should go union and use her own money to pay the difference. Is that how divided we are in this country? We take from folks we believe are better off than us while the real rich laugh all the way, well you know where. They're overseas.

Are we entitled to take from others, to trick others into paying us because they may have more money than we have? Where is our integrity? Here are folks trying to make a movie with very limited resources. And folks again, the big guys who can pay, won't, they go out of state and the ones who stay get shafted. I would love to see every job every film every shoot union, if you have the budget to do it. But don't curtail others' work using a bait and switch, waiting until the shoot is in progress to hold them up. This is highway robbery in my book. This is what gives unions a bad name.