Mike Colon

From the Desk of Mike Colon, Blue Collar Black Book Founder

Don't Call Me a Rat! The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend.

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Have you ever been part of a team and half the team thought they didn't need your half of the team to win? Take for instance football. Usually the offense gets all the glory but can the offense win a game without sending in their defense to stop the oppositions offense? HELL NO! Football is war, the struggle between labor and business is war, and in war there is always casualties. Cinch up your Jock, tighten up that chin strap and make sure your pads are strapped up.... we are about to play the smash mouth game of skilled labor.

Just like on the field, in construction there is a bunch of hard hitting, tough as nails, Type A personalities, who want nothing more that to go out there, handle business, day in and day out and come home and relax with their spoils of war. Problem is, over the last 30 years the “spoils of war” more closely resemble the spoils of a college dorm room refrigerator than a vikings plunder. What the hell happened you ask, well I'll tell you!

So we still have the Unions, kind of. If the unions of the 50's 60's & 70's were some hulking, “roid raging” gladiators, today's unions look like a teenage pencil neck geek looking forward to his first day of practice. Okay that was unfair. How about a broken down veteran, near the end of his career, playing for one last chance at greatness. To be more fair there is huge money and seemingly endless supply of opposition trying to bury the working man and unions are on the front lines of that assault.  Homeowners would rather play less. Business REALLY want's to pay less and would prefer if unions were gone altogether.

There is a massive shortage of friends of Unions..... or is there? Maybe it's just a massive misconception. Do the Unions really have to go it alone? Is the enemy of my enemy not my friend? Absolutely. So why do unions never reach out to non union tradesmen for support? Is it pride? “Union Pride” perhaps? Lets dig a little deeper.

So how did it get to this point. I would argue it happened over decades of failing to adapt, to exercise good leadership (not just within the union itself but leadership of the trades) and by hanging onto old outdated principles.

Where did the wedge between union and non union come from? Who came first the chicken or the egg? It doesn't matter. The fact is, there is a wedge between us and it needs to be removed before the two sides can come together, heal so to speak, and become one strong living, thriving beast again.

Unions have never and will never, in the foreseeable future, be able to accept all tradesmen in their area. They don't have the contracts to be able to employ their ranks and keep them off “the list”. It's pretty safe to say that a lot, if not most, local union halls cannot keep all their members off the list  and out of the hall right now.

So how can WE! fix the situation. Well we could all shut our mouths for a minute and stop the trash talking. The term “Rat” has to go. Until the unions get to the point where they can sign up any and all new members and turn right around and put them to work, then they have no right to be slinging that kind of mud. See I think there is a large percent of non union tradesmen who would gladly pay union dues for the increase in protection, benefits and wages as long as they weren't going to sit on the list at the hall. SO, if unions are willing to drop the name calling, I am willing to follow their lead and back any moves they make.

On that note allow me to take a quick tangent and add that we need to communicate better. We are not an island unto ourselves. If there is a plan both union and non union need to be aware so we can both work towards a common goal. I sincerely hope Blue Collar Black Book can become the platform for that communication seeing as how our sole purpose is to protect skilled labor and help lead the trades back to prosperity. I know, it's brash arrogant and daring but I see it as a necessity. Neutral territory for the trades to gather and discuss our future. BUT I digress...

Now “Scabs”, that term can stay, if you are going to cross picket lines and slit the throats of everybody else on the other side of that line INCLUDING the non union tradesmen (because that's what a Scab is doing) then you are part of the problem and you deserve to get bastardized. Nobody said fighting for what's right was easy. Sometimes you have to tighten your belt and live lean and mean for a bit to accomplish what you are fighting for, and if you aren't willing to do it, stay out of OUR business. I think if the Great Recession taught us anything, it's that we are all capable of scaling back a bit if we have to.

SIDEWORK! I have no problem with it. Whether you are union, non union, licensed or unlicensed as long as you play by the rules. IF you do side-work, KNOW YOUR ROLE! You are no longer an employee. That means you are not making employee wages anymore. You are competing with businesses and whether you are a legitimate business or not, you need to be charging appropriate and competitive rates so as NOT TO DRIVE DOWN THE RATES WE CHARGE. How do you know what a company charges for your trade in your area. Very soon, the best way to do it will be to look it up on Blue Collar Black Book. Or  you could call several shops in your area and average their service rates and shop rates but that sounds too much like office work for the likes of me.

It amazes me that non union and union member (employees) alike just don't get that side work is essentially being your own business. Your chance to get the whole pie not just a slice of it. Every so often I will run across a union guy on one of my jobs doing side work for a G.C. giving him a “good deal”. Well the $50 an hour that guy is charging is $30 dollars less than what he costs his employer on his union job and probably about $75- $100 less per hour than what his company bills for every hour he is on the job. And hey if my numbers are off... OPEN THE BOOKS and show me so I can do the math. So you see that union guy who is doing a side job for $50 per hour is undercutting the union shop rate or service rate by anywhere from ½ to 2/3.

The bottom line is: We are a team, we need to act like it. Neither side will find success without the other being successful. In order to be successful we need to act in the best interest of the group and do away with self interest. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we can start kicking ass again like a championship team. When both union and non union skilled tradesmen start experiencing prosperity again, we can metaphorically break out some “healthy” trash talking in the locker room, around our “spoils of war”, about how offense is full of prima donna's and everybody knows the real warlords are on defense because defense wins championships.


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