When I was a toddler in Miami during World War II, my father was a machinist at ** Consolidated Vultee Aircraft (Convair), ranked fourth among United States corporations by value of wartime production contracts, higher than the giants like Douglas Aircraft, Boeing, and Lockheed.
Dad was in a labor union, today named The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. By the time I was in elementary school he was actually employed by the union, at that time called the IAM. He was a Grand Lodge Representative, one of the full-time staff of the IAM responsible for contract negotiations, organizing, arbitrating grievances, and representing the IAM before the National Labor Relations Board.
In 1948, National Airlines, based in Jacksonville, Florida, locked out striking IAM workers. Those men armed themselves and threatened scab workers who dared cross the picket line. So Dad went there to represent the IAM and negotiate with the likes of George T. “Ted” Baker, National Airlines President, who was notorious for his anti-union stance. And we moved to Jax because it was a very long struggle.
That job in general and the National Airlines strike in particular was tough. It will come as no surprise, then, that by 1950 he had quit to go work as a wholesale meat distributor in Jacksonville. But the union was in his bones. The union is also in my DNA. So, even never having been a member of one, I am an 100% union supporter.
There are about 14.5 million union members in the United States. Guess what, though. The highest unionization rates in 2016 were in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent). Huh. Who knew?
We think of Labor Day as the official end of Summer. Most of us don’t celebrate the unions. Some of us will remember, however, what they have done for workers everywhere. And, as we should, be thankful.
**I have always thought it ironic that the plane my father built was the PBY Catalina flying boat because after he died my mother married an ex-Navy guy who served aboard that aircraft during the War.