There is one minority group left in South Carolina that you can still insult and discriminate against without fear of offending folks — or being called out by polite society.
That would be the 2.2 percent of state workers who are members of unions.
South Carolina politicians have declared open season on labor unions. They insinuate these organizations are as dangerous as the Taliban, claim they are a threat to America.
Maybe they get the vapors because the very word “union” conjures memories of our enemies in the Late Unpleasantness.
The real problem here, obviously, is that the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is trying to organize workers at the North Charleston Boeing plant. Gov. Nikki Haley has taken to the airwaves to blast these efforts and even mentioned the union in her State of the State address last week.
Haley said unions aren’t welcome here — they are bad for business.
“So every time you hear a Seattle union boss carry on about how he has the best interests of the Boeing workers in Charleston at heart, remember this: if it was up to that same union boss, there would be no Boeing workers in Charleston,” Haley said.
That was a pretty masterful stroke by the governor, because it is a fair point. And there is more than a smidgen of truth in it.
But there’s another side to the story that has been lost. And anyone who works 40 hours a week should know it.
James Sanderson, president and training coordinator of the United Steel Workers Local 7898 in Georgetown, is about tired of the political rhetoric.
He wants to know why it’s OK for politicians to bash their own state’s workforce.
That is also a good point. People who are in unions are just workers looking out for their own best interests — and isn’t that what America is all about?
Heaven knows that the opposite — looking out for others — is not politically popular here.
The Boeing thing was unfortunate. The IAM union filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that the airplane maker was opening its new plant here instead of Washington to avoid strikes and other troubles that unions can cause.
Which is technically against the law.
The union tried to stop the plant from being built, even though Boeing officials argued they were only looking to lower costs — which of course they could do more easily without the pain of a collective bargaining agreement that costs the company more in wages and benefits and cuts into its nut.
The fight got ugly, as Haley mentioned, with union folks saying South Carolina rednecks couldn’t build airplanes.
Just a hint: that may hurt organizing efforts a tad.
Eventually Boeing and the union reached a truce, and the whole thing was dropped. But the sour grapes linger. So it’s no surprise that local politicians aren’t happy to see the union trying to organize workers here.
They see unionization as a threat to South Carolina’s most celebrated job creator.
And according to the modern political playbook, job creators are to be worshipped — workers, not so much.
No system is perfect.
Union critics say these organizations exist solely to extract dues from their members. Which is facile.
But you can argue that a person’s pay ought to be dictated by merit, and not a collective bargain or seniority.
It’s true that unions have sometimes gone too far, demanding so much they hurt their employers’ ability to operate — which is the very definition of killing the golden goose.
And they almost always take the side of a dues-paying member over the company, even if that person is a slacker who doesn’t deserve a job.
Of course, there’s an entire political party that will take the side of big business no matter what it tries to do to its workers. So it evens out.
Look, neither side is always right — in politics, in business, in life. And if Boeing workers want to organize, they need to decide whether that will do them any good or not without being threatened by anyone.
If politicians want to criticize the union, fine. Don’t try to sue them. But no one should demonize an entire segment of the workforce because Rich Uncle Pennybags told them to.
The fact is, unions are responsible for the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, sick days, paid vacations, workers’ comp and employer-provided health insurance.
Just a few of the greatest hits.
Before there were unions, many companies worked their employees to death, 70 or 80 hours a week, for no additional money or time off. If they complained, they were fired.
Honestly, that’s how some people think it ought to be today.
But those are usually the folks who don’t have to work 40 hours a week to put food on the table.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org