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"Look kids, it's Scabby the Rat! No, those aren't nipples. Now stop crying!"
Last week there was a post about Scabby the Rat and the tweets of Building Trades President Sean McGarvey. I had no idea how 'controversial' these statements were supposed to be until I got to the comments. Let me be clear- I know nothing of the man and offer no endorsement. But I also have no reason to question his motives. A few in the comments felt differently. Some questioned his character or if he was a 'moron'. Some believed his statements were actually wrong!

Lets take a look at these four controversial sentences.
"Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition. Actually we intend to grow our market share by showing owners our value proposition: training and industry partnerships."

100% true and necessary. The Bakers Union has argued this very point all along on behalf of its membership. The best reason for the new owners of Hostess to go Union is the value added by the years of specialized training the baking industry and Union have provided for the membership. Our collective skills could reopen those bakeries and have products on the shelves within two weeks. Without us, no one will do it so quick and seamlessly. Those skills are our most valuable asset in negotiations.

I met a man who is in the pipefitters Union in Arizona. He highly recommended that I pursue it for the very reasons stated by McGarvey. He described an apprentice system where he trains as an assistant to a pipefitter. He makes over $17 an hour as the apprentice. After 'graduating' he will draw between $36 and $40 an hour and he says he is well on his way! The Union helps develop his skills and increases his value to production, which in turn increases his paycheck and job security over time. How's that for 'training and partnership'.

Now why can't the Bakers have something like that? It takes 3 years of employment to reach full rate of pay as a baker. That waiting period is the company acknowledging that experience has value. If experience has no value then why not start everyone at top rate? By the end of those three years the value of that employee should be considerably higher than someone walking in the door. If not, then the company AND the Union have missed an opportunity to maximize their potential.

Labor law falsely categorizes workers in groups of 'skilled' and 'unskilled'. There needs to be a lot more grey area than that. Despite their obvious skills, Bakers are considered 'unskilled'. This categorization is both inaccurate and damaging to negotiations. I think the statements by McGarvey convey that important message better than a VD rat. Just sayin'.

The discussion of Scabby in the comment section revealed many different levels of awareness. Some knew little of Scabby while others laid out the history of everyone's most/least favorite rat. It is clear that the symbolism is lost on some and misread by others. Mostly I was surprised that Scabby would get so much credit for success, considering the track record of Unions in his era.

Scabby is damaging to Union efforts and I realize some will think me a 'sniveling' 'moron' but I am going to explain anyway.

The symbolism of Scabby.
What is a scab? A scab is anyone who doesn't join the Union but still gains the benefits. Kansas is a 'right to work' state so you don't have to join the Union. Freeloaders still take the vacations and health and pension benefits the Union negotiates but they don't pay their Union dues and they don't stop working during strikes. They are selfish to say the least, gaining from the risk of others while taking no risk of their own.

So... Scabby the Rat is a scab, right? He represents the people who are working during the strike. He is the ultimate freeloader. And we all know what we need to do to a scab, right? Pick it. The message being sent to the workers inside the building looking out at the picket line is that they are the giant rat with scabs on his junk, and you don't want to be one of those do you?

Is there any mistaking this symbolism? YES! A TV viewer at home watching the news and completely unaware of 'scabs' is going to fill in the blanks with their own experiences. They may not know what the rat 'is' but they know it's an intimidation tactic. Then their favorite and most relied upon news source mentions 'Union thugs' and 'Union bosses' and shows clips of beer bellies screaming and shoving while a disgusting VD rat charges across the TV screen.

There are many vague meanings to the long and storied history of this rat, but perception is reality. No one can argue that the perception of Unions is a positive one in the era of Scabby the Rat.

Scabs in real life
At the Lenexa bakery there was only one long term scab to the Bakers Union. A few short timers came and went. There were four Union members I know of who became scabs during the strike. Add a few new people and the Bakers saw less than 10 scabs in Lenexa, out of approximately 179 total regional members during the strike.

Our long term scab was an anti-Union conservative, willingly brainwashed by talk radio. The four who crossed the picket line were Union members and had voted the same as the rest of us. But when it came time to act they didn't. I don't know or care why. They made the wrong choice but it was theirs to make. The new people who crossed the line all said the same basic things, not my fight, join afterwards, bills to pay, new job....

I worked very hard to sign people up for the Union in the months leading up to the strike. I initiated conversations with EVERY new person. I even attempted to discuss it with the long-time scab. I never once said anything to imply physical harm or danger. I never suggested stress or repercussions. If I had there would have been far MORE scabs. Several times I was forced to undue damage caused by other Union members.

Preventing scabs
Instead, I simply told the truth about the Union and its role in my life and theirs. I pointed out how the Union had created their $16 an hour potential, the pension contributions, and the excellent health care package. It isn't the company being generous, it is the negotiating power of the Union. I would tell them how the previous strike in 2001 prevented a $35 increase in the weekly premium. I would show them that $35 a week times 10 years is $18,200 in money that would be missing from their budget.

Threats would have alienated them and done nothing to answer the perfectly fair question "Why be Union?" A member who joins out of fear is not a real asset to the Union. Someone who understands the personal benefits of membership is a fighter and is far more likely to stand up to company bullies, a daily need. They will represent themselves and the Union in a positive light.

It's a fair question, answer it!
Why be Union?
Because negotiating together will lead to a middle class life.
Because a supervisor's mental health should not affect your job.
Because everyone who works here has nice teeth.
Because the HR department should be renamed 'lawsuit prevention'
Because $35 a week times 10 years is $18,200.
Because you need a partner if you are sitting in an office with a bunch of suits, and you're not sure why.
Because vacations and holidays are the shit!
Because the rules should be applied equally in all situations, not manipulated to punish a few.
Because funds are fungible and mysteriously soak up pensions.

Do we really need to add 'because you should be afraid?' Unions are not the bullies in this fight. We are the ones being pushed around in courts of law. I don't care if you can puff out your chest, I care if you can argue a case.

What Scabby really represents
How about 30 years of failure by Unions to 'argue the case'. Steeply declining membership. Disappearing pensions. Lack of recruitment efforts. A 6.6% private sector membership . A media narrative of 'Bosses' and 'Thugs'. Or just the old guard puffing out their chests while saying 'in the old days we'd shoot out your radiator'.

Well it ain't the old days anymore. There won't be any gunfights, but there are court cases and PR wars right around the corner. These companies only fear loss of profit, so that rat is no threat. Neither is your bat or your shotgun. Hell, they would love to see that on TV, next to the rat! PR is the only weapon left and they seem to be the only ones arming themselves.

Goodbye Scabby the Rat, and all you represent.

Talk facts, not rats! It is time to evolve the fight.
"Inside the Hostess Bankery- The Movie"

"Working in These Times, IWW"

Originally posted to In Support of Labor and Unions on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 03:39 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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