Labor Unions Appeal to 20-Somethings

A young unemployed generation looks for comfort.

Growing up in Delco, I wished my teachers would strike. Who cares if you had to make up a few extra days in June? No kid has ever learned anything in June. It’s recess. I was taken back to my Delco elementary school classroom when I watched this AFL-CIO ad designed to reintroduce 20-somethings to unions.

There’s no mention of recess anywhere. Nope, this ad is all about work. We 20-somethings want anything but recess. We’re so desperate for work, we’ll do it for free. Read: unpaid internships.

Will the appeal work? Twenty-somethings are generally underemployed, underpaid and unorganized. Where’s our national student government? Enter the union. They’ve got money and political power. But do they have jobs? The jury’s still out.

“They make sure the job doesn’t do anything slimy,” my buddy’s friend, Charles Martin, 23, tells me. “You pay them monthly, but they have your back.” Martin is a baker in Northeast Philly. He says the only times he’d ever heard of unions was when they’d screw up the SEPTA schedules.

But late last year, his supervisor tried to force him to do work he wasn’t hired for. He called the union and a few weeks later he was back to baking bread, no questions asked. “They’re kinda like your lawyer,” Martin says. “I had no idea how to handle any of this stuff.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thinks they’re “political thugs.” If you’re raising wages, you’re cutting jobs. But if you’re not defending workers’ rights, you’re screwing workers. It’s a lose-lose situation. Political poison.

“The unions of the past century represent a mixed bag for work opportunity today,” says Tom Shakely, 24, a marketing consultant who lives in Manayunk. He was involved with conservative student groups at Penn State, where I went to school. “In Catholic education, for instance, unions have fought for higher wages that result in higher tuition costs.”

Or, in the case of SEPTA, higher commuter costs. Last week, the Transit Police Union went on strike against SEPTA, saying they want 50 cents more on the hour to pay for mandatory recertification classes. (Don’t worry, your work commute won’t be any less safe. SEPTA says it hired fill-ins.)

To reach 20-somethings, unions shouldn’t advertise on television, they should show up at the job and at job fairs. Better yet, they should host the job fairs themselves.

Should 20-somethings be pro-union? I don’t think many of them have a choice right now—they’re unemployed. Here’s where unions miss the mark: Instead of promoting themselves, they should help 20-somethings find work.

Because when this generation does find work, we’ll remember who it was who helped us. The race now becomes who can get there first. For a young guy in a Northeast Philly bakery, the union won that race.

I’m back in fourth grade in a Delco classroom. My teacher’s mantra: Fair is not always equal. If only unions understood this, maybe then they’d know why 20-somethings shouldn’t be too happy to fork over a few extra bucks of lunch money each month to pay off bullies.

Growing up, maybe I didn’t want my teachers to strike after all. Recess is overrated.