Something strange is afoot in east-coast labor union tactics. They're called "hired feet."
From this morning's Washington Post comes this report, describing a very unusual carpenter's union picket line in Washington D.C.: one populated not by aggrieved union members demanding better wages and working conditions but by the homeless, the unemployed, and ex-convicts. According to the Post, they're sent to hassle building owners who dare to save money by having carpentry, drywall, and flooring installation done by non-union contractors.
It's a motley crew on the picket line:
Many have arrived with large suitcases or bags holding their belongings, which they keep in sight. Several are smoking cigarettes. One works a crossword puzzle. Another bangs a tambourine, while several drum on large white buckets. Some of the men walking the line call out to passing women, "Hey, baby." A few picketers gyrate and dance while chanting: "What do we want? Fair wages. When do we want them? Now."
There's something decidedly odd about this.
First, I thought unions were against outsourcing, or contracting out functions that are legitimately performed by union members?
Third, these workers have no benefits. No health insurance? I thought unions were against this sort of thing.
Well, to be fair, there is some upward mobility in for-hire picketing:
William R. Strange, 41, said he started working as a for-hire picket two years ago when he lived in a homeless shelter on New York Avenue. He is now paid $12 an hour because he plays the buckets during the demonstrations.
Not all in labor see this bizarre practice as befitting of the movement:
"If I was a member of the general public, and I asked someone picketing why they were there, and they said they don't work for the union and they were just hired to stand there, that wouldn't create a very positive impression on me, nor would it create a very sympathetic position," said Wayne Ranick, spokesman for the United Steelworkers of America.