USW Union Local 2003 protesters picket last month outside Neo Industries in Portage, from left, Mike Briggs, Shawn Himo, Robert Schnick, Duane "Bubba" Jones and Dario "Chief" Llano. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 12, 2014 6:12AM
Dario “Chief” Llano shook his head in disgust when I asked how things were going. He didn’t have to say a word.
In mid-March, Llano stood outside Neo Industries in Portage alongside his union brothers, Mike Briggs, Shawn Himo, Robert Schnick and Duane “Bubba” Jones. They clustered around burn barrels to stay warm, hoisted protest signs for visitors and even erected a makeshift tent to demonstrate around the clock.
For weeks, these United Steelworkers Union Local 2003 workers had been protesting outside Neo, amid bitter wintry conditions, with no end in sight and no contract in hand.
“We have been without a contract since October,” explained Carlos Luna, the union president who officially spoke for the others. “We have been bargaining with the company and they have been lying from the beginning and not bargaining in good faith.”
Located across from the Coca-Cola plant on the city’s north side, Neo was in dispute with the union over the jobs of roughly 10 truck drivers. There was a truckload of details, hearsay and conjecture regarding this issue, and the lingering strike, but it’s all a moot point now. The contract was finally settled on March 26, according to Mike Millsap, the union’s lead negotiator and its new District 7 director.
Was he happy with the protest’s outcome and the new contract?
“Yes,” Millsap flatly replied to me.
I’m guessing he would have been chattier if I had contacted him earlier, when the union was still negotiating and when a newspaper column may have helped its cause. Or so they likely believe. I disagree.
Another union protest, another contract negotiation, another polarizing battleground. Not only for the union versus company and workers versus management, but for the rest of Americans who are all too familiar with this issue.
Charge after charge, allegation after allegation, year after year. Everyone involved in these protests is convinced — convinced — they speak the truth and are in the right.
Through the years, I’ve written about other union protests, and I’m just as convinced that my columns did nothing to change the reality of these textbook tugs-of-war except to expose them to readers.
And most readers are already firmly entrenched in their beliefs about unions, with little ground to give to opposing stances.
Either you love unions or you hate them. Either their strikes illustrate the best of unions or the worst. The best of America or the worst. There’s very little middle ground, and barely any gray area for civilized debate.
Are union workers overpaid crybabies or overworked laborers? Are they asking for too much or simply demanding a fair shake? Isn’t it the union members who put the bite in a union’s bark?
“Jerry, you are stepping into a minefield, believe me,” warned longtime reader Reggie H., who has 42 years of experience as a union member. “You can’t please everyone, and don’t try. You will lose every time.”
He told me that a few years ago, and he’s right. That’s not exactly why I didn’t write about the protest at Neo until now, after it’s a done deal. But I’d be lying if I said his sage advice doesn’t play a role in my consideration of covering such protests.
Maybe I’ve witnessed too many of them. Maybe I’ve become jaded over their predictable rhetoric from both sides. Or maybe we, as a society, have become oblivious, even apathetic, to their meaning and purpose in the 21st century. And I’m simply the canary in the proverbial coal mine of such indifference to unions and their future.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know, and I’ll share your opinions in a future column.
Something to say to me?
I routinely get voice mails and emails from readers regarding my columns and opinions, in addition to reading comments posted underneath my work, whether it’s on the Post-Tribune site, Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In or my blog.
But I rarely hear directly from readers or followers to share their feedback, opinions or complaints about my writings.
So today I’m carving out an opening of time during my Casual Fridays radio show for readers to call me directly, on air, and tell me what’s on their mind. Have something to say to me? Call in during my weekly radio show, which airs each Friday from noon to 1 p.m. on WLPR (89.1-FM), streaming at http://lakeshorepublicmedia.org/local-programs/casual-fridays/.
The studio line is 769-9577. As my co-host always tells listeners, don’t be shy.
‘Just needed to vent’
On a similar note, I’ve noticed that most readers — most people — merely want to be heard regarding their opinion, plight or circumstance in life.
For example, I recently heard from Roger B., a disgruntled reader who had complaints about his delivery service. He ranted about it to our circulation department and then contacted me as a last resort.
I replied to him, acknowledging his email and concerns. Here is his reply.
“Jerry, thanks for your concern, I appreciate it. There really isn’t anything you can do to rectify the situation. I guess I just needed to vent to someone who might care. Thanks again.”
On a broader scale, I have found that listening is a lost art these days and too many people have no idea how to do it.
Though it seems so easy in theory, it’s much harder in real-world application.
Next week, I’m writing a column to illustrate this face-to-face disconnect we seem to have in our hurried, harried and selfish society. Stay tuned.
Connect with J erry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.