Sorry To Ruin your Dinner…(Unions protect us all)

Los Angeles Early 1991

An actor, a grip and a production designer walk into a restaurant…

I had just finished my first production design job on “Boyz N the Hood”. One month before I started on “Boyz” I was best boy grip on “A rage in Harlem”.    I was having dinner with my  two great friends,  Jeff Joseph and Keith Burns at one of our favorite hangouts, Cafe Luna on Melrose. We usually got a great table because I’m so engaging and magnanimous and entertaining (to ME).  I was telling my friends how I went from non-union set dresser to, non-union grip, to union set dresser and union art director in the space of four years.   

I was a hard (angry) worker and a visionary (hard headed) artist.  The most disappointing moments of my life and career have been when I’ve questioned my own talents and instincts. I had worked hard to earn my way to where I was. But enough about me (for now) , this is about US. 

At the core, labor unions (we) are working men and women, unified as one force. Despite any personal differences that may exist between us, we have banded together to protect and improve the lives of workers. We rise up together for the greater good. We defend one another like family.

SUE CARNEY, “We’re Not a Fee-for-Service Organization”, The American Postal Worker, March/April, 2014


I was telling a story of how,  as a grip, I made $600 cash on a non union commercial for Seagrams.  It was an entertaining story of how these four Yakuza looking cats were passing out cash to the crew at the end of a nine hour day. Seated at the table next to us was a group of twenty somethings that had the distinct aroma of Orange County wafting from their pores.  Although I was 28 at the time I never felt as young as they were at the time.  I was totally independent from the day I turned 18 and hadn’t spent more than a week under any roof that I hadn’t paid for since that moment. I hadn’t gone to college other than Los Angeles City College so my “Adult Life” had started about ten years before these “kids”.  

The fresh faced, blonde and beautiful Reaganites had recently graduated and were  working for a hotel chain owned by a Japanese corporation. They were polite and engaging and we shared the energy and optimism of young people beginning the journey to take on the world. They overheard my story about the Yakuza and thought it was funny. We shared opinions on commerce and America. I told them that I was from Detroit and how disappointed I was at the American Car industry and how all the best cars are Japanese and the American car manufactures were myopic and the engineers never listened to what the factory  workers said about the quality of the product. The Japanese manufacturers always considered all points from the factory workers and their products always reflected this philosophy.  The “Brad Pitt” of their group volunteered that American manufacturers have an adversarial position with the workers and SHOULD HAVE STOPPED THERE! 
He then said that the unions constant pushing and bulling affects productivity. 

SO…that citrus smell wasn’t a coincidence.  I smell a Republican! The sweet and acidic aroma of  Machiavellian utopia.  

I tried to be diplomatic and just replied that unions aren’t really evil, people are and that unions are a “necessary evil”. He and his colleges told me that the union tried to organize the hotel that they were employed by and they would never sign the cards because they got along with management and were paid well and the when the union tried to organize the hotel management had just given them a raise. They also said that they got great benefits and saw no need to sign a card and pay dues just to get a small raise.  They all agreed that they were happy employees.  
Well I guess they shut me up! (Not really)
I’ve often been accused of being smug and superior and one of the edicts I live by is, “When you realize you’re talking to an idiot, stop talking.”  When I don’t think I can make my point clear I usually “Let the Wookie win”.  As our food arrived and our dining neighbors basked in their philosophical victory I asked a simple question, “So do you really believe that if that union was not knocking at the gate of your employer they would bombard you with raises and benefits out of the kindness of their hearts?”   The silence was deafening.  


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