LIMA — When Gary Frueh first began working at Dana Inc. in the ’70s, he voted against organizing a union the first time around. A year later, he changed his mind.
“I realized the second time around there is an absolute need for a voice. And with that, I was active in the second organizing drive and I think it turned out the best for a lot of employees,” Frueh said.
Since that time, Frueh has watched local unions evolve over a 50-year period. For the third episode of Boom XYZ, a Lima News podcast, Frueh sat down with two other younger union members to discuss what he’s seen over the years and how it has affected union enrollment and the manufacturing workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of workers in a union has halved since 1983, and today, that trend looks like it will continue. Podcast participants Brad Wendel, Gary McPheron and Frueh all discussed the difficulties surrounding recruitment in today’s economy. Among many of those on the edge of entering the workforce, a union apprenticeship may not always be a consideration, which has turned such programs into the region’s “best kept secret,” Wendel said.
“It’s hard to find people. That’s part of the struggle right now is finding and attracting new talent,” Wendel said.
Like many other manufacturing companies and workforce-centric agencies, local labor unions are trying to connect with high-schoolers making career decisions. Frueh, who is involved in a few programs at Lima Senior, said he’s seen many students consider college first without thinking through what career they may want in the long-run.
McPheron, a painters union member, echoed the point. In the past, he’s made pitches to classes by promising good pay and benefits and seen the message miss its mark completely. Instead, many high-schoolers end up heading to college, and if the degree they’ve earned doesn’t work out well, they may find themselves looking into the union after the fact.
Today, the average age of a beginning painting apprentice is 27, McPheron said, and many end up joining the union as a second career after the first one they consider fizzles out.
“We had a lawyer who used to work at Dana. He actually had a law degree, but he was working at Dana,” Frueh said.
Union recruitment has also been hurt by misinformation spread about the organizations by some employers worried about profit margins, Wendel said.
“I’ve worked for non-unions for a few years, and I saw the exact same thing. They’d feed you lies: ‘You’re always going to be laid off.’ ‘You’re never going to have a job.’ And really, what it is is tactics to try to scare you from the benefits of the union,“ Wendel said.
“The unions are about the last organized and financed group that can speak up against the power and control that they have,” McPheron said. “They don’t like us to be able to collective bargain because it’s not to their benefit.”
The discussion can be heard in its entirety online at www.limaohio.com, or by subscribing to Boom XYZ on your preferred podcast streaming service.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.