"The labor movement could use a little jolt," Johnny "Doc" Dougherty told my colleague Tom Fitzgerald Monday, noting that rat symbols and rallies fire up the troops. "There's no place to go but up. ... Do you think I care about what some Birkenstock-wearing suburban liberal says about it?"
I have a question for Johnny "Doc" Dougherty, head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 in Philadelphia.
What is actually wrong with being a Birkenstock-wearing suburban liberal?
Is it the shoes? Because there are a lot of unionized health care workers who wear Birkenstocks to work every day. They are known to be comfortable shoes for people on their feet.
Is it wearing? Because most people wear shoes on the job -- union members as well. In fact, union training helps workers to wear the right shoes for the job, safe shoes.
Is there a problem with suburban? Because of union wages, many people can afford to buy homes where they wish. Maybe Johnny Doc likes living in his city neighborhood, and it is a great neighborhood. But there are plenty of union members who prefer the suburbs -- and they are entitled to live there.
Is the word "liberal" troublesome? Other than union members themselves, who does Johnny Doc think supports the union movement?
The efforts by unions to maintain wages may be troublesome to some, but they aren't troublesome to the people who would like to earn those wages. If employers can pay less, they certainly will. We can argue about tactics all day long -- and it may be that the rats and rallies are necessary to keep the troops fired up. It may be that the rudeness at public gatherings puts would-be union supporters off -- maybe some of those would-be supporters wear Birkenstocks, live in the suburbs and are liberal. These are interesting, but theoretical, discussions.
What matters is the central tenet of unionism: Good jobs with a good wages and benefits in places where workers can be safe, productive and respected.
If they want to wear Birkenstocks, then God bless 'em.
(Click here to read Tom Fitzgerald's blog, Big Tent)