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Asked & Answered

Woody McNemar, President, Central Md AFL-CIO Labor Council

Woody McNemar, President, Central Md AFL-CIO Labor Council

September 02, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: Reporter Julie Greene sat down recently with Woody McNemar, president of the Central Maryland AFL-CIO Labor Council, to ask some questions she gathered from business and community leaders about the local union.

What is the state of unions in Washington County?

"Today they're very good. We have a lot of organizing going on. As a matter of fact, one of our organizers is here today, and they're doing an excellent job. The only thing that we're trying to do is, you know, have the people get their fair share of the money that the companies make. The organizing's going very well now."

What are the big issues facing unions in Washington County?

"The companies, basically. This is normally a very nonunion surrounding in Washington County - most of the construction is nonunion. A lot of the companies - the bigger companies are union - but I'd say our basic problem now is the companies. Ninety percent of the companies are nonunion and it's hard to get the companies to go along with joining a union, even though it would help the people, you know, as far as health and welfare and wages. But the companies don't seem to be really caring about health, welfare and wages for their employees. The only thing they look at is the buck."

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With the growth in the local service industry, do you see the hospitality industry becoming a target for union organizers?

"Yes. We have AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) that's really going after them and a lot of the unions - today, any of the unions can go in and organize them. The Hotel and Restaurant Workers are going after them, and it's a good thing. It helps the people within the hotels, you know, that work there, so it really is a good thing for the people."

You mean the employees at the hotels and restaurants - they are actually asking for the union to come in?

"Yes."

This community is always talking about bringing in high-paying jobs. What role does the union play in that?

"We are a lobbyist, basically. So, when a high-paying job comes into the area, usually the union is the ones that fight for it. Most of the jobs that come into this area - the companies might think they are high paying - but they're not, not at $7 or $8 an hour. Most families can't live on $7 or $8 an hour. Basically, that says it. We lobby for it and we work with the companies, you know. We work with the city to give them tax breaks and try to help them out as far as any way that they need to come in."

In difficult economic times, does the union have an inclination or even a responsibility to make concessions it might not during a strong economy?

"Oh, yes. We make concessions for our companies that we represent during recessions. Matter of fact, a lot of companies are doing that now."

Can you elaborate on that at all?

"I'd rather not, because of the fact that it is a private "

I don't mean to mention a specific company as an example, but to maybe give an example of what kind of concessions.

"Wages. They don't give anything on health, because health is something that you always need. But a lot of times they give it on wages and things like that. Matter of fact, the carpenters' union gives a lot of concessions. The electrical unions give a lot of concessions to companies during times like that to help them out through it, and then, you know, they give it back to us afterwards, but it always helps the companies."

When you say wage concessions, do you mean actually having their salaries cut back, or just not having a raise that year?

"Not having a raise that year. The companies never ask for anything other than maybe to hold the raises up that they were going to get. That's the only thing they've ever asked for."

More businesses and governments are contracting out work rather than doing it in-house. What effect has this had on local unions?

"It all depends. A lot of times they'll give jobs out that go to foreign countries, you know, foreign entities, where we feel that the work should be kept in American working hands, instead of giving it to foreign companies. A lot of times the jobs are sourced out from a company, say like Mack Truck, you know, that need the work, and they lay off people there instead of leaving the work there so the people can keep on working. Now, we're against that. And we've always been against it."

What about contracting out work within the United States, like a government or a business no longer doing the work in-house, but hiring another company to do it?

"The same thing I said before. If it's going to hurt the people that's working there, then why source it out? And usually they source it out to a nonunion entity that's not making half of the money that the people's making that originally started making the product. So, it's very hard."

Do you see unions becoming less relevant?

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