Friday Question of the Day – Should it be OK for Protesters to get paid to Protest?

“Dear PoP,

After MPD told me that the picketers outside my office building (downtown) who are protesting another firm in the building, didn’t need a permit to cause a ruckus and disrupt my business, I did a quick Google search to find out more about the picketers’ grievances. I’m all for fair wages and labor standards, and I’m also for allowing people to protest in public. But what I found out about these particular picketers destroyed any and all goodwill I had for them. They’re non-union workers, paid by the unions to protest!

There was a Wall Street Journal article written up about this practice in July. Sure enough, the unions in the article are the same ones represented on my sidewalk, and the signs are the same, too.

According to the WSJ, they have no opinion about the issue they’re protesting. These folks have been around almost two weeks, and there’s no indication that they’re going anywhere anytime soon.”

The WSJ article says:

“For a lot of our members, it’s really difficult to have them come out, either because of parking or something else,” explains Vincente Garcia, a union representative who is supervising the picketing.

So instead, the union hires unemployed people at the minimum wage—$8.25 an hour—to walk picket lines. Mr. Raye says he’s grateful for the work, even though he’s not sure why he’s doing it. “I could care less,” he says. “I am being paid to march around and sound off.”

Ed. Note: It is not clear if these particular protesters are paid or not but I still think it’s an interesting question.

Wow, I’ve never heard of something like this before. It def. is an interesting question. What do you guys think – is it cool to hire people to picket/protest for you?

62 Comment

  • Most union jobs in the U.S. are now in the public sector (e.g., teachers), and not on the factory floor. Unions had their time and place in U.S. history, but this type of stuff makes you realize that their days are rightfully numbered. It is shameful.

    • Agreed. This is cool like it was cool for southern plantation owners to send their slaves to fight for the Confederacy.

  • And picketers are all non-union, so they don’t get benefits or worker protections as they do work on behalf of unions. Basically, unions are exploiting a cheap source of labor.

  • They picketed and chanted outside of my building for about a month. Then they went away. They’re back now but they’re doing a silent protest, just 3 or 4 of them holding up a big “Shame On You” sign

  • Hey, that’s my building too! You know, you can go in on E street and it’s much more peaceful.

    Pew is renovating a few floors and apparently their general contracting firm, HITT, hired a sub contractor, who hired some non-union workers. I suspect that at least some of the protesters are hired homeless people.

    Daily Show did a piece about this last month:

  • I’m a union member. I had a viscerally negative reaction to this, but then I changed my mind. A bit disingenuous, but it gets the message out.

    This kind of strategy allows the union members to collect unemployment. The out-of-work members can stay home, while the rest accept union work on other projects. Those stuck at home can take care of their kids, which is critical since unemployment isn’t going to bring in enough to pay for child care.

    Or maybe the union is just so busy that they no option but to outsource their protesting.

    • RIght, or maybe it’s just that no one other than union leadership actually cares enough to show up. Parking? Really?

      I’ve been a member of several unions, and been management in a few union shops. Overall, my experience has been that a union protects the interests of its leadership and some key, connected senior workers, not the labor pool as a whole. As stated above, unions’ days are numbered — whether that’s a good thing overall I’m not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that unions should look at their own leadership as the reasons that they’re detested by many people — maybe even a majority.

      • Meh. I just watched that Daily Show video, and the guy does say it’s because everyone’s working. So you can point to one “shoddy” union, and I can point to a good one that’s getting people paid.

        But let’s think it out, before we get all screed-ish: parking downtown is $18 or more. If these guys are practically losing money protesting, then it’s not in their interest to leave their families to do so. They’re better served if the union pays outside workers, and they collect a couple hundred dollars a week in unemployment benefits. That’s the union making sure their guys get their maximal benefit.

        • No sure I comprehend the parking reasoning. If a union worker HAD the job at that location that is being protested for not using union labor, wouldn’t the worker have to deal with parking anyway? Sure, they would be getting paid to do work there, but I see the parking as a constant cost one way or another.

          And like myself who at times doesn’t want to pay parking take the metro? This is Foggy Bottom, right, so aren’t there like three metro stops, Blue and Red in this area?

          • What if your boss said, “We can’t pay you next week, but can you just come in and stand around? It’s to promote a good cause — our company. We’re striking against one of our clients. Sorry, we cannot reimburse you for travel.”

            Paying $18 for parking when you’re making $32/hour plus benefits as a carpenter is in no way similar to when you’re showing up for free or a pittance.

            In one case, if our model protester is getting a post tax check for $40 a day, he’s only bringing $20 a day home to his family.

            If he stays home, he’s collecting a couple hundred in unemployment a week; he’s also able to provide child care himself, which is worth an additional couple hundred a week. In lean times, that’s what this guy sorely needs.

          • If you’re only making $20 a day, you probably shouldn’t have a car to begin with… no, as Americans we do not have a right to own a car… but somehow, look at all the cars in park morton. We subsidizing your housing, so you can have your own car? The bus stops right in front of your house, but we want you to have a car so you can “feel” free…

          • Dirty, living in a neighborhood with limited public transit options and owning a cheap used car is a LOT less expensive than paying twice as much in rent to live near a good bus line or metro.

          • Do you know where Park Morton is? Limited public transit? A cheap used car with rims and tint? Go walk through the Park Morton parking lot (be careful at night) and tell me there aren’t more than cheap used cars in that lot…

        • Did you really think or did you just type? The land of opportunity wasn’t created through the mentality of collecting unemployment because the alternative is less desirable. Listen to how poisoned your mind is… what are the long-term consequences of your mentality… Detroit? If the union really cared about their members, union management would be out there protesting instead of wasting union dues on fake protestors… Riddle me this, when the unions spend millions of dollars in overhead and millions of dollars lobbying the government, don’t you think you could allocate the amount of money you pay in dues better than the bureaucrats… maybe if you spent the amount you pay in dues on education, you would be able to “protect” yourself and keep yourself employed for as long as you desire. You should read up on capital allocation and labor costs…why are all those jobs leaving?

          • Unemployment is like a tax levied on employers by the state. When you file for unemployment, you’re reclaiming that money that would have otherwise been paid to you had the government not mandated employers pay into an unemployment fund. In other words, it’s your money. You’re just taking back out of the state’s hands.

          • Just like unions…it’s your money, they’re just taking it out of your hands, pretending to have your interests at heart… while paying themselves with your money. Are you incapable of saving for yourself, so you can weather the period of employment until you find another source of income? How long you’ve been employed, determines how much of the unemployment is your money. The employed subsidize the unemployed… look how well MD handled the unemployment money…

          • MD just tripled it’s unemployment insurance rate to $187 per employee per year… so keep telling yourself it’s your money, or start thinking about the system and the disincentives it creates…

          • Listen, you can say the system is bogus all you want. The rational actor will always work within the system as it is at the time to derive the greatest benefit. You’re saying the system is jacked. Fine — my mortgage company still won’t accept my decrying the unfairness of the system as payment.

          • If you were rational, you would understand that you would derive the greatest benefit by relying on no one but yourself to create and maintain an income stream… You accept the system of unemployment because you can’t save for yourself. You accept the union protections in exchange for a small fee because you can’t protect yourself.

            Did your union not explain how a mortgage works to you? You entered into a contract, were you not aware of the terms?

  • At one point, unions played a significant role in the emergence of the American middle class; broadly shared economic growth; the extension of health care to millions of previously uninsured, through the workplace and through Medicare and Medicaid; substantial advances in worker safety and a modicum of job security for reasonably well paid working folks.

    Fortunately, we’ve put that era behind us and can — without the interference of unions — embark on a decades-long, systematic effort to push the smelly proles back out of the middle class and into living conditions similar to those enjoyed by Chinese sneaker factory (or North Carolina Wall Mart) employees.

    This will keep our tube socks cheap and our CEOs’ jets fully fueled.

    • +1

      One of the reasons we have such a huge rich-poor gap right now with very little middle class in between is the decline of the labor movement and unions in the private sector. An organized workforce helps to create wealth, industry and economic health. Unions are good public policy, they just have a horrible p.r. problem and extremely moneyed, powerful enemies willing to exploit that problem and perpetuate it.

      • Nice talking points; none of it actually being true.

        The reason Union’s declined is due to their association with organized crime and their stagnating cultures.

        Unions are good public policy like low business taxes are good public policy. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t.

        • nice talking points to you. the corporate media has systematically demonized the unions by brain washing most americans into believe that standing up for your rights is some how against their interest. hog wash!

          • So +200M Americans are brainwashed? Nice Try.

          • So if you’re not in the union you can’t stand up for your rights??? Who is brainwashed? You or me… go find another job, or are you not competent enough to do so, therefore you need protections to “keep” you employed.

          • Right to work isn’t a constitutional right. It is an earned privilege. This is one of those cornerstone American values that the unions keep forgetting. Fair wages are the wages that another legal, equally qualified American worker would accept to do your job. Period. If you want higher wages, improve your bargaining position by being more qualified through experience and education.

          • +1 unions at their core are groups of workers acting collectively to get a better deal. but of course these days, anytime people want to work together to do anything other than complain about Obama is considered socialist.

          • yes ragged dog, +200m americans are stupid or brain washed. example: the media/government manipulated the majority of americans into wanting to go to war with iraq – fing stupid.

            re: dirty, do u have any idea of the power of corporations in america? they own our freaking government! now you are going to tell me without collective bargaining you are going to stand up to the corporate machine? unions not only help to get fair wages but fair working conditions! enjoy 5 day / 40 hour work week? thank a union.

            i’d rather not have a race to the bottom with people in india and china.

    • Modern unions are just private member corporations fighting businesses for their income.

      No one should believe in the magical benefits of unions anymore than they should believe in the magical benefits of businesses.

      So should unions outsource their protests? Yeah, why not. It’s just another cynical play by a large well funded “corporation”.

      • unions are non profits. calling them corporations is just ridiculous.

        • non profit!!!! are you kidding me???? show me one impoverished union leader!!! and how can a non-profit contribute upwords of $80million for the upcoming elections????

        • That’s a red herring argument. Tax status has nothing to do with the amount of money generated or flowing through an organization or the propensity for corruption.

          You’re talking to people in DC, not some marginally educated rust belt population. No one here is fooled by “non-profit” status.

      • There are certainly many cases of long running, entrenched unions that wield immense political and financial power. However, unionization still has an important role in our society in instances where unprotected workers gather together in order to fight for a fair standard of pay and working conditions, particularly in third-world countries where worker exploitation is commonplace. Powerful unions are like powerful democracies that have become so convoluted and corrupted by power that the foundational philosophies that created them are overshadowed by corporate and financial interests. Yet this does in no way trivialize the virtue of democracy as a basis for government. Similarly, the foundational principles of unions are equally sound – the right of individuals to band together in order to ensure that they have sufficient power and bargaining potential to avoid exploitation by the entities that employ them. I think it is best to distinguish between the value of the principles behind unions and the ways in which capitalism and power have displaced those principles in favor avarice.

        • You had a decent argument about the founding principles of unions, but then you blame capitalism for the failures of unions.

          One could make a similar arguments that capitalism takes the best and worst of human desires and balances the power between producers and consumers. The founding principles of Capitalism are just as sound as those of Unionism.

          However, the actual practice of the trade is what people are concerned with.

  • Yet my unemployed tenant claims there are no jobs in DC–not even temps. Hmm…

  • To the OP…the “other firm” in your building is actually your landlord and those who work for the landlord as much as you do but nothing we can do about it, so we all just have to deal with it.

  • Um, you are aware that a nonprofit usually IS a corporation, right? Before you get that 501 designation you actually need to exist first, so the first step is to create a…. wait for it….


    Besides, have you seen the salaries of the top positions in some major nonprofits? The nonprofit designation means that there are no shareholders and that the corporation does not retain income or pay dividends. That does not mean that people working for them aren’t paid (a lot, sometimes), nor does it mean that the corporation has no income at all.

    • That was meant for the person who said it was ridiculous to call a nonprofit a corporation.

    • I urge you to compare the salaries of union leaders with for profit corporate ceo’s and get back to me.

      You’ll find that the most union leaders make is around $200,000 a year, and that’s only at the handful of very big unions. Big companies? Average is around 2.5 million a year.

  • I think the protesters should be unionized. Per the effort on the Daily Show.

  • Capitalism at its best and most deplorable. But capitalism and ethics make poor bedfellows. Frankly, capitalism and democracy make poor bedfellows, but we make due, don’t we.

  • It’s been long known that they hire homeless people, retirees and the unemployed for minimum wage to outsource their whining.

    But I think anyone with any shred of logic in their brains would laugh this stunt off just by reading their signs. When they were protesting outside of a building near my office recently, the signs read “HITT CORPARATION DOES NOT PAY LOCAL WAGES!”

    Hmm, that’s interesting, because if they were not paying local market wages, then wouldn’t logic assume that they wouldn’t have any workers to begin with? What, are these slaves? Are they flown in each day from a lower wage market? Oh wait, they mean the union’s arbatrary definition of what constitutes a “local wage,” that’s right.

    • The argument is complicated by the infiltration of illegal undocumented workers into the construction trades. That does suppress wages and would be a valid union compliant, if most major US unions weren’t RECRUITING undocumented workers into their ranks.

  • It is to laugh. I love the parking excuse. “Our precious babies cannot [figure out how / be bothered] to to get Downtown.”

  • This is crazy! So, union members want to picket but they also don’t want to loose out on work…so they pay folks to picket for them?!?! I wonder why people think unions are lazy?

  • Please see France…..those are unions shutting down the country and these people couldn’t have more benefits if they tried!!! absolutely ridiculous!!!

  • I once passed a giant inflated rat – you may have seen it around town. A union puts it up when hotels and other establishments don’t hire union folks. The rat is there because the establishment has had rat problems. There’s no connection between rat problems and not hiring union members. They’re just pissed and being dicks. That, and the bucket-banging homeless “protestors” outside my office for months last year, has left me a lot less sympathetic to unions in this town.

    • One of my best friends works for a union, and one of the things he sometimes has to do is drive the rat to the site in his truck and inflate it.

  • From an economic standpoint this makes sense to me – the union member’s time is more expensive than the protestor’s time, otherwise the protestor would find a better paying job. So, union members continue to work on their union jobs or other contract work, protestors who might not otherwise have a source of income get paid for unskilled work (protesting), and the union gets their message out in an effort to persuade companies and the public that using union labor matters and ensuring work for their members in the future.

    Everybody wins, except for the poor people who have to listen to the disruptive picketing (we had it outside our windows for months, I sympathize!)

    • “and the union gets their message out in an effort to persuade companies and the public that using union labor matters and ensuring work for their members in the future.”

      Exactly. This has nothing to do with fair wages, working conditions, etc. It has everything to do with ensuring work for the union members — who apparently are so busy that they can’t be bothered to attend the protest that is supposed to be generating work for them. Sounds like a mafia-style protection racket. “Bad things can happen to a place, but if you hire us….”

  • These non-union paid “picket” lines are a disgrace and the unions should be ashamed of themselves.

    They are getting no sympathy from me for this. In fact, it is making me resent unions altogether.


  • So, recapping: non-union workers are being hired by unions to protest companies for using non-union labor…

    Makes about as much sense as I’ve learned to expect from progressives.

  • It’s too easy to hide behind the sentiment that “everybody wins.” Just because they are paying people who may not otherwise have jobs doesn’t make it’s any less hypocritical of the union. Granted I don’t know of any unionized professional picketers, but this cheapens their cause.

  • I see no problem with unions helping people who need jobs. Before someone is in a union they are non-union. Unions want to help all workers and do everyday. They are the reason non-union workers receive health benefits and good pay plus all the labor laws that they made mandatory. I’m sure these people who were fortunate enough to be helped by the unions without having to be union may want to be union in the future.

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