Have Shopping Cart, Will Picket: Unions Rent Homeless for Picket Duty

Every now and then (actually, quite often these days) today’s union bosses will do something that leaves one to wonder: Are union bosses really that moronic? 

Some cases in point:

The latest case of union idiocy comes from Pittsburgh, where the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA), announced that the union would gather several hundred homeless to picket in front of the [Rivers Casino] at a later date.

Why?  Because the security guards at Rivers Casino voted to reject the union (in a secret ballot election).

Hmm.  Let’s see…  Workers exercise their democratic rights to vote against unionization and the union, P.O.’d about losing, decides to rent a bunch of non-union homeless people to demonstrate against the employer because the targeted workers voted against the union. 

Somehow, like America’s union-controlled public schools, today’s union leaders seem to have been…er…dumbed down.  [Perhaps victims of their own scholastic successes?]

According to Steve Maritas, the organizing director for SPFPA:

…the union sometimes employs homeless picketers, paying them between $15 and $20 per hour, to represent the employees inside the establishment who may be too fearful to protest themselves. The idea is to get people’s attention, he said. In fact, Maritas seemed excited by the casino’s announcement that it would collect canned food and supplies for the holidays to benefit the region’s poor. The coincidence can be a cross-promotional opportunity.

It wouldn’t, however, be the first time homeless people were hired by a union to picket.

Back in 2007, the Carpenters union became the subject of some media attention for hiring the homeless for picket duty:

Many have arrived with large suitcases or bags holding their belongings, which they keep in sight. Several are smoking cigarettes. One works a crossword puzzle. Another bangs a tambourine, while several drum on large white buckets. Some of the men walking the line call out to passing women, “Hey, baby.” A few picketers gyrate and dance while chanting: “What do we want? Fair wages. When do we want them? Now.”

Although their placards identify the picketers as being with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, they are not union members.

They’re hired feet, or, as the union calls them, temporary workers, paid $8 an hour to picket. Many were recruited from homeless shelters or transitional houses. Several have recently been released from prison. Others are between jobs.

“It’s about the cash,” said Tina Shaw, 44, who lives in a House of Ruth women’s shelter and has walked the line at various sites. “We’re against low wages, but I’m here for the cash.”

Carpenters locals across the country are outsourcing their picket lines, hiring the homeless, students, retirees and day laborers to get their message across. Larry Hujo, a spokesman for the Indiana-Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters, calls it a “shift in the paradigm” of picketing.

National Public Radio did a report on this ‘shift in the paradigm of picketing’ as well.

Most people who pass the picket line don’t look closely at the protesters. Diego Castaneda, a doctoral student from California, snaps a picture of a marcher and gives her a thumbs up.

“I just like seeing people demonstrating and standing up for their rights,” Castaneda said.

But when I tell him the protesters are actually homeless people, his face falls.

“Are you serious?” he says in disbelief. “It’s pretty disingenuous of the union to hire people who aren’t carpenters.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s likely to change. As long as the union can hire low-wage workers to do the job for its members, it makes good business sense. After all, that’s the genius of outsourcing.

According to the NPR report (audio), when one rent-a-picket (at 3:57) was asked if she needed more pay, she responds in the affirmative.  When asked if she ever thought about unionizing, she says ‘yes.’  

Perhaps the Purple People Eaters’ union (the SEIU) would be interested in unionizing the homeless picketers?

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Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776