User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: December 2010

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Christie Plans to Help Businesses by Making it Harder for Workers to Collect Unemployment

Unemployed Workers line up for free soup and coffee in this depression-era photo.  We can expect to see more unemployed New Jersey workers seeking help at soup kitchens and homeless shelters when Governor Christie's proposed regulations tightening eligiblity for unemployment compensation take effect in early 2011.

Baring an unlikely legislative override, new regulations tightening eligibility for New Jersey's unemployment compensation program will take effect in early 2011.  These changes further demonstrate the governor's willingness to compromise the welfare of ordinary working people to benefit his rich supporters.

Here is the link to a state press release on the proposed regulations: Also here is the link to the proposed regulations themselves:

In the press release dated 11/24/10   The state says that the regulations are being issued because of unemployment "reform" legislation passed through by the legislature and signed into law on July 2, 2010. 

In the press release, the governor's representatives say that businesses will benefit from the proposed rule changes because their premiums went up by an average of $130 per year rather than the $400 per year increase that would have taken place without the rule changes.  The premiums were increased to replenish the fund which was depleted by elevated levels of unemployment claims during the recession and by looting of the fund's surplus by the legislature in recent years so it could obtain cash to pay for other programs.

What the new regulations will do is to make it more difficult for workers who were dismissed for misconduct (read "fired" from their jobs) to collect.  Instead of the present system where most workers have to wait six weeks to collect after being terminated, there will be a three tiered system. (simple, severe and gross misconduct).

Presently there is a two-tiered system.  Simple misconduct, where workers are ineligible to collect for a six-week waiting period and gross misconduct, where workers loose eligibility to collect on wages from the employer that dismissed them.  In order to be eligible for gross misconduct, you have to have been dismissed from your job by committing a felony while on the clock.  For instance, you are fired for pulling a knife or a gun on your supervisor.  In practice, few people get gross misconducts.  Most people are fired for garden-variety work-related infractions like showing up late.

I haven't read the regulations, but apparent the main change is the new "severe misconduct" penalty, which will be more severe than a simple six week disqualification.  What "severe misconduct" is exactly, I don't know, but anybody found guilty of it is going to have to go without an unemployment check for longer than six weeks.

You may say what's the big deal, these people were fired for doing something wrong and should be punished for their misbehavior.  While it may be true that most people who are terminated did something wrong on the job, the new policy will provide an incentive for employers to make the dismissal of workers for poor job performance (which you can collect right away) look like dismissal for severe misconduct (so the worker will be penalized severely and also to save the company money by holding down the payout of unemployment benefits).  Basically, the law provides an incentive for companies to save money by lying about why somebody was dismissed.

Why would I think that bosses will lie to keep people from getting money?  Because I worked two years as an unemployment claims examiner and got to conduct hearings to decide whether people who lost their jobs quit voluntarily or were fired for misconduct.  In the course of that job I heard about every story imaginable, with lies coming from both claimants and employers.  In once case a man said he was fired for age discrimination after spending 20 years on the job.  He worked in Hamilton Township right here in Mercer County, but filed his claim in Pennsylvania and was now living in Moosic, PA, which is in the Pocono Mountains, where many people move after retirement.  The employer said he quit to retire and bragged about buying a house in the Poconos.  I cross examined the claimant and he said that he was fired after he told his boss he sold his house in Hamilton and was moving to the Poconos.  He said he was willing to commute 150 miles each way every day to go to work.  (I hope you know this sounds stupid - that's how I catch people in lies.)

Fact is most people don't think their lies through.  A few questions about the lie will lead to some outlandish answers, which translates to "busted". I prided myself in doing a thorough job of questioning both employers and claimants before making decisions.  However, many examiners are not as thorough, and will ofter wrongly rule against the worker just to keep the paperwork moving.  I see lots of people getting screwed out of their benefits, who didn't do anything wrong.

And most people don't have six months of income saved so they can operate for half a year without a job or unemployment benefits.  This is especially true of marginal employees who have been on the job for a short time.  These are the people that typically get fired.  So expect to see more of these people fall through the cracks and wind up on the street homeless after loosing their jobs.

(So there you have it from Judge Judy in pants, the man with ice-cold green blood flowing in his veins.  \Trust me, I have feelings for the unemployed, but when doing my job, I put on the administrative law judge hat and follow the law, which gives the appearance of a cold, cruel heart.  Watch for even more reptilian rulings once the new regs go into effect.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Good Buddy

Chief is the best dog $39 could buy.  I picked him up at the Burlington County Animal Shelter in Mt. Holly about five years ago, shortly after my Rottweiler mix died.  He is a pit bull and weighs in at 110 pounds.

When I got Chief about five years ago, my other dog bull just died of a heart attack.  He was 11 years old and also had lupus.  He was a German Shepard-Rottweiler mix.  The shelter had a Rottweiler listed on petfinder, but when I went to pet him he damn near took my hand off on three separate occasions.  No way am I putting something like that in my car without a cage.

So I looked around and found a whole bunch of pit bulls and selected one of the largest two in the pound.  The other one looked similar to Chief.  He was a little bigger and and a brown and white pattern rather than liver and white.  He was friendly enough with a little girl who was feeding him dog biscuits, but he growled at me.  Chief on the other hand licked my hand and wanted to come home.

When I hooked a leash up to him he dragged me across the kennel.  He pulls like a train.  That's how he got the name Chief.  When I got him home he wanted to kill my wife's two cats.  He still can't be around cats.  When the dogcatcher caught him, he was wandering around loose in Willingboro.  I believe he survived by eating small animals like cats and squirrels.  I get the same kind of reaction off of him when he sees a cat as when he sees a squirrel.  He pulls real hard and wants to kill it.

You probably heard one of two things about pits.  Either they are born killers or they are the most wonderful pets in the world.  Those who take the second point of view say "its all how you raise them".
The truth is somewhere in between.

I had to get Chief neutered because he was too wild in his natural state.  He'd jump on my truck's hood and run across the top of it.  He left some nasty scratches in the paint.  He also would leap over my 4 foot chain link fence like a racehorse.  I'd see him in front of my house when I came home from work.  He knew when it was dinner time.  He tried to kill another dog at the dog park.  He beelined across the fence and attacked my neighbor's pit bull.

After he was neutered he calmed down a lot.  I keep him inside mostly and he has a loving home where he gets petted a lot and gets all the food he wants.  Fact of the matter is though, these dogs were bred to kill other dogs and they can turn downright mean if they don't like something.

Besides playing, eating and occasionally fighting, Pit Bulls like nothing better than to chew.  Better get them some cattle bones, or they just might take their frustrations out on your furniture.  My furniture has been spared so far.  Can't say the same for the cattle bones.

Cattle bones are better known as Pit Bull Toothpicks in my house.  After downing a rump roast or some other treat, my pit likes to work out his jaws on a nice hard bone.  Since a pit can clamp down with 2,500 pounds per square inch of force, the bones don't stand a chance.  A pit bull's bite is almost as powerful as that of an alligator.  Pits are capable of shattering the long bones of a human and are an excellent home defense tool.

Missing in Action

I logged onto the State of New Jersey website today and learned that our esteemed governor and lieutenant governor are both missing in action, or more appropriately too lazy to report to work the Monday after Christmas.  It seems that these two lazy bums have left Senator Stephen Sweeney in charge as Acting Governor.

I can remember a few years back after Governor McGreevey's "I am proud to be a gay American" fiasco, that the Republicans took offense at our longstanding tradition of not having a lieutenant governor in this state.  They did not like the idea that a senate president of the opposing party could succeed a governor and wanted to insure that a Republican would succeed a Republican should anything happen to the sitting governor.

Guess what folks, the system broke down because the two top bums decided to take extended Christmas vacations at taxpayer expense.  The cheep chiselers should be docked each day they are not on the clock.

By the way, the snowstorm we just had was bad enough to declare a state of emergency, but Sweeney only authorized a two hour delayed opening for state offices.

Seems the little guys are supposed to report to work after a major snowstorm on the Monday after Christmas, but the honchos can skip out on their responsibilities.

I guess rank has privileges.

Here's an update.  My boss called me around 10:00 AM and told me we had the whole day off.  Great, somebody in upper management has some brains.  This didn't help one of my coworkers from North Jersey too much however.  He called my house shortly after I got word that we were closed.  He said he was en route to the office and was already on the Turnpike.

It would be nice if someone took a look out the window first before going with the knee-jerk reaction of a 2 hour delay simply because the papers don't like to see us get off when the weather is bad.

Seriously, Governor Christie and his lieutenent governor both deserve vacations like the rest of us.  However it would be nice if they could stagger them so at least one of them is around at all times.

Update # 2.  It is now Friday.  I wrote this originally on Monday, but didn't see anything about it in the papers until Wednesday, when an AP article ran in both the Trenton Times and Trentonian about the governor going to Disney World in Flordia the same time the lieutenent governor went to Mexico for vacation.  The result was that a Democrat, Stephen Sweeney, became Acting Governor.

Senator Bonnie Watson-Coleman said pretty much the same thing that I did about the situation.  She said she originally sponsored the bill to create the lieutenent governor's post to insure an orderly transition should the governor go out of state.  She said this can only work if the governor and lieutenent governor show common sense and coordinate their vacations so at least one of them is always in the state.

On the snowstorm, I heard that the station that broadcast the anouncement that the state was closed before word officially reached supervisors in my office was Jersey 101.5.  The way that the station got this information is because one of the station't employees is the husband of the political appointement in the public relations office at the labor department.  This appointee was supposed to pass on the information to the supervisors but she chose to tell her husband about it first, and he had it broadcasted to the public before the message got through official channels.

Several dozen people showed up at the labor building in Trenton.  Many of them traveled long distances beliving that there was only a two-hour delay.  Once these people showed up at work, they were turned away by the security guards who said the building was closed.

The announcement of the closure should have gone out earlier.  People should not have to spend several hours traveling to Trenton only to be sent home after making their way through snow covered streets.

Friday, December 24, 2010

You Can Buy Anything on the Internet

PuppyBeef  is a website that promises to ship dog meat fresh to your door.  Apparently some Chinese and Koreans consider dog meat to be a delicacy.  If dog meat is not your thing, perhaps the company's sister site KittyBeef is more to your liking.

Tired of eating the same old beef, pork, chicken and lamb?  Then here's a place to find something different.  Check out  It is an English language website for a dog meat supplier that promises to ship dog meat fresh to your door.  The site offers a full range of cuts of dog meat complete with pictures of the cuts.  They also have a list of recipees in case you need some new ideas on how to prepare your dog chops.

Is it illegal to sell dog and cat meat in America?  Is this company located in China or something?  No way.  Their website boasts three locations right here in the USA, to insure that your meat is delivered fresh regardless of where you live.

So impress your friends with dog lo mein or Peking cat cheesesteak sandwiches.  I bet you, meals like these probably would even satisfy Jeffrey Dahmer.

Bon appitit!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same

Sarah Bernhardt was already a famous actress when she lived in Paris in the latter half of the 19th century.  It was in Paris where she bought a coffin, brought it home and began sleeping in it.  Throughout her life she kept her coffin with her and didn't mind letting the public know.  Here is a famous publicity shot of her posed in the coffin.  It would be a good 40 years after this shot was taken that she would actually be dead.  She moved to Hollywood in the early 20th century and was one of the first generation of movie stars.  Her peculiar habits helped put the "crazy" into Hollywood folklore.

And you thought Michael Jackson was the first one to come up with sleeping in a long, narrow tube for recreation.  I don't know if it was actually true and didn't bother to research it but, it was rumored in the early 1980s that Michael Jackson bought an iron lung like those used to keep polio patients alive and slept in it.  According to the rumor, he believed that sleeping in a pressurized iron lung would keep him young.

There's nothing new about crazy celebrities.  From Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton all the way back as far as you want to go, actors and musicians have always been noted for hard partying and eccentric behavior.  This is equally true for other things we associate with modern life.  For instance, Virgil once said that wild youth will be the ruination of civilization.  The world didn't end with the Roman Empire and we still have boisterous youths and middle-aged people still complain about them.  The same goes for crooked or incompetent politicians.  We have Tony Mack right here in Trenton who is a good example of a mayor who is probably both corrupt and incompetent.

The same can be said about labor relations.  As long as there were businesses, management has tried to get the most out of its workers at the least cost, and the workers have countered by banding together to obtain better working conditions.

On July 1 of next year, the contracts for state workers will expire, and we can no doubt expect Governor Christie to demand drastic concessions on wages, pensions, health benefits and layoff rights.  We can also expect our unions to attempt to counter these moves.

Unfortunately I believe Christie will probably prevail this contract cycle, and we are going to get stuck with a bunch of givebacks.  He is already at it with his toolkit.  He would rather have the terms and conditions of employment determined by legislation rather than by negotiations with the unions.  What's the matter?  Is he afraid of sitting down and talking with the unions.  Personally, I think the time he spent as a prosecutor has gotten to his head.  He became so used to dictating to the other party and getting his way that he does not want to bother with give and take.  Although the Democrats control both houses of the legislature, they act as though they are afraid of the governor and give him pretty much what he wants.  Only with medical marijuana did the legislature develop a backbone and stand up effectively to Christie.

I could only wish they could show some spine and demand that Christie live with existing the existing limits of Civil Service law.  Our pension is broke, not because it is excessive, the average retiree receives less than $30,000 per year.  It is broke because every governor since Florio has treated pension contributions as something voluntary and have chosen to spend the money that should have gone into the fund on other things.
The same with health benefits.  Under Governor Hughes, at the start of his administration there was no sales or income tax or lottery or casino gambling.  Yet, public employees had a better health plan than we have no, and it was offered at no cost to the employee.  So, if Hughes could provide us with Blue Cross Blue Shield Traditional Plan insurance for free, why does Christie want to give us an inferior managed care plan at 20 percent cost to the employee.  The answer is because he would rather spend your money elsewhere, namely on corporate welfare.  He believes tax concessions to companies are necessary to lure businesses to the state.  Poppycock!  Past experience has shown that once the period of grants and tax abatements expire, the companies that come for them leave the state and go elsewhere to some other state that is stupid enough to offer them more concessions.

And what about our union?  They have shown themselves to be unimaginative and lack the muscle to compel cooperation from the politicians.  What can we expect from our wimpy union?  Probably a few rallies in front of the state house and days when we wear red t-shirts.  However don't expect them to endorse candidates to run against union-baiting Democrats like Sweeney in the primaries this June.  I can assure you if we could take down Sweeney and Buono in the primaries with union-backed candidates running as such, the rest of the Democratic legislators would be terrified of us, and will begin to aggressively challenge the governor at every turn.  By the way, why stop at Democrats.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to follow the Pat Robertson strategy and run union-backed candidates in the Republican primaries as well.  Take out Lonegan and the rest of the tax cut guys would shit their pants.

And what does this have to do with history repeating itself.  The previous article about my times in Iowa was not just about me, it was about the meatcutters union as it existed at Iowa Beef Processors in the 1970s as it was about the socialist Industrial Workers of the World union that was strong in Sioux City and the rest of the country in the first quarter of the 20th century.

The socialist parties rose and fell in this country for the same reason why the unions first rose and are now falling apart.  They succeeded when the people were enthusiastic about them and stood behind them.  Once they lost touch with the people, the lost influence and became irrelevant.  That's why the once-powerful Wobblies have been reduced to trying to organize Starbucks.

Like I said previously, I couldn't care less for most of the ideas behind socialism.  I talk about it so much because unknown to most people, socialism was closely tied to the labor movement in its formative years, and it failed to thrive for much the same reasons the unions have fallen out of favor..

In the early days, socialist politicians in the US pushed for things like the 8-hour work day, social security and unemployment insurance.  After the Red Scare in the late teens and early twenties, much of the socialist party migrated to the Democratic party, where they were no longer harassed by the police and were considered electable by the public.  These socialists turned Democrats got their agenda through in the 1930s.  They increased the scope of federal law so we could have national labor laws that would not be held unconstitutional.  They got us social security, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions as enshrined in the Wagner Act as well as workplace safety legislation.

After the death of Roosevelt, the Democrats grew soft in the 1950s.  Nothing like prosperity to kill a good idea.  The fact is, they achieved the basic reforms most workers desired and this led to increased wealth among the working class, now called the "middle class".  Never mind, that in every history book I have seen, for the time periods from the Victorian Era back to ancient times, the middle class refers to priests, doctors, lawyers, large farmers and small businessmen, not to workers.  We would call these people upper middle or lower upper class today.

Then the 1960s came along and the Democrats moved on to less popular agendas such as civil rights for minorities, environmental regulation, open immigration, etc.  They lost touch with the people.  The Republicans promised "normalcy" or a freeze on social legislation and also tax cuts.  Americans went for it because we are suckers for a bargain.

Likewise unions were initially successful, because like the union at IBP, the workers were willing to stand behind the union and go to the wall for them.  In the early days, as well as at IBP, strikes were often violent.  Scabs got beaten, the factories got burned, etc.  Through worker solidarity and raw street power, results were obtained.

Starting with the Taft-Hartley act, union power began to wane in this country.  What Taft Hartley did besides banning Communists from taking leadership positions in unions (a provision latter found unconstitutional), was ban secondary strikes, and this greatly reduced the power of unions to organize non-union shops.  A secondary strike is a strike against a third-party employer that provides some product or service needed for the target employer to remain open.  For instance, to shut down a newspaper, you could get the drivers that deliver the newsprint to the paper's presses to strike.  You could also strike the paper mills and shut down all the newspapers.  A modern example would be to unionize Wal-Mart by having the Longshoreman's Union refuse to unload imported cargo destined to Wal-Mart.

Another thing happened.  Workers became disconnected from their union leadership.  They did what the union told them, but half-hearted.  At the state, where strikes are illegal, people don't even try to strike.  There once was a strike in the 1980s, that sprung up as a series of wildcat actions at various worksites.  The union leadership insisted there was no strike until a complete shutdown occurred, then they got behind it.

What we need to beat the state in labor negotiations is more spirit and a more aggressive union leadership.
We need to electrify the workforce, to convince them to get behind job actions, to show up in mass to defeat candidates that are unfriendly to us, and if necessary go on strike.  If there is a strike, we should not shrink from using violence to accomplish our objectives.

In fact I would like to see an old Wobblie tactic be used.  Let's have a  general strike like they do in Europe.   Let every state office, every municipal office, every school, every police force, every paid fire department, in fact let all state, county and municipal employees strike simultaneously.  Have the unions order members that are police officers, firefighters or prison guards to not report to National Guard duty when the governor calls up the National Guard.  Most guard members are public safety workers, so if they don't report, the guard will be ineffective as a tool for restoring order.  The whole state would shut down, and chaos would break out.  There would be nothing the governor could do but capitulate to the unions.

Most likely a general strike won't happen, at least not in my lifetime.  The unions are just too weak and the workers have conditioned by management to be too compliant.  However, a little revolutionary fervor and workplace solidarity on the part of the rank and file would go a long way toward getting us what we want if the leadership would just get behind the idea.

It worked in the first half of the 20th century and it could work again if we just get behind the program.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Of Unions, Sioux City, Times on the Farm and in the Meatpacking Industry

I believe that today, unions represent only about ten percent of the workforce, with public employee unions accounting for an ever growing proportion of the membership.  Outside of government, few office workers belong to unions.  As a college graduate, why am I so loyal to unions?

My formative experiences with unions of course, came partly from growing up in New Jersey back in the 1960s.  My father worked in the American Standard pottery and was a union member.  He went on strike a few times, but the union helped make up for the lost wages if you pulled picket duty.  He told me to work in a union place because they pay a lot better than nonunion factories. 

But lots of people growing up here in the 1960s came from similar backgrounds.  Our governor, for instance, was born in Newark and his mother was a unionized teacher.  This background didn't cause him to develop any love for unions.  So what else gives?

When I went to Iowa State University, I got a degree in something called Farm Operation.  As you can probably guess, that's a bachelor's degree in how to run a farm.  The problem is that colleges are very good at teaching material out of books, but not so good at teaching you the basics, like how to run a tractor or castrate a steer. 

Most people who take farm operation come from farms and already know how to do these things.  I did not because I grew up in Copperfield Estates in Hamilton Township where about the only thing people get to farm are a few tomato plants in the back yard.  The folks who developed the curriculum at the college realized this could happen and had a requirement that students spend a year working on a farm.  It was something they called Practical Work Experience.

I took a job on a hog farm in February 1978.  The place was located near Storm Lake, in Western Iowa.  For all you 1950s music fans, this is near Clear Lake, the site of the Buddy Holly airplane crash, also known as "the day the music died".

The pig farm job provided plenty of experience in what it is like to work nonunion.  You worked six days a week, 10 hours a day for a whopping $140 a week and the use of a house.  Since I was living in the dorms before going there I had no furniture and was sleeping on the floor.  The pigs or hogs as the farmers call them, were raised inside a total confinement facility, which we urbanites would call a factory farm.

As you could probably guess, pigs were never meant to be raised indoors on concrete slats.The place was poorly run and the farm was in bankruptcy.  The boars (breeding male hogs) were so old, they could not mount the sows (female adults).  So we had to jerk them off into a thermos and inject the sows with a syringe stuck on the end of a rubber pig penis.  Sounds a lot like a bad porno movie, doesn't it.

The place was dirty and disease ran rampant.  at least a dozen baby pigs died each day.  In fact, you would go around with a bucket several times a day picking up dead pigs.  I would carry a pliers and grab the dead animals by the leg and toss them into a bucket.

The dead pigs, where do they go exactly?  Once a week or so, the rendering truck would come by to pick them up and bring them to the rendering plant where they are cooked down and turned into meat and bone meal, which is one of the ingredients used in dog and cat food as well as farm animal feed.  Yes, they feed dead animals to the other animals.  Gross!  To see a link about rendering plants, click here

Cleaning up pens was somewhat automated.  We used a power washer, like the ones at self-serve car washes to clean up.  The pig manure would run off the concrete and down the slats.  When a sow died, we would wrap a chain around its leg and pull the carcass out with a tractor.  Of course you would have to drag it to the door and that could take two or three guys.  A sow can weigh up to 400 pounds.

To keep disease down, we would inject the animals with antibiotics.  I understand that the use of antibiotics in agriculture is more tightly controlled now, but back then we used to go through it like candy.  No telling what "extras" people were getting in their pork chops back then.

To get the animals from one part of the building to another you had to herd them.  We didn't use cattle prods or any thing like that.  For you city boys, a cattle prod is basically a stun gun with a long wand attached to it so you could shock the animal from a couple feet away.  All we did was get behind them, start yelling and kick them gently and they would move.  Once I had a boar charge me and he stuck his head under my crotch and I wound up on his back facing backward.  I got to ride him like a bronco at the rodeo.  He threw me off and the crystal on my Timex watch broke, but the watch kept running.  This was at the time of the "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" commercials.  I should have sent the watch in, because I might have gotten on TV.

The farm job didn't last long.  I got fired for something, I forget what.  I think I screwed up some piece of machinery.  Good riddance.

Sioux City is an old industrial city like Trenton.  It is where Sioux Tools and Sioux Bee Honey come from.  It also has a stockyards district.  The stockyards were barely operational when I was there.  Meat packing was revolutionized in the 1960s by companies like Iowa Beef which located themselves in the country and bought the animals directly from the farm, rather than locating next to the stockyards where cattle dealers sold the animals to the slaughterhouses.  Prior to the 1990s, Zenith televisions were also made in Sioux City.  The IBP plant was in Dakota City, located across the Missouri River from Sioux City.  Sioux City was about the same size as Trenton and Dakota City about the same size as Morrisville, PA.  The Missouri was about as wide at Sioux City as the Delaware is at Trenton.  Kind of reminded me of home.

The old Swift plant was still standing at the time.  It was being used as a flea market.  The doors on the stalls were made out of meat hooks that were welded together.  The Armour plant burned down a few years before I moved there.  Sioux City had a skid row called Lower Fourth Street.  On Lower Fourth you had the Swan Hotel where you could stay for $4 per night.  Across the street was the Gospel Mission where you could go and crash for free.  They would feed you a plate of slop that looked like discards from the supermarkets, you would have to go to a church service and listen to the preacher then go upstairs and sleep on army cots.  I stayed there once when my truck broke down in a snowstorm and I couldn't get back to my farmhouse.  I just got paid and had $300 stuck in my boot.  My boots didn't come off that night.  Also on Lower Fourth were lunch counters, pawn shops and bars for the bums and hookers.

Of course, Sioux City is more conducive to working than to being homeless.  Back in the late 1970s there was no public assistance program for housing the homeless or providing money to single people.  In other words if you don't have a place to live and no income, find a mission operated by a charity and stay there, or freeze to death.  The bums clung to the Gospel Mission in the wintertime like ticks to a dog in the winter.  According to sources I can find, the average temperature in Sioux City in December is colder than the average temperature in Moscow, Russia.  During the rest of the year, Sioux City is warmer than Moscow, but it is still saying something to say that the place is colder than Moscow in December.  Here is the monthly average temperatures for Sioux City:  and for Moscow:,Moscow,Russia

The town was noted as a hotbed of unionism and left wing politics.  It elected several socialist mayors in the early 20th century.  The IWW, also known as the Industrial Workers of the World or the Wobblies held conventions there.  By the time I got there the packinghouses in town were closed and most to this aspect to the town had already died out.  Here is the Wikipedia link on Sioux City:,_Iowa.  Here's another link on the influence of the IWW, Communism and Socialism on the labor movement in the United States:

The IWW was founded in the first decade of the 20th century and peaked in membership at 100,000 in 1923.  It was the union that the famous organizer Joe Hill belonged to.  Joan Baez sung a song about him which is on one of her albums.  The union was a powerful force in the first part of the 20th century and was responsible for the 8 hour work day.  It did not catch on partly because it did not believe in signing contracts with employers in its early days, preferring to preserve the right to strike over the rights gained in a collective bargaining agreement.  Perhaps more important to limiting the power of the union was its association with Marxism and anarchism.

It remained a powerful presence in the metalworkers unions in Ohio (a place where lots of auto manufacturing goes on.  Incidentally, the IWW was involved in the formation of the United Auto Workers). It continued to remain strong there until the early 1950s when it was suppressed by the federal government after passage of the Taft-Hartley Act which forbade communists from holding leadership positions in unions.

The IWW remains alive to this day and currently has a membership in the low thousands.  It represents workers employed by Starbucks among others.  You got to hand it to those lefties, they are persistent.  Once they get an idea in their heads, they keep trying.  For the Wikipedia article on the IWW, click here:   Here is the official Industrial Workers of the World website:  Anyone up to starting a branch to represent state workers?  Viva la revolucion.

Neither homelessness, mission, soup kitchens, or Socialists are new to Sioux City, a place most of you associate more with the GOP than the IWW.  Here is the story of where the homeless, unemployed and Republicans met together in Sioux City in 1915, the year of the Sioux City Free Speech Fight, an event of national proportions organized by the IWW.  This was published in an underground newspaper out of Ames, Iowa in 1977:

I know this was supposed to be about IBP, but it got to be about everything else.  Here's a little bit about the plant.

I started working there I believe in October 1978 and stayed to February 1979.  The pay wasn't bad.  I got $6.42 per hour for cutting flanks from loins and $7.47 per hour for cutting loins from rounds.  Back in 1978 that was General Motors type wages, more than double what a lot of nonunion workers got.

The work was hard.  There were two sections to the plant.  Cattle would come in on the hoof and get dropped off at one end, where they would go inside to be killed.  The carcasses would be hung up as sides of beef in a big refrigerated locker in the middle of the plant.  The end where I worked was where the sides were broken down into boxed beef which is sent to supermarkets.  I worked on breaking the sides down into smaller pieces which were placed on belts where other workers would reduce them to supermarket-sized cuts.

When I started there the first week or so was spent in classes and in training exercises learning the fundamentals of butchering.  They taught you things like how to keep a knife sharp and where to cut to get a piece of meat that looks presentable.  You also got to spend a few days trimming meat off of back bones to toughen up your hands so you could handle the assembly line.  Once you get on the job, the meat came at me on a chain and I had only about 30 seconds or so to get each piece done.

The first day on the plant floor, I got first hand instruction in unionism.  I was issued a cheap plastic belly guard (to keep you from slicing your gut wide open), two knives, a scabbard to put them in, a hook, to hold the meat still while you worked on it, a helmet and a mesh glove (made of chain mail, like the knights used, to keep you from loosing fingers).  I was then assigned my work station, near the door where the sides of beef came in.  I stood on a platform with a few other 6 foot tall men and we cut off big pieces and dropped it onto conveyor belts for the women and Mexicans to work on.

The shop steward grabbed me at break time and asked me if I wanted to join the union.  I asked him what was in it for me.  In New Jersey, we are a union shop state, which means that after a month or two you must join the union if you work in a union shop.  The state has something called "agency shop".  You don't have to join, but if you don't, you are still charged agency dues for the cost of representing you, about 70 percent of regular union dues, but you don't have to vote.  In Nebraska, and other "right to work" states, the only kind of shop there is is the "open shop" which means you don't have to belong to a union.  You have the "right to work" and cross picket lines if being a scab is your kind of thing.  That makes it very hard to mount an effective strike because the non-union guys will ignore the strike, and the union people are left outside the door without paychecks, while the plant keeps running.

The shop steward asked me if I valued my life.  I said yes.  He said to the foreman, "Hey Joe, get him a real belly guard."  The foreman cam back with this heavy leather apron with shin guards.  It looked something like gladiator body armor.  I immediately joined the union.

Needless to say, IBP was a dangerous place.  You worked in a room which hovered around the freezing point.  Everybody had colds all the time.  At least once a day, they would shut down the line and carry out another causality that just got accidentally cut or stabbed.  This was especially common on the conveyor belts where people are swinging knives and meat hooks at a rapid pace while standing cheek by jowl.

I said earlier that the open shop makes strikes very difficult to mount.  At IBP we were very successful at striking because most people were union members and everybody stuck together against the common enemy which was the company.  We really had solidarity.  As I said, the area had a history of having a meat cutting industry and had experience with unions and left wing politics.  Why, the man I was standing next to, his grandfather could have been a Wobbly back at the turn of the 20th century.
The place was noted for its strikes. 

When I came there they just came off a 14 month long strike.  The union won a contract even though the company imported Mexicans and built them a cinderblock village next to the plant.  The Mexicans were brought there to work as strikebreakers.  Many stayed on after the strike and some even joined the union.  IBP was about the only place you would see any nonwhites it that part of the state.

Strikes in New Jersey are peaceful affairs.  What the CWA needs to do is to take lessons from the union guys at IBP.  They had shootings, firebombings, stabbings and all kinds of goings on.  The company even had to call in the National Guard a few times.

When I worked at IBP, I lived in a farmhouse just outside Bronson, which is about 10 miles outside Sioux City.   I got the place rent free by working part time for a farmer.  The place was so isolated, you couldn't see another house looking from any direction on the hill where the house was located.  I got to take care of the farmer's hogs.  He did it the old fashioned way, with a farrowing barn with a straw covered floor and no restraining stalls for the sows.  Needless to say, these hogs were a lot healthier than those on the factory farm.

The farmer also had cattle, and I helped out with a cattle drive.  We moved about 20 cattle down the road for about five miles from one farm to another.  We herded them down the road using a pickup truck and horses.  It is legal to drive cattle down public streets in Iowa.

I went back to college basically because of a snap decision.  There was a major blizzard the last Friday I worked at the plant.  After the shift ended at 11PM there was so much snow on the roads that I couldn't make it out of the Dakota City/Sioux City area.  Forget about driving through the country to Bronson.  The first night I stayed at the Ramada.  Saturday night, the roads were still blocked and I slept at the Gospel Mission.  On Sunday, I gave it a shot and buried my truck in a big snowbank just outside Bronson.  I had to walk the next 3 or 4 miles to my farm house.  The next day the V-plows came and opened the road from Bronson to my house. 

School was starting at that time.  They were still registering students.  So I got my truck, loaded it up and went back to Ames, claimed my financial aid and got a room in an apartment with some other students.  When I graduated, I tried to get a job at IBP as a foreman but they wouldn't hire me because I quit without notice.  If I got hired, my life could have been completely different from how it turned out.  I would have been living around Sioux City instead of Trenton.

To learn more about IBP and their notorious strikes, check out this link:

(Scroll down the page once you get to the link.  The text of the article appears a little ways below the part that's viewable when you first open the link.  It's worth checking because there is little that the company or the unions hadn't done.  (Company:  Anti-trust violations, union-busting, OSHA violations, collusion with the mafia, etc.  Unions:  Basically acting like the truckers in the strike scene at the begining of the F.I.S.T. movie.  Yes, they got a veteran union goon working at the state

Saturday, December 4, 2010

If You Want a Terrible, Overpriced Banquet, Hold It at the Hamilton Manor

I had the unfortunate experience of being "treated" to a bad banquet at the Hamilton Manor yesterday.  I am writing this posting to warn anyone who is even thinking to schedule an event there to forget about it.  The stuff is overpriced and the food is just plain nasty.

My wife's department had a lady retiring and the Worker's Compensation shop decided to hold a party for her at the Hamilton Manor Friday night.  The Hamilton Manor is located at the former Polish American Club building in Yardville.  It is just down the street from Yardville Supply and the Take It Easy bar.

The party was $35 per head.  According to my wife, the gift only price was $5, so I presume $30 went toward the meal.  What does $30 buy you at the Hamilton Manor.  Try an appetizer buffet consisting of pizzas on toast, anchovy bruchetta, cheese balls with the cheese fried out of them (the middle was hollow)., rice balls that picked up a fish flavor from the oil and single pieces of shrimp stuck in a plastic cup with cocktail sauce.  You also got all the cola you could drink.  I-M-P-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!   I went to the bar. (cash bar of course) and ordered a scotch and water made out of the worst scotch imaginable.  I'd say it tastes like water from a peat bog loaded with dead Scotsmen.  So I switched to a Bombay Sapphire martini served dry and up.  For all you teetotalers, that means just gin, no vermouth, served without ice.  I don't know how you ruin a glass of pure gin, and even they couldn't mess that up.  However the price was $12 which is enough to make anyone want to puke.

I was waiting for the main course to come out.  The answer:  forgetaboutit, there ain't any.  For desert, we had a chocolate fountain (nice touch admitadly), stale biscottis, Oreo cookies and stale hamatashes (Jewish cookies that are filled with lekavar)  the Jewish cookies were as equally stale and out of the box as the Italian biscotti.

The total cost for the night out was $92, including a $1 tip for the barmaid.  I took my wife out to the Olive Garden tonight.  We has two meals with a main course and soup and salad.  She drank coke and I had two Bombay Sapphire martinis and two pitchers of coffee.   We also had zepoli, which are like donuts.  One order feeds two people.  I left the waitress an $8 tip.  Total cost $70.  So I got two real meals, left a good tip and still saved $20.  So avoid the shithole in Yardville and go somewhere else like the Nottingham Ballroom or Mastoris.  You won't regret taking my advice and your guests will thank you for it..