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Stripping’s – dirty little past

A little history of stripping. From the late 80’s till early 2000’s stripping was primarily used in ways that can still affect modern day union leaders and membership.

Stripping was the back door into the local union. Using stripping, a local could claim to be organizing and would fill their manpower needs by taking neighborhood guys mostly from the local bars, and getting them books either thru a bastard local and/or sometimes directly into the local. These weren’t even family, just guys that even then should have been a red flag. What does it say that in those times when jobs where plentiful, many couldn’t hold one.

There was no thought of putting them through the apprenticeship for 2 reasons, the first was that the apprenticeships back then where very inflexible and ran XX number of apprentices per year regardless of the work load. The second was by buying a book you could go onto the job as a Journey-person and make the money right out of the box. Especially thru the 90’s if you went thru the apprenticeship you were thought to be kind of dumb for going to school for many years at partial wages.

The friction on the jobs between book bought guys that had zero connection to being organized and real apprentices started showing up on the bread and butter jobs in the local. No a great mix.

Filling the manpower needs was not the only mission of those local politicians, stripping was also used for wholly political reasons.

Politicians of a local union could change the voting dynamics of the local with a flood of new books brought in over a relatively short period of time. These book buyers owed their allegiance to their sponsor and NOT to the greater needs of the local union. They voted how they were told, and alot of locals haven’t been same since.

Friction on the job went through the roof in many locals, an apprentice being called a “punk” by a book buying piece of garbage is entirely different than the same word used by a journey-person that went thru an apprenticeship and/or a non-union worker that was genuinely organized into the local and served his apprenticeship the hard way – in the non-union. Union matters of all types lost the independence of decision by the rank and file because of bought votes.

The transition of stripping from the above to how it is used today still keeps it as a tool of an organizer. However, stripping is still the dominate way many locals to this day organize. Modern Organizers to their credit concentrate on bringing in the unorganized into our local. What is lacking is understanding that stripping the workers is a short term proposition, without finishing the job. If all we do is take the non-union work and that’s it, then we put a temporary dent in the non-union contractor. Very seldom is this tactic fatal to the non-union contractor.

In our Labor Rising classes we always ask if any locals do an exit interview of those non-union workers being stripped as a condition of acceptance into the local. Overwhelming the local organizers/market development reps do not. So we are stripping to hurt the contractor, if not create a situation where they will sign a union CBA – right?
So the workers that you’re stripping have all sorts of very valuable information for the host local, if we would capture it and more importantly – USE IT!

Stuff like relationships, clients of the non-union contractor, pay, training, safety, hiring, employment practices, prevail wage issues and much more valuable info that if we as organizers continue to act on this information which will potentially result in a win. This is an exit interview.

It does crack me up when someone says that the non-union worker will not co-operate in helping a union before they join it. My personal response generally would be why would you take the worker, the worker will just play both sides and never be a committed union person.

Stripping is a useful tool only when you get the information to finish the job, otherwise it is a short term band aid and will not solve the long term problem of raising overall market share.

Danny L Caliendo

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