The personal drama (of the drywall workers) is touching--workers coming together in solidarity for decent wages and a union. Yes, it's true that their wages have been reduced by half over the past decade.
Contractors have bid work at current labor rates and don't have the flexibility or incentive to escalate piecework rates. Builders and lenders are not likely to be sympathetic unless projects are seriously threatened (perhaps not even then).
Traditionally, drywall hangers were represented by the carpenters union, and drywall finishers were represented by the painters union.
In the late 1970s, builders believed that labor costs were a significant component of product pricing, and labor was too high. Labor law rulings effectively weakened unions, and the ABC, a national contractors organization, began a campaign to create non-union shops.
Many workers, in fact, felt that the unions were more interested in perpetuating themselves than they were in representing and protecting the membership.
The recession of the early 1980s finally broke the unions' hold on residential work. The predictability of labor costs and the stabilizing effect of agreements between labor and contractors were replaced by a \o7 laissez-faire \f7 supply and demand situation. Benefits disappeared.
Unfortunately, the strikers are themselves partially responsible for their current distress. A seemingly limitless supply of willing but unskilled Mexican, Central American, and South American labor replaced higher-priced native labor and accepted continually declining work conditions and pay.
These are the people now striking for decent pay and representation. The July 5 article, "Southland Drywall Hangers Hold Out in Hopes of Nailing Down Union," documents the drop in Anglo percentage of the drywall labor pool from 75% to 10%.
The present plight of the drywallers was predictable. They are now attempting to restore the system that they replaced. Free market economics hasn't worked for them. They now want and need protection from a system they helped create.
Their timing is bad. Residential production is low, so their impact will be marginal and they can readily be replaced with other willing workers.
Union representation would be in everyone's best interest. Contractors would have access to a controlled and reliable source of labor, at known and predictable rates. Rate increases would be predictable for accurate job costing. Workers would be assured work rates and benefits and would be protected from lower-priced labor--protection from the people they once were.
The union would have to sincerely care about their members and the needs of the contractors. It would have to be a labor/management partnership.
I don't see any of this happening in the current economic conditions.
ROBERT W. McINTYRE, Capistrano Beach