Career Advice Nov 02 2011

So You Want to Be a Scab

By kelly eggers

During the Depression, when more than a quarter of the population was out of work, the unemployed still wouldn't cross a union picket line. Union membership and the power it conveyed on ordinary workers commanded respect.

"Despite there being a quarter to a third of the population unemployed, picket lines were honored," said Dr. Daniel Opler, associate professor of history at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y., who specializes in labor history. "During the Depression, there was an idea that if those workers won the strike, it would be better for everyone."

Not anymore.

According to FINS' informal question forum, Sign or Decline, 69% of 624 respondents said they'd take their dream job if they had to cross an active picket line.

People may be more willing to cross picket lines due to a smaller presence of union members in general, Opler said. Union membership has been declining since the 1950s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Back then, nearly a third of the working population belonged to labor unions; in 2011, that number was down to 11.9%. According to a Gallup poll in August of this year, support for labor unions in the U.S. is at 52%, a historic low. Two separate measurements in the 1950s pegged union approval ratings at 75%.

That doesn't mean, however, that crossing a picket line today is inherently less risky. During the Verizon Communications strike last August, for instance, there were a number of reports of violence. Nor does crossing the line for work mean you'll get the keep the job once the strike is over.

"One of the things that will be negotiated when a strike ends is what will happen to the people who took those jobs during the strike to help keep business moving," Opler said. "If it's a replacement position you took, there's no guarantee it will be there afterwards."

"If you take a permanent job, when the strike does end, it could be really uncomfortable," said Opler. "You're going to end up working next to people who know you've actively betrayed them. Working next to someone whose picket line you've crossed? I can't think of anything more awkward."

What Would You Do?

Answer the question and see how you match up with the rest of the FINS community.

You've just been offered your dream job, but... you have to cross a picket line.


Write to Kelly Eggers

Sign or Decline is a series of questions on that ask what you would do for your dream job. Since its launch late last year, over 100,000 answers have been received and compiled in our database. Participate in Sign or Decline here.

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