I admit it, I have a little bit of a soft spot in my heart for the idea of skilled-trades unions. There was a day -- on the far side of the Great Depression -- when skilled workers organized and shared their skills, producing a pool of, yes, organized labor, but organized labor that arrived with the knowledge and training to do the job. The various trades had their various AF of L unions; each one had their patch and they stuck to it -- electricians didn't plaster walls, steamfitters didn't crowd out machinists, and so on. Unlike the later CIO unions, they didn't organize outside their trade: their deal was they delivered the skills and the employer paid 'em union scale.
All that is history. The fed.gov rewrote the rules back when my parents were starting elementary school. The traditional skilled-trade unions more-or-less stayed inside their own lines (and some of them, notably IBEW, ran training and apprenticeship programs) but it was largely a matter of habit.
Over in the suit and tie world, lawyering has long been (or at least considered itself) a profession. In the U.S., persons called to the bar can be (and often are) handed the courtesy title "Esquire" to waggle after their names. (You can use it, too; it has no legal standing -- but use it to pass yourself off as an attorney and you'll soon feel their official wrath and that of the .gov so many of 'em work for.)
So, on the one hand, we have the skilled-trade laborer, inheritor of a justifiably-proud tradition. You may not like his union's politics -- he might not, either -- but it does stand for more than picket lines and hard-fought contracts. He (or she) works with hands and brain. On the other, professionals with post-graduate degrees. They may labor in genteel poverty (law school isn't cheap and the vast majority of legal work doesn't pay all that well; the rich lawyer is a real thing but he rests upon a vast pool of J.D.'d scriveners who make less than a journeyman plumber) but it is indeed genteel. The heaviest tool an attorney lifts is a pen. They couldn't be more different, could they?
Not in New Jersey! Deputy ADAs there have, after a long fight, got themselves a union. Not the Teamsters (amazing, really -- this is New Jersey we're talking about), not some "Worshipful Guild of Barristers," conjured from whole cloth to serve their special needs, nope, they've joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers!
'Scuse me, what? Yep. The same organization that spent a lot of time and effort as the 19th Century became the 20th, leaning on Power & Light companies to provide linesmen with insulated pliers (and convincing the linesmen to use 'em) is repping a bunch of State-employed attorneys. And don't ask me what's going to happen the next time some union pension turns out to have been mismanaged and the union get hauled before the court; a whole lot of recusing, I'd suppose.
Whatever became of, "Cobbler, stick to thy last?" And whatever became of the legal profession?
Well, it is New Jersey.
4 weeks ago