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Union parasites and government employees

David Epps's picture

Not long ago, several people were spotted at a Tea Party rally carrying signs that were anti-union. The signs read, “Time to Stop Union Parasites,” and “Unions Greedy Socialists.” There also seems to be an attitude developing, among some, that government employees are somehow undermining the fabric of American society.

When I was a child, my maternal grandfather, the late Charles Daniel Duckett, shared with me how, as a young man, he worked for a dollar a day. During difficult times, he traveled from state to state and town to town looking for work to support his wife and her three small daughters.

My grandmother’s first husband died at age 25 of typhoid fever leaving a widow and three small children, the oldest of whom was about 5. Technically, I suppose that Mr. Duckett was my step-grandfather but, to me, he was simply, “Grandpa.”

Somewhere along the way, he joined a union and became a pipe fitter. Being a union pipe fitter allowed him to have steady work, be paid a decent wage, own a car, and purchase a modest home. His union pension, along with Social Security, allowed him to enjoy a retirement that was comfortable but not opulent. He was a union man until the day he died. He was certainly no socialist and voted against George McGovern, whom he perceived to be “a socialist.”

I was probably the first in my family in modern times to be a government employee. For three years, I served as a social counselor in child protective services with the Tennessee Department of Human Services. As a counselor/investigator in child abuse and neglect cases, I was cussed at, spit at, punched at, stabbed at, shot at, and had my life and my family threatened. All for the princely sum of $12,000 a year — not my starting salary, but the one at which I finished.

My wife is now a government employee. After serving in hospitals small and large, serving as a dialysis nurse who made home visits in rough, rural areas, doing her time in inner city hospitals, and being promoted wherever she went, she finally accumulated a total of four college degrees and joined the faculty of a school of nursing in a university. She is now an associate dean and could easily make much more money in the private sector.

I have a son who is a government employee. He is a detective. In the 15 years he has been a police officer, he has served faithfully enduring the complaints of people who “pay his salary” and coming to their rescue when they are threatened. He has endured four surgeries for line-of-duty injuries. He has a master’s degree and would also make more money in the private sector.

Throughout the community are union people who keep planes flying, the transportation system moving, the mail delivered, and who perform hundreds of jobs that keep our society the best in the world. Every day government employees teach children, staff clinics, quench fires, transport citizens, arrest criminals, fight in war zones, and serve their communities. They, like non-union employees and non-government employees, are Americans. They deserve better than to be denigrated and despised as “parasites.”

We are now in difficult economic times. We are all in this together and, eventually, we will all have to pull together and sacrifice together for the betterment of all. Name calling and mud-slinging — whether from the right or the left—whether from the Tea Party or from MoveOn.Org — serves no purpose except to divide.

Disagree and protest if one must — it is an American right. But, please, do so with respect for the hard-working people who are simply, like you, are trying to provide for their families and — like my grandfather — are attempting to live the American Dream.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec,org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and may be contacted at]


I am amazed at your article about unions. It is your first article where I found nothing to dislike.

I have never belonged to a union in my life. They didn't exist in the jobs I took.
I started working at odd jobs until joining the military for one hitch (3 plus years)then some college, then salary jobs.

I worked where unions existed and saw how they worked however, and found no problems with them as long as management made no mistakes in violating the contract both parties agreed to adhere to.

They serve a distinct purpose where employees are underpaid and lack decent benefits. No company is forced to agree to unfair demands at contract time.

I find it puzzling however to see such positions as pilots, teachers, policemen, firemen, etc., having unions negotiate for more money for them when they are already in the top 2-3% of pay. I know unions got them there but there has to be a limit.

Teachers are professionals and choose what they do.

Public Safety can't strike of course, but wages are a different matter.

I have deliberately complicated what you said, but it exists.

If there was plenty of tax money, all would get regular raises and never be laid off. They pay them now by promotions over 10-15 and a regular job promise!

They do have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.

I agree with you, roundabout. I found nothing in Epps' article that I dislike. Wow, common ground with Mr. Epps - finally!

Observerofu's picture

if the other side would allow us to turn the other cheek without slapping it off.

"Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt"
-Samuel Adams
Illegitimi non carborundum

carbonunit52's picture

A much needed perspective of the situation.

Of course Observerofu's response had to include a deal-killing irrational disclaimer.

Normally reliable firebreather David Epps writes a column filled with compassion and nuance.


I haven't been struck speechless like this since <strong>Brave Terry Garlock, Hero of Vietnamâ„¢</strong> opined that maybe, just maybe, there wasn't anything wrong with queers getting married.

Of course, it helps that David Epps actually KNEW a union member. I suspect that most, if not all, of the jackbooted Tea Party thugs who were mugging against "union thugs" for hagiographer Ben Nelms' camera a few weeks back have never actually met a union member. They might be surprised to learn that union members are actually human beings.

I would like to go on record and say that the Citizen did David Epps a grave disservice with that inflammatory headline that topped his column. It sure made it look, at first glance, as if Epps was calling out "union parasites" when in fact the exact opposite was true.

The Citizen has had a rather spotty track record on its headlines in the past few months (Parker's letter to the editor, the infamous Texas hold 'em non-sequitur, and now this steamin' pile of headline offal). I realize you need attention-grabbers, but perhaps a bit less inflammatory "sizzle" and a bit more meaty "steak" might be in order.

BHH's picture

Okay Bacon now you're just bugging me. It's still a distraction.


NUK_1's picture

Best column I have read from you to date and I thank you for it. Way to take the high road and look for the "good" for once instead of the "enemy" in all of us.

Thank you!

No one said we want to get rid of unions. However, the employers (ALL taxpaying citizens) are completely left out of the collective bargaining process for government employees.

It's simple, Father Epps. The polititicians that do not represent all citizens "bargain" with the unions, and the unions make sure that the politicians that give them inflated salaries, medical, and retirement get re-elected.

Let the people that are actually paying the salaries collectively bargain with the unions. Not the politicians that are on the union dole.

Forgive me for being a bit simplistic, but are you really asking for ALL tax-paying citizens to individually get involved in a collective bargaining process? Just how do you propose to bring that about? Everyone show up at the table? Or wait ... maybe we can pick a few people to ... what's that word? ... REPRESENT us?

Again, maybe I'm a bit simple, but it's been obvious since time immemorial that no politician represents ALL citizens. As has been demonstrated for a couple hundred years in this country, we go with the majority and deal with the results for the politician's term. If you don't like the representative, work to elect another. Or run yourself and stay off the union dole.

In another possible scenario of your outlook, let's say you put the proposed contract to a vote by all tax-paying citizens. Can you imagine the time and money this would cost? Have you ever lived through a collective bargaining process? I have. It is a SERIES of lengthy, back-and-forth negotiations; it takes months, sometimes years, for everyone who has a vote to be informed of everything needed in order to cast an educated vote.

I, for one, would not want my livelihood decided upon by someone who has no idea what my job entails, the risks I take, the education I needed to get that job and the ongoing requirements to keep that job. Would you? Can I judge what YOUR work hours should be? How much you deserve to get paid? How many sick days you are entitled to? What your grievance process should be (or lack of one) should you be unfairly censored in your job?

I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But, as I see it, based on our system of government, your wish has already been granted. ALL tax-paying citizens are already "collectively" bargaining with the government employee unions. Their duly elected representatives are at the table. If you don't like the representative, get out and change it.

By the way, feel free to tell the next police officer who pulls you over that you pay his salary. See what happens.

Lisa Treon

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