Skip to Content

Honoring the Picket Line (Part II)

Strike Breakers Only Add Fuel to the Fire

By Dave Arnold

In my previous article, I discussed how the housing materials factory where I worked in 1970 resorted to hiring strikebreakers in the guise of “security guards.” Their real job was not to protect as much as to disrupt a strike by the Teamsters union.

Company officials also realized at the time that they could break the carpenters’ union that was affiliated with the factory. As a member of that union, I was witness to scabs and strike busters conniving with company officials to eliminate all signs of a union at their factory in Effingham, Illinois.

Crossing the Line, Almost

Though the carpenters had voted not to cross any picket lines in the beginning, we had bills to pay. As bank accounts dwindled, we knew we had to return to work or lose our jobs. This meant crossing the teamsters’ picket line and the strike busters’ defense line.

I was married with a young daughter and another on the way. When my family really needed me most, I was without an income and about to cross a potential battlefield with the possibility of being killed. One morning, I remember very well driving to work with a loaded pistol concealed under my coat praying that I wouldn’t have to defend myself as I joined other carpenters in crossing the picket line.

I’ve been a hunter all my life and was familiar with the proper use of a firearm. But this was different from hunting deer in the woods.

Maybe it was fate or luck, or somebody watching out for me, but when I arrived at work that morning, the Teamsters had stopped picketing. In addition, the company also pulled its strike busters off the line.

Unity Trumps Greed

Some of the union carpenters had given up and found other jobs. Ironically, some of the scabs stayed on and later became loyal union members. I guess they saw how unity and justice trumps greed and muscle.

When the company resorted to forceful and intimidating tactics to break the union and save on production costs, it proved unwise. For example, the scab truckers lacked the skills necessary to drive large vehicles with heavy loads. One driver with a fully-loaded truck ran off the road and into a river losing everything. Another backed his rig through a fence and into a parked car. The worst example is the driver who, first, made a delivery to the wrong address, then got his rig entangled in some power lines, and, finally, broke several power line poles severely damaging a house.

I’ve said it before: you get what you pay for. Within a year, the company declared bankruptcy and closed the plant.

Union Busters in School Districts

Today, NEA members might think we are immune to labor struggles, lockouts, and strike busters. I think it’s an illusion many of us have gotten too comfortable with. Unfortunately, too many school district officials still think like those company executives from that old factory.

As educators know too well, school boards will still outsource transportation, custodial, and food service jobs to save a little money. We generally call the people who take ESP and teacher jobs “contracted employees” or “replacement workers.” But a scab is a scab, plain and simple.

When ESPs or teachers are being replaced by privateers, picket lines go up and parents and taxpayers are pressed to take sides. Most often, parents and citizens see through the smoke screen of replacement workers and realize that the safety and education of their children are at risk along with the livelihoods of ESPs and teachers.

What school officials don’t seem to see is that it takes skill, experience and commitment to manage our ESP and teacher jobs. Those who attempt to replace us often end up driving themselves and the school into a river losing everything.

More Dave's columns.
More articles about ESPs.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.