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Are local unions stifling volunteer efforts for the city and Lodi Unified?

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Posted: Sunday, May 3, 2009 10:00 pm

Volunteering is a wonderful thing. When done right, it is a win-win for all involved.

The volunteers feel good about what they have done and those receiving the help receive the benefit. When done wrong, one or both parties leave feeling that it could have been better. This is a story about a bit of win-win, and bit of could have and should have been better.

A little over a week ago I participated in a Comcast Cares Day event at George Washington School here in Lodi. If you know anything about George Washington, it is an older school in town but not the oldest. It is like most schools in Lodi in that it needs some TLC. So, when this event was announced, my son, who attends Washington, asked if we could help and I was happy to do so.

The Comcast Cares Day is a day when Comcast employees, their families and other volunteers work to make something in the community better. On this day, there were only two schools in San Joaquin County selected, so George Washington was lucky.

For George Washington there were probably 200 people. Comcast brought paint, painting supplies, plants, trees, ground cover, tools, food and drinks.

The day started with a "thank you" here and a proclamation there by people who didn't even dip a paintbrush, but that was to be expected. After those niceties were done, it was time to get to work. We were split into three groups - cleaning, painting and gardening. Nothing too extreme, but all very helpful. I went with the painting group.

As part of the painting group, our projects were to paint handrails, update a mural in the cafeteria and put yellow paint on poles around campus. That's it. No striping for parking and no walls in or out except for the mural. Easy stuff right? Well, not so fast, my friends.

We were not long into the work before another work group had to be formed - one to clean paint drips. What? I mean we are talking drips here not spills or dumped cans. Why?

Well, I soon learned from someone with Lodi Unified School District management that the union painters, employed by the LUSD, would not be happy and would probably raise an issue if there were drips. After all, the LUSD does employ painters. As I get it, the union wants to do the painting and if someone else does it then maybe they won't have a job. The key word there is maybe.

What the union doesn't understand is that there is more than enough work in the LUSD for all their painters, gardeners, plumbers and general maintenance workers as well as all the volunteers they can find.

What the union also doesn't understand is that we could have all gone home on that Saturday morning and the painting, cleaning and gardening would not have been done, because the LUSD doesn't have the money to get it done.

You see, there is a gap between what the LUSD can do and what needs to be done, and your unions WILL NOT fill the gap. The volunteers can help fill the gap but your unions won't. How many of the union members were at Washington on that Saturday? If you were there, volunteering your time, let me know and I will use part of this column to thank you.

If you think this is a LUSD problem alone, it isn't. The city of Lodi has the same problem. When groups want to help, it is resisted.

I also believe that this is not a management problem at LUSD or with the city. I lay the blame squarely on the unions and their job-protectionist attitudes. If those unions cared about the LUSD or Lodi, they would embrace the volunteers and work with them to make things better.

I want to end this by thanking Art Hand and Mitch Slater with LUSD for doing what they could to make sure Washington got some help. I especially want to thank Comcast and their employees and their families. If it ever seemed that people didn't want your yellow paint or your help, I am sorry, because we wanted that yellow paint and the blue paint and every drop that came with it.

Thank you for coming to George Washington and helping!

John Johnson, CFA, is a Lodi-based business appraiser. Contact him at or 369-1451.

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