My Day at the Bargaining Table

Pennsylvania Memories is a special series marking the turn of the millennium featuring readers' memories of events, experiences, incidents, individuals, innovations or inventions that profoundly affected them or gave them a deep appreciation of personal history.

Our family consisted of seven children, my mother, who had emigrated from Italy in 1908, and my father, who was born in Carbondale, Lackawanna County. We lived in a small anthracite (or hard coal) mining town, Old Forge, also in Lackawanna County. Dad began working as a breaker boy in the coal industry when he was fifteen years old. After years of such hard labor, Dad began to try to rectify the lack of safety and other abusive tactics imposed on the work force by the mine owners.

Dad’s efforts to improve the working conditions resulted in a position with the fledgling organiza¬≠tion known as the United Mine Workers of America [see “Living for Reform” by Kenneth C. Wolensky in the winter 2001 issue]. He was highly regarded by both the union members and the mine owners. Sincere, proper, and meaningful negotiations were his trademarks.

Around our home we performed many chores for which we received a weekly allowance of thirty-five cents. The three of us children on allowance decided it was time for a raise – the price of our favorite candies had risen. Knowing our father was a very fair man and a firm believer in fair negotiations, we thought a threat of a strike would bring him to the negotiating table. Since I was named after him, I became the spokesman and in that way have an edge. I approached him and requested a meeting, adding that we wanted to avoid a strike. He appreciated our following the proper grievance procedure and said we would meet at 2:00 P.M. He asked that I bring the rank and file members to the meeting.

At the meeting I presented our case. I really played up the part about the increase in the cost of candy. I added that it was unfair that Grandma (his mother) suffer a loss since she had to “sell” us a three-cent candy for two cents because we didn’t have enough money. I presented our opening request for a fifteen-cent raise, to a weekly allowance of fifty cents.

My Dad countered with a list of chores that were not being done on a regular basis. He also noted that we had received a raise less than two years earlier and that we were asking for an outrageous percentage of increase.

I countered with the fact that many chores he referred to were never assigned, but rather done as special assignments. The percentage of increase does seem high, I conceded, but only because the base allowance of thirty-five cents is very low. Also, two years without a raise is too long a time. I reminded him that the increases in the cost of living and the prices that Grandma had to pay the candy wholesaler were far beyond our control.

My Dad looked at me and said, “Junior, now I know why you are named after me. You did a great job of negotiating.” Before we left the bargaining table, he added, “Request for a fifty-cent allowance is granted.”

 

Anthony R. Pann of Old Forge, Lackawanna County, is a graduate of the University of Scranton. He worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Philadelphia before moving west to work for the Hughes Aircraft Company. He was associated with the financial operations division of the Hughes Aircraft Company for twenty-seven years before retiring early in 1982. Upon retiring, he returned to Old Forge. In 1999, he authored a commemorative history to mark the centennial anniversary of the founding of Old Forge. He has also worked as a park ranger and interpreter for Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton. Among his hobbies, which includes writing, he especially enjoys computers.