Friday, July 12, 2013

International Brotherhood of Drone Pilots

Those of us of a certain age – i.e., those who remember when everyday consumer goods like shoes, fridges, and TVs were Made in America – may recall an ad from the late-1970’s exhorting us to “look for the union label, when you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse.”

The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union is now, or course, in the rear view mirror (which probably isn’t made in the USA, either, come to think of it).

But there are still some unions left here, and there’s still some union organizing going on, mostly among lower-skilled service workers – store clerks, hotel workers, home health aides. I.e., those who do thankless tasks for short money.

So I was a bit surprised to read about:

A new collective-bargaining organisation, the Association of Unmanned Operation (AUO), [which] aims to represent civilian drone operators. (Source: The Economist.)

And here’s the shocker (to me, at least): there are thousands of “civilians working for contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin [who] fly spy planes and fix them when they break down.”

One such drone pilot, Andrew Lohmar, worked for the Navy for a number of years, and, among other episodes, was involved in recon for a 2009 rescue of some Americans being held hostage by Somali pirates. The job, it goes without saying, is one that is not without its stresses:

“There were times you saw things that you did not really want to, including people dying,” says Mr Lohmar. “Other times brought home the fact that the people on the other end of the lens were human beings too, such as seeing a ‘bad guy’ playing with his kids.”

Well, Hitler liked dogs, and Osama bin Laden wore a cowboy hat in his garden, so, yes, bad guys, like celebrities, are just like us. Yet they remain bad guys. Still, it must be pretty eerie (and definitely stressful) to be the one surveilling the bad guys, and giving the co-ordinates to someone who’s going to blow the bad guys away. Hoping all the while that the bad guys you’re surveilling are really the bad guys, and not a case of mistaken identity. And that their kids will be out of the picture once the finger on the button presses “go.”

Given the nature of the job, drone pilots get pretty well paid. Newbies had been making over $100K,

…but as America’s wars wind down and the sequester bites, wages have slipped and discontent among operators has grown.

AUO claims that they are nearing recognition as the collective-bargaining organization at one contracting outfit.

But as those wars wind down, and there’s less demand for drone operators, I would think that, while organizing might get easier – those slipping wages and all that discontent – the contractors will just go pfftttt.

I also think that this is one of those organizations that end up promoting some pretty awful industries to help ensure that they’ll have plenty of employment opportunities.  Think about the devil’s pact made when the “corrections industry” and correction officers’ unions go a-lobbying. A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and a prison on every corner!

While the AUO says that they are not interested in droning Americans, one can easily see this wondrous industry morphing into another one of those chicken-car-prison deals. A drone above every zip code!

Shudder. Shudder, shudder.

While I’m sure that the AUO will be promoting their profession (and along the way, promote their “industry”), I doubt that we’ll see any ads urging us to “look for the union label.”

I guess by the time you think to look for the union label, you’re a little too late.

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