He’s not a "union boss." But you wouldn’t know that from this New York Times headline: "Trump as Cyberbully in Chief? Twitter Attack on Union Boss Draws Fire," or from this MSNBC TV on-screen caption: "Carrier Union Boss Responds to Trump Attacks."
To be fair, the Times and MSNBC stories were straight news accounts of Jones saying that Donald Trump lied his you-know-what off and that the president-elect threw a Twitter tantrum in response. Even so, this old reporter was surprised that these supposed bastions of the "liberal media" trotted out "union boss," a blatant union-bashing term.
"Union boss" implies a shady character who wields arbitrary and unchecked power over the "bossed."
By calling an elected union leader "union boss" (all union leaders are elected, from shop stewards to international presidents), union-haters want Jane and John Q Citizen to envision some mythical, paunchy, bald-headed, cigar-puffing guy in a tailor-made suit with his Salvatore Ferragamo-shod feet propped on a big desk piled with cash he bilked from the poor, unsuspecting membership.
"Union boss" is a standby slam at Fox News, the National Right to Work Committee and the rest of the anti-union crowd. "Union boss" is part of a twofold strategy: to turn the public against organized labor and to divide rank-and-file union members from their officials.
Westbrook Pegler helped popularize "union boss." Largely forgotten today, he was a reactionary, red-baiting, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic syndicated newspaper columnist of the mid-20th century.
Pegler favored "the praiseworthy pastime of batting the brains out of pickets" during strikes. He despised Martin Luther King, who famously observed that "the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth."
In my newsroom days, "all the news that fits" was the rule of thumb of editors who wrote headlines. So maybe some editor at the Times used "boss" instead of "leader" or "president" because "boss" is shorter. Maybe, too, "union boss" was also a space-saver to whoever wrote the MSNBC caption.
But words matter. Using loaded terms like "union boss" is not the way to economize.
This is a guest post from Berry Craig, a retired member of AFT Local 1360.