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Home | Mises Library | A Single Mom vs. the Unions

A Single Mom vs. the Unions

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08/24/2006Doug French

What do you suppose the prospects are for a single mother who drops out of high school? Big government types point to these women as a shining example of a group that any rich, compassionate society needs to take care of. "What would happen if we turn our backs on these women and their families?" "We can't let them fall through the cracks."

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) costs taxpayers close to $20 billion a year. Unfortunately all this taxpayer money only serves to make young mothers dependent on the federal government, with perhaps many living on the government dole for all of their lives: A very unfulfilling life indeed.

In Salt Lake City, back in the 1970's, a teenage girl dropped out of high school, left her parents' home, got pregnant and married. But, while still a teenager, she soon left her husband when her little girl was one year old. No doubt there was plenty of government money available for a girl in her situation. But nobody in her family had ever asked for a hand out from Uncle Sam. Her father scratched out a living working on cars, and she was taught that if you want to eat you have to work and "make hay while the sun shines." But, she humbly admits looking back on those lean times, "I didn't know the government would take care of us, if I had, we might have taken the money and food stamps."

And this story would have a much different end.

But instead, she didn't take government money, and despite being on her own with no family financial help she found a place to live in a basement that she had to beg her way into. "The first place we lived wasn't even zoned as a living space," her daughter remembers, "but, she got us in there and fixed it up so it was nice enough to live in."

Despite not having a high school diploma she found work as a bank teller and then collected debts for a music store. With an aggressive personality she would be a talented collector, squeezing deadbeat musicians for payments on their instruments. It was the early 1980's, interest rates were soaring and the economy was punk. "A lot of the time I was in the car while she'd go up to these shacks and knock on the door," her daughter says. "Often the guy behind that door wasn't too happy to see her and accept her papers. But, she'd go toe-to-toe with these guys and never show she was scared. Sometimes she'd have to throw the papers into the door while they were slamming it in her face. But she always got the job done." Watching her mother in action was scary, but afterwards mom would often treat with dinner at Taco Bell.

But, as mentor and ex-boss Joe Huggins points out, our single mom was essentially practicing law without a license, so she went to work for his law firm. Our heroine figured out quickly that she would need a degree if she ever wanted to be paid properly for her legal work. She didn't even have a high school diploma but she did have a hungry daughter at home. It would have been easy to give up. But, as she reminds me almost daily, "I don't take 'no' for an answer."

The college admissions office required that she submit her high school transcripts, of which she had none. But, thinking on her feet, she told them: "Well, I went to a very small high school in southern Utah and it burnt down with all the records." They bought the story, and told her to take the GED exam just as a formality, which she did and sailed through so that she could enter Westminster College to earn a paralegal degree. Five years later she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in English. All of this time, she worked as a litigation paralegal, taught paralegal classes, and raised her daughter.

The collections business was going pretty good, and as her daughter remembers: "we had some real money coming in for the first time." It would have been easy to rest with times being relatively good. She didn't need to go through the torture of law school. But, when she expressed frustration at how long it would take her to get a law degree, Huggins wisely pointed out that the time would pass anyway, and at the end she could either have earned a law degree or not.

But the high school dropout was terrified when it came time to apply. She had earned top grades in undergrad but back then the University of Utah law school was very selective and women where not at the top of the list. "I'm sure having me only hurt her chances as they probably thought it limited her ability of making it through the program," her daughter speculates.

A recommendation letter from a judge who was a family friend, combined with her grades and academic honors, secured a spot. She went on to earn her Juris Doctorate with honors in 1991. On her graduation day, her proud father couldn't manage a dry eye during the entire celebration.

With her daughter a young woman, the Utah cowgirl then went to work for a prestigious labor law firm in Philadelphia, learned to navigate the big city, and worked on behalf of union employees. Although brought up in a Mormon family, while living in Philly her love of the history and tradition of the Jewish culture led to a conversion to Judaism. The Rabbi wasn't eager to work with her. But, he saw how bright she was and she won him over with her persistence.

She stayed in Philadelphia for five years, but by then she had had enough of the icy winters back east and a new challenge awaited her in Las Vegas working for casino icon Margaret Elardi at the Frontier Hotel and Casino. The Elardi family was in the middle of a six-year strike by the Culinary Union. They needed labor expertise, and working for Mrs. E would prove to be an inspiration.

When Elardi abruptly sold the Frontier after years of union harassment, Sheldon Adelson was just drawing plans for his Venetian Hotel and Casino. It was a perfect fit. Adelson insisted on opening non-union and needed a lawyer who would go toe-to-toe with both the union bosses in the boardroom, and the rank-and-file picketers out on the sidewalk.

When Adelson purchased the Sands Hotel, he inherited its union employees and didn't necessarily care about being a union property or not. But one morning a Culinary Union employee working behind the counter of a yogurt stand refused to serve him. The employee who had the job classification that allowed for waiting on customers was on break. The two employees left behind the counter could not, per the union contract. Adelson knew he couldn't operate a 5-star resort with those union rules.

The union bosses wouldn't budge, and told Adelson and his lawyers that the Venetian would never get out of the ground if they didn't sign their contract. After all, Las Vegas is a union town, the "new Detroit" they call it. Bartenders and maids can't be outsourced to India.

Adelson and his team believed his employees should vote as to whether they wanted union representation. The union brass would have none of it. They would only organize from the top down, demanding that Adelson sign a neutrality agreement that is anything but. Adelson chose to fight and against all odds, the Venetian remains the only non-union Strip property to this day. But, the fight goes on daily; with labor laws stacked in the unions' favor, it takes crafty lawyering to keep them at bay.

Our single mother, high school dropout stayed with the Venetian until this year, when she opened the Las Vegas office for Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman, P.C., a firm that is dedicated to preserving the rights and prerogatives of employers. Her daughter Brenda earned her college degree, is married to a successful businessman, and has produced a beautiful granddaughter Breanna, who grandma can't get enough of.

Being a single mom is not debilitating, Deanna Forbush has proved that. Her birthday is tomorrow, but it would be bad form to give away her age, other than to say it's a big one, ending in zero. "I would often see the stress overcoming her," Brenda says, "and she would just look at me with this half tear, half angry look, as if she was giving herself an internal pep talk. She often said that if it weren't for me, for the need to show me that I was from someone worth her salt that she would have quit many times. But she just kept plugging away, essentially because it was our only way out."

In honor of single mothers everywhere who decline government help, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and "make hay while the sun shines," wish Deanna a happy birthday.

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