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Should Goldsmiths Unionize/Organize

to all - this is a question ive been thinking about since 1990 after
my trip to london to try and break in to that jewelry market as an
american crafter. i didnt get too far but i did get a swift kick in
the education department. i visited almost every gallery that sold
hand made jewelry, universities, goldsmiths hall, and a registry that
stored slides photos and contact of artists and
craftspeople. the brttish seem to have things sewn up pretty tight.
which makes the convience factor non existant but on the other hand
gives consumer confidence it seemed to me that everyone from the
queen to the street sweeper knows that you look for national hallmark
from goldsmiths hall and its ok to pull out your wallet. but also
there seems to be benefits for the actual people who do the work. how
many small shops out there can afford things like health insurance?
my trade union buddies have it thru thier union dues! how many times
have alot of us had our designs stolen and worked in small shops
under the “little dictators” there’s alot of stuff goes on like the
shop i used to work for advertises themselves as the foremost custom
jewelr in the city and they couldnt design thier way out of a wet
paper bag , i know they cant even do a channel set ring because im
still doing it for them. what about retirement? all you less than
50’s out there may not be thinkinig about this but let me assure you
the clock is ticking. Soooo… whats my point DISCUSSION, brain
storming, i would like to put this question out there to artists,
benchpeople, aprentices get some opinions flowing in the spirit of
guys like joe hill & woody guthrie should goldsmiths unionize? best
regards to all goo

Hello Gustavo;

I think there would be some benefits to jewelers forming unions, like
the potential for cheaper health care insurance by forming large
membership groups and eventually better wages. Here in the U.S.,
there were some jeweler’s unions a few decades ago, but I haven’t
heard much abount them. I would encourage my employees to unionize if
they thought it wouldn’t be too much work and cost too much. But it
would be entirely up to them, and if they did join, so would I. Why?
Because I don’t think we’re going to see the overseas industries that
are resorting to deplorable labor practices, or those in this
country, for that matter, change their ways until unions become
prevalent and influential here and in the developed countries and can
influence the trade laws so that unfair labor practices result in
those industries being basically banned from the international
marketplace. I’m not afraid of unions forcing me to pay my employees
more. I will always struggle to pay my people all that I can, just as
I will always work beside them at the bench.

But now there are few good paying jobs for jewelers and even fewer
good jewelers to fill them. And I think this is partly the result of
the wages being so low for so long, relative to the skill level
required for the job. Nobody wants to work for ten years to learn
something only to make less money than a teacher or a policeman,
especially if they don’t have the benefits. 20 years ago, we saw a
lot of jewelers give up and switch to dental tech and other trades.
Yes, a jeweler nowadays can make good money if he or she has top
shelf skills, but the only people who get there have gone through 20
years of low pay.

But there are two things that will need to happen before jewelers can
have a good and strong union. First, they will need to require
certification based on testing, as other trades do, and then tie it
directly to licensing. J.A. has the certification process in place,
but they probably aren’t concerned about instituting any sort of
licensing. This wouldn’t serve their larger constituency, which is
the retail industry. Well, it would in the long run, but the industry
is not, shall I say, “visionary” at this time. It would be a daunting
task, but it has happened in other trades. The second thing that
unions would need to do is to commit themselves to working in a
cooperative manner with retail and manufacturing to re-build the U.S.
manufacturing and retail jewelry industry, helping the retailers
regain their markets from the low-margin competitors and exploitive
manufacturers here and abroad by working for fair trade legislation,
unionizing in developing countries, providing grants to businesses
willing to hire trainees, etc.

It’s a known fact that unions once made industries strong in this
country, whether they want to admit it or not. They couldn’t wait to
bust the unions, and the chickens are now coming home to roost.

David L. Huffman


Now there is a topic that just irks me. I know many (ie:
printmakers, specialty metal smiths, etc) who were part of a union
and couldn’t get jobs especially after computers arrived and the
fields changed. You have a good job, a younger person comes along
and takes it, you get laid off and your name goes to the bottom
(after some 100+ people) of the list and you wait for a job to come
your way. Now if you have that job for 2 weeks (Xmas rush) and get
laid you get to go back to the bottom of the list.

On the other hand I have worked for employers who “now” have
unionized workers who did not want to be unionized. The unions in
this country can be extremely cruel and nasty. Case in point: I
worked for an employer with 7 non union well taken care of
employees. A union came to them and asked them to join them. they
said no. Next thing within a week, the employees were getting beat
up daily on their way to work. the union that offered to them first
came back and said “hey, we will protect you if you join us”. so,
they joined.

Another case is point. My son was a patient in a preme ward in a
hospital in Texas and a union wanted the workers to become
unionized. The workers said no and the union set fire to the
elevator shafts of the hospital.

So, I guess you could say that I am strongly not in favor of
unionization of anything in this country. England is a different
country with different history.

Those are my opinions
Jennifer friedman
Ventura, CA


I cannot see how a union organization would benefit artistic
creative beings.

The first thing you give up is speaking for yourself. Limits and
limitations are determined by others, rarely by persons with similar
qualifications to yours.

Current and future retirees are losing many of the "lifetime"
benefits which were terms of their contracts.

It is not possible to “control” the jewelry industry by organization.
Paychecks are not based on performance, rather seniority.


So, I guess you could say that I am strongly not in favor of
unionization of anything in this country. England is a different
country with different history. 

I’m inclined to think Texas is, too. Me…I’m union all the way.
Have been for half a century, since the heyday of organized labor
before it was infiltrated by organized crime in a concerted effort
by darker forces in our nation to discredit and break the unions. My
union protected my seniority, job security, pension,medical
benefits,…all the things unions were supposed to do…and they
stayed honest.

Before unions, there was no such thing as a 40 hour work week with
time-and-a-half for overtime and double-time for Sundays. There was
no seniority. Lunch time could be fifteen minutes and there were no
breaks during the day. If your working conditions were terrible, you
couldn’t complain or you’d be fired. You couldn’t negotiate wages or

We’ve been sliding back to the’good old days’ when everybody was an
individual and had to fend for himself. The purpose of a union was
to unite workers so their voice would be powerful enough to contest
deplorable working conditions, unfair labor practices and
exploitation of labor, and establish reforms through the courts if

Today, unions in the US are no longer trendy. So it’s back to the
60-70 hour week, 30minute lunch, cameras in the bathrooms to monitor
your time off the floor…fire you if you ask for a raise…cut
your pension (if you have one)…and kick you out when you’re 52
and nobody will give you a job because youngsters are cheaper to

Like doctors, goldsmiths are in a funny position. They may be
individual entrepreneurs, or they may work for a large company. Do
they want uniform labor standards throughout the profession? What
exactly is the goal? As an employee, a goldmith has different needs
than he would have as an employer…but there are profession-wide
conditions that might exist for all goldsmiths, that could be
addressed through an organization. It’s an idea worth pursuing.

Jen - well it sounds like you have had some bad experiences and you
have supporting evidence for your opinions. i know that workers
suffered in reverse in the early days of industry intimidation from
employers. i dont know that they have unions in england i know they
have a strong “guild” for the various trades. i thank you for your
reply and that you took time for my question - goo

Just to clear up a few points re goldsmithing and jewellery making
and selling over here in the UK. Gustavo said that the British seem
to have their trade sewn up pretty tight and suggested that he had
problems breaking into the market.

To answer a few points he made, with regards to the Goldsmiths Hall,
they have an assay office that is open to anyone in the world. The
galleries and shop outlets use the standard British Hallmark as a
guarantee that the metals used in the jewellery sold over the
counter has passed a world recognised standard. So if you want to buy
a gold ring, it will be guaranteed gold if it has a British Hallmark.
For centuries now the British Hallmark has served as a mark of
guarantee, which is also useful for dating antiques.

If Gustavo’s work was not accepted by the UK galleries perhaps it was
just because it did not have the hallmark of metal quality which, up
until a few years ago, you would have been trading illegally if you
sold precious metal objects without a hallmark.

I was a member of the only Goldsmith’s union in this country until it
amalgamated into a much larger general workers union. Then most of my
fellow craftsmen left the union as it was never effective or
recognised by employers anyway. In this country the quality of your
work will guarantee you employment, not being a member of any union.
Being a member of a recognised group of craftsmen can be useful,
over here in the UK we have a few associations and institutions that
are dedicated to promoting the British crafts. I am a Fellow of the
Institute of Professional Goldsmiths, this is a relatively small
group of highly skilled craftsmen. To be a fellow of this society
requires that you have completed a recognised apprenticeship, then
have worked in the trade at you chosen skill for a number of years,
membership is also available for those who have not had the
oppertunity of a recognised apprenticeship but can prove their
skills before a jury of other craftsmen. Take a look at their website
if you are interested

To finalise I for one am glad that we have the Goldsmith’s Hall in
this country to regulate and promote our trade. Just remember they
have been assaying precious metals for goldsmiths and silversmiths
ever since the end of the twelth century, for any one with bad math
that is over 700 years, and long may they survive.

Just for the record anyone can register their makers mark with the
Hall, for a fee, and then you will remain on the British history book
of makers forever. Anyone who wants pieces hallmarked can send them
to an official Assay Office to be tested and if they pass the quality
tests the articles will be stamped with and English Hallmark but
without a makers mark, unless you have registered your mark with the
Hall. My hallmark id JM inside a butterfly shape and I have been
registered since 1975. Check out their website for more info.

James Miller
(a proud English goldsmith for 44 years)

David- well im glad to know now that there was a union in the past.
and i too would like to see a strong industry here @ home i am not a
fan of those who have whittled away the inheritance our parents
fought and worked so hard for. this globalization thing only
benefits those with huge purchasing power. it will be interesting
to see them globalizing when the oil runs out. but hey back to to
topic… what about the FTC im wondering if the organization has
any teeth or what. ive not heard of any one actually getting in
trouble for under carating or other trade related foopas’ and ive
been doin this since 1981 perhaps im blissfully clueless here. i
read thru a J.A. hand book for testing ( not sure which one it is)
and i know @ least one guy who has a certificate from them and his
work is terrible perhaps im not getting out enough to know how JA
does things it sounds to me if i read between the lines you are in
on this subject. im sad to say my experiences w/in the jewelry biz
have seen many days of rockem sockem business oriented people out to
make $$ im wanting to make my biz career on the legitimate side of
things. lobby to control low quality imports YES but how can
that happen do any of these varied and numerous confederate
organizations have the money to poke sense into our esteemed
legislators? do these esteemed legislators even know what a good
piece of jewelry looks like? eagerly awaiting all replies (no
flies on us, right? maybee? ha)- goo

Great Idea Gus,

You will find that unionizing, particularly in my area of San
Antonio, TX, would cause more week-end jewellers to come up here from
across the U. S.line. I have my own hallmark and use it when pieces
are manufactured. I can say that most of the jewellers in this city
and perhaps others would not support a union. We cant even get them
to go to Jeweller or Watchmakker met tings and express views. I
personally would support the union issue but I would more than likely
"standalone on that issue".

Thanks for speaking out on the subject
Stephen Wyrick, CSMP, CMBJ, Gemmologist

Dear Orchidians-

Up until the early 1970’s the San Francisco/Bay Area was home to a
large jeweler’s and setter’s union. It monitored and accredited
apprenticeships, collected dues, bargained on behalf of members for
wages, holidays, and above all offered a health insurance and
retirement plan. Several goldsmiths that I studied under have
recently retired with the safety net of those benefits.

Do any of you know of a better alternative?

As independent craftspersons we are often pitted against desperate
people who are willing to work longer hours for less. With only a
hope and a prayer for future benefits.

What safety net do we have, as individuals, for ill health, disease
or accidents?

Where do you plan to turn to?

That is the void that the unions filled.

Kim Eric Lilot.

<snip> My son was a patient in a preme ward in a hospital in Texas and
a union wanted the workers to become unionized. The workers said no
and the union set fire to the elevator shafts of the hospital.

that’s some pretty strong accusations against unions. i would like to
know the name of the company or hospital where this actually
happened. in this day and age it seems imposible that this behavior
would be tolerated. Your statements almost sound management based.

i could say that in jewelery factory settings i’ve worked in a union
might have been a good thing.the owners never respected the workers,
belittled any request for more money and generally refused to respect
labor laws. they used illegals when they could and under paid
everyone that worked for them. And last time i looked it was an often
discussed in industry articles that all the factories in the u.s.a.
must work to prevent unions from coming into being to preserve the
low labor costs.

In the u.s. underpaid workers hurt all of society. wallmart workers
use social services, welfare and lunch programs that we all pay for
because they, while nearly full time employees, aren’t paid enough
to make ends meet. as far as quality work getting the highest pay i
can personally attest that isn’t true. Any industry that can single
out the individual is enabled to underpay him or her because you
either take their offer or quit. Very few people in this world that
are so perfectly skilled in thier trade that they cannot be replaced.
It is to the owners advantage that people in any trade are willing
to remain individuals. I’ve known plenty of jewelers that never made
tons of money. one decribed his life as being that of an endentured
servant to the owner of the store.

It is the function of any society, whether social or private or
union, is to unite ideas that are common and enforce them with
rules. The unity of this group protects it from others abusing or
belittling it’s seperate people. If jewelers were to unite standards
of work could be established and universal pay rates could be set. in
this site alone i’ve seen many queries about what is a fair rate of
pay for what jewelers do. to persue your individuality in your style
is fine. to persue individuality in your pay is weak and foolish. as
usual just my two cents dave


I agree wholeheartedly with your position. You made a good case for
the cause. Unions could also help improve safety for the workplace.
Remember how some factories used to be before unions made them
improve conditions and practices? Think of all the jewelers out there
rhodium plating all of this crappy white gold without any venting

James S. Cantrell CMBJ

You will find that unionizing, particularly in my area of San
Antonio, TX, would cause more week-end jewellers to come up here
from across the U. S.line. I have my own hallmark and use it when
pieces are manufactured. I can say that most of the jewellers in
this city and perhaps others would not support a union. We cant
even get them to go to Jeweller or Watchmakker met tings and
express views.

Stephen- columbus ohio is a destination hub for south of the border there
is no immigration branch here and my carpenters union trade buddies
have mentioned if they could get immigrants to sign up into the
union it would be better. alot of these guys comin across the border
get abused it would level the field so to speak help us make a
living wage and perhaps get the immigrants to settle and become part
of the community cut back on the cash bleeding out of the country -
gotta do somthing - goo

dear James thanks for your points and clearing things my statement
about having things sewen up pretty tight is meant in context along
with" every one from the queen to the street sweeper knows to look
for the hallmark" and its ok to pull your wallet out. if we had a
system here in the states (that i knew about) as full of respect,
dignity, history, and admirabilty as goldsmith hall provides i would
have used it as an example instead. i am glad to be updated on how
things have gone over the last 15 years since i visited your country.
i did get a swift kick in my education on how things go when there is
a system in place. - best regards goo

Speaking as an x-organizer, community organizer, (alinsky style) I
can say that the real barrier to unionization of goldsmiths is a
strategic and tactical one.

It is very true that at this point in time, unions have been
effectively demonized. Many of the benefits enjoyed by American
workers today would not exist were it not for the courage of workers
of the past who risked not only loss of their jobs but injury and
sometimes death to organize and fight for their rights.
Unfortunately many of today’s workers have bought into the union
busting rhetoroic paid for mainly by big business.

Its a sad fact of life in America that anytime any sort of socially
progressive idea is put forward it is immediately condemmed as
"socialism". Witness all the attempts at putting together some sort
of rational health care system. Immediately the shout goes up,
“socialized medicine” I won’t be able to pick my doctor, I’ll have to
stand in line. Fact is, most people can’t afford to pick their doctor
and a lot of people are literally dying to get in line.

Some of the problems have been brought about by the unions
themselves, many of which became fat, corrupt and incompetent. I had
some first hand experience of that working with the carpenters union
in New Bedford, Massachusetts in the late 70s.

The practical problem is that a union requires a common enemy. In the
past that enemy was the big capitalist organization. You could
organize against General Motors because there were thousands of
potential members working for the same management. A good contract
helped everyone.

Goldsmiths do not work for large organizations. A city-wide
organization would, in fact, have to deal with multiple employers,
some good, some bad with varying salary and benefit packages. A
contract effecting all of those would require individual negotiations
with a lot of companies.

The National Writers Union has tried it. The sucessfully sued the New
York Times over the issue of internet use of writer’s work without
compensation. They won the battle but lost the war because every
publisher re-wrote their standard contract after the ruling by the
Supreme Court resulting in a much worse contract and no additional
compensation and this effects every writer who works freelance.

The organizational model is dictated, at least in part, by the
structure of your adversary. The Union model worked effectively in
still does against large scale organizations, particularly those
with large numbers of workers employed in a particular geographic


For Information and sample chapters from my new book:

T- i suppose if you are an artist /entrepeneur (sp?) working out of
your own studio organization would not work for you. i feel some
controls on the jewelry industry are needed if its legitimacy is to
be maintained. right now its all about trust done on a hand shake
word of mouth but if somebody mentions the name of the store that
wouldnt pay, or so and so is under karating then its a slander suit
you be a wearin - goo

I have to agree with the lack of help that unions are now giving
their members. Every year my husband lost more benefits and his union
dues keep going up. These unions ae supposed to be helping the
workers but now they’re just living off from them.

I spent many years as an active member of the Teamsters Union Local
299. They were very benifficial to the work force. I dont know if a
union in a one or two man shop wold work all that welI but, I would
like to see some contol over jobs going over seas. Comments of
beating and arson, in my experience, come from people who watch too
much TV.

I agree with David Huffman’s points in the debate over creating a
union. While I am only certified as a JA bench technician certificate
with one year experience, I think a system with clear boundaries
would help eveyone. Getting into the jewelery business can be
extremely tough enough for someone brand new out of trade school, but
it’s even harder if they have been out due to illness or family
obligations. If there were a union created, then the possibilty of
finding some place to work would be greater.

I like the concept of having an apprentice, journeyman, master type
setting in the field similar to a welder or electrician because then
we never stop learning and we can offer one another more in the trade
as well to our customers. One aspect David pointed out of jewelers
fleeing the trade due to having to work 20 years with low wages and
little chance of advancement is something that needs to change
regardless of unions. Great jewelers are still out there; they just
need the chance to prove and improve themselves to start.

Rene Howard
Longview, TX

    Speaking as an x-organizer, community organizer, (alinsky
style) I can say that the real barrier to unionization of
goldsmiths is a strategic and tactical one.

Hello Richard;

I was going to sit back and see if some fur went flying on this
thread, but your post hit the nail on the head, and it’s what I’ve
been thinking about since I first posted on this topic in response to
Gustavo. And I think your observations are right on target. However,
suppose the “enemy” weren’t the one we were expecting, the big, bad,
exploitive employer? Suppose the enemy were something more abstract,
like a ruthless economic model, supported by bad legislation?
Suppose, in fact, we set a goal for an entirely new model of a union?
The leverage of collective bargaining has always been the threat of a
strike. Not very useful against a one-jeweler mom-and-pop store, and
if there are any large manufacturing situations left, they don’t
exactly have a skilled workforce like the old days, so go ahead and
strike, the workforce is replaceable. Even if it isn’t, management
thinks it is. Look at the airlines now. They think they can easily
replace all their mechanics. I’m not going up in a plane for a while

So, if jewelers are going to have any reason to unionize, it’s going
to call for a sort of “soft” union at first. That would be one who’s
initial goal is not to take on management directly, but rather, to
build a membership that can clearly demonstrate that a union jeweler
is a preferable choice. Certify skill levels, screen for drug
problems, offer incentives for hiring union jewelers,develop networks
to provide marketing help, tax help, whatever can help strengthen the
manufacturing and retail industry in this country while improving the
workforce. Then, when you’ve got the membership and loyalty and can
possibly lobby the legislature, start to take on the issues of
overseas manufacturing’s working conditions and wages. Level the
playing field.

It would take years, maybe decades, but it’s all we have to look
forward to other than the demise of this trade as we know it. We
can’t present a union that doesn’t address the age old concerns
(realistic or not) that employers have that the union is going to
force economic hardship on them or the concerns that hard working
jewelers have that the union is going to protect bad workers at their
expense. From what I’ve seen of the cheaply made products that are
probably the results of exploitive manufacturing, there’s the
potential for a competitive edge with a “union label” product that,
while costing more, guarantees both quality and the support of the
producer. We’re already seeing two worlds of jewelry… one is "real"
jewelry, the other is “junk”. One can hope.

David L. Huffman