Jack Steele saw the dark side of unions early on. When he was only seven years old, his father died in an accident at his job as a railway worker. The union refused to pay out the life insurance policy, even when his mother provided proof that the family had paid the required premiums. “They were supposed to be brothers,” Steele says, but the men in charge of the union had lost sight of their duty to protect the workers.
With the help of a lawyer, the family did eventually receive the proceeds they were due, but the incident shaped Steele’s encounters with unions for the rest of his life. He went on to attend General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) and worked for General Motors for 23 years before branching into other aspects of the auto manufacturing sector.
Steele has many stories to tell about misplaced priorities in unions. At GM, he encountered union deputies who were paid six-figure salaries, but failed to improve the safety, health or working conditions of the people they represented. During his time on a local school board, the teachers union accepted a lower pay increase for members in exchange for keeping the district on a more expensive union-provided health insurance plan.
His experiences at GM also showed him the problems inherent in large organizations that, as he says, “look the other way instead of standing up for principles.” He describes a letter he once received from a customer who had noticed an issue with the odometer on his Fiero. Three times, the customer's local Pontiac dealer told him that the problem had been fixed — wasting his time and defrauding GM for warranty costs. The letter took seven weeks to make it from the GM CEO's desk to Steele, who helped the customer fix the issue himself.
Steele believes that handling problems on an individual basis is the conservative way of doing things, and that is ultimately the reason he left the auto industry for his current career as a financial planner and advisor. “I can see problems in advance and deal with them,” he says, as opposed to watching others take months to fix a problem he already knows about and could have easily solved.
These days, Steele splits his time between work and leisure. He and his wife celebrated 50 years of marriage by taking the entire family to Disney, including eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“Michigan is a great state with good people,” says Steele. “We’ve had better times, but we’ve also had worse times, and I think the Mackinac Center is helping to make it better.”
Steele was first introduced to the Mackinac Center by Michael Jahr, a former vice president for communications. Jahr was in Steele’s Sunday school class as a child, and came to Steele for financial advice many years later. Steele says he supports the Mackinac Center because he appreciates its support of people who have been negatively impacted by forced unionism.
What Steele calls the “conservative way of doing things,” — respecting people as individuals rather than mandating policies for collective groups — has been important to Steele ever since he was a child growing up in a small town. He says the Mackinac Center’s focus on individual rights and personal responsibility was also a big draw.
For more information on supporting the Mackinac Center, please visit mackinac.org/give.