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Pros and Cons of Unions?
May 6, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

How do the pros and cons of labor unions really add up?

My dad was a member of the machinists' union, and his line, basically, was that the union was the worst thing there was, except for the company. I've also long been impressed by the horrible conditions in the American coal fields before unionization. My one brief notable encounter with union workers during a summer job, OTOH, involved watching one of them bitch out a mail room worker for sweeping up a bit of dirt, on the grounds that that was union work. I now find myself often being sermonized to by my (reasonable yet) Republican businessman friend about the evils of unions. Although I present the other side of the argument, I realize that I have neither adequate theoretical/historical knowledge here, nor adequate personal experience to make a really informed judgment.

So: any MeFites out there have either the requisite theoretical/historical knowledge or extensive personal experience to enlighten me on this subject?

tl;dr: how do the pros and cons of labor unions really add up?
posted by Fists O'Fury to Work & Money (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is kind of like asking for a MeFite to tell you how the pros and cons of the Israel/Palestinian conflict really add up. What you need is a reading list to make up your own mind.
posted by jayder at 7:18 AM on May 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I guess it would have to depend on the industry. My boyfriend is in a union because he's a flight attendant, and without the union the company would be screwing the employees over left and right. Thanks to the union, the flight attendants HAVE to have at least 10 hours of rest overnight. The union decides how much and how the flight attendants are paid (which is better than what the company would come up with on their own). The bad news is, since he works for a regional airline that bigger airlines use to handle shorter flights, the bigger airlines prefer to look for a non-union company who will let the employees work longer for less pay.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:22 AM on May 6, 2012


jayder,

That's clearly right. I actually initially wanted to ask about extensive personal experience, but then started worrying I'd get just anecdotes, and then wanted to expand the question in case anyone knew what, say, the consensus of economists or historians was.

So, of course, I'm not asking for a summary of all knowledge here, but, rather, asking whether anyone actually knows what's going on, and can set me started on the path to enlightenment.

Reading suggestions would also be appreciated...though keep in mind that I might read one or two books on the subject, so I'd be looking for consensus-of-best-thinking types of books, not the kinds one would read as part of a 50-work bibliography.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:27 AM on May 6, 2012


Unions level the playing field. The company has all the jobs, so if an individual tries to bargain one-on-one with the company, it's very asymmetrical. When there's a union representing the workers, negotiating is much closer to a symmetrical process.

Pure capitalism assumes a perfect availability of information to both parties. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to retain power or is toadying to power.
posted by notsnot at 7:31 AM on May 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


Also, to look more at ends rather than the making-sausage means, the period of greatest prosperity and the largest middle class in this country coincided with the highest union membership.
posted by notsnot at 7:35 AM on May 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


My father lost his job during the Great Depression. A very wealthy relative who owned a steel company gave him a job. Now many of those in management had my family last name, but my father, a high school dropout, was a worker and they gave him a job stoking furnaces. The union would not take him in because he had management's name. The result,her was neither this nor that and so got the lousy jobs at the plant.

Union membership has fallen way off, and what workers used top do is often now done out of the country. Threaten a strike and you can with ease be replaced or the plant can move--many went south and then to Mexico etc--
Oddly, we think of unions as organizations for workers, but we ignore the so called "guilds"--the groups formed and controlling professions such as medicine and law.

As a VP for a major company in our nation once told me over lunch--he had invited me to his huge company HQ- a company only gets a union if they deserve one!
Recall that it was union activity that gave us the shorter work week and got rid of child labor etc etc

Union these days often come under fire for not offering solutions to deficits etc, and the current "bad union" is the teacher's unions nationwide.
Based though on my personal background, you are either with management or with the workers. You can seldom remain fully neutral...
But that then is your choice.
posted by Postroad at 7:38 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sort of agree with @notsnot assessment, except to say that it's hardly a symmetrical process now. The former asymmetry that existed in which employers exploited workers has swung very hard to the other side as unions have grown stronger.

This isn't to say that every union exerts a stranglehold over labor power in their industry- far from it. But the "mandatory" unions (particularly for state-sponsored employees, like teachers) do exert total control over the entire labor force in an industry, which can often lead to abuses of power. Of course "abuse of power" in this situation is a tricky concept in and of itself, but I often find that in a shallow reading people mean that happens when union bosses a) enrich themselves off the union, b) don't take into consideration the needs of their workers when calling a strike and c) bully members into the union.

Of course, that's just abuse from the perspective of the workers. Often, companies have as much interest in the well being/productivity of their employees as the employees themselves do in the profitability of the company. When a union drives up wages or benefits past what the company can bear, both things suffer.

Plus, when the "company" is in fact the government, taxpayers end up paying for a good chunk of whatever the union "asks" for, almost every time. Whether or not you think this is a good thing sort of depends on your politics.

All of these things happen. Does that make unions evil? Well, probably not. If removed, the pendulum would swing right back the other way. But they're not shining champions of light, either- just an organizational tool used by people to amass power, like all the others.
posted by libertypie at 7:42 AM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


A dear friend and I both work in the same industry. I am in a union. He is not. I make 1.5 to 2 times what he does hourly, straight time. I get time and a half after 8 hours and double time after 12. I have a guaranteed 9 hours off between work shifts. I have health insurance. I have a pension. I am offered training and career development classes through my union. My union has a payroll grievance procedure and employees who go after employers who don't pay me on time or all the money they owe me, which is common in my industry. My union insists on safe and legal working conditions, rather than bypassing safety equipment and procedures, which is common in my industry. I have all these things. My friend does not have any of these things, and has no power to acquire any of them.

An actual quote from a non-union company guy, when working a job mostly staffed with union members (a requirement of the venue): "I love it when we work with you union guys. We actually get to take breaks."
posted by mollymayhem at 8:38 AM on May 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


Historically, unions are why you work a 40-hour week and have things like sick leave.

Pre-WWI, it was common for people to work 6-1/2 days a week: you'd work 12-14 hours six days, but for Sunday you'd "only" work a half-day of maybe 8 hours. The 40-hour-week, sick leave, vacation leave, a decent wage, overtime? Hah! None of that existed in those 'good old days'. Unions were also the driving force behind implementation of safety rules and regs, as well as child labor laws. Collective bargaining brought its force to bear to prevent a lot of workplace harassment, too, helping to reduce institutionalized racism and sexism: being one of a crowd makes it harder for a company or a manager to bully an individual.

Sure, there's drawbacks to unions --- like anything else, there are those who twist them to their own power- and money-hungry ends. Look at the links between the 1920-1930 Chicago mobs and IATSE (my own union!) for an example of corruption.
posted by easily confused at 8:41 AM on May 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


A few things from personal experience and that of friends, as well as history.

1) I had a friend who worked as a union organizer, and his experience was that unions actually treat their own paid employees terribly, and interestingly, often forbid them to mini-unionize, treating them badly when they attempt to bargain for better conditions.

2) Many unions today are mandatory: if you want to work, you have to belong to the union. You are not given the choice-you must join, and your union dues are taken out of your paycheck. Because the unions know you must belong to them, they also often have no real need to ensure they are actually acting in your best interest, as a non-mandated union might.

3) Unions historically have gained a lot of advantages for average workers, but a majority of these rights were won in the early half of this century. It has been argued that the AFL-CIO has since then coasted on its laurels (not just by Republicans, but by Wobs and such) and actually refused to allow individual unions to take action. Particularly because strikes are now so regulated, they happen less and less. It has been argued that having a bureaucratic, paid structure of leadership often makes those leaders more interested in sustaining their own paychecks than in protecting the workers.

4) Unions are made up of all the employees of a specified field or company, and are in many cases too broad to accomplish their goals. For example: teachers in a specific school cannot strike, or specially skilled workers who are not being properly compensated. It's an all-or-nothing deal, which often means that the mass of votes does not swing towards redressing all wrongs.

5) Unions historically also have not always treated replacement workers (or "scabs") very nicely. Violence, intimidation, etc. This is in part because the power of a union depends on the company not just being able to hire replacement workers easily, but in practice, it means that people who are the most desperate for a job are the least able to peacefully get it. To look at recent union violence, the last one I can recall is the ILWU, or the Longshore Workers union, up in the Tacoma/Seattle area-where they took security guards hostage for several hours and refused to let them go while they sabotaged equipment. Also, during the Daily News strike, in NYC, back in 1990, strikers burned delivery trucks, beat up delivery drivers, and went around intimidating newsstands not to sell the paper.

6) Unions are permitted to engage in practices that are illegal for normal citizens: for example, as of a 1970s-era decision, anti-extortion law doesn't apply to them.
posted by corb at 8:44 AM on May 6, 2012


So, short answer: unions have won great stuff for average workers in the past, but often with intimidation and violence. Now they're often bloated monsters that are often just as corrupt as the organizations they're fighting.
posted by corb at 8:47 AM on May 6, 2012


Metafilter is very very hard place to have a frank and open two way discussion about Unions. Inevitably it becomes a black and white discussion where each side thinks the opposing view is evil.

It is not black and white, and you should do the reading and come with an answer that I hope also is not black and white. Unions have done and will continue to do great things, but there are some things unions do incredibly poorly. Without Unions we would have never gotten the sort of Labor and Health regulations we needed, and today as more industries become more and more difficult to unionize because of underlying changes in how labor is valued people who view Unions as the best or only solution to dealing with the inequities between capital and labor might not be seeing the forest for the trees.

On the flip side there are whole classes of workers for for social and historical reasons reject collective bargaining who are actually the people who would benefit from it the most today.

Now they're often bloated monsters that are often just as corrupt as the organizations they're fighting. I would expect there is a direct relationship between the lifecycle of an industry and the lifecycle of their unions. Doesn't make unions as unions bad, its just how human beings react to change.
posted by JPD at 8:53 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I worked in Canada as a nurse, I was a member of the nurses union. The unit I worked on as a new grad was a neurosurgery floor and it was very, very heavy. The unit was staffed with mainly new grads because as soon as a nurse got some experience, they would leave for units with more reasonable workloads. We would hit the floor and run almost non-stop for 12 hrs. We could never get everything done and we rarely felt that the patients received the attention they deserved. The manager who hired me was an advocate for us and tried to get the nurse-patient staffing ratios improved. Unfortunately, she was fired one day and escorted out of the hospital. The next several managers that were hired tried to institute the party line - staffing was fine, we were just disorganized and that's why we couldn't give the care we wanted to give.

Things eventually came to a head one day and we contacted our union. There is a form you fill out that says you, as a nurse, do not feel you can give safe patient care and that you feel your license is in jeopardy. The documentation also included descriptions of the patients and workload. The trick with this form, is that it is read into the minutes of the Ontario Hospital Association and this is a very bad/embarrassing situation for a hospital. The very next day, more nurses were hired and the nurse - patient staffing improved. The union acted as an advocate for us and the patients when management refused to listen.

I love unions.
posted by TorontoSandy at 9:10 AM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, short answer: unions have won great stuff for average workers in the past, but often with intimidation and violence. Now they're often bloated monsters that are often just as corrupt as the organizations they're fighting.

My mother had cancer two years ago, and the school where she works wanted to keep her from getting a scheduled, district-wide raise in pay not because she used more than her allotted sick days but because she used something like 90% of her allotted sick days. You know, because she had cancer. And it "looked" like she wasn't a "dedicated teacher" because she used most of the days she'd been given for illness to have surgery and recover. The union rep fought for her to be able to be able to get that raise, which my mother dearly needed. And won.

That's not to say that the New Jersey teacher's union isn't in some ways a bloated monster that has a strange impact on, say, politics. But on an individual level, they've accomplished at least one concrete good.

Here's the way I think about it: corporations need checks and balances to keep them from horribly taking advantage of the rights of workers. Sometimes the government takes on this role, but businesses will still try to erode those workers rights because it's better for the bottom line and because they're unaccustomed to treating people as anything more than cogs. Unions, flawed as they are, are one of the few ways that workers are able to get concrete bargaining power.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:11 AM on May 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think it depends on the industry--the WGA and the DGA are effectively gatekeepers for writers and directors, and while some few members consistently work and earn the guild wages, most of TV is "written" by people whose work isn't considered writing by the WGA, thus, wages are low. (By comparison, that is.) Writing tv shows isn't coal mining.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:28 AM on May 6, 2012


My union, with which I disagree a lot of the time on little administrative stuff, got all the wages for everyone raised to a living wage. (Like, a meaningful living wage, not just $9/hour.) I would be making in the low 20Ks with six years of experience in a fairly skilled job without my union. The union also stopped my employer from keeping people on as temps for their whole careers - there were a couple of 20-year full time temps around here. As a result, the wage floor for the whole complex of jobs/institutions has gone up.

My union also means that I have good health insurance, so (at least for now) I can actually afford doctor visits when I need them, prescriptions, etc. There was a medical emergency in my family recently, and we came out of it with less than $1000 of costs. Without the union's work on the insurance plan, we would have faced more like $10,000 (if we had insurance at all) - I know this from friends' similar situations.

I stand behind my union 100% because it has brought real and measurable benefits into my work life.

I've worked similar but non-union jobs in the past, and I'll take the union ones every time. In the type of job I work, there's been a huge polarization over the past decade - an increase in super-highly-paid administrative jobs and a giant speed-up/wage cut for everyone else. My union has partially protected me from that.

Seriously, there's this whole discourse in the US that has a huge contradiction in the middle - unions are at the same time huge, corrupt, bloated and useless AND also providing spoiled union workers with "unfairly" good health insurance and retirement benefits. Only one of those things can be true.
posted by Frowner at 9:47 AM on May 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Unions are organizations of people, so like any organization of people, some are going to be great, some will awful, and most will be somewhere in the middle.

I personally love my union. I have benefits that other friends who work in my field can't believe, and we got a really great 3-year salary increase with our last contract. But management at my organization is labor-friendly, so that helps.

The former asymmetry that existed in which employers exploited workers has swung very hard to the other side as unions have grown stronger.

Unions have actually grown quite a bit weaker over the last 40 years - incidentally, at the same time as real wages stagnated/shrank.
posted by lunasol at 9:53 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, there is no "consensus" of economists or historians, because how you feel about unions is political and has a lot to do with your job, your family's class background, etc. You are unlikely to find a really good "balanced" book on the subject.

Unions in the US have a really chequered history about race - there are unions that shut out black workers and took "buy offs" for white workers that were contingent on the bosses continuing to exploit the black workers; there are also unions where the racist part of the white membership quit because the union stood up for people of color. There are parts of the US where working class white folks hate the union because the union has stood up for POC.
posted by Frowner at 9:57 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Note, child labor laws were not created for the humanitarian reasons we imagine today. It's that jobs were scarce and children were filling them all. Up until then, the entire family was expected to help out.

It's rather like if we outlawed all outsourcing to protect the poor sweatshop workers. It might look noble a century later, but really...
posted by heatherfl at 9:58 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unions have actually grown quite a bit weaker over the last 40 years - incidentally, at the same time as real wages stagnated/shrank.

Yes but the issue isn't the weakening of existing unions, its their inability to organize new industries, or the increased growth in industries where labor naturally has much less power than those businesses where historically they were strong.

In other words the weakening of unions isn't the cause of the stagnation in wages, but a symptom of the same issue.
posted by JPD at 10:01 AM on May 6, 2012


In other words the weakening of unions isn't the cause of the stagnation in wages, but a symptom of the same issue.


Well, I'd argue it's both cause and effect. Unions haven't been as effective as they'd like at breaking into new industries, so those industries have lower wage and less benefits. This makes the companies stronger, which makes union organizing more difficult.

posted by lunasol at 10:18 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


right, but that's because those industries are for reasons either economic or social/cultural more resistant to organizing.
posted by JPD at 10:24 AM on May 6, 2012


I have worked as a librarian in a unionized district and in a non-unionized district.

Cons:
-Harder to fire people, or even meaningfully discipline them. I've seen employees complain about being "micromanaged" because they were asked to do their job. (This is very much the exception rather than the rule, but slackers exist in any job.)

Pros:
-I'm only expected to be at work for the hours I mark on my timesheet. I'm not expected to come in early or stay late to work on opening/closing procedures unless I get paid for it.

-If there's extra stuff I need to do for work (go to another library to pick up a piece of equipment or storytime supplies, for example) I get paid for that time.

-When budget cuts threatened hundreds and hundreds of library jobs, the union did a lot of political agitation on our behalf.

-I have a pension, which is super rare among people my age. I get free dental care and good affordable health care. I get generous amounts of paid sick leave. I can't say how much of that is specifically union-related -- most government jobs come with good benefits, whether they're unionized or not. But the fact is that I regularly see library jobs advertised with no health benefits at all.

I won't say that having a union is always and only a force for good, but I am much happier with the feeling that there is something bigger than myself backing me up if I have a boss who wants me to do things that are way outside of the scope of my job or who wants to fire me for no reason at all.
posted by Jeanne at 10:27 AM on May 6, 2012


corb: Unions are permitted to engage in practices that are illegal for normal citizens: for example, as of a 1970s-era decision, anti-extortion law doesn't apply to them.

This is nonsense. Extortion and violence, including by unions, are crimes and illegal in all states. What you are talking about was an attempt to single out union actions as special federal crimes.
posted by JackFlash at 11:24 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


2) Many unions today are mandatory: if you want to work, you have to belong to the union. You are not given the choice-you must join, and your union dues are taken out of your paycheck. Because the unions know you must belong to them, they also often have no real need to ensure they are actually acting in your best interest, as a non-mandated union might.

I'm not sure you really understand how unions work. The idea is that unions negotiate a wage and benefits contract with the employers, and the emplayers receive the fruits of the leverage employed by their collective power. Saying you "must" be a member of the union is a matter of elimating the free rider problem-- why should an employee join a union if the union will provide benefits that will serve non members as well as members without assuming any of the risk or being willing to go along with any of the leverage used against employers that members will.

If the union does not do a good job for its members, then the shop can just drop the union.

This is much like saying that the problem with democratic government is that you have to accept Barack Obama as president even if you don't vote for him if he wins.

It's considered fairly standard to never, ever, ever do freelance work without a contract in place. Particularly adept feeelancers will price themselves based on the value their work adds to their clients, capturing a portion of the productivity gains for themselves that their work creates for the clients. Unions take the same principle and apply it to their own jobs.
posted by deanc at 11:25 AM on May 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Many unions today are mandatory: if you want to work, you have to belong to the union. You are not given the choice-you must join, and your union dues are taken out of your paycheck. Because the unions know you must belong to them, they also often have no real need to ensure they are actually acting in your best interest, as a non-mandated union might.

Yeah, I don't think you understand how unions work. There are two ways this can go:

1. You "must" belong to the union, which addresses the free-rider problem. (As deanc describes above). The disadvantage is that you have to pay union dues. The advantage to you is union benefits; the advantage to the union is that they negotiate from a stronger position. (Now, there may be some unions where the "pie cards" (as the IWW scornfully calls paid union reps) get big salaries, but this does not happen in my union or any of the others whose internal workings I know.)

2. You can opt out. This is how my union works, and frankly it bites us in the ass. To you, the benefit is that you get all the goodies the union negotiates (as outlined in my earlier comment) while still saving the *gasp* $10/check that you'd otherwise pay. To the union, it means that they negotiate from a weaker position because they don't represent all the workers, and it's a lot harder to get information about contracts out to non-union staff, and of course it really hits you if any kind of action - strike, call-ins, letters - is needed.

Folks who are anti-union usually imagine that they individually would get a better deal negotiating by themselves with the boss, and they're being held back. Or they imagine that they could get the overtime rate and work eighty hours a week and make a TON of money if only union work rules were waived. What they don't get is that if the workers don't negotiate together, all those snazzy overtime rates and living wage provisions will vanish. You won't get extras if you get rid of the union and suck up to the bosses - you'll be back to how it was before the union.

I actually work in a place where there's union and civil service. Civil service people make more right now, because the employer is always trying to steer people into civil service. (One way to get rid of the union is to reclassify jobs as civil service when they were union before.) But civil service people have very little job security and work a LOT of unpaid time. Because there's a union, the employer has to offer the civil service people at least as much money as we get - or everyone would want to be union. But the employer wants to offer as little as possible, so they make those jobs insecure and get a lot of unpaid work out of people.

Now, I like my job very much. I work with nice folks, and in my part of the institution we have a very honest and fair administrative structure. But that's not true everywhere, and without the union protections, my nice fair bosses might retire and get replaced by greedy creepers and I'd have no recourse. A union means that you don't have to hope for a benevolent despot for a boss.
posted by Frowner at 12:29 PM on May 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, and here's something more that my union negotiated: if you're sick and you run out of paid sick leave, your union brothers and sisters can donate their sick leave to you. People absolutely do this and it's been a life-saver to several people with cancer or other serious illnesses.

I'm very fond of that whole "unions are the worst way to organize a workplace except for all the other options" mentality.

And here's the other thing: I'd much rather take on the work of fixing my union if it's incompetent or evil than work in a non-union shop with no protection.

Unions have always terrified the elites - if you go back to 18th and 19th century history in the UK, for example, they used to try to forbid workers to meet outside of work, and there were all kinds of unbelievable laws restricting workers' free association in order to prevent any kind of organizing. We think of the bloody fights for workers' rights as taking place in 1890 -1920, but there were plenty just for the right to organize at all.
posted by Frowner at 12:34 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


You could do worse than start at Wikipedia rather than collect anecdata. To say that unions are weaker now in the United States is something of an understatement. For comparison purposes you could look at other successful economies that are heavily unionized.

My perspective on it is that they have been aggressively attacked by legislation at the federal and state level and aggressively undermined by the media who latch onto horror stories (no-one would deny that such exist, but so do bad corporations) and wouldn't know how to look at a big picture even if they tried. In general terms, in the battle between capital and labor, capital has won, and has been winning for the past 40 years or so. While the economy has grown steadily, the allocation of that growth has been massively tilted to capital.

That you have to ask this question and frame it the way you do, pretty much tells me how dire the situation of the working class is in this country. It makes me deeply sad when I think of the men and women who fought and died for the rights we are now letting slip through our fingers. I would say that strong labor representation is a necessary part of a balanced capitalist society.

Paradoxically perhaps, some professional unions (guilds) like the AMA have been quite successful, and the high costs of medical care are in part due to the barriers to entry that they have erected and laws that they have had enacted in their favor.
posted by idb at 2:08 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find there's a big difference between industry unions and government unions. Government unions have achieved a certain amount of "legislative capture" - which is great for the unions, but bad for taxpayers, especially since the people negotiating with the unions (and often getting kickbacks in the form of votes and campaign contributions) are doing so with your tax dollars. Industry unions, on the other hand, generally have very little power, which is many fields don't even have unions - jobs that can be outsourced to different countries means that the unions have no effective power.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:13 PM on May 6, 2012


Yeah, I don't think you understand how unions work

It has nothing to do with not knowing about unions. I come from a strong union background, I've never crossed a picket line, I've organized with them, and I'm marrying a Wobbly. If anything, I have a lot more background on how unions work. And on the inside, it's often a lot more ugly, and less fuzzy and feel-good, than I think people who have ideas about them imagine.

The hard-won freedoms a lot of people are talking about here did not come about as a result of the organized and extremely hierarchical AFL-CIO. They did not come about as a result of having union dues mandatorily deducted from their paychecks. They came about as a result of workers who were heavily and personally invested in their voluntary unions, organizing together collectively. They did not come about by spending money on campaign contributions, or cushy salaries. They did not come about as a result of effectively anything the unions have been doing in the last fifty years.

People have noted here that the unions have gotten less strong over that time period, and wages have declined. In part, it's because of a sea change in how unions organized. And one of those major changes is allowing people to be less invested in exchange for using them as a number.

There are also fair points about "government unions," as noted above. In that case, it's not a struggle between the bosses and the workers. It's a struggle between the taxpayers, the bosses, the unions, and the congressional candidates receiving donations. Those candidates will promise the world, but they don't have to pay for it. The government is not and should not work like a regular company. (In addition, many government jobs are monopolies. See: police, fire department, certain kinds of teaching staff)
posted by corb at 3:18 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I come from a strong union background, I've never crossed a picket line, I've organized with them, and I'm marrying a Wobbly.

Nevertheless, you had a basic misunderstanding regarding the nature of workplace organizing and how it works. The act of unionizing is an aspect of organization. If workers don't want to join a union, they can vote against doing so, and sometimes they lose that vote.

The states that want to crack down on unions and break them in favor of low-wage abusive employers pass laws specifically allowing employees to join union shops without joining a union. Now, by your logic, those states would have the best, most powerful, most responsive unions. In fact those are the states with the least unionization and in many cases (eg, non union public education in the south) the poor quality labor and in other cases (eg, amazon warehouses whose locations were picked for their poor labor laws) terrible workplace conditions. So the proof is in the pudding here: workplaces where it's not required to join the union result in ununionized workplaces because such policies are specifically designed to prevent unionizing. This is as basic as the principle that your elected government makes laws on your behalf and collects your taxes until such time as you can vote them out if you are dissatisfied. You are doing a disservice to the OP by obfuscating this basic mechanism of union representation in the workplace.
posted by deanc at 3:47 PM on May 6, 2012


I suggest you read "Wealth and Democracy" by Phillips. He worked in the Nixon White House so the historical facts that he presents might have some authority with your Republican friends. He shows pretty convincingly that America started on its downward slope when Reagan declared war on unions, starting with the air traffic controllers. The 99% started doing much worse from that point. (He also points out that the middle class got a much more significant share of the pie under Ike, another Republican, when unions were more widespread and interestingly, when rich people paid much, much higher taxes.)
The book covers many years of American history. It shows who had the money at the start of the Republic, how fortunes were made during the early wars, how those fortunes were kept, the long tradition of buying influence, the rise of social unrest, suppression, The New Deal, the repeating bailouts of the banks, the use of the World Bank and IMF to pry open foreign markets and a lot more.
I think it is really important to understand the impact unions had on non-union wages as well.
posted by PickeringPete at 4:15 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The recent negotiations at my place of employment had a CEO state that he didn't understand why anyone should be paid more to work outside normal hours. We can just rearrange our lives to suit the company, since they so kindly give us a job.

He only realised how daft this sounded when the union rep askedd him to reorganise his weekly golf game to suit a non-standard and unpredictable schedule, with his prreferred two hour warning of shift change.

Unions at least have some understanding of life. CEOs seem not to.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:25 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]




The problem with unions is they don't represent the truly disenfranchised.
posted by dame at 1:04 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


He shows pretty convincingly that America started on its downward slope when Reagan declared war on unions, starting with the air traffic controllers. The 99% started doing much worse from that point. (He also points out that the middle class got a much more significant share of the pie under Ike, another Republican, when unions were more widespread and interestingly, when rich people paid much, much higher taxes.)

Real wages in the US were already stagnant by Reagan's initiation.
posted by JPD at 11:32 AM on May 7, 2012


Thanks everybody. The personal experience is what I was really interested in, and was very enlightening.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 3:45 PM on May 15, 2012


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