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Pros and cons of unions

 
 
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 06:30 pm
What do you think of unions? Are they a force for good, or a do they end up hurting workers and business?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 7 • Views: 72,859 • Replies: 27
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Craven de Kere
 
  2  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 06:37 pm
Well, how about a glimpse into History.

In the past working conditions were quite bad. The employers held all the cards and did not concern themselves much for their employed.

The industrial revolution initially was not too good for the average citizen. Events like the fire at the Triangle Waist Company in 1911 started a change in this.

The quality of the work enviroment is important. Not just for the workers but for those they work for.

Improvements in work enviroment are a good thing all around.

Now whether or not unions are a good thing is something I'll leave for others to answer. But improving the condition of the workers is almost always a good thing.

In the past unions have sometimes been the only way to keep employers honest.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 07:06 pm
A union can be a good thing. Trouble with many unions, they became powerful and greedy and the general public lost faith in them. If they had remained focused on their original mission they would yet be strong today.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 07:23 pm
I think in western countries that people now take for granted the conditions won with great struggle and difficulty, largely by trade unions.

It is fashionable to deride them and say they are no longer relevant - or that they have too much power etc etc.

I am a passionate supporter of the trade union movement - I have worked on my union's governing body - many of my friends do, or have, worked in the union movement. They are the only real force counter-balancing the power of capital - especially given that ameliorative activities in this area have become less fashionable for governments, with a strong "leave it to the market" ethos.

I think it is naive in the extreme for people to think that the battles are won, and in the past - I could give lots of examples of what I mean, but i am at work (blush!!!).

The struggle for working people in many countries has hardly even begun, and I am a strong believer in western unions supporting their colleagues in developing countries.

That being said, unions are like any other organisation and unionists like any other people and by no means immune, as history shows us clearly, to the seductions of power and money. I do not see them as shining, pure embodiments of truth, light and justice!!!!! Any more than I see all manifestations of capital or all employers as evil demons...... There have clearly been outrageously corrupt unions - stupid inept ones - and ones which have abused their collective powers to behave like thugs.

Nonetheless, I see them as essential players in the game of commerce and industry, and, for all their faults, they're my people....
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 07:28 pm
I support having unions. I once was a teamster in Manhattan.
0 Replies
 
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 07:29 pm
Well said, dlowan. I couldn't agree more.
And there are countries where attempting to unionize the workforce is illegal & workers are gaoled/ persecuted for their efforts. We tend to take for granted a right that is so precious.
0 Replies
 
kickycan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 08:03 pm
Some people would say that unions promote laziness in workers, and that in turn, reduces productivity. Is that valid? I don't know, I'm just trying to remember what my republican friends say.
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 08:10 pm
There are some people who WOULD say that, kickycan. It's in their own interests to ...
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caprice
 
  2  
Reply Tue 10 Feb, 2004 08:36 pm
edgarblythe wrote:
A union can be a good thing. Trouble with many unions, they became powerful and greedy and the general public lost faith in them. If they had remained focused on their original mission they would yet be strong today.


Once again I agree with edgar! As long as they remain true to the purpose of a union, they can be a good thing.

There are some organizations that would benefit having a union. They don't value employees and...well...I think dlowan covered it.

On the other hand there are some companies that feel a union might break them. I have worked for two different companies that feared the idea of having a union and just a mention of the word garnered me warnings in hushed tones. I think the idea of having a union, and fearing what it might bring, both of these companies had an employees representative committee. No where near the strength of a union, but a body that could bring up legitimate concerns to the higher ups and lobby for a few perks for employees. I see this form becoming more and more prevalent in non-union work places.

I have also worked as part of a union in a heavily unionized industry. Most of my fellow workers had worked in the industry for pretty much all their working lives. I don't think any of them had a clue what the "real" world was like. They griped about this and that and I would just shake my head. These people made more money than those doing the same job in non-unionized positions for different employers. They also got a variety of differential pays, paid meal breaks and other premiums. Now I can agree with some of it, but when you get a paid meal break simply because your lunch doesn't happen at the "scheduled" time, I think that's a bit much. I remember one Christmas I worked, I got almost triple pay because of the various pay rules involved. Nice! Very Happy But the down side were some ridiculous aspects. If a non-union person (or a union person, but not the same union as me) even touched a piece of equipment I operated that would be enough for the union types to get their panties in a twist. (Examples given upon request.) Supposedly it's taking away from my job. Ooookay. Like I said, most of them didn't know how lucky they had it. They could sit on their ass most of their shift doing nothing and get paid for it. Most working individuals don't get paid for doing nothing. That was the one part that really bothered me. There should be duties to do during down times. Anyhow, that's my rant on that one.

kickycan wrote:
Some people would say that unions promote laziness in workers, and that in turn, reduces productivity. Is that valid? I don't know, I'm just trying to remember what my republican friends say.


I wouldn't really agree with that statement. I think productive individuals will be that way regardless of a union. However, there are those I've seen in union jobs who feel they are "owed" something. They will not do anything outside the duties of their union job description. I figure that as long as your employer is paying your wages, what difference (within reason) does it make? I know there are exceptions and that there are cases where a worker should not be doing things outside their job description, but the examples I saw didn't even come close to these situations.

There you have my 2ยข.
0 Replies
 
au1929
 
  2  
Reply Wed 11 Feb, 2004 10:13 am
Having been involved with unions as part of management for the better part of my working life I would say that Unions are a necessary evil.
0 Replies
 
Region Philbis
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Feb, 2004 09:11 am
agreed. necessary evil.

i worked for 6 years in a "bargaining unit" for a large engineering firm's design group. designers & drafters were part of the union; new employees were not given a choice -- there was no say in the matter. you were automatically a union member, whether you liked it or not.

every work day was another installment in the ongoing battle between engineers & designers. bad blood between the sides carried over for decades. union stewards often threatened to file grievances if they felt an engineer was not adhering to shop rules. negotiating battles with management often left the union without a contract, sometimes for years at a time. the atmosphere always felt like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.

however, we did benefit from the perks of being in a union: 40 hour maximum work weeks, time + 1/2 for overtime, yearly salary increases, and job security. union members were rarely fired, and only laid off when the workload was light. lay offs were on a holding list, and were brought back when work picked up.

i now work in a non-union environment, and hope it stays that way.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 16 Sep, 2006 06:39 pm
I was reading this article in TNR about unions, and read this:

Quote:
As you may have heard, union representation in the private sector workforce is now down below 10 percent--its lowest level since, well, a very long time. (At least the 1930s, certainly.) And a major reason has been the inability of unions to organize new members in the face of concerted employer resistance--which, in turn, is a product of America's particularly labor-unfriendly organizing laws.

Under the current legal framework, a company does not need to recognize a union until a formal election has been held under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board (nlrb) and a majority of workers has voted for it. That may sound pretty straightforward, but it isn't. Going through the requisite election process is notoriously cumbersome and difficult, particularly since it gives employers all sorts of opportunities to intimidate workers or otherwise derail the process unfairly. In theory, the nlrb is supposed to watch over the election process to keep employers in line. In practice, the nlrb is so ineffectual--and the penalties for violating labor laws so relatively meaningless--that a determined employer can manipulate a union election with virtual impunity.

That's why, for many years, forward-thinking labor leaders have been pushing to create a new kind of union certification system known as "card check." In a card-check system, a union can begin negotiating on behalf of workers as soon as a majority of them sign pieces of paper (cards) saying they support unionization. By allowing workers to get labor representation immediately, a card-check process stymies companies that might be tempted to tamper with a formal election.

The most aggressive unions out there, such as unite here, have had considerable success organizing hotel workers, janitors, and other low-wage workers by getting employers to sign agreements that they will abide by card-check elections. Sometimes, they do this just by asking nicely--and sometimes they do it by not being so nice. In order to pressure a reluctant company to abide by card check, a union might run a "corporate campaign" exposing the company's less savory business practices or wield the shareholder power of a union pension fund. But even the tougher tactics fail sometimes. That is why labor would like card check to be binding law, as it is in Canada.

(source)

OK, I read this twice, and I still dont think I get it.

In Holland, it's easy: whereever you work (as far as I know), you are free to become a union member. You send in a registration form to the union of your choice in your branch of work (both the secular/social-democratic and the christian national union associations have separate unions for each branch of work/industry). You pay the annual fee, presto, you're a union member, and eligible for the different kinds of support the union can give you (advice, legal support, etc). If the worst comes to the worst, the union can also help with financial support for the employees in times of strike.

But from this text ^^ I gather that this is not so in the US? You can not just become a member individually? Like, before anyone in the company is allowed to "unionize" himself, the company has to give its approval, which in turn is dependent on a ballot of all the workers? But if such a ballot passes, does that mean that all the employees are 'unionised', or just that they have the freedom to do so themselves?

I am sure I can safely bet that you dont have "collective labour agreements" between the national trade unions and employers' associations, huh? (In Holland, each year the national employers' associations and various trade unions come together and hammer out such a "CLA" (or CAO in Dutch) for the separate branches of work/industry - or most of them, anyway - in which they agree a minimum and maximum wage increase for the sector, and arrangements on working hours, conditions etc.)
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Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Sep, 2006 06:53 pm
I know someone who once worked for a union in Jersey. However, when she took the job, she didn't know it was run by the mob.

Her employers were very standoffish with her at first, because they thought she was a federal plant. But eventually, they came to trust her.

She was going through a particularly bad time with her ex-husband then, and one day, her boss took her aside and said something like, "If he's bothering you, we can take care of that for you...."

I. am. not. kidding. She thanked him, but didn't take him up on it. Sheesh!

He was eventually busted and wound up in a federal penitentiary in Florida. In fact, my friend said he was even featured in a book about the mafia.

So, I think that's been one of the main problems with unions in this country, the fact that the mob infiltrated so many of them. I don't know how much that situation been's cleaned up.

However, I'd agree that in many ways, they are a necessary evil. There are still factories to this day that will happy exploit their employees unless they are protected by a union.
0 Replies
 
Greyfan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Sep, 2006 07:08 pm
We might have been better off in the long run without unions. If companies treated their workers fairly, unions might never have formed.

But, as my wife's uncle once said, every company in this country that has a union, deserves it.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Sep, 2006 07:28 pm
My father was an early-ish member of a film editors' union, back in the early forties. I know this well, since he was at a union meeting when I was born, and I kept hearing about that. Not knowing that much about it all, I'd say it was a good thing the editors (cutters, so called) got together.

My ex was by virtue of being for a while a UPS driver-helper with a division that moved heavy furniture, part of the union when he was hired. I suppose he signed papers on all that. They were Teamsters. I remain in favor of that, I think.

On the other hand, I am anti-mob, at the same time I sort of understand mob in historical context and from a co-worker who was from a family environment, though he called himself the black sheep. (Oh, go read Midnight in Sicily... not to imply that is a pro mob book, quite the opposite.)

What do I think now? I dunno. I so don't like constraint. And yet... there are people who over the years have broken their asses and stay in a certain shelf - nurses, teachers - that is oddly, most of the time, underpaid, relative to what the rest of the work force does, and that affects who opts to teach. If they are not so underpaid now, it is at least in part from union activity.

I speak of the US, know not of other places.
0 Replies
 
sublime1
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Sep, 2006 07:29 pm
The company I work for was unionized for a long time, about five years ago the union dissolved and the Teamsters were trying to pick us up. The problem was that as an appliance company we were stepping on a lot of toes with our installs. For example on a strict union job a laborer needs to bring in the dishwasher, an electrician needs to wire it up and a plumber needs to make the water connections.

So the installers took a vote and voted the union out altogether. Being in Chicago we took a hit from some of the big jobs in the city (the Trump tower being built is buying all the appliances from us and we are trying to work out a way to also install them, I installed their mock kitchen but it was for show and no connections were needed). The good thing is it is business as usual for our company and there have been no drawbacks from losing the union as employees. We have even done a few night jobs for buildings that wanted us to install but had a strong union presence. So after they worked their 9 to 2 shift with lunch and three coffee breaks we went in and did the kitchens at night.
0 Replies
 
Stray Cat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Sep, 2006 10:34 pm
That reminds me of a joke.

How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?

TEN!! YA GOTTA PROBLEM WITH THAT?
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Thu 21 Sep, 2006 07:11 am
From a purely economic standpoint in most situations, unions actually hurt the economy, businesses and workers as a whole. Unions cause the cost of production to increase (increase in salaries, increase in better working conditions - causes higher costs for businesses, increase in benefits - vacation time, health benefits, etc.). Increase in costs causes businesses to increase prices and/or to minimize costs may layoff workers (thus decreasing overall number of jobs - some people now has no work). So, if you are the lucky one to stay on - you do better, but for the poor sap who is laid off he is significantly worse off. Also, now prices increases so those that are working now have to pay more money for their necessities - almost a vicious cycle.

However, that is simply from an economic standpoint and under most situations. The situation Craven was explaining is more of a monopoly or oligopoly situation. Similar to where you would have a town where there is one or two factories where pretty much everyone has to work. In this situation, the business because of the demand for work is limited, can set wages and working conditions so he maximizes his profit. In the competitive example I give above there is supply of jobs so some one could go elsewhere if the business did not pay enough or have the right working environment. In the monopoly type of situation, if there is a union, it would not have the same impact on prices and costs as the business is already making plenty of profits (there is room to increase costs and still make a good profit). In this situation, a union can work more effectively for all.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Thu 21 Sep, 2006 08:17 am
BBB
bm
0 Replies
 
fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 21 Sep, 2006 08:23 am
nimh wrote:
I was reading this article in TNR about unions, and read this:

Quote:
As you may have heard, union representation in the private sector workforce is now down below 10 percent--its lowest level since, well, a very long time. (At least the 1930s, certainly.) And a major reason has been the inability of unions to organize new members in the face of concerted employer resistance--which, in turn, is a product of America's particularly labor-unfriendly organizing laws.

Under the current legal framework, a company does not need to recognize a union until a formal election has been held under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board (nlrb) and a majority of workers has voted for it. That may sound pretty straightforward, but it isn't. Going through the requisite election process is notoriously cumbersome and difficult, particularly since it gives employers all sorts of opportunities to intimidate workers or otherwise derail the process unfairly. In theory, the nlrb is supposed to watch over the election process to keep employers in line. In practice, the nlrb is so ineffectual--and the penalties for violating labor laws so relatively meaningless--that a determined employer can manipulate a union election with virtual impunity.

That's why, for many years, forward-thinking labor leaders have been pushing to create a new kind of union certification system known as "card check." In a card-check system, a union can begin negotiating on behalf of workers as soon as a majority of them sign pieces of paper (cards) saying they support unionization. By allowing workers to get labor representation immediately, a card-check process stymies companies that might be tempted to tamper with a formal election.

The most aggressive unions out there, such as unite here, have had considerable success organizing hotel workers, janitors, and other low-wage workers by getting employers to sign agreements that they will abide by card-check elections. Sometimes, they do this just by asking nicely--and sometimes they do it by not being so nice. In order to pressure a reluctant company to abide by card check, a union might run a "corporate campaign" exposing the company's less savory business practices or wield the shareholder power of a union pension fund. But even the tougher tactics fail sometimes. That is why labor would like card check to be binding law, as it is in Canada.

(source)

OK, I read this twice, and I still dont think I get it.

In Holland, it's easy: whereever you work (as far as I know), you are free to become a union member. You send in a registration form to the union of your choice in your branch of work (both the secular/social-democratic and the christian national union associations have separate unions for each branch of work/industry). You pay the annual fee, presto, you're a union member, and eligible for the different kinds of support the union can give you (advice, legal support, etc). If the worst comes to the worst, the union can also help with financial support for the employees in times of strike.

But from this text ^^ I gather that this is not so in the US? You can not just become a member individually? Like, before anyone in the company is allowed to "unionize" himself, the company has to give its approval, which in turn is dependent on a ballot of all the workers? But if such a ballot passes, does that mean that all the employees are 'unionised', or just that they have the freedom to do so themselves?

I am sure I can safely bet that you dont have "collective labour agreements" between the national trade unions and employers' associations, huh? (In Holland, each year the national employers' associations and various trade unions come together and hammer out such a "CLA" (or CAO in Dutch) for the separate branches of work/industry - or most of them, anyway - in which they agree a minimum and maximum wage increase for the sector, and arrangements on working hours, conditions etc.)


I'd have to work on a very lengthy post to explain how it works in the US but the short answer is, no, we don't have national unions like you have in Holland. Unions here are organized shop by shop. A local shop union might be a part of a larger union organization but there is no mandate that agreements from one carry over to agreements in another. There are a few cases where that has happened but not in all cases.

In some cases you can't get into a job without being in the union, some wher ethere is no union and others where it is your option whether to join or not.
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