General Question

willbrawn's avatar

How do you feel about Unions? Are they out dated?

Asked by willbrawn (6588 points ) June 23rd, 2009

I ask because on local television (Denver) I see the local grocery store unions asking me to support them. Personally I dont like them, I worked for a union and found that a lot of lazy people hide behind the union walls. And I believe being rewarded for how hard you work and not how long you have been there.

What are your thoughts?

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34 Answers

marinelife's avatar

You enjoy without a union many benefits and your level of pay because of the work of unions.

willbrawn's avatar

@Marina thats true, I didnt think of that. Do you think they still have there place in society?

cwilbur's avatar

I think that the proper check for management organizing into corporations is workers organizing into unions. When you have a corporation negotiating with one worker, there’s a huge power imbalance. When you have a corporation negotiating with a union, things are far more equitable.

mammal's avatar

For the majority of workers, the workplace would be intolerable without Unions, they also remain one of the last bastions, where people can exert strong political influence, because, lets face it….The electoral process is pretty ineffectual, i mean, your choice of candidates are all pretty much synonymous with corporate management anyway.

andrew's avatar

Without my union, I wouldn’t have any health care.

And I have fantastic health care.

Oh, also, without my union I’d get royally screwed. So, I <3 them.

galileogirl's avatar

Look at history, pre- and post-organized labor. Like anything else unions have to stay current and we are seeing that as more professional and service workers are organizing. Instead of sticking to archaic rules as technology changes, unions should be flexible.

On the other hand they need to be more proactive in corporate decision making. Whose stupid idea was it to let corps borrow from or control pension funds? A union has a greater interest in seeing a corp succeed than even stockholders do. In fact neither unions nor stockholders have any actual power in corporations. The power of corp life and death lies in the hands of HIRED executives who often are just about getting rich and getting out.

The role of organized labor does need to be revamped but by becoming bigger and smarter, not smaller and ineffectual.

mammal's avatar

@galileogirl i tried to convince two large unions to buy a social networking site that came up for sale, would you believe it was called workers reunited, to start creating forums, for serious work related topics addressing grievances etc and socialising, get online subscription, blah, blah blah….. they were mildly curious, but ultimately no interest in modernising or using the Internet to recruit. Pretty backward and depressing really, not to mention impotent and unimaginative :(

tinyfaery's avatar

I think unions are a great asset to workers however, most unions and union reps today are simply power hungry bureaucrats. UTLA has done so much in regards to benefits and work hours, but on a day to day basis, when it comes to dealing with administrators and problem kids (problems like attacking teachers, not just teenage issues), the union does nothing to help it’s members. Plus, I think a union is pointless when the government can simply tell you you cannot walk-out or strike.

TylerM's avatar

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, unions do seem to put a lot of stress on businesses. Having to pay all the benefits for workers is a lot of money. So yeah they might give you a lot of benefits (more money, vacation time, medical), but it won’t do much good if the business goes under because of it.

wundayatta's avatar

Iron law of oligarchy. When an organization is built for one purpose, and that purpose is fulfilled, the organization will stay in place just because the people who run it benefit from it.

Unions are run by people the same as any other organization. Some of the people are good and hardworking; others are lazy. Unions have problems with some of the same people that management has problems with. They have to represent them at grievance hearings. but they know the person doesn’t have a case.

Some unions represent workers more effectively and honestly than others. Again, par for the course. Unions will only be outdated when everyone is their own boss. Until then, collective action is the only way to stand against monopoly power.

dannyc's avatar

I think that unions will exist as long as management do not really understand the benefits of positive human resource dynamics. In most union /management turmoils a “we versus them “mentality is at the heart of the dysfunctionality. And as a self fulfilling prophecy, dysfunctional management leads to distrustful employees who see a union as a possible solution. In a perfect world with top managers, a professional caring attitude of owners a union becomes unnecessary. In truth unions have a built in de facto inefficiency at its root..seniority is not a barometer of efficiency and that is fundamental to all unions. The best performance is not rewarded, merely the average. But when you see what went on with Wall Street, the amount of corporate welfare being handed out (the same guys who decry unions now are the biggest whiners and have their hands out) is simply staggering. Thus I take with a huge grain of salt any manager crying foul of unions. In my own company I am glad not to have to deal with a union, but I must be on my toes, using every best technique and strategy I can think of, to motivate and satisfy my best resource…the staff who dedicate themselves to our common goals.

Darwin's avatar

Some unions do a great job, some just are sort of there, some protect the inefficient and the incapable as much so or more than they do the good workers, and some insist on sucking money out of your paycheck without doing anything to help the workers. This is based on my personal experience with unions, having been involved with or seeing the work of all four sorts.

Historically, unions were essential as it was the first time that workers actually got a voice in what their working conditions would be like. Prior to that it depended entirely on the goodwill of the employer and whether the employer even considered the workers to need decent conditions.

Today, a lot of the work of unions has been codified into laws, such as the EEOC regulations, so in many cases the unions are no longer needed. In addition, some employers are smart enough to realize that a happy workforce is a productive workforce. However, there are certain industries where a union can still benefit the workers, and sometimes even both sides.

SeventhSense's avatar

Unions are great at representing workers rights but the excessive perks can be disastrous for a company. Look at what happened to GM with the pensions and benefits that no amount of productivity could keep up with. From the Washington Post

AstroChuck's avatar

I get so fucking tired of people saying that union workers are lazy. That bullshit has been spread by anti-labor groups since as long as I can remember. It’s been a favorite canard of theirs that either the workers are lazy, or that at the unions protect the lazy. Although unions protect their members, which can include those few who (and in my experience they are few) are a bit more slothful, the truth is that union workers on average generally do higher quality work. In every labor organization that I’ve been a member (three, so far) I have always been instructed by the union leadership to go above and beyond when doing my job. Union members take great pride in the work that they do and it’s important to demonstrate that to the public. Lord knows there is enough anti-union propaganda spewed out there in the various media.
Unions are important to our economy. In fact, as the economy worsens, unions become even more necessary than in economic good times. One of the reasons this current recession has been so damn deep is that workers in this country don’t have the purchasing power needed to drive our economy as workers wages continue to shrink even as productivity increases. History has shown us that when the unions do well, America does well. When unions do well, ALL workers do better. Heres an interesting statistic that I’ve pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. According to them “unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.” So you see, whether or not you work a union job, you can thank organized labor for what wages and benefits you do have. And those of you who are currently trying to get by making only minimum wage, you can thank the labor movement that there even is a minimum wage. You can thank the labor movement that you are guaranteed time-and-a-half pay when you work more than 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

SeventhSense's avatar

<—- Still reeling from the shock of experiencing the longest post I have ever seen from AstroChuck
Kudos Mr. Hoffa Chuck

AstroChuck's avatar

I’m passionate when it comes to labor issues.

tinyfaery's avatar

I guess so. Here…have some pancakes.

mammal's avatar

i remember the war between Margaret Thatcher and the coalminers in the 80’s, their personal ideological battle tore this country apart, miserable fucking mess that was, pitch battles between police and striking miners and whole communities shattered, union power irrecoverably smashed….i bet coalminers aren’t lazy, try it for a week and see. According to thatcher, heavy state subsidised industries were unsustainable, so the emphasis switched to the financial sector…the iron lady….fucking genius?

wundayatta's avatar

The problem with rewarding “excellence” is that, in general, it rewards friends. That’s why unions prefer seniority. It is not subject to personal whim and favoritism. It is very clear how long someone has been there. It is also not without justification on efficiency grounds. In general, the longer someone has been doing a job, the better they are at it.

You can try to develop a system that objectively measures excellence, but I have yet to see one that meets that criterion. All systems (like tests) that measure human behavior are inherently biased according the culture of the system makers. You might argue that they do the best we can. However, far too often, the best we can is not immune to favoritism and inequity, as far as other workers are concerned.

Some unions have agreed to merit pay systems. I don’t know how they are working, and whether the unions will continue to agree to them in the future.

Obviously, I am a fan of unions. I worked for one for about five years. I’ve worked with organizations that were allied with unions, and I’ve had unions as clients.

That having been said, there is one point that @AstroChuck mentioned that I have to take issue with. Yes, all workers wages have risen when unions do better; however that is not quite the whole story. All workers who are working do better. It is arguable that when we pay unionized workers more, companies hire fewer people. This is the same argument as people make against the minimum wage. I do believe economists have evidence to show this is true—certainly about minimum wage. This means that the worst off amongst us are suffering more in order to pay those of us who have jobs more.

I’m in favor of unions and of the minimum wage, but I feel it is important to acknowledge that not everyone benefits from the efforts of unions and worker-sympathetic politicians. Having worked for a union, I also recognize that they have just as many problems with internal management as any other employer. That’s why union staff are often unionized. Some might call this hypocrisy, but I remain uncertain about this issue. Management is difficult for for-profit and non-profit organizations, just as it is for unions.

DrBill's avatar

If you do your job, you don’t have to have a union to protect it.

A few years ago, while paying 13% over “union scale” and better benefits, my business unionized to protect the job of a lazy incompetent. Everyone got fired, the union fell apart, and I hired back the real workers. They agreed I did the right thing.

andrew's avatar

@DrBill Well, you’re wrong about that. It very much depends on your industry—non-union acting gigs are horrid. Wretched. You get fucked, royally. And I mean fucked.

I think we can all agree that any organization, as it grows, increases in inefficiency to an extent—and I think there is a delicate balance between the solvency of the organization and fair rights for the workers.

There was a great piece in the New Yorker talking about (and I’m really going from memory here) about the UAW (or was it the head of the union or some journalist?) fighting against the inclusion of health benefits on the company level—since ultimately it was the responsibility of the government—since tying the pension and benefits of the workers to the well-being company is debilitating—and voila—look where we are now.

wundayatta's avatar

@DrBill I’m sorry. You fired all the workers because of their attempt to unionize? Lucky you’re anonymous, because that’s a violation of the NLRA.

cwilbur's avatar

@DrBill: if management does its job well, it doesn’t have to fear the workers unionizing.

I mean, it takes a majority vote of workers to unionize. I doubt that a majority of workers would vote in favor of forming a union to protect one lazy incompetent.

So yeah, I call bullshit on this one.

galileogirl's avatar

@cwilbur You might also want to point out to the Dr that most union workers don’t want to “protect” lazy coworkers either. In 20 years in my current union position among up to 500 employees I have seen less than 5 who were lazy or incompetent and they were out in a timely fashion. On the other hand I have also seen employees who for periods of time might not have been performing at their best and might have been fired without a union.

In 1991 I felt extremely glad to be a union member when I was diagnosed with cancer, missed a couple of weeks of work and frankly did little beyond my job description. My union membership gave me sick days and full medical. My colleagues gave me support by helping my temporary substitute. I wonder if I were a 54 yo employee in a non-union position, would I still have my job or my savings after a bad medical year.

On the other hand I have seen plenty of supervisors who have Peter Principled their way out of the rank and file by kissing ass and incompetently held on by being the boss’s creature.

DrBill's avatar

@andrew
I did not mean it is true for all jobs or employers, but it is true in this case.

@daloon
It was done legally. We were paying well over what union shops were paying, the union insisted on an additional 10%. That business was closed due to negative cash flow. We reopened a new business with a new name, and hired the GOOD workers “let go” by the first company.

@cwilbur
They voted for it because the union organizers lied to them. [oh ye of little faith]

@galileogirl
I have a worker right now that has been sick and off the job for three months, and predicted to be off another two. She will have her job to come back to no matter how long it takes.

SeventhSense's avatar

And another thing that is a sad state of unions is their close ties to organized crime. Anyone in construction/contracting in NY knows that there are certain industries that you must have union workers or pay off the union.
And not doing so is not only ill advised, but could seriously compromise the integrity of your body.

galileogirl's avatar

@DrBill If that is true, you are the rare exception rather than the rule. It has long been the practise in corporate to show people exit when they reach their mid-50’s, when they become ill or when they have family situations that require temp time away from work.

I worked for Traveler’s Insurance in 1968. They had advertised for “mature” women (in those days the help wanted ads were divided by men wanted and women wanted)to work in a new office in the suburb where I lived. Although I was only 21, I had 3 years experience, but in the City 40 miles away. I was hired immediately even though the office wasn’t due to open for months. I got a great reviews and a raise after 3 months I worked in their City office and they gave me a lot of training in their procedures. I got a great reviews and a raise after 3 months When the satellite office opened, there were 20 women under the supervision of a 20-something guy. There were 4 sections with 5 employees each. It was interesting that each unit had one experienced woman in her early 20’s and 4 re-entry women in their late 30’s-early 40’s. Basically we younger women were carrying a workload and answering the questions of the older women who had been through a 2 week training.

It was all OK most of the time and as the weeks passed everybody was improving. I was just happy to be 10 minutes from home instead of an hour+. After 4 months the 4 younger women were called out into the hallway and told that the workload did not call for as many staff so they were laying us off. Got it? We were used. Young women as a group were thought to be more likely to get married and have babies and end up costing the company more than more “settled” women. It had nothing to do with the quality of our work.

Traveler’s also lost a large class action suit in the 90’s when it was proven that they paid women agents significantly less than male agents. Again not based on quality of work, just because they could and employees had no protection.

DrBill's avatar

I have long known that in order to keep good employees, you have to be a good employer. That means taking care of your “business family”. I do a lot of things business school tells students not to do.

Like every one gets their birthday off, paid; everyone gets overtime AND comp time for call-ins; every employee has a voice, and I listen; and the list goes on. I also have loyal employees who enjoy coming to work..

JLeslie's avatar

I think unions had a place long ago, but now pretty much I wish they would go away. I would rather see government regulation for basic rights and safety issues for workers. It makes no sense to me that management and laborers are adversarial, because they both work for the company. I should say that not all unions are bad, but many go too far. There are tons of businesses that function without a union and employees are treated fairly.

I went to school in MI, and still have lots of friends there, and I think the auto-unions got ridiculous. People were paid crazy high wages for jobs that should have not been valued that high. I do agree that the American worker works hard…they are not lazy, but they do sometimes start to feel entitled. Also in MI the teachers union is VERY strong. My friend teaches elementary and makes around $55,000 a year. When she was complaining about her pay I said…“it’s not that bad, if you annualize it that is around $70,000” (just kind of rounding it off in my head) and she replied, “we are paid all year, and it is only $55,000. I tried to explain it to no avail. Ummm…she is teaching your children. But enough about that $55K 9 months a year and great benefits ain’t bad in a state that is not extremely expensive to live in and for a job that almost anyone can do. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that not everyone will be good at teaching, but it is not a rare skill like neuro-surgeon or astrophysocist (sp?). Oh, and once they get tenure they can’t get fired…what other industry in America has that?!

AstroChuck's avatar

@JLeslie- It saddens me that corporate America has created so many drone minds that gobble up such bullshit. It’s that mindset that is responsible for the path to fascism in this country. We get closer all the time. The Wal*Marts and Exxons of the world would love your stance on labor.

JLeslie's avatar

@AstroChuck Actually, I lay a lot of blame on our economic state today on the rich getting richer and corporate greed. It is the people who had lots of discretionary income who pushed up housing prices in many markets. I worked in FL as a realtor and I can tell you all of my coworkers felt it could not go on forever and thought 100% loans with ARM’s and interest only payments were awful and risky. None of us thought real estate would never go down…I don’t know why people ever thought that and who these people are? Maybe if you are only 25 years old you might have an excuse for that type of naive thinking. Investors pushed prices up, and then the average guy had to take all of these risks to buy a decent home. Meawhile, there is still no excuse to buy something you cannot afford. Of course, I am not talking about people who lost their jobs, I am simply talking about people who have jobs, but could never afford the deal they agreed to.

Also, I am thinking that goods and services would be less expensive if we were not paying CXO levels $20 million a year plus bonus’ and worrying so much about huge profits for stockholders. Maybe right now in our country it is not that the average worker is making too little, but that the senior people are making too much…we need to slow down. Raise the wage of the laborer, and you are still raising the cost of goods. We need to be competitive in the world market remember. I will agree that $2 more an hour for someone who makes $20 an hour is a BIG difference. I can’t see how it can make a lot of difference to someone making $20 million to make only $15 million, so I guess you could spread the wealth around? But, again, you could pass it back to the consumer. Everyone is important, everyone from the guy who sweeps the floor all the way up to the CEO…everything counts, everyone counts and everything needs to get done and all positions deserve respect.

mattbrowne's avatar

No, unions are needed more than ever. Checks and balances are key, not only in politics, but also in a free market economy.

N6NQR's avatar

Unions provide training and certifications to enable skilled workers to be worth more money than their ‘unskilled’ counterparts. When something is built haphazardly by non-union (non-skilled) workers, and something goes terribly wrong, (like someone getting electrocuted at a bus stop bench because the non-skilled worker who did the electric did it wrong!) then everyone gets upset about having qualified workers. They seem to forget that you get what you pay for, no one is going to go through several years of training for a minimum wage job.
Getting paid a fair wage for having skills and abilities? That almost sounds Capitalistic, not Socialistic.

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