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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Sometimes aren't the unions really more of the problem than the solution?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26798points) February 10th, 2010

Don’t you think that some times union workers are the problem? Being a union person now I am happy for the rights and benefits my union fights for. There are some unions where I believe they go too far. I can see back in the day when there were few laws on the books to protect workers they needed to band together against the unscrupulous factory owners etc to have a decent wage, safe work environment, etc. Some business or industries today seem to have unions that cause more problems, waste, and inefficiencies.

Such as a union shop where a forklift operator has to snatch a pallet of whatever and take it to the loading dock, but it is behind a pallet of something else that is in the way. If the pallet that wasn’t moved was because part of the load spilled even if the forklift driver could clean it up himself, move the pallet to get the one he needs he can’t. Union rules would not allow him to touch the pallet with nothing but his forklift. It is someone else’s job to touch the stuff on the pallet and yet again some other person’s job to place the pallet in position to be loaded. Now a pallet is held up which holds up a truck, which makes it late getting to where it has to go causing problems for the workers there, all because the union won’t let the guy step off his forklift or get wrote up by the shop steward.

Another touchy part for me is pay. Some unions make very well and have great benefit packages. However, they seem to believe they do not get enough. If they can’t get X amount of paid sick days or amount of health coverage they strike. Many times they get most of their demands, but I wonder if that drives up the cost of what they make that I have to buy? If the company wants to reduce the price but they can’t cut the labor cost because the union will strike, will that savings come from the quality or durability of the item because they are using cheaper parts? And when it cost so much they feel they can’t sell it here in the US at that price and they decide to close up parts of their US operation and move it to nations where the labor is cheap were they really greedy or was a union hog tying their hands?

I am not against union I am a union man and some classes of workers, independent truckers, produce pickers, janitors, heath workers and many lower profile groups need someone to have their back, but some unions seem to forget that they are their to protect the worker not get greedsy and try to fleece the employer.

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23 Answers

filmfann's avatar

In my last contract, my union gave back $3500 a year I would normally get.
It didn’t matter that my company is making record profits.
When I wonder if we really need unions, I look at the way my company treats contracters and managers, who are non-union.
Unions are vital. Yes, they can seem a bit greedy at times, but they are doing good work, and protecting the employee from a company that would love to profit from firing you.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Sometimes. We have people who came to our company from Ford. They told tales of not being able to conduct training without two union representatives in the room, not taking the training and not teaching, but “monitoring,” and when a water fountain broke, it took workers from three unions to fix the thing. I think unions drive up prices.

LunaChick's avatar

Wow – when I first saw the question, I misread it as “aren’t the unicorns really more of the problem…” I think all this cold and snow is getting to me.

Anyhoo… to answer the actual question: Unions are a double edged sword. They offer protections for employees, but sometimes go too far.

I have personally heard of a union contract, in a hospital, that states only certain, unionized employees can “transport” a patient. By transport, I mean, take them from their room on floor A to testing on floor B. If all unionized employees are busy, a nurses’ aide, etc… is not allowed to move the patient, even if they are totally capable of doing so, within their job description. What does the hospital have to do, in this situation? The have to call an outside ambulance/transport service to drive to the hospital, move the patient to testing, wait until testing is done, and bring the patient back to their room. The cost of this? Upwards of $1,000.

To me, that is unionization gone awry.

jca's avatar

i am a government employee, and so am a member of the CSEA. The union has been very helpful in protecting myself and other employees from some lunatic supervisors who would have us working overtime without pay if they could, or have us put our personal safety at risk. Thanks to the union, there are things that we can and cannot do and expectations are clear for both workers and management. we are not at the whim of whether or not the supervisor likes us in order to get a raise, because the size of the raise is written into the contract, and is not determined by popularity or ass kissing or anything else other than the contract. in my 17 years as a government employee/union member, i have had some great supervisors where things ran very smoothly, and i have had some crazy ones where i was grateful that their power was somewhat limited by the union rules and the contract.

eponymoushipster's avatar

No, i totally blame the confederates.

beancrisp's avatar

Union workers do not work for the union, so how does a shop steward have the authority to write up an employee?
If I worked in a union shop and a shop steward tried to tell me how to do my job I would say ” you don’t sign my paycheck you candy ass wimp”.

jrpowell's avatar

A lot of blood was spilled for unions. Do you really want to go back to the times where this happens?

My brother in law is an electrician and has worked in union and non-union shops. I have talked to him about this and he said he doesn’t feel safe in non-union shops.

andrew's avatar

As a union man myself, I can totally relate. There are some times when I feel like the union is doing more harm than good—especially when the union gets in its own way.

Then I hear my friends talk about non-union gigs. And I thank my lucky, lucky stars for my union.

drhat77's avatar

Anyone who questions the importance of unions should read the jungle by upton Sinclair. It shows factory conditions 100. years ago.

Keeping that in mind, legs consider this quote by Alexander tytler “the end of democracy will be when the electorate learns that it vote itself largess from the public coffers.”

Its seems to me that many people in unions have primarily high school education and think that Richie rich can just pay for everything, so why not squeeze him for a little more. But they fail to consider that if the union doesn’t want to sacrifice employee wages you can be damn sure Richie rich won’t sacrifice his profit either, so you have many downstream consequences like American autp coompanies failing because of health insurance costs

YARNLADY's avatar

No. In the full scheme of things, the Union bosses will try to get the most out of their position, just as politicians will. However, in the end result the Unions will reach the best of all options for their members.

You have to ask yourself: is this the best for the good of the country? That is the ultimate consideration, and unanswerable at this time.

john65pennington's avatar

Ever heard the phrase “what goes around, comes around?” this is so true of unions. i have always big a big union man all of my life. now that i am retired, i feel free to speak freely of the union situation. you belong to a union for benefits and protection from an employers rath unfair practices against the employees. that, i agree with. the second part is what maybe has landed our nations economy in part, of its grave situation. unions have become so strong and so demanding that when unions aske for raises and benefits, the employer 85% of the time obliges their requests/demands. in order to give these benefits, the employer has to raise the cost of goods and services, which is passed on to you the customer. its a vicious circle that has taken America in its grip for years. one day it would all have to come to an end and that time is now. this is where illegal immigrants come in. a plumber charges $42 a hour to repair your plumbing problem. an illegal immigrant is paid $3 to $4 dollars an hour for the same identical work under supervision. this situation applies to plumbing as well as other jobs. this leaves the American legal blue collar worker out of a job and facing bankruptcy. unions can only go so far with their demands. and, their time has come and fading fast.

Strauss's avatar

In the late 1990’s I went to work for a large telecommunications giant (not a Bell). Their “official” position on unions is that they would rather deal with their employees directly than have a “third party” intervene. The fallacy is that an individual is hired “at will”, which is to say, at the employers sy-so, and can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. there is no negotiation for wages. you take what your offered or you decline the position.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@john65pennington @LunaChick Larvae for you. I am not against unions and I don’t want to return to the era where workers are de facto slaves like the Chinese raolroad men, but some unions just drive protection and benefits gig into the dirt, or in unproductive ways.

galileogirl's avatar

@LunaChick Work rules are put in place for good reasons. If the reasons become archaic then they should be changed contractually but not for expedience.

Consider this: The hospital worker who does transport should have training in recognizing changes in patients’ conditions and and emergency procedures. Just because someone can push a gurney and find the the radiology department does not mean they know what to do if the patient stopped breathing in the elevator.

mattbrowne's avatar

Depends. The same applies to employers.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I’m not a union man (I’m in management, after all), but I work in a heavily (but certainly not universally) unionized industry (at least in the USA): industrial (power plant) construction.

The unions which are run well, and I would include most of the US construction trades unions, after all, at least at the national level, have established training and education programs for their new members (apprentices) to become full-fledged qualified and competent journeymen. This often includes some safety training as well. They also collectively bargain for very good Health and Welfare and Pension benefits for their members. All of that is good.

But there’s a downside, too. Many of the union locals throughout the country are run almost dictatorially, and even seem to have inherited leadership, almost like a feudal monarchy—despite the fact that they have “elections” and “campaigns” for leadership positions. I say “seem to”, because, after all, I’m not a union member and my experience with any local is for the duration of a project only, and not lasting. A lot of local halls (particularly these that are not so well run) seem to exist solely to protect the job of the least competent and deserving member… and thereby start to drive all workers to work at a level barely exceeding that. If I had a nickel for every use of the phrase “breaking down conditions” that I’ve heard in the field (when what is actually meant is “living up to the damned agreement”) then I could have retired long ago.

I am also sick to death of the petty jurisdictional disputes that arise when an employer tries to make a work assignment to a (qualified and capable) “wrong” union (still a union assignment, but not “my” union). These types of rules are pricing a lot of US construction offshore; if an employer can’t afford to even build a production facility in the US, then whether or not they can provide jobs to US workers is a moot point.

drhat77's avatar

@CyanoticWasp i really like your post it is very thorough can you please provide some background on

1) use of the phrase “breaking down conditions” that I’ve heard in the field (when what is actually meant is “living up to the damned agreement”)

2) jurisdictional disputes that arise when an employer tries to make a work assignment to a (qualified and capable) “wrong” union (still a union assignment, but not “my” union).

thanks

galileogirl's avatar

My experience is that poor leadership is more of a problem to the rank and file than it is to management. When I started my current position the union leadership had been around for decades and the then president was way beyond it. She had come in after a very contentious strike as a conciliatory leader. She was supported by the retirees and subs but accepted whatever mgmt said about not having resources for even COLAs. After 8 years with decreased earnings and lapsed contracts she was voted out.

Unfortunately the new pres was a sheep in wolf’s clothing who wanted to spend six mos singing “Getting to Know You” with mgmt. We spent another 3 years listening to his excuses why more money was spent on district personnel and less in the classroom.

Finally we elected a pres who makes the mgmt negotiators sweat because he won’t go on retreats or be otherwise co-opted. He fights increasing class size but agreed to minor healthcare adjustments. The district can no longer hire a % of unlicensed (cheaper) teachers nor can principals unilaterally change workingconditions-always allowed by the 1978–2003 union leadership teams

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@drhat77 thanks.

1. “Breaking down conditions” means (to a worker) “those management bastards are trying to take away the good conditions we have earned a right to”. In a lot of construction craft union agreements there is a designated “cleanup” time at the end of the normal work day, say ten or fifteen minutes allowed to the worker (paid time) to put away tools and wash up prior to leaving the jobsite. This is kind of a joke, because on a large construction site (for example) there just aren’t enough facilities to allow 600 to 800 workers (or more) to wash up at the end of each shift. Well, that’s not so bad… it just means that those who don’t “wash up” just leave a few minutes early. That wouldn’t be a bad trade… except they want to clean up before they leave. So they end up breaking off work a half-hour early, washing up, and then leaving 15 minutes early because that’s when the rest of the crew is allowed out. Well, when a few people start this, then everyone feels entitled, so eventually everyone is knocking off work a half-hour early. We have to be hardasses and say, “We’ll follow the contract; you get 15 minutes cleanup time. Work until then.” And that’s “breaking down conditions” if people have gotten into the habit of leaving early.

2. (Later)

MorenoMelissa1's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I feel that the unions take more than they give back. Your basicaly paying them to sit around more so than not. I don’t support unions, that is the reason why I quite working for Safeway in ‘05 because I hated having to pay so much a month just so they may or may not help me.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Oh, yeah… it’s later.

2. Jurisdictional disputes are when one craft union claims work that a manager might choose to assign (for whatever reason) to another worker, not in the claiming union. Yes, this is usually an issue of cost saving, because the preferred worker works for a lower hourly wage, but it also has to do with scheduling, who’s available on the jobsite (rather give the work to someone already there than have to call in more people for what may be just a one-day job) and productivity or quality. The dispute only means that the manager then has to take the time to hear the union steward on the jobsite, respond to his complaint, and then take additional time to meet with business agents for the unions involved, and his own management (making a “wrong” assignment can be expensive as the grievance process continues to work) and finally make the assignment. It takes time, costs money… and only benefits a few guys in one craft labor union… at the expense of “brother” workers in another and equally suitable craft labor union. It’s not like we can outsource construction jobs offshore. (To the extent we can, though, we certainly do, for these reasons and more.)

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I can’t prove it but I would think that is why some builders etc would hire illegal workers. If they needed some laborers to police a row of houses and it won’t take more than 3 hours for 2 people to do but the union says anyone they send out HAS to have at least 6 hours and still be paid for all six even if the job completed early the builder would save money going with an illegal he can just just for the timew he nedded at less pay. The union will be setting themselves up for a no win scenario.

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