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Old 12-13-2012, 07:34 AM  
Direckshun Direckshun is offline
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In defense of unions.

The goings on in Michigan have taken some time for me to process, what with a lame duck majority of Michigan Republicans busting the only real leverage unions had in one of the biggest union states in America. There's been a heated debate over it the past couple weeks, albeit not on this forum, and tempers have flown off the handle as fistfights have broken out on the steps of the capital in Lansing.

Makes sense, it's a really heated issue, and I see both sides of it. One one hand you have people whose wellbeing has been supported and improved by unions -- those people are going to be intensely passionate about what happens. On the other hand, you have people who believe unions are unfairly leveraged bully organizations attempting to soak a company's profits dry.

I see both sides of the issue, but I'm pro-union. I see how they are often derided and dismissed on this forum so I think it's time to take at least one post to properly characterize what unions are all about and to flesh out why they are such a positive thing.

There are many different kinds of unions, so I am not offering a defense of any one particular union, but I think all unions benefit from the below arguments:

1. A union is democratic capitalism at work.

Our capitalist society encourages everybody to work hard, earn skills, and maximize those skills for your own personal gain. That harnessing this capacity to improve your life will drive progress in society, spark innovation and improve overall quality of life.

Well, that's what every union under the sun is. A group of people have acquired a set of skills, be it to build something, teach something or serve something, and they've decided to maximize their gain from those skills by banding together and negotiating with those who employ them.

Conservatives typically argue that the wealthy are virtuous, because they are able to find advantages in the market that play to their favor. They often argue in favor of huge bonuses that are frequently untied to any accomplishments for people who run companies, because that's what the free market has designated as their worth. That's exactly what unions are all about. They find an advantage in their market that plays to their favor, and attempt to maximize their benefit.

2. They fight inequality.

Now, whether you like the result or not of those negotiations, as an outside observer, is irrelevent to capitalism. What matters is that a worker should earn his or her leverage and then play it in the market for their advantage. Busting unions is an affirmative action to keep the masses of middle class workers from exploiting the advantages of capitalism, while further enabling the wealthy to benefit. Which brings me to my next point.

Inequality is not inherently bad, but there is an inequality epidemic in this country. We are at a historic point of inequality where, primarily though tax policy, the wealthy retain more and more of their wealth leaving the rest of pie in smaller and smaller slices to be divided up amongst a growing population of middle- and lower-class folks.

Unions were an effective check on this trend for large swaths of society, but they've been systematically busted in about half the country's states in various ways, leaving employees only able to negotiate in small packs or individually -- which, as if I need to tell you, is almost always a negatory position. Busting unions hurts the middle class, and further entrenches more wealth at the top.

3. They are the lone agency for middle class workers.

And that's my next point, really. Even if you dislike unions, you can agree with me on two things:

(a.) The wealthier you are, the better represented you are in terms of lobbying and interest groups. There are any number of interest groups that fight specifically on the behalf of people who have more resources, run businesses, are wealthy. The poor have always been underrepresented, there is no Big Poverty influencing the actions of Washington, DC, or any statehouse for that matter.

If there were ever a Big Middle Class, however, it's unions. That's Point (b.).

(b.) There is no more effective organization specifically geared at representing the interests of middle and lower class workers than unions. Which of course is the real reason why employers, who otherwise would face only nominal opposition in their ability to raise money and influence politics, despise them so much.

Unions are incredibly effective at raising funds and turning out political participation among their members. If they were to be wiped from existence -- what existing organization could possibly take their place?

America is America because of middle class workers. Broader than that: a healthy middle class is critical to any society's ability to thrive. Take unions away, or at least largely defang them, and you risk a political system with hardly any serious support for the most important element of society.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:36 PM   #61
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Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
It's the problem of people the unions represent.

If that's not you, hooray. But I'm guessing you have quite a few political stances that don't deal with you directly.
And it's not the problem of the other 88% of the country.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:36 PM   #62
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Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
1. Good.

2. By all means, name another organization more effective at fighting for middle class workers.
Every business that invests in training workers to better themselves, that invests in engagement studies to make sure everyone is well motivated, that offers competitive benefits packages and offers career development planning, that provides bonuses/promotions for good performance, and that invests in morale boosting events to create goodwill... and there are many of these businesses... are fighting for middle class workers.

They don't need unions. If they treat their employees like shit, the employee will leave for a company that won't. It's that simple.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:40 PM   #63
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Originally Posted by chiefzilla1501 View Post
To your latter points... do unions fight inequality? Yes. They serve an important element in today's society. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and we don't want to go back to the days where corporate barons were stripping workers of their basic rights.

Here's where you're wrong. Private sectors have functioned fine without unions. You are overstating the problem. Every corporation I have worked for offers a great benefits package and it's more difficult to get fired than you think because of all the paperwork/procedures. Most importantly, most corporations know that the cost to hire a new worker is a shitload more expensive than the cost to keep one. So most companies invest in people, whether that's training, morale events, engagement studies, etc.... The problem in the private sector isn't about the middle class or poor being unhappy, it's that there aren't enough jobs. Arguably, that means the same people are being bogged down with more work, but what I've found is that in most cases, the motivated ones are the ones who pick up that work while the less motivated ones clock in/clock out as if nothing has changed. Which is fine, because the motivated ones are the ones who get rewarded with promotions and bonuses.

Your first point couldn't be more wrong. I don't know how you could possibly make the argument that unions promote harder work and innovation. I would never work for the public sector. I am a hard worker and don't want to hear people bitch about me working beyond a 40 hour work week. Sorry. If I need to work 60-80 hour work weeks, I will. Also, I worked for a brief period in the public sector and consulted with their employees. They are unbelievably unmotivated because there's no career advancement and no reward for good work. Why? Because the unions fight for shitty workers to get disproportionate raises (and useless workers to get paid for doing nothing), which means there's less bonus money for the good ones. Because there's no advancement because are a bunch of shitty workers who are levels above you simply because they have tenure. In the private sector, when I work hard, I'm rewarded with promotions and bonuses. Those are both linked to my performance, which is measured quarterly and yearly ad nauseum. I have a career track where I can move around the company. Just because 1% of executives have compensation that's not always well aligned with performance doesn't mean that the other 99% aren't. And talk to any teacher and ask them how they feel innovation. HOw in the world can you innovate when you get yelled at if you go off a specifically designed curriculum designed by the union?
As usual, a thought-provoking and well considered post, zilla. Rep.

I'm glad you've worked for a good number of great companies, but they're great for a reason... I hardly need to tell you there are a ton of companies that treat their employees like shit, and as you've admitted, unions are effective way to mitigate that to a degree. Coal companies are like the #1 example of this.

Your last paragraph is dead on, as usual. But these are problems that can ostensibly be reformed without having to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I'm not arguing that unions are infallible. I'm arguing that they're vital and need to be preserved and reformed.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:41 PM   #64
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And it's not the problem of the other 88% of the country.
And at what threshold would you recommend we start caring?
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:42 PM   #65
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One more note on the subject. I don't like the American union system in that it's adversarial. To the worst degree. They don't fight for employees, they fight against the hiring entities. Often times, they are unreasonable about how much employees should get at the expense of the hiring entity.

Germany is different. They have a collaborative system where the two parties find middle ground. Companies want to work with unions to keep their employees happy, while unions want the companies they negotiate against to succeed so they never negotiate without trying to better the company they are negotiating against.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:44 PM   #66
Direckshun Direckshun is offline
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Originally Posted by chiefzilla1501 View Post
Every business that invests in training workers to better themselves, that invests in engagement studies to make sure everyone is well motivated, that offers competitive benefits packages and offers career development planning, that provides bonuses/promotions for good performance, and that invests in morale boosting events to create goodwill... and there are many of these businesses... are fighting for middle class workers.

They don't need unions. If they treat their employees like shit, the employee will leave for a company that won't. It's that simple.
Nope. It's not that simple.

Not in an unemployment crisis like we've been experiencing. Not when you're less educated. Not during an era where the ability to physically relocate is dropping like a rock.

Employees have leverage, but the vast majority of it is with the employer. That doesn't change with unions, but it does level the playing field more.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:44 PM   #67
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Originally Posted by chiefzilla1501 View Post
One more note on the subject. I don't like the American union system in that it's adversarial. To the worst degree. They don't fight for employees, they fight against the hiring entities. Often times, they are unreasonable about how much employees should get at the expense of the hiring entity.

Germany is different. They have a collaborative system where the two parties find middle ground. Companies want to work with unions to keep their employees happy, while unions want the companies they negotiate against to succeed so they never negotiate without trying to better the company they are negotiating against.
Agreed.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:47 PM   #68
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And at what threshold would you recommend we start caring?
Caring? Whenever you please. Forcing people to pay into a union as a prerequisite for employment? Ideally, never. At worst, 50%+.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:48 PM   #69
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Are you aware of how the free rider problem is a legit back breaker for unions?
It isn't a legitimate back breaker for unions if employees see the union is giving them value.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:48 PM   #70
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Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
Nope. It's not that simple.

Not in an unemployment crisis like we've been experiencing. Not when you're less educated. Not during an era where the ability to physically relocate is dropping like a rock.

Employees have leverage, but the vast majority of it is with the employer. That doesn't change with unions, but it does level the playing field more.
But it is as simple as unions are the only organizations fighting for middle class workers?

Unions don't care about the middle class, they care about getting as much from a company as they can, even if it means driving the company out of business entirely.

I agree with chiefzilla's post about how unions are too adversarial. They see the company as the enemy, instead of a partner. That may have been the case 100 years ago, but in today's business climate, unions need to understand that without the company, there are no wages and benefits to be given to their members.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:50 PM   #71
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It isn't a legitimate back breaker for unions if employees see the union is giving them value.
Yes, if the unions cared more about conducting themselves in a manner that would get employees to WANT to join their ranks, as opposed to forcing them (which is completely anti-American as it gets), then maybe the unions would be in better shape than they are at the moment.
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Old 12-13-2012, 04:54 PM   #72
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Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
1. Good.

2. By all means, name another organization more effective at fighting for middle class workers.
A fair market
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:05 PM   #73
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Caring? Whenever you please.
Welcome to my thread.
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:08 PM   #74
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This post is a bit out to sea, but I'll make a point that will be somewhere in the ballpark of where you thought this post was:

Unions do promote some faulty dynamics in places -- the seniority-based preference rather than talent-based preference is a big problem with our education industry, for instance.

But that can be reformed. You don't need to bust unions like pinatas to fix that problem.
1 defense of seniority and I'm not a huge fan of it also is it limits office politics.
Why should someone be let go just to make room for a son or daughter or a family friend.
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:09 PM   #75
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Originally Posted by mlyonsd View Post
It isn't a legitimate back breaker for unions if employees see the union is giving them value.
So you do not understand why it is widely believed that "right to work" laws are detrimental to the effectiveness of unions?
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