Friday, April 23, 2010

A second thought about Unions

To the chagrin of some of my more liberal friends, I have become very anti-union over the years. As a young demonstrator, I was very and unequivocally pro-union and anti-corporate. Now, I'm anti-both to some degree. In both I see elements that are corrupt and greedy, and tribalistic in their protectionism.
As for unions, a few experiences and some cursory research put me on this bender:
  • My mom was almost fired by her union for changing a light bulb (which was another union person's job)
  • Friends who are managers have been sued and incredibly inconvenienced trying to get rid of poor-performing union employees, and
  • Finally, I believe in a strict meritocracy in the workplace, so a person should be protected largely by their own competency. Unions, or so the saying goes, largely protect the lowest common denominator, people who would be fired if it wasn't for their union backing.
Yesterday, I went to bocce with my friend Michelle, whose parents used to be active in unions. We had a chat about unions, and I gave her my pitch, adding, "Why the hell should auto workers make $120 an hour?"
Her response: Why not?
She then proceeded to give me the living wage argument, about how jobs with benefits are so hard to find, and that as long as a company can pay someone well they should. That was an interesting take.
Regarding when my mom got in trouble for doing custodial work, her argument was: If they let my mom do this seemingly minor task that "belongs" to someone else, she and other people might do it all the time because they could do it faster than the custodian. Then, that person would lose their job. Or, if a company had full ability to hire or fire anyone, they would eliminate everyone they could and overload all the employees with these tasks. It would devolve into a sweatshop, and people would then have to fight for fairer working conditions. So it's better to fight for the less-efficient union scenario than the unprotected workers slaving themselves model.
It's meritocracy vs. good jobs. I'm not sure I agree, but it's certainly a different viewpoint.


shesthesheriff said...

Its not really a black and white issue. First of all-can we please put to bed this 70-120 per hour for auto workers statistic? Its been shown to be bogus as it includes money that doesn't go to the actual worker. Fuzzy math as they say concocted by people unsympathetic to bailed out auto companies.

You have entrenched unions like teachers police and auto workers that are no doubt corrupt as hell. But there are also unions of service workers/immigrants etc. who's membership is truly underrepresented/underpaid and badly in need of a strong union. These were the unions that we saw at protests, not so much the teachers/firemen union.

So being anti union, I think you gotta qualify that statement (if thats what you're stating) by separating them into categories.

Jonathan Rubin said...

Well said.

Michelle said...

That's pretty close to what I said :) And my dad still works for a union. Union wages are what put food on table when I was young and helped me through college, etc.

Unions help protect workers and raise wages and benefits for all. You can thank unions for the 8 hour work day, 40 hour work week, minimum wage, and the list goes on. You wouldn't have the benefits you do today without them.