29 March 2011

In My Own Words: Why Unions Matter

Bit of history: I am not your typical leftist-liberal big-union person. In fact, I have issues with a lot of union activities, mostly with union leadership and the ridiculous amount of (perceived and/or real) corruption at the top. Union leadership has, from my admittedly comfortable seats always been the most negative aspect of the modern labor movement. However, corruption hardly requires a union card to happen, as you need only search your local paper to find.

Despite this early resistance to organized labor, I always respected the right of people to unionize and collectively bargin. I don't have to agree with them, I don't even have to support them, but it's a right earned over many battles with business and government. When measured against the negative, the good done by unions always outweighed the bad. Hell, even Ronald Reagan said "... where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." (He also said "Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives," a point apparently lost on the Governors of a few states.)

I got into a twitter argument with a family member today and one his comments struck me. He said (paraphrasing) they [unions] did not care about the company, only their paychecks. And it struck me that that point was exactly where I turned on the issues currently moving through the political sausage machine in this state right now.

It's not that they care only about their paychecks, but they do care more about their pay than the company does, that's their point in existing. But the unspoken aspect of that statement was there as well, that somehow businesses didn't operate this way. Somehow, businesses are operating in some interest of their employees. Which is a complete and utter lie, sold to workers by cheerful HR folks and corporate propagandists. Businesses don't care about employees,they care about their bottom lines; they have to. When the finances get tough, employees are the ones made to suffer (and not executives either, it's you and me, brother). I've been through the layoff cycle (three rounds in less than 6 months). Hundreds of employees tossed out on the street because the bottom line needed to be firm.

And union workers took the first hit. Factory workers laid off, lines closed down, the whole thing. And management was terrified. Why? Because the union started grumbling. They never said it, never threatened it, but the word "strike" was always just off to the side of conversations. The next two rounds were white-collar only. And not one management type batted an eye.

Why? Because office workers can't do the one thing that probably saved more factory jobs. We can't organize. We can't protest. We can't. Say. Shit.

This cycle is happening again in Michigan. Public employees make too much (except they don't). The Tough Nerd is going to save the state, though. And how is he going to do that? By cutting taxes on businesses, and making the rest of us cover the difference. By giving dictatorial powers to financial managers (who, conveniently can dissolve unions and entire governments if they see fit). Take note, patriots: a governmental body just gave a non-elected position the right and ability to dissolve local governments.

This will become the reverberating refrain for our generation, politicians in the pocket of big business leaving working people holding the bag. It's the kind of behavior organized people can work to prevent. I may not have agreed or supported unions in the past, but I do today.

4 comments:

  1. I will still say they still do not care about the companies after being a union member. And yes there are money managers that could care less about the number of employees also. Yes it goes both ways. At the average pay of $28 a hour, plus free full benefits, a full retirement plan and free healthcare for life. Still sounds steep to me. Knock them down to our level and i will support them.

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  2. Where are you getting that $28/hr metric? Plus free full benefits? I haven't met a single person getting free benefits ever. Ever. No one gets free health care for life; ask your aunt and uncle about that.

    The big lie is that they're miles above everyone else. They're not; they're the ones bringing change to the non-unions. You can not like the people in the union, but you have to divorce yourself from the emotion of the icky, jackass-ery of a meeting and see the big picture.

    As someone who got kicked to the curb when the company needed to shore up the bottom line, you should be more open to protecting workers' rights. Just sayin'.

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  3. I am not pulling it from my one meeting. I worked with the UAW for about 7 years 2 plants at Delphi. I was written up for a screw driver on my desk.... I was stealing their job with that on my desk. I caught people sleeping many times over at their machines (running may i say) and also sleeping in corners with boxes around them to hide them. Also met the man that had a vending company in the Delphi plant and was also getting his regular pay. We could complain but we could not touch them because of the union. Not enough grievances in x amount of time. Did you know if you were taller than another person you should do more work than a short person? Ask the union they have courts fights over that and have won. Here is one link of many on wages. Even has comments from your point of view. Enjoy ;-)

    http://progressillinois.com/2008/11/25/kirk-repeats-gm-claim

    http://www.ehow.com/facts_6878244_average-gm-union-salary.html

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  4. That's the average for GM workers, not a union member in general.

    We could cite instances of abuse both union and non-union for days. (The guy in my office who slept 2 hours a day in his cube every single day comes to mind.) The fact is, belonging to a union doesn't make you anymore likely to abuse a system. The fact that unions have a guaranteed base salary is proof of their effectiveness. I'm sure you'd be upset if someone doing the same job you do got paid 20% more for no reason. Structured salaries help mitigate that from happening. I'm not saying they prevent it, but it does make it harder to institute unbalanced salary scales.

    If this is just about someone making more than you, however, then we're not having the same discussion. Workers unions exist to benefit the members. If they have higher pay, that is evidence that the union is working.

    That isn't to say unions are without issues, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Supporting the right of workers to unionize is different than blindly supporting everything they want or try to do. But reforming unions is different than whole-sale wiping them out, and that's where I have a problem.

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