Trade Unions of America

Growing up I had a lot of the thoughts that young budding entrepreneurial types have:

  • Why isn’t everything just free? Oh, communism doesn’t work? Ok.
  • Why is “made in China” bad? Oh, now it isn’t?
  • Why do we have unions? …Well?

Unions did an amazing thing for workers across the world — they made common courtesy a standard in factories and business around the world.

Unions have done a lot of fucking good.

But the unions that exist in the United States today, aren’t doing much fucking good.

Hostess went out of business because of unions playing chicken (and losing). The United States Postal Service is hamstrung by union contracts of old that they were forced into for fear of the mail just, well, stopping.

Here’s a (generalized) primer on what unions do:

  • Protect worker rights from backlash, retaliation, poor working conditions, low wages, and so on.
  • Charge workers a fee for this service. Of course this sometimes benefits the worker, but not when the union causes them to be on mandatory strike and the backup funds run out, or when the union forces the company to just close down. Doubly sucks when you aren’t a member of the union, but are still forced to pay.

In a nut shell, that’s what unions do. They practice democracy (forced democracy?) in business by getting all the workers of one type together and saying: not a single one of us will work for you unless XY & Z are met.

I am of a couple opinions on unions:

  1. They are a relic of a system that no longer needs them. The Government is now successfully regulating worker safety and protections.
  2. Unions are making Americans uncompetitive in the global economy by back loading contracts with pensions that aren’t sustainable or viable. It’s not the up front labor costs that are killing companies — it’s the retirement that is.

So when I read this report from Monica Davey, my heart was warmed a bit:

The legislation here, which will go into effect next year, bans any requirement that most public and private sector employees at unionized workplaces be made to pay dues or other fees to unions. In the past, those who opted not to be union members were often required to pay fees to unions that bargained contracts for all employees at their workplace.

How this isn’t standard is beyond my comprehension of stupidity.

I’m not saying we abolish unions, but I think as a country we need to give thought to what a union, today, really means for workers. Unions as they currently exist are a relic and are hurting the U.S. economy — that doesn’t mean we do away with unions, but revamping them is needed.

Originally posted for members on: December 12, 2012
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