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Are unions still necessary?

  1. Jan 6, 2009 #1
    Are "unions" still necessary?

    My wife and I started a discussion and it rapidly became a heated debate.( read as 'fight' :) )
    We have opposing views. To say the least.

    So I ask the members here. What do you think?

    Are labour unions still necessary to protect the labour force?

    My position is that there are enough laws and reporting methoods of 'bad or unsafe' conditions, or unfair practices, to make the original purpose of the forming of unions superfluous. They succeeded. Now they can be reduced to an intermediary in the role of worker/Management relations.

    I agreed that a 'collective bargaining agreement' saves individuals from asking for a raise but the laws that the unions forced to be enacted ( child labour laws etc. ) have made the power of the unions to strike for 'other' desired benefits is no longer a reason to support the unions as they have evolved into.

    In short. I think the unions have too much power in the say of how companies are run.
     
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  3. Jan 6, 2009 #2

    russ_watters

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I agree with your position and argument.
     
  4. Jan 6, 2009 #3

    Evo

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    Unions can be done away with altogether.
     
  5. Jan 6, 2009 #4

    turbo

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    When I was the lead paper machine operator on the world's newest high-speed free-sheet paper machine, I was a shop steward, and helped to negotiate our contract. Some other people in the area said things like "you guys can make $14/hour - that's way too much!"

    They didn't know that
    - 3 absences for any reason in 3 months= warning
    - 3 more absences in the next 9 months = termination (with forced time off without pay in two different stages)
    - the company could force any employee to work unscheduled overtime, up to and including 24-hour shifts (and I had to do that)
    - the company could force you to come in and work extended shifts on your days off in the event of an unexpected shutdown of the paper machine
    - the company could (and did) neglect its contractual commitment to train employees to "move up" along the line and cover vacancies of more highly-trained crew members.
    - the company could (and did) require workers in the higher echelons of the crews to work extended shifts (our standard was 3-on, 3-off rotating 12 hour shifts) whenever there was a shortage of trained and qualified workers to move up the line of progression and fill such vacancies. As a result, during the summer, when people wanted to take a little vacation time, I worked a minimum of 12 hours every shift, and my only days off (apart from my own vacation days) were perhaps a day a week when I was required to switch from 6:00am - 6:00pm to 6:00pm-6:00am.

    The contract that resulted in these conditions was regarded as one of the more progressive in the paper industry in Maine of the 1980's-1990's. If you think that unions are no longer necessary, I invite you to consider what your life would be like (personal and home life) under such work conditions. Factor in that the pulp and paper industry is one of the most dangerous and physically demanding, and that exhaustion and lack of time for rest and recuperation contribute to higher accident rates.

    I put in my 10 years, absorbed as much specialized knowledge, etc, as possible, and as soon as I was vested in the retirement program, I resigned. I worked for quite a number of years as a private consultant to that industry. I have co-workers from those years that I see from time to time. They look old and broken. I have a neighbor who still works there. He is 48. I am 56. My other neighbors can't believe that I'm older than him.

    Edit: In the first couple of points, I should have pointed out that "absences" included unexplained lateness for shift change. If you had an understanding replacement who would cover for you and accept your extra coverage to offset the lateness, you were all set. If you punched in 15 minutes late, that was a black mark against you, unless you had a real understanding boss or could prove that you were late through no fault of your own (log-truck across the road), downed power-lines, etc. Obviously, a shift-long absence with no phone call would result in an immediate trip to the office and an immediate warning.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2009
  6. Jan 6, 2009 #5
    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    As My wife said to that : Too simplistic.
    She argues, All that would do is let the companies run us back to the 'slave labour' days.
    Take it or leave . There's lots of cheap foreign/immigrant labour to be had.

    I find that a difficult argument to counter.
     
  7. Jan 6, 2009 #6

    Danger

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I've never had any use for unions, although I can see why they might have been necessary in the beginning to fight the 'sweat-shop' and 'company store' situations.
    It seems to me that when I was living back east the UAW in Detroit would go on strike, sign a 3-year contract, then go on strike again 2 years later. I think that any pay increase that they got went directly to higher union dues for the next period.
     
  8. Jan 6, 2009 #7

    Evo

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    Most successful companies are non-union. In a lot of companies that have unions, the non-union workers are sometimes paid better, have better benefits and are much more productiive than the union workers, which is why the companies are willing to pay non-union workers better. That can't be done in all companies that have unions, but it's true for some.

    I know for a fact, having been management over union employees, that union employees, for the most part, did as little work as they could get by with. When I would walk into a union section, people would be gathered in groups chatting, watching tv, reading magazines, on personal calls, painting their fingernails, you name it. I couldn't say a word. They cost the company a fortune in lost productivity.
     
  9. Jan 6, 2009 #8

    turbo

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    In the Scott Paper Co where I worked as a chemist, I was disgusted by the behavior of my non-union co-workers, especially when most of the female clerical staff took full advantage of their ability to claim a day's "sick-leave" every single month in addition to sick leave that was actually necessary. One nominal "chemist" complained to my boss because I had been promoted to a process chemist position in support of an important engineering project. Her reasons? She was a woman and had two kids, and she had a college degree and I didn't. Her degree was in Phys Ed. The little fact that I had out-performed all the other candidates for the position was secondary.

    When the mill announced that a paper mill would be built on the site, and later announced that there would be a strictly competitive training program to staff 50% of the jobs on the machine, I asked to be allowed into the program. The mill's HR department refused because it would "look bad" if a salaried professional joined the hourly production ranks. My boss (the Director of the Tech Dept. and a close friend) prevailed, and I was the last person to be admitted to the training program, and graduated with the highest scores and the best job-placement. Most of the union people that I worked with sacrificed, slaved, and out-performed the non-union people that I worked with in that mill.

    People may dismiss my experiences as apocryphal or say that my experiences were "special" somehow. I submit this for your consideration:

    -The head of the Technical Department was a VERY powerful person, as he should have been when a new pulp mill was being launched and shaken-down.

    -He hired me instead of a newly-degreed chemical engineer because during the interview process, we were interrupted by the chief environmental engineer, whom I later worked for, and I suggested a successful strategy for dealing with an extreme pH shift that he was facing due to an unscheduled pulp mill shut-down, and acid boil-out.

    -He championed my cause when I wanted to be allowed into the paper machine training program.

    -The paper mill production manager and I conferred frequently during the negotiation of the contract, over the strenuous objections of the company's senior management and negotiators.

    -The paper mill production manager and I spent many weekend days (all I could get off, anyway) running world-class white-water in northern Maine.

    -My closest cousin is married to the son of the Union's president, and he and I spent many, many hours hand-loading, tuning, and shooting target loads and hunting loads.

    -When I quit the mill (as a "union shop steward and advocate for worker's rights") the former director of the training department of my old mill recruited me to head up a new division for the world's 2nd largest industrial training company, when they decided that nuclear power-generation was in decline and they wanted to diversify into pulp and paper.

    I have worked in every portion of the false dichotomy of "worker vs company" spectrum that you can imagine and I have lasting professional and personal relationships from those times. Remember that every time a union contract is negotiated, the union rank-and-file would have wanted a better deal, and the company would have wanted a better deal.
     
  10. Jan 6, 2009 #9

    CRGreathouse

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I don't understand "necessary". Unions are the cartelization of labor; they increase the marginal cost of labor for companies toward the monopoly level, decreasing the quantity of labor demanded. If the union is able to capture the revenue itself (pay increase mostly goes to high union dues, with union leadership taking high pay/perks) the benefits accrue to union leadership and highly skilled nonunion labor; if the union is not able to capture the revenue (union dues much lower than the pay increase) the benefits accrue to union members and highly skilled nonunion labor. The costs are borne by consumers, companies, and most nonunion labor. Fewer products are produced and many fewer workers are employed.

    These things suggest that unions are likely to form, absent monopsony pressure from large companies or government regulation.
     
  11. Jan 6, 2009 #10

    turbo

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    Unions (in my particular case) were instrumental in "selling" some very restrictive work rules and onerous schedules to their members in return for delivering some fair wages, retirement benefits, etc. That might not seem "necessary", but it is surely advantageous for companies to know that they have a stable work-force that can help them deliver value to share-holders in the "long" (3-5 years in the stupid vernacular of US corporations) -term. If you think that your company is getting a really good deal when acquiring a particular resource, you will make a "long-term" agreement to guarantee that you will continue to get that same resource on the same terms for years, not quarters, not spot market prices. When companies guess right, all the guys at the top get rich. When they guess wrong, they blame the unions for "forcing" them to agree to onerous terms. The guys at the top of the corporate ladder are never wrong ... see any patterns?
     
  12. Jan 6, 2009 #11

    rcgldr

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    It's a balance of power between a corporation in control of a large number of jobs, and a union in control of a large number of employees. I don't have a problem with this.

    From what I recall, Texas is a "right to work" state. Participaion in a union is optional (legally, I'm not so sure about peer pressure), so at least in the case of Texas, the employees get to descide if they think unions are necessary.
     
  13. Jan 6, 2009 #12

    russ_watters

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I'd say they should stay - collective bargaining is a right - but there should be severe limitations on their power. Eh, maybe what I would envision wouldn't look much like unions look today.
     
  14. Jan 6, 2009 #13

    russ_watters

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    Just out of curiosity, did you get paid overtime?
     
  15. Jan 6, 2009 #14

    russ_watters

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I oppose monopolies of both kinds and right now labor monopolies are legal while coroporate monopolies are illegal.
     
  16. Jan 6, 2009 #15

    Danger

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    Turbo, old bean... you know how much I admire most of your opinions here... but none of the quoted passages have anything to do with the subject at hand. I can make the same claims (on a smaller scale) and have never been close to a union.
     
  17. Jan 6, 2009 #16

    G01

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I don't think this is a black and white issue, and I don't have enough experience to try to generalize and decide if unions should be omnipresent or abolished.

    I'd agree that people have a right to collective bargaining. In some situations unions may indeed be needed, such as in turbo-1's case. In other situations, unions may have too much power and hold progress back. Not everyone's experiences with this issue are the same. I think we all have to realize this and realize one union may help while another can hurt.
     
  18. Jan 6, 2009 #17

    turbo

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    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    The unions of the pre-Reagan era are the bogeymen of the far right. Reagan packed the National Labor Relations Board (the charter of which says that the purpose of the board is to promote labor/management relations) with radical anti-labor activists, and the trend has never been reversed. The adversarial relationships between labor and management need never have been such, but moneyed interests prevailed. In the 1980s, International Paper announced huge pay raises for its corporate heads, and told the workers at the Jay, Maine mill (who had agreed to having their wages frozen for 5 years years to help the company become more profitable) that not only would they not be getting any raises, but that their their pay would be cut to cover the costs of their benefits. The workers struck, the company brought in scabs from Alabama (sub-contractors of Halliburton that you would recognize) and broke the union through attrition. That move cost IP and its shareholders dearly, though in the very competitive international paper market these days, that mill might still have been under IP management and making money, had they offered a modest increase in wages to the employees.
     
  19. Jan 7, 2009 #18
    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I'm not so sure that a 'collective bargaining' is a right of any kind.

    I see it as a convenience for the company and the workers.
    Some people can get a bigger raise simply because they are better negotiators and that may not be fair to others that are better workers but lack verbal skills or haven't the guts to even ask for an increase in pay or perks.
    The usefulness of a collective bargaining unit is one of the reasons I can't see a total end to unions.

    In cases such as Fire and Police I would like to see an adoption of 'work to rule' as opposed to strikes. The unions don't seem to want to give up that ultimate power.
     
  20. Jan 7, 2009 #19
    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    Turbo: As a sincere question... Do you think that the union, due to perception of unions deserved or not, may have undermined the process of making law changes that could cover the issues that the union covers? and maybe more? If people perceive union workers as being protected and perhaps even preferentially treated are they as likely to support law and regulation changes to support them?
     
  21. Jan 7, 2009 #20
    Re: Are "unions" still necessary?

    I believe the nature of a profitable business or corporation is such that they will only spend the minimum amount of resources on their labour in order to maximize profits. That amounts to doing the bare minimum to comply with the law, and sometimes not even that (the fine for allowing a work place to be unsafe could be less then the cost of making it safe). The quality of life for the workers doesn't factor in at all.

    If you happen to have skills that are in high demand, a business will want to make you comfortable so you don't go anywhere, but other then that there is zero motivation to offer an employee good working conditions.

    Without organized labour, I don't think labour laws would be adequate protection for workers because without organized labour I expect big business would try to influence the government to loosen up those labour laws. I mean it is just the nature of the beast to try to cut costs where ever they can


    Look at china for example. Hardly any unions to speak of, fairly lax labour laws and Chinese business is extremely competitive, which is great for business but bad for everyone who has to inhale mercury at work.
     
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