# Are unions still necessary?

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CRGreathouse
Homework Helper

First, let me say that when I wrote that "I don't understand 'necessary'", I meant it. I still don't. What is meant by that? I can't agree that unions (banks, roads, food) are necessary until I know what is meant. That's not a dig against (or a support of) unions, just a question for the original poster.

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.
What do you mean when you say "fair wages"? Fair compared to what similar workers got elsewhere (what I call "market wages")? Fair compared to the year's profits (below market wages in a bad year for that sector, above market wages for a good year)? Fair compared to the cost of living, without regard to the amount of work performed? Fair compared to historical wages at the same company? Fair compared to what people at the same company are making (not doubling the pay of the foremen while taking it out of the line workers' wages)?

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.
But neither unions nor companies can keep their side of the bargain. Workers can decide to not work despite a union's agreement (forming a new union, work slowdowns/stoppages/sit-ins, or simply leaving for other jobs). Companies can have governments void contracts or can go into bankruptcy proceedings to do the same. And government regulations can change the cost per worker (mostly up, but sometimes down) without allowing the company (or in those rare cases, the union) to renegotiate. Say a union and company agree to a five-year contract with $18/hour wages alongside a particular benefits package, then the government removes an expensive safety requirement that was costing the company$3/hour/worker. The union doesn't get to negotiate (until 5 years later) to get either the same safety features (even though they're no longer required), or some amount of the savings in wages -- unfair to the workers.

The guys at the top of the corporate ladder are never wrong ... see any patterns?
Who is saying that? I've never heard those words ("The guys at the top of the corporate ladder are never wrong"), or anything to their effect, from any person except mockingly. That's a strawman.

Alfi

First, let me say that when I wrote that "I don't understand 'necessary'", I meant it. I still don't. What is meant by that? I can't agree that unions (banks, roads, food) are necessary until I know what is meant. That's not a dig against (or a support of) unions, just a question for the original poster.
I am the original poster and the question came about from a conversion about unions by my wife and I.
My original argument went along the lines that originally the unions formed to stop companies from using unsafe work practices. The unions then caused laws to be enacted to protect workers. ( no, I am not going to try to find which specific ones ) Therefore the unions have served there purpose and are no longer needed for the role of worker guardians.
My wife's position is that if the unions were to be phased out, companies will once again force conditions upon workers that are not safe or fair ( subject to a definition of fair as noted in the post above) . Unions are ( so it would seem from the talk about WallMart ) still required to protect the worker from the faceless corporations that would put profit above work conditions.

I choose 'necessary' as the word in the title to be the focal point of discussion.
I have read some convincing testimonials that it may be indeed detrimental to the general workforce if the laws and lawyers are the only buffer between workers and employers.

I have conceded to her that unions still have a value in today's society and she has conceded to me that some unions have outgrown their original purpose and have an excessive amount of power.

We did not expect the question to have a cut and dry yes or no answer and the variety of posted viewpoints has shown this, to us, to be true.

:)

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Alfi

Talking about the Unions blockading traffic into France, taking out animals from lorries and burning them as a union protest.
That sounds less like a 'union protest' and more like a bunch of criminals with no regard to other peoples property. And, depending on how the killing/burning was done ( I presume they were not burned alive ) , no regard to life.
If such actions were sanctioned by union leaders, I hope they paid large fines and were jailed for inciting criminal activities. This would be an example of a union that has over stepped it's purpose.
If this was not a union led action then it has nothing to do with unions and only to do with stupid people behaving like idiots.

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I am the original poster and the question came about from a conversion about unions by my wife and I.
My original argument went along the lines that originally the unions formed to stop companies from using unsafe work practices. The unions then caused laws to be enacted to protect workers. ( no, I am not going to try to find which specific ones ) Therefore the unions have served there purpose and are no longer needed for the role of worker guardians.
My wife's position is that if the unions were to be phased out, companies will once again force conditions upon workers that are not safe or fair ( subject to a definition of fair as noted in the post above) . Unions are ( so it would seem from the talk about WallMart ) still required to protect the worker from the faceless corporations that would put profit above work conditions.

I choose 'necessary' as the word in the title to be the focal point of discussion.
I have read some convincing testimonials that it may be indeed detrimental to the general workforce if the laws and lawyers are the only buffer between workers and employers.

I have conceded to her that unions still have a value in today's society and she has conceded to me that some unions have outgrown their original purpose and have an excessive amount of power.

We did not expect the question to have a cut and dry yes or no answer and the variety of posted viewpoints has shown this, to us, to be true.

:)
I'm semi-retired, and have never been a union member. I think that the ability of people to form unions and collectively bargain shouldn't be infringed upon by legislation ("phased out"?) or coercion of any sort. Otherwise, we would be taking a BIG step backward.

As has been mentioned, sometimes all that's needed is the mere threat of unionization.

Score this one for your wife.

That sounds less like a 'union protest' and more like a bunch of criminals with no regard to other peoples property. And, depending on how the killing/burning was done ( I presume they were not burned alive ) , no regard to life.
If such actions were sanctioned by union leaders, I hope they paid large fines and were jailed for inciting criminal activities. This would be an example of a union that has over stepped it's purpose.
If this was not a union led action then it has nothing to do with unions and only to do with stupid people behaving like idiots.

Oh it happened, don't worry about that, I don't know if it was officially sanctioned, probably only the blockades were. But in France the unions do have a great deal of power.

CRGreathouse
Homework Helper

My original argument went along the lines that originally the unions formed to stop companies from using unsafe work practices. The unions then caused laws to be enacted to protect workers. ( no, I am not going to try to find which specific ones ) Therefore the unions have served there purpose and are no longer needed for the role of worker guardians.
My wife's position is that if the unions were to be phased out, companies will once again force conditions upon workers that are not safe or fair ( subject to a definition of fair as noted in the post above) . Unions are ( so it would seem from the talk about WallMart ) still required to protect the worker from the faceless corporations that would put profit above work conditions.
Thanks for the clarification. In that case, I would say that unions are no longer necessary:* appropriately safe conditions should be ensured by a combination of laws already passed, wage competition, and the unusually high amount of worker capital.**

But as I pointed out in my first post on page 1, unions still increase the total payment to labor. So in the sense "do unions still benefit workers", I would say yes -- on the whole, unions are still good for workers. There are times that companies fail because of supracompetitive wage payments, but even then the loss to the company is greater than the loss to the workers.

* Here, I limit my answer to the United States. I don't know enough about the situation of labor in other countries, but I would suspect that even many advanced economies like South Korea may still require unions for your purpose.
** US workers make substantially more money per hour than workers elsewhere in the world. This is not because of any lost love between companies and workers, but because US workers are more productive. This productivity is called 'worker capital', and companies find worker capital is worth protecting (like any other asset). If labor had uniform human capital, then companies would value the protection of employees at zero (they'd be protected only as part of their compensation package, essentially).

CRGreathouse
Homework Helper

I'm semi-retired, and have never been a union member. I think that the ability of people to form unions and collectively bargain shouldn't be infringed upon by legislation ("phased out"?) or coercion of any sort. Otherwise, we would be taking a BIG step backward.
I'm confused. Is anyone talking about removing that power?

Alfi

Score this one for your wife.
lol - I'll tell her.

Some stories show me the unions are still required. Other stories show how some unions are step away from organized crime mobs.

Unions must use some restraint or find themselves being restrained.

Right now, somewhere, a teachers union is making life hell for a bunch of students.
Ontario's largest teachers' union has a strike fund of almost $100 million in hand if it decides to go to the picket line. a$100 Million of the members money!
How did you get 100 Million out of those low paid overworked teachers?
http://news.guelphmercury.com/News/article/427600

Collectively they ( unions ) may be needed, but individually they can be a right pain in the ...
economic recovery sympathy package.
Catholic, French and secondary school teachers have all settled contracts with the province that will see them get a salary increase of more than 12 per cent over four years.

The Ministry of Education is now offering public elementary teachers a four per cent increase over two years.
It's almost a children thing of 'but they got more' cry cry. I want more! I want MORE than they got because ..!.. ( insert contract offer here )
or I'll hold my breath till you die.

I will not concede to my wife completely.
Some unions are no longer necessary.

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I'm confused. Is anyone talking about removing that power?
I'm not sure what the OP meant by unions being "phased out", and didn't see how that could be done without some sort of prohibitive legislation or tacitly government-sanctioned coercion.

Alfi

What power?

Phased out.? hmmmm - as just an evolution of the union's functions.
I see an enhanced role of the dept of HR ( human resources) that many companies have.

Can unions be replaced by altering the HR function of some companies?

turbo
Gold Member

I'm confused. Is anyone talking about removing that power?
The right to form unions and bargain collectively is under assault everywhere in the US. The latest battleground is the check-card fiction, which was used by business PACs to attack Susan Collins' opponent in her Senatorial race last fall. About every 30 minutes or less, we would see a commercial in which a very large stern Italian gentleman would coerce an individual worker to vote for union representation, and we were told that workers would lose their right to use secret ballots in such voting. Republicans in Congress are still pushing that fiction. The option of using check-offs to opt for collective bargaining would be in addition to the option of using secret ballots, and it would make it more difficult for companies to harass and intimidate workers who might want to form a union.

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What power?

Phased out.? hmmmm - as just an evolution of the union's functions.
I see an enhanced role of the dept of HR ( human resources) that many companies have.

Can unions be replaced by altering the HR function of some companies?
The problem with our economy isn't that workers have too much power, it's that they have too little power.

Abuses by workers or their union representatives are small compared to abuses by owners, executives and managers that diminishing any power that workers still have would entail.

A relatively few people benefit at the expense of the mass of consumers primarily because prices are allowed to arbitrarily rise without associated incremental increases in workers wages.

The best defense against this is unionization, or the real threat of it.

Or, you could freeze, or place severe limitations on increasing, prices.

The problem with our economy isn't that workers have too much power, it's that they have too little power.

Abuses by workers or their union representatives are small compared to abuses by owners, executives and managers that diminishing any power that workers still have would entail.

A relatively few people benefit at the expense of the mass of consumers primarily because prices are allowed to arbitrarily rise without associated incremental increases in workers wages.

The best defense against this is unionization, or the real threat of it.

Or, you could freeze, or place severe limitations on increasing, prices.
While I agree that executive compensation is way out of whack compared to any value they bring to that organization, I don't think socialization is the way to address that, and it sounds like that's what you're hinting at. I think a system that rewards hard work and punishes laziness is a just system. Guaranteeing wages to those who don't really earn it means someone else has to compensate by doing 2 or 3 times the work because in a balanced system, the slack must be taken up by someone. For every union worker there are 5 non union workers pulling double and triple shifts to keep thier jobs. And what happens when everyone jumps on the same band wagon and there's no one left to pick up the slack? The big 3 tumble because they can't afford to sustain white collar wages for blue collar workers indefinitely or through economic valleys.

IMHO, there needs to be a balance between sweat shops and cake walks. $30/hour is the true hourly wage give or take, that a seasoned union auto worker brings home, with lots of perks. That's$62K/year, PLUS they get generous overtime, so 6 figures is not uncommon-they make as much as doctors and lawyers-for what amounts to putting one specific section of a car together day in and out without variation. How many with Bachelors degrees make less? How many with Masters? Unions overvalue workers and are one of the main reasons US automakers can't remain competetive (I know, old news). While the concept of a union is good, there need to be checks for the unions that tie compensation and job security more directly to company performance.

Of course arrogant automakers trying to push SUVs down everyone's throats even after gas spiked and people stopped buying them didn't help either. They were the architects of thier own demise. I guess you CAN'T always tell the people what they should want, eh Mr. Ford?:tongue:

Just my thoughts..

turbo
Gold Member

IMHO, there needs to be a balance between sweat shops and cake walks. $30/hour is the true hourly wage give or take, that a seasoned union auto worker brings home, with lots of perks. That's$62K/year, PLUS they get generous overtime, so 6 figures is not uncommon-they make as much as doctors and lawyers-for what amounts to putting one specific section of a car together day in and out without variation. How many with Bachelors degrees make less? How many with Masters? Unions overvalue workers and are one of the main reasons US automakers can't remain competetive (I know, old news). While the concept of a union is good, there need to be checks for the unions that tie compensation and job security more directly to company performance.
There are already checks in place that tie union compensation to performance. Companies that cannot compete, fail and they cannot pay their workers. That is not a short-term surgical hit, but a real, predictable, long-term consequence.

American workers are very productive, and have been for many years. Collective bargaining has not brought the American auto industry to where it is today (lots of inefficient, expensive vehicles loaded with unnecessary goodies that are hard to sell in a bad economy). The workers only build what their management tells them to build. Bad production choices are made and promulgated very high up in these companies by people who are decidedly non-union. After their plans fail, the blame always gets assigned to the "greedy unions". Guess what? Every time a labor contract is signed, the union representatives sign off on it, AND the company signs off on it. The company thought that the contract was a good deal or they would not have signed up. Then, when things turn down a bit, they howl to the public and to the stock-holders about the evil unions.

Staff Emeritus
2019 Award

The company thought that the contract was a good deal or they would not have signed up.
All that means is that the company thought the contract was better than the alternatives - such as a strike.

I'm not saying that unions are to blame for the current state of the auto industry. In fact they are just one catalyst among many, and the blame ultimately falls on the overconfident auto executives who did not react fast enough, if at all, to changing consumer needs. If they had refreshed their lines a decade ago to be more fuel efficient, cost effective, and dependable they could have remained competative even in this economy, and we might be having a different conversation. I think auto execs realize that when a strike costs them millions of dollars per day, and times are good, it's cheaper to pay off the blackmailers then to stick to thier guns.

As for unions, you can't blame the tiger for eating the meat when it's placed in front of him. But maybe the tiger should at least have to put up a fight to get his reward. It shouldn't take a recession to bring a factor worker's compensation in line with other non union factory jobs. Globalization and this recession means the end of 6 figure blue collar jobs, which is probably for the best. Overcompensation isn't just for executives.