On Unions.

This started out as a comment over at this John Edwards diary, in response to this comment by SPLib.

Edwards: "...ban the hiring of permanent replacement workers."

So, workers should have all the freedom to come and go as they please, but a business cannot choose who to hire and how long they work for them?

If you want to strike, you take the risk of being replaced.

Sure, most people think they are irreplacable at their jobs, but what if everyone KNEW they couldn't be replaced? That sure is a non-motivator for excellence and productivity. Sounds like France.

To understand my comment below, I think you really have to understand my history with unions. I was raised in a coal mining county, everyone mined coal and the sound of Triaxles slowing down with their Jake Break was a constant backdrop to my life, as they flew down our mainstreet about every 10 minutes all day and all night long. The boom was great, the pay was great, everyone had a new car and went on vacations and painted their houses, pools were built, cookouts were common, all the kids had new cleats and baseball gloves each summer. Then, Reagan was elected. Steel moved overseas and with it the need for coal. Soon, even the power plants stopped asking for coal, because they found it cheaper to buy it from China. But, a few die-hard coal companies still existed, and even one or two still exist today as a shadow of their former selves. A company that remained was the one my dad worked for, and one day the Unions came to town. They wanted the workers to hold a vote on whether to allow a union rep on the premises to talk with the workers. The owner called my Dad in, who had worked his way up from a bulldozer operator to be a higher-level foreman. He told him, "Bill, if they vote yes, I'm shuttin' her down. I've got my money, I've got money put away for the kids, and right now we're just breaking even. I can't afford a union."

Well, my dad went to the meeting, and this very shy man told the crowd what he had been told. They shouted him down, calling him a company man and people he had been friends with, been in a war with, worked with, drank with...they spewed venom at him. And, they voted to allow the rep on the premises.

When they got to work the next morning, the gates were locked
. Within a couple months the equipment was all sold off. From that day forward, Union was a no-no in our house. It was a word that after you said it, you spit on the floor kind of thing. I hated the unions.

And, I continued to hate them right up through graduate school, when I sat down and read The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath back to back. In college, I was supposed to read the Jungle, but when I heard it was a pro-union book I refused! Well, reading it as "an adult" made me realize that unions had a place in our world. Maybe they had lost some of their focus, looking for higher and higher wages and more vacation time, instead of worrying about every union member having a job. But, thanks to the policies of George Bush, they seem to be back on task, focusing on living wages, basic health care, and expanding the work force. The unions that are growing are the ones that focus on these issues, like SEIU.

That then, is the background to my comment below.

I thought this was crazy at first too, part of my internal struggle with unions. But, then I thoguth about a world where anyone can be fired at any time and replaced by someone else. Many of us work in that environment right now, and it isn't nice. In biotech, the theory is that you better have 6 months pay put away because at the drop of a hat your company could be bought and you end up on the curb. The thinking is that this is okay because you make enough to sock away a couple months pay, to use while you look for that next job.

Now, imagine you are one of the millions working at a car plant in Detroit, well maybe not millions anymore. You have been there for a year with good work, no sick days, nothing. You come in and ask for a raise and are promptly fired and replaced with the next guy in line who can do your job. He works for a year, asks for some time off when his baby is born, bang he's fired, on to the next guy.

Suddenly, it isn't enough that you show up to work every day, now they start asking if you can work an extra half hour each day. Then an hour. Finally, one day you say, look I've got a family...bang, fired, NEXT! Can't work Saturday's, BANG fired, NEXT!

Sounds unreasonable? Sounds unrealistic? Well, that is exactly what the working environment was like in many large corporations before the unions. Think of The Jungle, or The Grapes of Wrath if you have read them, if not read them for the first time. Or, read one of the many books out about current labor conditions, listen to the reports of how undocumented workers are treated in the chicken processing plants.

There was a time that we left business to their own means, we were a "Free Market" society, and look what happened. Monopolies, poor working conditions, child-labor factories. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire...

At 4:45 pm the bell rang signaling that the workday was done. The girls in the light brown and terra cotta Asch building, on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in lower Manhattan, had put in some overtime...As the girls were gathering their belongings and putting on their coats someone yelled "Fire!"

Down below on the street, people started to notice the smoke billowing from the 8th floor. One of the bystanders observed a bolt of cloth come flying out the window and hit the pavement...It was then that the realization hit them that it wasn't bolts of cloth at all but bodies plummeting to the pavement below...
The women raced to the east end stairway but by now it was an inferno. They stampeded back to the west side passenger elevators and stairway. The door was locked...Firemen would later say that they found 19 bodies melted against the locked door. 25 were found huddled in death in the cloakroom trying to escape the flames, some with their hands covering their faces in death...
Among other restrictions, all doors must now open outwards, no doors are to be locked during working hours, sprinkler systems must be installed if a company employs more than 25 people above the ground floor, and fire drills are mandatory for buildings lacking sprinkler systems.

Unions were formed to help workers fight these conditions, the workers went on strike and BANG they were fired. It is a tactic used to break the unions, which are there to protect the workers.

Are there some overzealous union demands? Sure. But, if you break the unions, then prepare for the days of "Free Markets" again, and hope that it isn't your granddaughter pounding on some locked door someday begging for her life.

Where are the candidates?

Comments

From the other thread.

There is an interesting debate about the role of unions, running the company versus maintaining basic rights. My position is that too many unions are doing the wrong things. For instance, a smart union would work hard to get Wal-Mart unionized, because it would increase wages and health care for those millions of workers, which would make the economy stronger.

Another for instance, why are they still focusing ONLY on the United States. Sooner or later, a Jimmy Hoffa is going to have to stand up in Mexico and make them raise their stands for truckers. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to stand up and do the same thing for the child labor that runs the Persian rug market (What, you didn't know that ALL Persian rugs are made by child labor, most of whom are kidnapped slaves?). By improving the working conditions in other countries, we make ourselves more competitive.

Where are the candidates?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Excellent points!

One thing that puts us at a competitive disadvantage is the fact that workers can be treated so badly in other countries. I have always thought trade agreements (NAFTA, CAFTA, et al) should address those issues seriously and realistically, but I never thought about unions being able to do the same thing. Great idea!

I do agree that unions can go overboard with demands, and I think that's one reason they have been in decline for such a long time. But hey, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater, all things in moderation, and other such cliches. The pendulum, in my opinion, has swung too far the other way, to the disadvantage of working people.

Leadership.

When my dad went throught his thing with the UMWA it was said that the leadership had NEVER worked in a mine (I never verified this, but it was a common talking point). I know that the Steel Workers union has elected a former steel worker as their President.

It is those kinds of moves that will put unions back in touch with their roots.

Where are the candidates?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Unions

I grew up in a union state. I thought unions had outlived their usefulness. 'Union' meant AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, George Meany, Jimmy Hoffa, and the world of kickbacks and corruption.

I no longer believe that.

Did bad things happen in the unions? Of course they did. No where - and I mean no where - when that kind of money is at stake will there not be people wanting to use it for their own gain.

However, unions developed to serve and protect the American worker. To protect them from unreasonable demands, to champion safety on the job, and to ensure basic human rights when people are on the job.

This is still their function and purpose. And as much as it hurts me to say it, they are still required. Corporate management will never invest in their most important asset - the American worker - without being required to do so.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

I know of what you speak

I was fired from a company for voting to allow a union in. Of course the NLRB and the union guy told me that was illegal, and I would be re-instated.

Yeah.

Never happened.

The asshole is still running the company the same way 12 years later.

It's a joke.

want to know

what 12 years of Reagan and Bush, 8 years of a pro-business Democrat and 6 years of Bush looks like?

Its that story. Disgusting.

Draft Brad Miller -- NC Sen ActBlue :::Petition

"Keep the Faith"

However, unions developed to

However, unions developed to serve and protect the American worker. To protect them from unreasonable demands, to champion safety on the job, and to ensure basic human rights when people are on the job.

If they stuck to this instead of extortion of every last dollar an employer has, I'd be fine with them.

I am an employer. If my employees unionized and asked for anything more than I already provide, I'd have to close the place down. I have a safe environment, provide health insurance, and pay around 50% more than my closest competition. There isn't any money floating around to pay anyone, including myself, any more. Call me a bad businessperson because I can't make more of a profit, but I give back all I can already.

If they unionized and didn't ask for anything more, they'd still lose. They'd take home less money once the union got its skim off the top.

what about

the companies that pay their workers $7 an hour with no benefits, where workers are hired and disciplined for no reason?

Draft Brad Miller -- NC Sen ActBlue :::Petition

"Keep the Faith"

I Understand Your Position

Are you an international corporation employing thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people?

Unions are not necessary for every single business out there.

Did NAFTA help you? Would CAFTA help you? A well run union can help employers, too.

Bargaining is a two way street. I think the unions screwed the autoworkers right out of their jobs. They probably don't see it that way but they should.

Good contracts protect both sides.

But, not all business(wo)men are as "good" as you.

Here is something to consider. Wal-Mart. We all know that they pay their workers lousy wages, they make them work odd hours, they send them home without pay, they lock them in the store overnight (sound familiar?), they give them medicaid signup sheets when they are hired. Why?

If Wal-Mart, with its quarter-trillion dollars in annual sales, is almost unimaginably massive, then the Waltons' great wealth is its equal in a parallel universe of private fortunes. The Walton family is as rich as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined. Amid all the talk about how rich Teresa Heinz Kerry is, consider that the Walton family is 117 times wealthier. The Waltons' $90 billion fortune is equivalent to the GDP of Singapore. It's bigger than IBM's annual revenues. The dividend stream from the family's holdings produces nearly $880 million annually. It's likely that only the Rockefellers—before John D. gave away much of his fortune—were wealthier. And that's after adjusting for inflation. In sheer dollar terms, the Waltons are far richer.

These are the people who let their employees children go without health care, who discriminated against fat employees because they cost more in health care.

Where are the candidates?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me