Saturday, March 21, 2015
At the orientation, you go over the various procedures like safety issues, clocking in and out. Then comes the shocker. You're told that you are required to join a union in order to work there, but you're not interested in joining a union. You're told that the plant is a "closed shop", meaning that in order to secure employment there, you have to join the union. You tell her you're not interested in a union; you just want to work on the car or truck assembly line. At that point, a union representative is brought in to talk with you.
You politely listen as she explains that the union has been in place since the 1950's; that the union would protect your job in case something should happen; that they would provide you with a shop steward in the event of performance issues or any hearings; the union would negotiate on your behalf---collectively---pay raises, health and other benefits, your hours, and job safety issues. All you need do is sign the union card and agree to have the union dues automatically deducted from your salary. Easy peasy.
After the union representative finishes speaking, you politely explain that you don't have any interest in joining a union. You are aware of your responsibilities, and as an adult, take full responsibility for your actions. Furthermore, you are quite capable of speaking for your self should you get into any trouble. The representative explains that without their steward, you could run the risk of being taken advantage of (implying that you couldn't trust the company).
The union representative reminds you that unions have been at the forefront of child labor laws, women's suffrage, job safety, voter
At this point that the union representative is getting agitated. She adds that the union also has a political education committee which would act on your behalf by endorsing candidates and making political contributions. Where does that money came from you ask, and she says that it is automatically deducted from your paycheck. Ok then, who selects which candidate or issues your money gets directed to? As it turns out, it isn't you. The committee would make that decision for you. What about the candidates they endorse, do you get a say? Not directly, but you do get a vote. However, the final decision is made by the committee. In some cases, only the political election committe makes the decision and in others, only the union president decides. But, you explain, you aren't partial to either of the two parties, but who were some of the candidates they endorsed in the past?
As it turns out, all were of a specific political party, and few if any of them, support the same issues as you. Accordingly, you point out that it made more sense if you donated to whom you wanted rather than have a portion of your salary going to individuals you didn't agree with. Besides, it didn't make any sense to dig deeper into your pocket to donate to those candidates you agree with; it was like you were working against yourself.
After a few polite closing remarks, you're informed that either you sign the union card or don't get the job. At that point she leaves. Funny, you think, wasn't that the company's decision to make? You could see her speaking with the HR manager outside the door. A few minutes later, the HR manager enters and asks if you have any questions, otherwise you were free to leave. You told you can start as soon as you turn in the signed union card. You mention that you did have a couple of questions.
Closed shops came about during the heyday of union membership---the late 1940's and early 1950's. Within the past few decades, many companies have sought to circumvent closed shops by moving the company to either states which had "right-to-work" laws, meaning that individuals can't be compelled to join unions, or the plants were closed and work shipped off to countries where workers are paid sweat shop wages with no benefits and they had little or no rights whatsoever.
So there you have it folks. Although the story was entirely fictional, the situation is real. Is it better to join the union, where the jobs of everyone is more or less protected, or take a chance? Some can certainly fight back or negotiate their own pay, but many can't. In some cases the costs of wages, benefits, and protecting unproductive workers have proven to be too much and companies have closed or moved. Unions essentially negotiated themselves out of a job. Many companies have retirement or 401k programs. Much of what unions championed down through the years are now laws, with workers having recourse through OSHEA (including its "Whistleblower Program"), the Labor Department's Wage and Hour division, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC), plus various State and local agencies.
On the political side, instead of looking for themselves, unions have been in bed with one political party since the 1930's instead of playing each party off each other. Also, instead of supporting the best candidate for the rank and file, they nearly automatically endorse just the one party's candidate even if that particular individual doesn't even support unions! And let's not forget that in many cases, the member doesn't even have any say so where their money goes, which is often on issues or individuals they completely disagree with, meaning they have to dig deeper in their pockets to support the cause or candidate they want, and heaven help them if they actively support then non-union endorsed candidate or even put out their yard sign! Currently, some unions are pushing for amnesty for illegal immigrants since many are employed in mow skill and mostly unionized jobs. Amnesty would open the door for them to join the unions, and thus add desperately needed dues to the union's coffers. However, the influx would create more demand for jobs than there are available jobs, thus driving down wages and benefits while driving up unemployment.
What do you think? As corporations have become more feudalistic and some, like banks and oil companies, have essentially taken over governments like ours, have unions become passé? Have they outlasted their usefulness? Certainly big business would like for to think so. Unions have traditionally balanced the scale of power. Of course, unions aren't perfect. Some became corrupt through their Mafia involvement while for others, it became hard to distinguish union management from corporate management, especially when looking at their salaries! Unions have been at the apex in many social issues that we now take for granted. They were responsible for a vibrant middle class and growing economy, and as unions have declined, so as the middle class and so has America overall; so much that we face the largest disparity in income since just before the Great Depression, but then this isn't 1929 and the American economy is no longer the largest or strongest.
There are of course alternatives to unions, such as worker owned companies (co-ops), employee associations, employee-managements boards where employees and management elected representatives to a special board on a rotating membership basis which deals with employee related issues such as work conditions, complaints, and worker innovations. In addition, there's been a trend in business to create a more horizontal hierarchy and empowering employees, not to mention occasional outings, ongoing surveys, and workshops. I served as an employee liaison with management at several companies where I worked, including in an Assistant Vice President role working on projects to improve morale, productivity, and efficiency; a happy workplace is a productive workplace, at least that was the idea.
So, what do you think dear reader? Do you have an unobstructed "right to work" or is their strength in numbers? In which direction does the future look brightest for ordinary individuals amid the global marketplace and increasing competition for fewer jobs, Citizens United and the demise of our democratic republic, the 1% oligarchy versus a declining middle class and the widening income disparity?