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Union Reform Long Overdue

October 6, 2011

Like it or not, we are currently living in a global economy where businesses will outsource labor at the drop of a hat. Gone too should be some of the attitudes that have afflicted union members for far too long.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I remember well my labor studies class and the lessons regarding the ultimate in corporate greed and down right inhumane treatment of employees. We should never expect to see a return to the days of child labor, businesses paying employees with company issued faux money usable only at company owned housing apartments and stores – giving way to a lifetime of indebtedness to the company as a form of legal slavery. Certainly it is deplorable for a company to fire a long time employee one week before reaching a magic number whereby the employee would gain substantial retirement benefits.

However, these are not the issues that employees face today. I’ve been around for a while. I know the score, both in terms of union and business mindedness. I think a union can serve its members well with regard to some of the subtle issues that face the employee class, however, a union should not be a way to support mediocrity and sluffing off. [Sit down union people, and don’t get your panties in a bunch. You know exactly what I’m talking about].

Twenty five years ago, when I was young and selecting a career, it was a well known fact that being in a union meant a certain degree of job security. I had several friends that worked in unions, and I had one job, (for a very short time), that was union. I lost my union job because I worked too hard, offending the rest of the union workers. I’ve seen that same scenario play out for others, and have watched it play out for yet more union employees. A friend told me back in those days that when selecting a car, how to look at the VIN to see if it was made in the morning or afternoon. Apparently by the afternoon, many autoworkers were totally wasted on dope and booze. I asked why they were not fired – “because they are union”, he said, as if to say, “of course, duh”. I see loafing taken to extremes by union workers where I’m currently employed, and I hear of the bickering that they do over the most asinine issues.

It would seem that unions became a very powerful force in America. It would also seem that unions, having learned to flex their muscles, did/do so with undaunted regularity. Just like the corporations that they criticize as always looking for the next angle to squeeze out a tad bit more profit, union reps work/worked to renegotiate contracts, adding a slew of benefit riders at every turn. (How many times have you joked with friends about driving by a union working crew and seeing one person working while two others seem to be “supervising”?) In fact, a contract with a simple pay raise is considered too lame, and the union contract negotiators too limp.

The issues don’t end with just the union employee, who pays fees to union central. With all of that fee money coming in, (billions a year), union heads have become the very epitome of greed, ruthlessness, and profiteering that they accuse the business owner of being. It is wrong to require by contract that employees pay in to a health insurer that is run by the union, at a price significantly higher than third party providers. In the end, the people hurt by these types of issues, are the very employable individuals that unions were initially formed to protect. When the burden of union employees becomes too high, a company simply outsources that part of the labor pool – enter globalization.

The key issue that will have to change will be the hardest. A certain working atmosphere is created when employees work alongside each other for any length of time. A certain set of “norms” are established which is highly resistant to any form of change. That is why new employees seem to fumble around for a while, until they learn to conform to the expectations of the group think. If that group think is more concerned with finding ways to goof off then to work with a sense of vigor, then an individual will be chastised if they work too hard.

REFORM #1: Alter the working environment of union shops whereby the quality of workmanship, job integrity, and a strong work ethic are the normative expectation of fellow employees. Deal swiftly with tardiness and the lack of productivity.

The next issue is a bit tricky. On the one hand union job pay has influenced the pay scale of others, however, when a union continues to expect higher and higher pay, shutting down a company with one strike after another to get it, a company will eventually look elsewhere for labor. The hard truth is that pay should be commensurate with the level of skill and education required to do that job. Not all union jobs pay huge salaries. Police, teachers, fire departments (as examples), are historically considered low pay compared to their levels of responsibility. However, there are some jobs where the pay is substantially higher than one would expect.

REFORM #2: Set pay scales at a level that reflects the nature of the job, and the levels of responsibility and accountability of the employees. Reserve higher pay scales and larger raises for issues involving merit and increased responsibility.

When a union dictates to union employees how things will be, then the union is acting with the same lack of integrity that they claim the “evil” company does.

REFORM #3: Allow union employees the ability to choose benefits levels, insurance carriers, fee levels, and sets of rights; along with the ability to competitively bid benefits.

These are not harsh ideals. These are minimum expectations that non-union employees work with all the time. If a union can provide a benefit to a company, the company is more likely to work within the confines of a union.

If you are a union employee, ask yourself this very simply question – what benefit does your union provide the company you work for? If you can’t honestly answer that question with anything positive for the company, you are in need of reform. Demonstrate to a company that union employees will be the best experience they have ever had regarding productivity and creating a win-win working environment. Demonstrate that the union wants the company to succeed, just as they want their employees to succeed.

Imagine that instead of a company becoming worried that a group of employees will unionize, because they know that it will result in conflict, less productivity, higher labor costs, possible production stops, and higher overhead; that instead a company will WANT a union because the union will represent MORE productive, MORE professionalism, MORE security, and a set of employees dedicated to the success of the company. That is a win-win scenario.

Reform. It will help America.

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From → American Society

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