Union Stereotypes – They May Not Be What You Think

A couple of weeks ago, we blogged about the George Meany Awards Banquet in central Ohio.  We highlighted those who received the rewards and their service contribution to the community.  Most of them were affiliated with a union or a family member who had been a union member.

This made me wonder why do people dislike unions when they contribute to society just like this year’s winners and all those from previous years?  Is it because they lack the knowledge about them or are they unwilling to learn some of the facts about unions?

There are so many stereotypes out there about unions that are just plain wrong!  So in this week’s blog I thought I would address some of the more common misconceptions people have.  There are a number of websites that discuss the problems with unions but I’ve taken two that sums up what were in the other sites.

The first one is from Heritage Foundation and it is absolutely wrong:

Unions are “labor cartels” and put constraints on the number of workers needed in an organization. The reason they would do that, according to the report,  is so they can drive up wages like an oil cartel drives up the price of gas.   The people who usually want fewer workers are sometimes executives and managers who want to drive up productivity or get more worker output from each worker.  The fewer the workers, the less in labor costs.  Never have I heard organized labor wanting fewer members for any reason.

On the other hand, a labor-management committee, we’ve mentioned before, worked together to find alternatives to lay-offs.  In this case, management said they didn’t want lay-offs because the work was not getting completed and labor was not happy about members losing their jobs so there was a common interest to work on a particular problem.

That also defeats Henry Blodget’s argument from a Business Insider article, unions don’t work as teams or work with management.  Obviously, Henry has never heard about labor-management cooperation.  One former labor leader, Bob King of the UAW, speaking on the UAW loss in 2014 at the Tennessee Volkswagon plant, said, “…we want to work in partnership with companies to succeed…” (Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2014).  Bob King goes on to say in the article unions want to help companies compete and be productive which disputes Blodget’s other points, unions “restrict organizations from being flexible and hurt competitivness.”

That also counters the argument in the Heritage Foundation article that claimed unionized manufacturing organizations have lower wages than non-unionized plants and the claim about union wages impacting the economy.  Another way of looking at it depends on the organization.   At the time Bob King made his comment, UAW and the Big 3 had a two-tier wage structure because the Big 3 was in financial difficulty.  Recently, the auto companies’ financial pictures have improved.  This last contract is phasing out the two-tier structure (New York Times, Nov. 25, 2015).

The claim from both Henry Blodget and Heritage Foundation about wages may be the same but is not entirely true.  It depends on the work that’s being done and it depends on the organization.  What unions are wanting is a sustainable, fair  and just wage based on the work that is performed.  Many times people will complain they’re getting the same amount as someone who doesn’t work as hard as they do.  That may be true but as someone who has worked in a corporate environment I saw the reverse.  People with a higher job classification making more money and doing less or someone just making more money than those with more to do.  The argument can go back and forth.  It’s a problem that doesn’t go away.  The other point, too, is the problem isn’t always about the wage as it is supervisors making sure employees are performing the job they were hired to do.  One bad theory that goes along with the wage issue is The Peter Principle(Peter Principle).  It is a very real and well-known problem that sometimes occurs in a lot of organizations.

And while we’re on the subject of wages, since we’ve discussed the auto industry, here’s an article from Friday’s Bloomberg about GM’s CEO’s new pay (GM’s CEO Compensation).  I think that pay is a little higher than the union workers in her company.  Even Henry concedes unions may now be necessary.

This isn’t an attack on management or CEOs because there are some very good CEOs and managers out there just as there are great union people but I’ll simply remind everyone about the Great Recession and what happened at Bear Stearns and what can sometimes happen at other companies (CEOs Mistakes, CBS News)   Alan Greenberg, James Cayne and two others from Bear Stearns ended up with at least $57 million between them(Compensation, thestreet.com). Some had a worse outcome (CEOs in Prison).  So when people talk about union members being overly compensated and for work they don’t do, remember these guys and the work they didn’t do or did illegally and received outrageous amounts of money – much more than union members or most people.

I started the blog reminding readers of the service work many union members provide to community.  So tell me, is it fair to judge those great union members like some do, i.e. Heritage Foundation, Henry Blodget and others?

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About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at http://calmc.org
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