Union Stereotypes and Myths Part 2

This week we’re doing a continuation of one of our more popular blogs, union stereotypes.  There are so many stereotypes or myths about unions being circulated we decided it was time to counter a few more of them.  Listed below are some of them.

#1.  Union people are lazy, don’t do very good work and will not allow work rules to be changed.

This is one of those stereotypes that has been around for years.  There may be some union workers who are not as productive as they should be but there also may be some non-union people not very productive either.  It’s more about people in general and there is some information to counter the claim against union members.

In a 2007 article from The Economist, it says union workers tend to be more productive.  The article says not only are union workers more productive, they do very good work and have very high work standards.  The article highlights New York electricians as an example.  They are more deliberate in their approach to work which may slow things down but the higher skill level and work standard is far superior to non-union workers.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), also in 2007, cites union productivity not just in the U. S. but in other countries as well.  EPI says that despite the rapid decline of unions in the U. S., productivity rates did not increase, and, those other countries with higher union participation, have greater productivity rates but the average rate of all those non-U. S. countries with union workers equals the productivity rate of U.S. union workers.

What the Economist article does mention is unions may be reluctant to allow more efficient processes simply because it could decrease the number of workers, or simply put, cost the job of a worker.  If it’s your job that could be eliminated, maybe because of a new robot, you want the union to fight for your job.  You expect that from a union.

At the same time, we have blogged extensively about unions encouraging members to seek training for any changes that could occur on their jobs.  A couple of weeks ago in a blog, we mentioned union members looking to change their job process as technology is changing to make the workplace more efficient.  In addition, in another blog, we mentioned UAW was willing to help automakers with a two-tier pay approach until automakers were in a better financial situation.

While there are some unions that may not be perceived to be flexible or willing to help with work rules or the workplace in general, it comes down to each individual situation.  There may be specific reasons why the union is not willing to make changes but there are still countless examples of union flexibility to help with work rules and processes, or assist with financial conditions, or work on improving processes for safer working conditions or just help the workplace in many other circumstances.

#2 Unions should not be in the public sector.  They cost taxpayers too much money.

Public sector unions can include firefighters and police – people that risk their lives to keep us safe.   In a 2011 article from The Economist, there is a comparison of the salaries of a couple.  The wife is a nurse and the husband is a firefighter.  The husband’s salary was over $70,000 but every day on the job he risks his life to save others.  It’s not to be demeaning to the wife that’s a nurse who also may save lives but her husband may have to sacrifice his life for saving those of others or take other risks that could impact his life.  The article complains about his salary and benefits but to have quality people willing to risk their lives you may have to pay a little more.  Firefighters go through extensive training.  They’re professionals.  You don’t want just anybody doing their job and not everybody is willing to do their job.  Don’t you want someone who is highly skilled to save your prized possessions and maybe even your life?

In the private sector, some people are lucky enough to have a job with good pay and benefits, too.  That cost for the good pay and benefits is probably passed on to the consumer.  Is that okay or is it a problem?  How is that any different than the complaint of the costs to taxpayers in the public sector?  While we hear more complaints about the public sector, why don’t we hear about the private sector?  Why should it be any different?

People also need to understand that if a person is paid well and has a good benefit plan, they are more inclined to remain at the job.  If public sector employers don’t pay well or have good benefits, taxpayer cost can be driven up because of turnover and training costs.  Finally, public sector employers have traditionally paid less in salaries but provided better in benefits to offset salaries but also attract quality people.  Currently in the private sector, wages are low and have become depressed.  Benefits packages, too, have become smaller which may make it appear public sector employees have more than those in the private sector.

Yet at the same time, public sector unions have great support.  In a New York Times article of 2011, a New York Times/CBS poll conducted said almost 2/3 of Americans did not want public sector collective bargaining rights reduced.

#3 Younger workers are not supportive of unions and have no interest in them.

Wrong!  In a more current poll taken by Pew Research in January, almost 2/3 of those polled supported unions overall.    Three-fourths of workers from the ages of 18 to 29 support unions compared to only half of older workers.  In fact, according to the poll, younger workers have more support for unions than corporations.

#4 Unions are outdated and no longer needed.

This, too, is completely wrong!  As the blog, ThinkProgress, reported, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, said some unions were established in a different era that doesn’t work for jobs of the future.  He said communication and organizing efforts need to change so unions will be viable for the future.

An article from Bloomberg BNA on April 10th, states some unions are actually doing that and growing.  For example, United Auto Workers saw some strong increases in 2016 as automakers started investing more in U. S. plants.  Some of that came out of contract negotiations between the UAW and the automakers.

Unions have been trying to work on organizing plants in southern states but, unfortunately, not without difficulty.  It hasn’t kept them from trying though.  UAW was successful at organizing the skilled trades workers at the Volkswagon plant in Tennessee, but as we blogged two weeks ago, Volkswagon management is not interested in recognizing the union.  They also are trying to organize a Nissan plant in Mississippi.  IAM(International Association of Machinists) has been trying repeatedly to organize the Boeing plant in South Carolina but has been unsuccessful.

SEIU(Service Employees International Union),  though, has been very successful.  They have organized healthcare workers, janitorial staff and airport workers.

The ThinkProgress blog provides examples of how local unions are communicating or changing their approach.  Some are doing more community activism by helping those in need to show the positive role unions play.  They’re also changing their organizing approach by passing out business cards to workers in non-union shops.  Some are using technology to reach out to possible new members.  They’re sending emails to let non-union people what the union is doing in their area and it has helped!

We have reported on previous blogs the different ways unions are providing support to other work groups.  These work groups may not be  unionized but unions have the experience and skill to help these non-union work groups achieve some of their goals.

In central Ohio, local unions are sharing information with politicians about some of the issues they find very important.  Labor 101, as it has been coined, is a session to explain the union viewpoint to politicians.  The first event was held last spring with good attendance.  Local politicians from both parties responded to the invitation and those who attended the event said the event was great and very beneficial.

In addition, local unions in central Ohio get out and help in the community in a variety of ways.  One union was on the local news tv station for their water bottle drive.  The union took water bottles to Flint residents during the Flint water crisis.

Some unions are training future leaders.  CALMC has been involved with union leadership training and a local electrical union in the western part of the country is also addressing leadership issues as members retire.

#5 Unions give more money to politicians and less assistance to members who pay dues.  Union leaders make way too much in salaries.

There also has been a lot of talk about unions giving money to politicians.  It is true but so do corporations and business associations.  According to the Bloomberg BNA article, unions have spent much more money on members’ needs than on political issues.  Some members may perceive they did not receive the assistance they need but every year unions must report to the U. S. Department of Labor a detailed account of their finances and how it is spent.  Money is set aside in political action funds for politicians and other political goals.  It does not come out of funds to assist members with grievances, contract negotiations and other activities that protect workers.

Some people also say union leaders make way too much money.  But what about salaries for executives?  There have been many stories about excessive pay for executives.   Salaries for union leadership are usually established through boards or oversight committees who are more than likely made up of membership.  If there are other members who feel salaries are too high they should contact their representative or someone from committees that establish pay.  Again, this information must be provided under the financial disclosures to the U. S. Department of Labor on an annual basis.

One last comment about union stereotypes and myths.  When we work with any group, and we’re working on workplace issues, we tell them make sure to have the facts because it’s much easier to work with facts.  If we try to solve problems based on assumptions or what we think we know, we may not solve any problems, we waste time and end up blaming each other for issues that may not exist.  It’s the same with stereotypes and myths people bring up.  People need to make sure they have facts, know what’s behind the facts and be open to the facts before making any judgments and coming up with what they think is occurring.

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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