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Romney Chair: So Long, Unions

After the Gov. Scott Walker recall election in Wisconsin the other day resulted in a major defeat for labor and Democrats, Romney’s Florida campaign chairman sent out a tweet declaring the death of unions. JoeMyGod has an image of it:

Because we’d all be better off without unions, right? We should just get rid of them all those hard-fought victories for the health, safety and well-being of workers. It will increase the profits of the wealthy and that’s all that really matters, doesn’t it?

Comments

  1. Anri says

    As I have said in face-to-face discussions, labor unions are a sometimes inefficient, ofttimes polarizing, occasionally terribly corrupt solution.

    And they are still vastly, massively, undeniably better than the problem they were created to address. People who can’t see this are living in a world I don’t recognize.

  2. D. C. Sessions says

    Anri, I think you’re comparing unions to democracy: both are the worst possible solutions to the problems they address, except for all of the others that have been tried.

  3. says

    I’ve always found it odd that the weaker and rarer unions become the more dangerous [I'm told] they are. I can only conclude that organized labour is homeopathic in this regard.

  4. Doug Little says

    My personal experience with unions, auto industry, has all been negative. I have never seen an organization crush innovation and personal achievement quite like the unions and the sense of entitlement that the union members exhibit is mind boggling. Their inability to work with the companies through the GFC and after 9/11 ultimately caused their jobs to go offshore. They needed to adapt to survive and were unwilling or unable to do so

  5. FlickingYourSwitch says

    Workers can’t think this is a good thing. Labour unions are much of the reason why workers’ rights are respected today, with decent pay, safe working environments, etc. Where I live anyway.

    It should be like that in your country too. Why are you letting the rich and the powerful just walk all over you like this? Is it the false promise of the American dream that you too can become a rich, unempathetic douchebag?

  6. KG says

    Their inability to work with the companies through the GFC and after 9/11 ultimately caused their jobs to go offshore. – Doug Little

    I’d suggest you take a look at what has happened to the relative pay of the average worker and top management, and more generally to the redistribution of wealth and income to the very rich, since the weakening of unions began some 30 years ago. But maybe you’re one of the handful who have profited from these trends.

  7. harold says

    By no means do I defend all activities by all unions, but I am forced to ask some questions here.

    My personal experience with unions, auto industry, has all been negative. I have never seen an organization crush innovation and personal achievement quite like the unions

    This is meaningless as stated.

    In order to make your statement rationally meaningful, please answer the following questions.

    1) Precisely which innovations and personal achievements did you directly observe being crushed specifically by unions?

    2) What specific solutions for these incidents of crushing do you think would have been most effective, and why?

    3) The union movement is, of course, despite its current irrelevant status in US society, strongly associated with improvements in employee pay, work hours, safety. By your knee jerk bias against unions, you signal your disapproval of those things. Therefore I must ask you – a) what is the least you think anybody should be paid for a day’s work? b) what level of workplace safety do you support? c) for someone who receives the rate of pay you approve of – what type of housing should they occupy? How many square feet per person? What degree of climate control? Should they be able to own or have use of a car? Telephone? Refrigerator? Should they have access to publicly provided police, fire, and emergency services? Should they have access to full indicated medical treatment when they are ill? Should one or two adults be able to make enough money to support children? Should all children be educated, or should some children go to work at manual labor as soon as they are old enough to? Should people have access to indoor plumbing and closed sewers leading to sewage treatment plants, or should most people live near open sewage that potentially contaminates their drinking water? Should supervisors have the right to lock people in at work? To use physical violence to make them work harder?

    I could go on and on. The reason Americans have these things – the probable reason that YOU had something in your life other than working your fingers to the bone from the age of seven, barely being able to afford enough food or clothing, freezing in winter/sweltering in summer, shitting into an outhouse and living near an open sewer, suffering from and probably dying early from infectious diseases, is because people fought hard for every such advance.

    and the sense of entitlement that the union members exhibit is mind boggling.

    What do they feel entitled to?

    Their inability to work with the companies through the GFC and after 9/11 ultimately caused their jobs to go offshore.

    Can you specifically explain how this happened – precisely what were unions asked to do to “prevent their jobs from going offshore”, how and why did they refuse?

    They needed to adapt to survive and were unwilling or unable to do so

    Can you describe what type of adaptation you think is necessary, and explain why?

  8. harold says

    But maybe you’re one of the handful who have profited from these trends.

    That’s statistically very unlikely.

    However, it’s highly plausible that Doug Little mistakenly thinks that he benefited from these trends.

  9. harold says

    For full disclosure, I have never belonged to a union.

    I did benefit tremendously from public education, public libraries, and student aid.

    I realize that most members of my cohort and ethnicity (generic white guy), who had it a lot tougher than prior cohorts but easier than subsequent cohorts, are obsessed with “pulling the ladder up after they have climbed it” and screwing literally every living thing on the planet over.

    For whatever twisted reason, I support the systems that helped me. I guess I’m some kind of sap.

  10. Michael Heath says

    Many unions, like Republicans, require radical reform to become competent. We need unions, but just like conservatives they have a problem denying reality on many matters and therefore are piss-poor negotiators when it comes to serving their members’ long-term needs.

    Over the past several years many unions have come to realize the framework within which they operate is important and have reformed, including public worker unions and teacher unions. They are victims who’ve earned our consideration to some extent, particularly when it comes to healthcare costs. Rising healthcare costs consume opportunities for increases in take-home pay, often even resulting in take-home pay cuts – especially public state and local employees. In fact an ever-increasing share of education and other public costs are consumed by the healthcare costs of teachers and other public employees. We don’t see this because these costs are embedded into the departments whose budgets are instead reported. Of course conservatives are cynically exploiting this issue in order to kill off unions, which I think makes them morally repugnant.

    It’s also a bit ironic how the most progressively minded major business sector in the U.S., technology, is largely union-free – unions apparently being a legacy of another era in the private sector.

    Unions deserve our political support, but what they require from voters requires support of nuanced complex public policy prescriptions which don’t translate well into talking points. Another advantage for conservatives to kill unions. I think unions would serve their members better if they sought better entitlement benefits for all citizens, which would allow them more leverage to negotiate working conditions, wages, and rules and other benefits which are causative to their employers’ long-term success.

    While I haven’t proactively researched this topic, I’ve yet to come across a compelling reason on why unions have been unable to organize at Walmart. I do hear pat off-the-cuff politically convenient responses, none of which I find compelling but instead serve notice those that opine on the topic remain as clueless on the actual factors as I am.

  11. D. C. Sessions says

    It’s also a bit ironic how the most progressively minded major business sector in the U.S., technology, is largely union-free

    That represents a failure of adaptability on the part of unions more than any lack of demand for services that they might provide. The problem is that unions have settled into being “wages and benefits” negotiators, with working conditions being one possible addition.

    Wages and benefits for engineers and such tend to be quite good, and working conditions aren’t exactly life-threatening unless you count sitting in a chair for eight hours or more a day. Given that we’re inclined to value ourselves for individual merit and work flexible hours depending on the stage of our projects, hours aren’t a good sell either.

    Back when Motorola had a lot of line operators in the USA and was determined to avoid unionization, they set up HR as a largely independent organization with at least a partial charter to act as employee ombudsmen — similar to shop stewards. The side benefit was that the engineering and professional staff also had access to those services, including a confidential resource against on the job abuses by management (including harassment.)

    If a union wanted to organize in one of my employers and offered services like that, I’d be a lot more inclined to pay attention.

  12. says

    @Micheal Heath. I recommend Barbarah Ehrenreich’s book “Nickle and Dimed”. She spends an entire chapter on the virulently anti-union atmosphere at Wal-Mart.

    This took 30 seconds of googling to find…
    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/answers-about-labor-laws-and-unions/

    Why hasn’t Wal-Mart been unionized? Wal-Mart, as I explain in my book, has been fiercely antiunion ever since Sam Walton founded it, and far more aggressive in fighting to keep out unions than most companies. But the truth is, the United Food and Commercial Workers, which would be the logical one to unionize Wal-Mart workers, was for years doing very little in the way of union organization there –- in essence, Wal-Mart became a nonunion behemoth while the U.F.C.W. slept. In recent years, that union has stepped up its organizing efforts and officials said it initially saw a lot of support from Wal-Mart workers in Minnesota. But then the company flew in its antiunion brigade from Arkansas and the tide sharply turned against the union.

  13. says

    What always amuses me are how wingnuts mock liberals for wanting to change human nature, which is what it is… and then claim that there used to be a reason for unions, but they’ve outlived their usefulness.

    QED, greed isn’t a part of human nature.

    Doug Little, how about the sense of entitlement that management has? Or are you the sort who forgives the Job Cre[m]ators anything?

  14. matty1 says

    It’s also a bit ironic how the most progressively minded major business sector in the U.S., technology, is largely union-free

    I can’t speak directly to this being in the UK and in a different sector (environmental consultancy) but I wonder if the reasons for a lack of unions are similar, certainly my experiences reflect those of friends in tech. Unions tend to function largely in negotiating a single contract setting pay grades, terms and conditions for a large fraction of the workforce. Technical or specialist workers by contrast often have an individual contract of employment that they negotiate themselves, to the extent there is negotiation, so there may be less room for the traditional functions of unions.

    That isn’t to say they shouldn’t be there and as DC Sessions points out there are many areas like confidential support against management bullying where they could do a lot of good.

    Full disclosure, I’m now self employed and hope never to go back to working for ‘the man’ but if my business unexpectedly grew I would probably encourage any workers to find a union.

  15. jesse says

    @Michael Heath et. al. :

    This is something I know about, and am familiar with, so I am going to try to address a few misconceptions.

    One reason that unions became what they are today was the 1950s. Around that time the US government (via the anti-labor GOP and some Democrats) decided that organized labor needed to be reined in. A load of gains were made in the 1930s, and there was a concerted effort to roll that back after the war.

    Landrum-Griffin and Taft-Hartley were two of the major efforts in that regard. Basically, they constrained the kind of activity unions were allowed to engage in and to an extent are the reason that a labor party in the US is essentially illegal.

    Another reason was McCarthy and the purges. Many of the more left-leaning and Communist-supported unions such as the United Electrical Workers were essentially thrown under the bus by the leadership of the AFL CIO. My own grandfather was as a result jailed for two years when he told McCarthy himself to, basically, jump in the lake (Family lore says the transcript of the hearing contained more colorful language before editing). (It turned out to be the case that says before Congress you can plead the Fifth).

    In any case, the leftward part of the labor movement was actually much more conscious about coalition-building. The right wing Democrats and pro-business Republicans were not blind to this. So, the decision was to go after those people under the rubric of anti-communism. Reuther was not a firey Social Democrat by any means, and he signed on to this. The other choice was have everyone go to jail. I think it’s important to remember that our own government acted in ways that would not be unfamiliar to a KGB operative. They didn’t disappear people, but the more subtle harassment was just as effective. (Much like today’s “No Fly List.”)

    After the purge of the left of the union movement, all you had left were the people who saw organized labor in terms of wages and benefits. After all, it was the left wing of the movement — whatever its problems – that said clearly and loudly that allowing black people into the UAW was critical. In the 1940s.

    I might add the UE was never really part of the AFL-CIO, because alone among many big unions they said that caving in to McCarthy was a dumb idea.

    The result: a pro-capitalist labor movement that was politically unable to reach out to allies.

    Some of this changed in the last couple of decades — and there is a marked difference in politics between what many see as the “labor movement” (the image projected by the auto industry, primarily) and unions such as the SEIU or Transit Workers. The latter two are less white, and younger, for starters.

    But it wasn’t like there is some quality of labor that makes it unable or unwilling to adapt — quite the contrary. German unions for example have been the reason that manufacturing in that country innovates. Why? Because if you ask the guy who builds a car about what he does he might have a good idea or two. In the US the drive was to make every job less skilled, not more, and that movement is still alive and well today at every level, even in nominally white-collar work.

    It’s also worth noting that the rules of the game in the US are specifically designed to weaken unions and workers. Besides the two laws mentioned above, there are rules that prevent unions from engaging in direct political activity (this is what I meant when I said labor parties here are essentially illegal) except for financial support.

    Anther thing: purging the left in the 50s paved the way for mobbing-up in many places, because the people who saw labor as a political movement were removed from positions of power, leaving those who saw the labor movement in terms of wages and benefits only. Guess what’s likely to happen there?

    Sorry this is so long. The issue is complicated. But I can say that just about every charge laid against the labor movement is usually something they had no control over. In the auto industry, for instance, the unions got no say over what cars were built. If Ford can’t build something people want, that’s because management, not the unions, wanted to build X model of car. Nobody ever asked the unions what they thought. It wasn’t the unions that decided building SUVs was a good or bad idea, it wasn’t the unions that decided how cars should be manufactured, and the unions weren’t the ones who mismanaged pension funds or passed ERISA, which made defined benefit plans unworkable via an accounting change, essentially.

    And saying union workers are “overpaid” — well, for what? the UAW or SEIU have not a single member who ran their company into the ground the way every single banking head did, and I can’t see why the heads of Ford are worth 1000 times what the line guy gets, once you include stock options and the like. if a line worker gets fired he might get $400 a week in UI Benefits. And even if you could never fire a unionized worker (you can, and it isn’t as difficult as people think) that costs a company what, $40,000 per year plus benefits. A CEO gets to destroy a company and still be rewarded handsomely with enough that the company has to put it on their quarterly statement. Market magic!

    Short version: unions exist because people do not ever, ever enter a transaction on equal terms. And the abuses that bosses heap on their workers are bad enough as it is.

  16. Midnight Rambler says

    Doug Little:

    My personal experience with unions, auto industry, has all been negative.

    Well there’s your problem right there. The UAW is an exceedingly bad example of a union that’s become a corporate entity interested more in its own welfare than that of its workers. This is especially evident with the way it’s pushing to expand into other areas, sometimes fraudulently (e.g. with the University of California postdocs).

  17. left0ver1under says

    The willingness of people to believe and vote for wall street puppets is truly amazing. The rightwingnuts are as ignorant about “libertarianism” as they are about christianity.

    http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/texts/anthem/complete.html

    From the foreward to Ayn Rand’s “Anthem”:

    The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one’s eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: “But I didn’t mean this!”

    Those who want slavery should have the grace to name it by its proper name. They must face the full meaning of that which they are advocating or condoning; the full, exact, specific meaning of collectivism, of its logical implications, of the principles upon which it is based, and of the ultimate consequences to which these principles will lead.

  18. harold says

    I think I may have a hypothesis about certain widespread attitudes.

    I usually take demands for American workers to be “flexible” as a somewhat hypocritical formula.

    Americans already work longer hours for crummier quality of life outcomes than the residents of almost any other rich country, and, in fact, of a fair number of ostensibly quite a bit poorer countries.

    What probably happened is this – during the fifties, sixties, and seventies, a fair number of working class or middle class people were able to accumulate some residential real estate and a few other assets. At the time, unions, a far more progressive tax code, etc., drove this.

    But not everyone did.

    Now what’s been happening is that a bunch of yuppies and hipsters have been inheriting, or have expectations to inherit, enough money and real estate to keep themselves able to do unpaid internships and film school degrees, indefinitely.

    Unfortunately, what those stupid yuppies and hipsters are forgetting about is their own kids (who do exist, albeit in small numbers).

    To be an aristocrat, you have to have enough money for an indefinite number of generations, but they inherited enough for one generation and thought they were aristocrats.

    That’s fine for Mr. Freelance Graphic Designer and his wife Middle-Aged Unpaid Intern at Vogue. The money Grandpa saved up while he was working a union job at a commercial bakery, plus the fact that his once humble home is Astoria is now worth a few million bucks to a lesser Russian princess, has paid for all that.

    But how the heck is Junior going to come up with 100G a year for tuition, an ability to go seventeen years as an unpaid intern, three thousand dollars a month rent for a room near any type of opportunity, etc, after Mom and Dad have spent all of that? It just isn’t sustainable. Incidentally, I predicted that this issue would arise a while ago, but I’ve seen it arising sooner than I expected.

    For full disclosure, I went from soup kitchen to the professional/management class (although those of us in this class have a hard time when we have to pay for everything ourselves and help out a parent). I didn’t stop in the middle, partly because I was academically ambitious, but partly because, in my lifetime, there hasn’t been any middle to stop in.

    Margaret Thatcher or some other authoritarian wingnut said that the problem with “socialism”, meaning social democracy, is that you run out of other peoples’ money. Actually, that isn’t true of social democracy. It is true of temporary aristocracy based on one generation spending the savings of the prior generation, though.

    Sooner or later white Americans are going to have to earn their own money, pay for their own educations, and buy their own homes again. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.

  19. says

    My brother works for a large digital media manufacturer. He told me a while back that his company has no union. He then went on to tell me that the company had well paid, happy employees with great benefits. I told him that was because the company didn’t want the workers to unionize; he agreed.

    When I worked at Verizon the first and second levels of management were generally supportive of the union (furtively) because they knew that the company would have to give them the same sort of deal that they gave us.

    Some unions are bad. Unionism is good.

  20. Michael Heath says

    Jesse writes:

    One reason that unions became what they are today was the 1950s. Around that time the US government (via the anti-labor GOP and some Democrats) decided that organized labor needed to be reined in. A load of gains were made in the 1930s, and there was a concerted effort to roll that back after the war.

    Landrum-Griffin and Taft-Hartley were two of the major efforts in that regard. Basically, they constrained the kind of activity unions were allowed to engage in and to an extent are the reason that a labor party in the US is essentially illegal.

    This is wildly untrue. Unions continued into the 1980s and even 1990s to negotiate very favorable long-term benefits for their members, including the auto companies in spite of their loss of market share, also including teachers unions and other public sector unions. I have family who started with GM in the early-1980s and are now retired with great benefits. In the mid- to late-1980s I was part of the UFCW as a part-time butcher while going to college. I got great pay, vacation time, other types of off-time, and health insurance, all in spite of being part-time. We saw Walmart speeding into our rear view window at that time where again, no union seemed to make any sort of competent effort to unionize their employees.

    To blame the demise of unions in America on 1950s legislation completely avoids the reality of what occurred decades later and even today.

  21. Ichthyic says

    The UAW is an exceedingly bad example of a union that’s become a corporate entity interested more in its own welfare than that of its workers. This is especially evident with the way it’s pushing to expand into other areas, sometimes fraudulently (e.g. with the University of California postdocs).

    fraudulently?

    how so?

    When I was a grad student at Berkelely, UAW was instrumental in helping grad students to actually *get* health benefits. The UC would never haved caved on this issue, and insisted on keeping all grad students at 49.9% time to avoid having to pay any benefits at all, even though I can’t think of a single grad student that actually WORKED lest than 60% time, and most were working around 80% time, all hours in.

    I can’t imagine it was somehow all of a sudden “fraudulent” for the UAW to assist with postdocs??

    To blame the demise of unions in America on 1950s legislation completely avoids the reality of what occurred decades later and even today.

    sorry, but you have anecdotes. he has facts. He’s right that the attack on “communism” in the 50s was nothing more than a front to attack organized labor and use it as a hotbutton issue.

  22. jesse says

    @Michael Heath — you missed the point. What I was saying was that the focus on wages and benefits — was the result of the 1950s, and a number of decisions that were made then (some on the union side in terms of political strategy, which turned out to be wrong). Those decisions echoed through the decades.

    When you look at labor relations in terms of wages and benefits only, rather than as a political movement that is designed to empower workers, you end up with unions that are institutionally unable to deal with certain kinds of change.

    This is one reason why there was a major split between say, the anti-war movement and the labor movement in the 1960s and 70s. The people who might once have organized workers workers against the Vietnam War, for instance, were no longer there. After all, the whole political landscape within the labor movement had altered, as people who might have drawn the link between supporting colonialism (which is what the US was essentially doing with support for the French in the 1950s, and later a watered-down version) and the rights of workers at home were no longer able to influence anything — they had been effectively removed from the movement. (Note that the labor people in Europe were much more consistently opposed to US involvement in Vietnam).

    That’s just one example — another might be the massive failure of political organizing that was the teacher’s strike in New York in the 70s. Teacher’s unions are very interested in providing good educations — they wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t — but a largely white teacher’s union was again, institutionally unable to make the link between policy, their benefits and working conditions, and the people who used the schools (who were mostly nonwhite). In reality, better working conditions for teachers mean a better education for the student (I mean come on, if you believe paying CEOs more gets better talent then why should paying teachers less result in anything good?) and that would have made them natural allies of the parents. But the very people who drew those kinds of links were marginalized a decade or more earlier.

    None of this means that unions couldn’t be successful after the efforts of the 1950s to keep their politics in line. As you point out gains continued to be made in some areas (though I’d argue that the high point for American workers was in the 1970s, at least in terms of control over one’s livelihood and wages).

    But it meant — and the ruling classes were very, very aware of this — that the opposition could only fall in very narrow areas. And the laws did have an effect– general strikes in the US are just plain illegal. They are not in any other country with a sizeable labor movement.

    When you limit the allowed criticism to wage and benefits, rather than say, the structure of an industry, then you limit the kinds of political tools that are available.

    After all, this is the kind of strategy the GOP uses when they try to disenfranchise voters who might vote Democrat. You change the rules to make organizing harder to do (it’s hard to organize people to vote when they are told they can’t).

    And to give another example of what I mean, when Apple was talking about where to locate factories, they didn’t even bother to consider doing so here. But Philips still manufactures stuff in the Netherlands. That’s partly because nobody (at least nobody in a position of power) in the US has mounted a critique of the structure of manufacturing, rather than just focusing on the wage / benefits question. Apple basically sent all their manufacturing innovation to China (what, you think the Chinese will never learn anything?) Whereas the Dutch and Germans decided to keep it there. That was because the labor movement — not having been purged as it was in the US — was able to mount a more effective opposition that spoke of something in addition to health benefits and hourly rates.

  23. Pinky says

    Democommie said:

    When I worked at Verizon the first and second levels of management were generally supportive of the union (furtively) because they knew that the company would have to give them the same sort of deal that they gave us.

    Democommie you are spot on. I was a line supervisor in a group that went union. My peers and I were very glad they did, not only because it lifted our pay, but more importantly, it gave us a little book of rules we carried in our pocket standardizing how the workers were to be treated. Prior to the union decisions by the brass depended sometimes on if they personally liked the worker or not, but more often on how much booze the manager had on board. I was almost fired once for refusing to follow a boneheaded command from a drunken manager late one night.

    Sure some of the workers tried to game the system, but overall the union was good for everybody, including the senior management although they never admitted it.

    On another note I think it is disingenuous for business to cry crocodile tears as they take jobs outside the US into third world countries while lamenting: “Its all the fault of the greedy unions.” Bullshit, corporations go offshore because they found indentured servants/slaves in China and Vietnam who are forced to work for $15 a week. The slaves are stuck working for a business because the room & board they must pay always amounts to more than they earn. Tennessee Ernie Ford sang a song about it in 1956.

  24. Doug Little says

    First things first, I work for a company that supplies CNC machinery to various industries, the auto industry being one of them. My job within this company is to develop new manufacturing processes or improve upon existing processes where our machinery could be of benefit. I have been in many manufacturing facilities, both union and non-union, all across the united states and also in countries where US companies have outsourced their manufacturing.

    1) Precisely which innovations and personal achievements did you directly observe being crushed specifically by unions?

    In one union based facility I was training an older employee who was willing to not only learn the bare minimum in order to operate the machine but was also interested in fine tuning the process to improve the efficiency. In my experience this is rare in a union shop and I was thrilled to try and teach him as much as I could in the time I had. Unfortunately the other employees weren’t as thrilled with his enthusiasm to improve the process so they had the union remove him from working in that area. After that I was pretty much black balled when it came to developing new processes within that facility. Access that I had before had been taken away and I was not even able to run the machine I was developing on or the measuring equipment I was using to verify the parts, I had to have an employee do everything for me, I would sit there and tell him what to do and he would do it, that is of course when he could be found. This made it an arduous task at best to perform my job.

    This is just one example, I have plenty more but I’m getting to the tldr stage.

    2) What specific solutions for these incidents of crushing do you think would have been most effective, and why?

    His co-workers could have shared his enthusiasm to improve the process and learn more about the machinery they were running so that they could become better and more efficient at using the machinery. Instead they had the union remove him from his position and virtually made my job all but impossible.

    3) The union movement is, of course, despite its current irrelevant status in US society, strongly associated with improvements in employee pay, work hours, safety. By your knee jerk bias against unions, you signal your disapproval of those things. Therefore I must ask you – a) what is the least you think anybody should be paid for a day’s work? b) what level of workplace safety do you support? c) for someone who receives the rate of pay you approve of – what type of housing should they occupy? How many square feet per person? What degree of climate control? Should they be able to own or have use of a car? Telephone? Refrigerator? Should they have access to publicly provided police, fire, and emergency services? Should they have access to full indicated medical treatment when they are ill? Should one or two adults be able to make enough money to support children? Should all children be educated, or should some children go to work at manual labor as soon as they are old enough to? Should people have access to indoor plumbing and closed sewers leading to sewage treatment plants, or should most people live near open sewage that potentially contaminates their drinking water? Should supervisors have the right to lock people in at work? To use physical violence to make them work harder?

    Woah there big boy, talk about knee jerk reactions. Yes I understand unions had a place in securing workers rights. Those rights are extremely important, I’m talking from personal experience, showing the other side of the coin so to speak. This isn’t a black or white issue here. Unions have been extremely important.

    I could go on and on. The reason Americans have these things – the probable reason that YOU had something in your life other than working your fingers to the bone from the age of seven, barely being able to afford enough food or clothing, freezing in winter/sweltering in summer, shitting into an outhouse and living near an open sewer, suffering from and probably dying early from infectious diseases, is because people fought hard for every such advance.

    I grew up in Australia, my parents ran a small business which was not unionized and our employees did pretty well. I never saw my parents whipping them if they slacked off or anything like that. p.s. we were used as child labor if that counts but I here that is common in family run businesses.

    and the sense of entitlement that the union members exhibit is mind boggling.

    What do they feel entitled to?

    Like being able to sit on their asses reading the paper during training or sleeping during third shift and not suffer any consequences for it because the union has their back. I mean I have heard of people being caught stealing and the union will still go to bat for their job.

    Their inability to work with the companies through the GFC and after 9/11 ultimately caused their jobs to go offshore.

    Can you specifically explain how this happened – precisely what were unions asked to do to “prevent their jobs from going offshore”, how and why did they refuse?

    I don’t know the specifics but obviously the negotiations went south in a big way when contracts were being renegotiated. The unions were unable to obviously offer the companies some extra value that would offset the differential in base labor cost that could be gained from moving to a developing country where labor is cheap. I mean they could have argued that they have a more skilled and efficient workforce that justify the added labor cost but unfortunately in my experience that is not the case.

    They needed to adapt to survive and were unwilling or unable to do so

    Can you describe what type of adaptation you think is necessary, and explain why?

    Well they obviously needed to make the case that the company is getting a superior more efficient worker that offsets the extra labor cost. Also they would have had to do something about their retirement entitlements, this is a massive cost that had to be restructured for a successful negotiation. I work with a lot of companies that manufacture their components in developing countries and they are willing to put up with substantial quality and competence issues over having the same components manufactured here.

  25. says

    @ “I’ve yet to come across a compelling reason on why unions have been unable to organize at Walmart.”

    Workers at a Walmart in Quebec actually did manage to unionize. Walmart responded by closing down the store as soon as they were forced into arbitration. Several other Walmart stores in Quebec have unionized since, but only one has actually reached a collective bargaining agreement, and that store was also closed immediately.

  26. magistramarla says

    I used to teach in that awful “right to work” state, Texas. We were discouraged from joining a teacher’s union, and there didn’t seem to be much need for it, since the unions have little say in that state.
    A colleague of mine finally managed to have a child after years of infertility treatment. I was shocked to see her return to work in less than six weeks. That’s when I heard that the school district had no paid maternity leave. My friend was guaranteed to have her job back, but her maternity leave would be unpaid unless she used her own sick days.
    I have another friend who teaches in a state with strong unions. When I told her about this situation, her response was “Why didn’t she go to her union rep?” I had to remind her that Texas is a “right to work” state and unions have no power.
    That same school district chose to “opt out” of paying into Social Security, and instead forced us to pay into the Texas Teacher’s Retirement system. That’s fine for someone who teaches in Texas for 30 years, but for a military spouse such as myself, it is not good. I had paid some years into SS in other states, but thanks to those years in Texas, I have not paid enough into SS to qualify to draw anything from it now that I’m disabled. I rolled over my funds from the retirement system into a private account when I left the state in 2009, but this was after a third of it had been lost in the downturn of 2008. I would have been much better off if I had been allowed to contribute to SS instead.
    After what I’ve seen in the state of Texas, I am now a strong supporter of unions.

  27. leni says

    Interesting thread. And your posts weren’t too long, Jesse, they were interesting. I know nothing about labor history so I can’t gauge the accuracy of them in any meaningful way, but they definitely made me think about things I hadn’t considered before and were very compelling.

    I live in Wisconsin and during the initial shitstorm that resulted from the Scott Walker’s dismantling of collective bargaining, I attended some of the protests at the state Capital.

    I saw a man holding a sign that said something to effect of “I’m a laid off auto-worker and I’ll support your teacher’s union when teachers buy American cars.”

    I felt bad for the guy, but I also told him he could shove my rusty 97 Buick straight up his ass. It *probably* wasn’t the most diplomatic thing to say, and I don’t work for the state, but both my parents did. I’m a direct beneficiary of the benefits they got, so I’m defensive about it.

    But mostly I was just appalled at the attitude that what was good enough for him was fine until he lost it, but then apparently no one deserved it, including himself. It was almost like they (him and his family, but also hoards of others) were happy to see other people lose out too.

    As interesting as the history of unions is, I suspect these arguments would be utterly wasted on people like him. Not that you shouldn’t make them, but I can’t imagine trying to explain that to a person who was more interested in screwing over other workers because his bosses made poor decisions and he’s (understandably) bitter about losing his job. It’s especially confusing since the right likes to blame unionized workers, of which he was one, but he chose to blame teachers. *Sigh*

  28. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ leni

    I’m also a Wisconsin resident who was shocked to discover that according to exist polls for our recent recall election, around 36% of union members supported Walker!

    A high school friend of mine, who gave up a fruitless career in radio broadcasting to join the trades, claimed that he didn’t support either Walker or Barrett and complained bitterly about the millions in tax payer dollars spent on a unsuccessful recall bid. When I reminded him what exactly prompt the recall effort in the first place, he shot back that public employee unions supported greedy government make-work jobs and lazy public school teachers who were being paid way too much. They weren’t “real” workers, like he was. They were’t a “real” union, like his.

    I fear that the unions are becoming more interested in their own individual sphere of influence rather than the plight of workers as a whole. Walker’s “divide and conquer” strategy worked. It’s every Joe for himself!

    “Solidarity” is dead.

  29. tbp1 says

    @27: I am a native Texan, although once I got out of high school I have mostly lived other places. Both my father and my aunt were royally screwed by companies they worked hard for for most of their adult lives. My father almost singlehandedly built up a new division, going from 3 employees to over 15, opening up markets they had never sold in. My aunt crossed picket lines to go to work. When they got to where they were making too much money, they were basically discarded, with absolutely no recourse. In my dad’s case, by the time that happened he was management, so a union might not have helped, but in some other states a union could definitely have helped my aunt.

    Neither one of them ever acknowledged that maybe unions and workers’ rights might not be such a bad thing, after all. Likewise I have an older relative who served in the army just after WWII, went to college on the GI Bill, bought his house with a VA loan, spent his entire working life as a public school teacher, and now lives in reasonable comfort on his Social Security, state pension, and Medicaire. To the best of my knowledge he has never spent a day of his adult life in the “private sector.” His wife did for a while, but then took an office job in the same school he taught in so she could have summers with her husband. You should hear them rail against socialism, and those lazy union workers, though.

    I am somewhat bitterly pleased to note that the company that my father worked for went out of business some years later, due in part their firing everyone with any experience and knowledge, and replacing them with young people who would work cheaper.

  30. harold says

    Doug Little

    Thanks for the reply. Incidentally, I have never been in a union, nor in the entertainment business, but I have a friend who works with the union that represents, among others, the people who do props and special effects for movies and television. So for your anecdote of irrational behavior by union members trying to sabotage innovation, I have dozens of anecdotes of union members with extremely high skill levels being enthusastically innovative. But of course, as someone said, unionism is good, some unions stink.

    Moving on…

    Woah there big boy, talk about knee jerk reactions. Yes I understand unions had a place in securing workers rights. Those rights are extremely important, I’m talking from personal experience, showing the other side of the coin so to speak.

    But then you prove that you don’t mean it, with these completely honest statements (thank you for this honesty) …

    The unions were unable to obviously offer the companies some extra value that would offset the differential in base labor cost that could be gained from moving to a developing country where labor is cheap.

    Well they obviously needed to make the case that the company is getting a superior more efficient worker that offsets the extra labor cost.

    That’s right, they can’t make that case, for the exact same reason that you are no better, and in fact, probably worse, than literally a million engineers in India. If even more of those Indian engineers undercut your rates on the work you do, that race to the bottom could crack you right down to the lowest possible living standard that could keep an engineer alive.

    Of course people in Malaysia can do repetitive manual labor as well as people in Denmark. However, it’s a better idea to try to help people in Malaysia live more like people in Denmark, than the other way around.

    That’s why there are minimum wage laws, unions, etc. Because without them, people would be paid less. Of fucking course if they can make the case that paying them what they’re asking is best for short term profits, they’ll get paid what they are asking.

    Although I’m a professional with a record of moderately successful entrpreneurship, and although I favor a regulated capitalist system, I also recognize that a global race to the bottom for labor hurts everybody, with the possible exception of a few people with inherited wealth in a form that doesn’t depend on other peoples’ consumption.

    In an industrial or post-industrial economy, there simply is no way for labor to stay above the subsistence level, except via the aid of organized labor and representatitive government with advocates for labor.

    I’m not noble here, it’s a matter of enlightened self-interest. Henry Ford may have been a bigoted scumbag, but he did recognize that labor that can afford to buy a car creates a beneficial cycle for both the manufacturer and the consumer of the car. Ford, out of venal but intelligent self interest, grasped that, although he might have been able to pound his workers into submission, in the end, if no-one can buy the cars, he loses, too.

    Finally, I should note, the demand that productive workers race to the bottom in living standards does not, for some hypocritical reason, apply to often useless “management”. A German or Dutch (or Australian, for that matter) CEO of a profitable company may often make literally a tenth as much as an American CEO of a similar company (and still be making a great deal of money). Not only could the German probably do a better job of running the American company for one tenth of the cost, but I could find millions of experienced executives in India or elsewhere who could and would do it for one tenth of the cost of the German, if that were possible. Why should the race to the global bottom be selectively applied to the poorest people? Why should I, as a shareholder, pay inefficient executives and engineers big money, when your jobs could easily be performed for far less money?

  31. Michael Heath says

    Me earlier in response to Jesse:

    To blame the demise of unions in America on 1950s legislation completely avoids the reality of what occurred decades later and even today.

    Ichythic:

    sorry, but you have anecdotes. he has facts. He’s right that the attack on “communism” in the 50s was nothing more than a front to attack organized labor and use it as a hotbutton issue.

    Ahem. I used two anecdotes to illustrate claims I made about populations which number in the millions of Americans. From the very comment post of mine which you quoted I asserted, where the evidence is obvious to even casually informed Americans:

    Unions continued into the 1980s and even 1990s to negotiate very favorable long-term benefits for their members, including the auto companies in spite of their loss of market share, also including teachers unions and other public sector unions.

    Now I assume you understand the definition of anecdote and therefore that’s not what caused your fatally defective response to what I quote here. Given your past performance on this forum I instead think it’s safe to conclude you continue to suffer from an inability to confront and consider assertions and facts which are critical of a populist form of liberalism. The exact affliction which causes YECs and conservatives to determinedly avoid inconvenient facts on for their fantasized worldview.

  32. 'Tis Himself says

    For the vast majority of companies, the largest expense is salaries and wages, the next largest expense is benefits. Since profits and expenses for most companies remain relatively stable, the easiest way to increase profits is reduce expenses.

  33. jesse says

    Looking at some of the comments, I might ad that there has been a long — 30+ year — campaign to convince Americans that government jobs aren’t real work, because “the government doesn’t have to make a profit.”

    Leave aside that the roads are fixed every day and stuff works, and that it is usually contracted out in any case.

    It infects the debate about teachers, for instance. I always hear that to attract talent you need to pay people more i certain jobs. But nobody ever says “I want a good teacher for my kid, let’s pay them something” because people complain about their taxes. So, the contracts tend to be back-loaded because that is what school districts can afford. This positively begs for people to get frustrated (given that the “Buy in” to be a teacher is so high) and leave the profession in short order.

    A profession that self-selects so that only those with priest-like commitment have any hope is ridiculous. The number of people with a Master’s degree who can afford to get paid $30-40K a year, effectively, after going into debt for $100K for education (or are willing to sign a vow of poverty) is not large.

    But nobody ever says “the private sector guy with a Master’s in Math who trades for Morgan Stanley should get no real money for the first 15 years of work.” Even though what he does is arguably of much less social value to anyone, since he makes profit for a firm for a quarter and the ROI is just that. A teacher adds much more value, I think, by any measure.

    But no, that isn’t “real” work, because it’s for the government. No is it “real” work to deal with all the people coming into the DMV all day, or processing your marriage certificate, or reading your tax return, or calling in the contractor to fix a pothole, or any of the myriad things that keep our society running. Because, you know, they don’t make any money for anybody.

  34. Michael Heath says

    ‘Tis himself:

    For the vast majority of companies, the largest expense is salaries and wages, the next largest expense is benefits. Since profits and expenses for most companies remain relatively stable, the easiest way to increase profits is reduce expenses.

    This is wildly untrue. For example, in retail industries wages are single to low-double digit percentage of sales. A non-union retailer can be in the 4 – 7% range whereas the union equivalent would be in the 12 – 13% range. In the PC industry wages are even more trivial (including benefits like healthcare premiums and employer contributions to payroll taxes and 401Ks). In electronic manufacturing wages average also average single digits. Wages and salaries can be one of the bigger controllable variable costs a company can change to increase profit, but it’s frequently a small part of the percentage of revenue.

  35. harold says

    A profession that self-selects so that only those with priest-like commitment have any hope is ridiculous. The number of people with a Master’s degree who can afford to get paid $30-40K a year, effectively, after going into debt for $100K for education (or are willing to sign a vow of poverty) is not large.

    Interestingly, the NY Times recently had an editorial by some guy from Notre Dame, arguing that public school teaching should pay extremely well, so that schools could attract especially talented people.

    Although the piece was flawed in some way, it made a surprisingly decent and logical point. Current “educational reform” BS is always focused on firing teachers, busting unions, pointlessly using tax dollars to fund for-profit “charter” schools that offer no advantage but pay out profits to non-contributory middle men, etc. I’ve repeatedly pointed out that, all else being equal, making teaching a worse job will only make cause it to attract a worse applicant pool. Overall desperation may blunt that effect, but it’s still illogical to claim you want better teaching, and you’re going to get it by making sure that teachers are underpaid and have no job security.

    But nobody ever says “the private sector guy with a Master’s in Math who trades for Morgan Stanley should get no real money for the first 15 years of work.” Even though what he does is arguably of much less social value to anyone, since he makes profit for a firm for a quarter and the ROI is just that. A teacher adds much more value, I think, by any measure.

    I was going to mention traders, for a couple of reasons. For those who don’t know what “trading” is (you probably think you do but probably don’t), it isn’t investing, it’s the zero sum game process of buying assets for investors. For example, if I want to invest in Google stock, the order goes through a trader, who competes with other traders on that day to get the best short term price on Google stock. The trader’s job has nothing to do with whether it is a good long term decision for me to buy or sell Google, his or her job is to execute the trade as well as possible. Investing is not historically zero sum, but trading is a zero sum game.

    I was going to point out that traders are exactly the type of people who could exceptionally easily be replaced members of the vast population of India or similar places. By the logic of those who want toothpaste factory workers to experience the global minimum standard of living for their occupation, there is no sane reason whatsoever why traders should be located in expensive first world cities and well paid. Government regulations and, even more so, class solidarity, are the only reasons for this. Why should I pay higher transaction costs? You want your factory workers to get one dollar a day? I want my asset trades to be executed by equally good traders making $2000 a year. The labor pool is out there, I assure you.

    (Another point about traders is that they are, validly, paid more than many others for skilled work – that’s why I’m willing to go up to $2000/year – it’s controversial, but evidence does seem to suggest that some humans beat other humans and all currently available automated models at some kinds of trading – if not, it should all just be automated. They’re to some degree on the “professional athlete model” of compensation – you get a lot when you perform and you get nothing when you don’t perform. An exquisitely common right wing shithead delusion is that this model can be applied, without the “you get a lot” part. That’s where the idea that treating teachers like crap and firing them arbitrarily will produce better teachers comes from. The problem with this delusion is that it overlooks that highly talented people tolerate high risk only when it comes with high potential reward. Simply paying poorly, and then adding stress and insecurity, merely guarantees that the worst available applicants will rotate through your labor pool, and firing them constantly will merely increase your turnover costs. If you don’t believe me, ask a McDonald’s manager.)

  36. says

    Michael Heath:

    I can’t speak for Mr. ‘Tis himself but his calculations may be for just the cost of humans and human stuff, not looking at the cost of goods sold. Only a guess.

  37. Doug Little says

    A German or Dutch (or Australian, for that matter) CEO of a profitable company may often make literally a tenth as much as an American CEO of a similar company (and still be making a great deal of money). Not only could the German probably do a better job of running the American company for one tenth of the cost, but I could find millions of experienced executives in India or elsewhere who could and would do it for one tenth of the cost of the German, if that were possible. Why should the race to the global bottom be selectively applied to the poorest people? Why should I, as a shareholder, pay inefficient executives and engineers big money, when your jobs could easily be performed for far less money?

    You bring up an interesting point with this, I don’t know the answer and all I can do is again talk from my own experience. Our company has been through a few CEOs/general managers since I have worked there (average approx 1 every 3 years). This was mainly due to the fact that we were evolving from a small company with a presence in a few countries to a bigger medium sized company with a presence in many more countries. At each stage in our growth the focus of the company has been different especially working our way through 9/11 and the GFC which warranted a different type of manager/CEO. Their management strengths and goals were in line with what the owners of the company thought was needed at the time and so were hired. From that it seems like there is a pool of high level management that just bounce from company to company applying their particular skill set to help through a particular phase in the company’s genesis. I was interested in how one becomes such a CEO and so cornered our new one a couple of years ago. He basically said that you have to keep moving from job to job to build up a reputation and be in the right place at the right time to progress up the corporate ladder.

    So I think they are kind of like athletes, they have a particular vision and skill set that is highly desirable and they have a proven track record that they are extremely good at them so we have a typical demand = high volume = low situation and they consequently get paid a lot of money.

    for the exact same reason that you are no better, and in fact, probably worse, than literally a million engineers in India

    Well to be fair, you don’t know me and what I bring to the table vs an inexperienced engineer out of India. I understand your point here but also understand that I work hard to keep on top of my game making me a valuable asset to the company I work for. I do know that they could potentially hire engineers from India and pay them substantially less than they pay me, not sure how our US customers would take this though, probably badly.

  38. harold says

    I was interested in how one becomes such a CEO and so cornered our new one a couple of years ago. He basically said that you have to keep moving from job to job to build up a reputation and be in the right place at the right time to progress up the corporate ladder.

    So I think they are kind of like athletes, they have a particular vision and skill set that is highly desirable and they have a proven track record that they are extremely good at them so we have a typical demand = high volume = low situation and they consequently get paid a lot of money.

    This does not logically address my point that, whatever their skills, the same job is done equally skilfully, actually apparently more skilfully in many cases, for less money, in most other economies.

    I do know that they could potentially hire engineers from India and pay them substantially less than they pay me, not sure how our US customers would take this though, probably badly.

    Sorry, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    I don’t know why you think that American customers care more about engineer jobs than they do about the other jobs in the company.

    You’ve convinced me. Workers in the developed world are paid too much. They can’t justify it. They don’t really do anything that the competition in India can’t do equally well or better. Let’s get those salaries down to Indian level, pronto. Enough with this naive liberal crap of providing all citizens with a decent living, and suggesting that India might want to try to develop and follow that model. Instead, we should follow the third world model. Why do we have a federal minimum wage of almost eight dollars an hour? Ridiculous. We’ve built in all these explicitly provided or tacitly implied nanny state luxuries that are too good for engineers, let alone burger flippers. Safe housing, electricity, a good supply of clean clothing, not going to bed hungry, emergency services, treated sewage, indoor plumbing, access to health care, inspected food – I could go on and on. The Koch brothers are right. That’s just socialism taking money out of their pockets. Let’s get people to compete in the global marketplace.

    Let’s start with the engineers. Actually we already have, it’s called the H-1 visa program. It’s also true that when those union jobs you were happy to see off-shored to China, some engineering jobs went with them, and are now being done for a few dollars a day at the Chinese factory site. I don’t know why you think that engineers should be exempt from the same type of globalizing that you advocate for others. In fact it’s the opposite. If I want a burger, it has to be flipped in the US, but probably the engineering functions can be outsourced to India and the Phillipines. Now let’s massively expand the H-1 visa program, as well as offshoring all engineering projects that don’t need to be done on site to India, China, or anywhere else where they can be done for less than the minimum wage in a developed country.

  39. Midnight Rambler says

    Icthyic @21: sorry, I was out all day yesterday. If anyone’s still reading:

    The UAW is an exceedingly bad example of a union that’s become a corporate entity interested more in its own welfare than that of its workers. This is especially evident with the way it’s pushing to expand into other areas, sometimes fraudulently (e.g. with the University of California postdocs).

    fraudulently?

    how so?

    In May 2006, a woman came to my office in mid-afternoon as I was working and asked to talk to me (recruiting during work time, incidentally, is illegal). I can’t remember her name or if she said she was a postdoc or a grad student. When I told her I was in the middle of something, she said “Oh, this will just take a minute,” and asked me to sign a union card. I told her I didn’t know the issues and would like to think about them before deciding on something like that. She replied that it wasn’t a statement of support for the union, but for a vote on whether to have union representation, so I agreed; this was only about a month after I had started and I didn’t know if there was strong support for unionization among the postdocs. When I read the card and pointed out to her that on the card itself it says “I authorize PRO/UAW to represent me in collective bargaining”, she reiterated that it only meant that if they got enough support, a vote would be held. No mention was made of the fact that if they got 50%+1, it is considered a fait accompli and no vote is held.

    I’m not generally a trusting person. I don’t even trust myself. In this case, I made the mistake of trusting that this person who claimed to be a fellow scientist was not completely lying to my face, which, it turned out, she was.

    During the next couple of months there was a couple of news releases by PRO/UAW (the union organizers), but nothing on campus. In fact, they explicitly refused to have any sort of public forum or debate:

    I feel like this has been happening behind our backs. Why wasn’t the union more straightforward?

    The union’s strategy is to go from person to person, rather than have large centralized meetings. This is both to prevent organized retaliation from the employer and because large centralized meetings end up not being large or well-attended. So the information spreads by word of mouth. The union wasn’t holding out on anyone — if you didn’t talk to a rep, it’s because a rep didn’t find you.

    There were also no postdocs who could be identified with the union aside from the one mentioned in that post, Ben Weaver. The leader was the then-graduated head of the grad student union, Scott Bailey. I met with him at one point and his take on the first rep’s visit was “well, after the contract is negotiated, there’s going to be a vote on whether to accept it, so there’s still an election before you have to pay dues”. This is foolishness that only makes sense if seen in the context of someone who is in the position of having to avoid admitting that his representative outright lied to me. Furthermore I couldn’t find anyone, in either my personal sample or asking on forums, who actually supported the union. Not a scientific sample, but you’d think that if they really had at least 50% support, then among 30-40 people there would be at least one supporter.

    This is very different from the very open discussion on unionization when I was a grad student at Cornell. As it happens, that movement was also under the banner of the UAW, and its defeat, by a 70-30 vote, was due in no small part to the UAW’s history in academic unions – something that has not even been brought up here, and which many postdocs probably don’t know about. You can read the story (albeit only one side of it) here.

    Anyway, a couple of months after that first visit, we all got an email saying that PRO/UAW had filed with the state labor board to be our representatives, since they had collected enough signatures. That was a pretty big surprise to those of us they had lied to, and I know it wasn’t just me; everyone I talked to (about 20, at Berkeley) had a similar story, and as the link above shows it was probably in other places as well.

    Consequently, there was an uproar and a large number of people (including myself) sent letters to the labor board revoking our signatures. I know it was not an insignificant number who did this because the board sent out a release saying it was completely unprecedented and they would have to look into what to do. Later they announced that the organizers had falled short, without giving any numbers or reason; PRO/UAW claimed that they were only 100 short and it was due to turnover, but I have no doubt that it was people revoking signatures that did them in.

    When I was a grad student at Berkelely, UAW was instrumental in helping grad students to actually *get* health benefits. The UC would never haved caved on this issue, and insisted on keeping all grad students at 49.9% time to avoid having to pay any benefits at all, even though I can’t think of a single grad student that actually WORKED lest than 60% time, and most were working around 80% time, all hours in.

    That sounds like a good argument for unionization – something we never got to have. Postdocs already had good benefits and higher than average pay so it wasn’t clear what the benefits to us would be, if any. Frankly I didn’t see any.

    And incidentally they succeeded in another round of card check, again without any public meetings, after I had left, along with probably most of the others who had been there for the first round. One of the things about being a postdoc is that it’s a job that typically lasts for only a year, two at the most. So people aren’t around long enough to do anything to change the union itself or really even participate in a meaningful way, and don’t have much invested in the future running of the place. You end up with people like Scott Bailey running the show, who aren’t even members of the class they’re claiming to represent.

  40. Doug Little says

    This does not logically address my point that, whatever their skills, the same job is done equally skilfully, actually apparently more skilfully in many cases, for less money, in most other economies.

    I don’t think you got my point actually, it’s more about a proven track record to get a certain job done. Unfortunately you can’t learn experience or a reputation. Going back to my sports star analogy I’m sure that there are plenty of good or even better athletes out there that would work for lots less money but they weren’t in the right place at the right time or don’t have the visibility to be noticed.

    I don’t know why you think that American customers care more about engineer jobs than they do about the other jobs in the company.

    I’m not saying that, what I’m saying is that the reaction of most of our customers would probably be a negative one when dealing with an Indian engineer, because the perception of our company would be that we are cheap.

    You’ve convinced me. Workers in the developed world are paid too much. They can’t justify it. They don’t really do anything that the competition in India can’t do equally well or better.

    If what you say is true that engineers in India are equal or better then why aren’t we seeing massive unemployment of engineers in the developed world?

    It’s also true that when those union jobs you were happy to see off-shored to China, some engineering jobs went with them, and are now being done for a few dollars a day at the Chinese factory site.

    First of all I was not happy to see those jobs go off shore. Second in my experience engineering is not done in the manufacturing facilities and the majority of the engineers that are there are US engineers acting in supervisory roles.

    I don’t know why you think that engineers should be exempt from the same type of globalizing that you advocate for others. In fact it’s the opposite.

    Where in the hell did you get that I advocated for globalization, I was commenting on my personal experience with unions be it negative, sorry it doesn’t fit into your view of unionized labor.

    Globalization is a fact, we also live in world where the world the economy is driven by capitalization and also where there is cheap labor in developing countries. I guess as a consumer you could boycott all products that are not made in your country or something like that.

  41. says

    I have a friend whose son told me, some years back, that he was going to become an engineer. I asked him what he had in mind for a specialty, he replied that mechanical engineering was probably what he’d go into.

    I suggested that he think about civil engineering. When he asked me why, I told him that a lot of mechanical engineering jobs can be outsourced whereas septic field designs gotta be done locally (which is probably no longer true). In the event he decided to be a whizbang mechanic and that’s what he does now–that job CANNOT be outsourced.

  42. harold says

    Doug Little –

    In the end I think we can agree on some things.

    First of all, I am actually not in favor of “globalization” as currently practiced.

    Second of all, I am not defending all behavior by all unions, not by any means. In fact, unions usually do have annoying characteristics.

    Furthermore, some countries tend to have worse unions than other countries. As a general rule, the less unionized a country is, the worse the unions that do exist are. When unionization is rare, the unions that do exist tend to be nepotistic fiefdoms.

    Thirdly, I should note, I do think, and I am very, very far from alone in this, that US engineers and scientists have been negatively impacted by globalization. The younger the cohort, the more extreme the impact. There is a known, fairly recent tendency for students to avoid engineering and the physical sciences in the US (biomedical sciences have experienced less of a drop off because they can be a pathway to health care). The reason why is almost certainly that finance, business, or until recently, law-oriented majors have been leading to better pay and job security, with less academic effort required.

    What caused me to reply to your comment was that you made it in apparent agreement with an anti-labor statement by a Romney adviser (see OP).

    I vehemently oppose the idea that further reducing the income and working conditions of Americans, any social class of Americans, is beneficial. I don’t only read this blog, and in other sites, I see triumphalist crowing that Scott Walker will be sending people to “the breadline”. Your comment was not a neutral “I had a bad experience with an annoying union” comment, in the context of what the original OP is talking about. A large percentage of Americans want other Americans reduced to penury. It isn’t a healthy sentiment. It’s fueled by racism and badly misguided class bias.

    My point about the potential outsourcing of engineering and CEO jobs was to remind you to look beyond class bias. The Republicans sell the idea that only “the other people” suffer from regressive economic ideas. A highly educated engineer would rather identify with the CEO than with the janitor. However, most schemes that involve making life miserable for the janitor can and will be extended to the engineer. If you’re living off your work, or even living off your investments in assets that gain their value because of consumption of something by ordinary people, you don’t win in the long run when someone else’s labor is degraded. Unions are very imperfect, but it seems that where there is more unionism, there is less abuse and harmful inequality (I’m in favor of some inequality, just not harmful extremes).

    (As a separate matter, I see that you completely agree with me about US CEO’s. Any American who cares about investing or the economy should be distressed by the over-compensation of CEO’s and other executives in US companies, compared to similar executives even in economies like Germany or Canada. Your “they are the ones who were in the right place at the right time and got lucky” argument is exactly what I am saying. However, you did leave out the part where boards of directors, which are supposed to serve the interests of shareholders, are made up of a bunch of CEO’s themselves. Arguably, the most powerful union in the world is the unofficial American CEO Union, which is able to get its members compensated tens or hundreds of times more than their performance remotely justifies, and unlike some humble, legal, labor union, the CEO union is one I would like to see brought into line.)

  43. eric says

    I’m ambivalent about unions. It seems to me they span the middle point, sometimes helping and sometimes hindering a good solution to employer-employee relations.

    One thing that does seem clear to me, though, is that the conservative response to them makes it blindingly obvious that conservatives are opposed to free market capitalism, rather than supportive of it as they claim. Nobody who truly supported free market capitalism should want to put a law or regulation in place preventing workers from organizing. That’s market distortion, pure and simple. A free market would put all the employment options ‘in play,’ and the let the market decide between them.

    IMO, ideally, union representation should probably be something like healthcare in a large, well-run business; several options offered, with the more gold-plated versions costing more per month, and a choice to opt-out altogether if you want, on an annual basis. It seems to me that when you join a union, you are essentially buying a form of employment insurance. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not everyone needs or wants the same amount of coverage.

    ****

    Icthyic and Midnight – when did the Berkeley grads finally unionize? I was a grad student there in the ’90s, and while my memory could be wrong, I remember UAW losing their bid to unionize the grad students.

  44. says

    I’ve worked in both union and non-union jobs. Most of the time, the unions seemed to be a pain in the ass and not worth it. But the one time I got royally screwed it was a non-union job.

  45. Doug Little says

    Arguably, the most powerful union in the world is the unofficial American CEO Union, which is able to get its members compensated tens or hundreds of times more than their performance remotely justifies,

    Actually the same could be said for the players unions that exist in professional sports in the US although they are not unofficial.

    Any American who cares about investing or the economy should be distressed by the over-compensation of CEO’s and other executives in US companies, compared to similar executives even in economies like Germany or Canada.

    Yeah, The disparity is alarming compared to say Germany or Japan. I remember reading some stats on this in an article that was arguing that the American dream of fiscal mobility was dead.

    Your comment was not a neutral “I had a bad experience with an annoying union” comment, in the context of what the original OP is talking about.

    Well yeah it wasn’t neutral but it was simply an observation, from my experience workers in union based plants are less efficient, less flexible and are less able distinguish themselves from the status quo even if they want to. They have a very strict set of work rules that they have to abide by, ie mandatory breaks, etc. that effectively turn each worker into a robot of sorts. If someone takes the initiative and works harder than the rest they are quickly bought back to the fold through sanctions or outright threats, stories of vandalism against someone’s property because they were willing to work harder are not uncommon.

    I have been in many non union plants where the workers are happier have better working conditions and benefits and are rewarded for working harder. There is more harmonious relationship between management and the workers as well which helps communication between the two groups.

    I understand that most if not all of this is due to the unionization of labor, but it seems that workplace safety, minimum wages and other workplace related conditions have already been written into law effectively removing these critical and necessary functions from unions.

    I see unions as necessary to keep the companies honest when it comes to work conditions. Their lobbying power has been very important for workers rights when it comes to the law. I mean it can’t be overstated how important that is. I guess in essence the union lobby has worked too effectively and has some what made itself redundant, but needs to still be viable to make sure that all the hard work is not undone.

  46. says

    “I understand that most if not all of this is due to the unionization of labor, but it seems that workplace safety, minimum wages and other workplace related conditions have already been written into law effectively removing these critical and necessary functions from unions.”

    Without the unions, most of the benefits that the U.S. worker has would not have been won. Without the unions, the oligarchs will make it a race to the bottom (something that Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, McDonalds and Verizon Wireless are already competing in).

  47. Midnight Rambler says

    Icthyic and Midnight – when did the Berkeley grads finally unionize? I was a grad student there in the ’90s, and while my memory could be wrong, I remember UAW losing their bid to unionize the grad students.

    I was talking about postdocs; I was there 2006-08 and the grad student union had already been around for some time, so I’m guessing around 2000? One of my beefs, in fact, is that the main drivers for postdoc unionization seemed to come from the grad student union rather than from among postdocs themselves, and the situations are totally different.

  48. Doug Little says

    Without the unions, most of the benefits that the U.S. worker has would not have been won. Without the unions, the oligarchs will make it a race to the bottom

    Yes exactly what I stated in my final paragraph.

  49. says

    Doug Little:

    You say that the unions have made themselves redundant. That is simply untrue. What they have done become far less effective, due in no small part to an unfriendly congress and White House for the last 40 years.

    When politicians are seeking votes they woo the unions and then generally vote against the unions’ interests once they are elected.

    Many people I talk to have the notion that now the unions HAVE won the battle for workplace safety* and we have a forty hour week, paid vacations and so forth, that they’ve done their job. Their job was to win those benefits. Their job now is to retain those benefits–they’re losing that battle.

    * Ever spend any time in a meat packing house or restringing high tension lines using helicopters, to name but two still very dangerous occupations.

  50. says

    democommie “Ever spend any time in a meat packing house or restringing high tension lines using helicopters…”
    Try doing both. Simultaneously. It’s a rush.

  51. Doug Little says

    Demo,

    what I said,

    I guess in essence the union lobby has worked too effectively and has some what made itself redundant, but needs to still be viable to make sure that all the hard work is not undone.

    I said somewhat redundant, but that I mean that a lot of what the unions first formed for has already been written into law. I also stated that the union lobby needs to remain viable otherwise all the progress that has been made will regress. I think we are in agreement no?

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