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February 16, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

One Minnesota union's tongue-in-cheek response to a proposal to make Minnesota a so-called "Right to Work" State.

The Minnesota proposal is the most recent in a string of similar policy moves. Indiana just passed a similar law. New Hampshire and Missouri are also considering so-called "right to work" proposals.

"Right to Work" is the practice of statutorily prohibiting employers and unions from negotiating contractual provisions that require employees to pay for the representation that the union provides to them. Labor unions in so-called "right to work" states are possibly the only organizations that are required by law to provide a benefit or service for free.

Proponents of the practice prefer the term "right-to-work," claiming that it is unfairly coercive to require employees to pay for union representation. Opponents of such laws often prefer the term "right to work for less," arguing that such policies are not intended to safeguard the rights of employees, but rather to cut off union's sources of funding. The term itself is the subject of debate.
posted by univac (73 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
... and here I thought "right to work" meant foremost not forcing employees to join an established union.
posted by Ardiril at 5:05 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Awesome post, univac. Thanks.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Union shops- where you have to join the union or lose your job - are illegal in the US.

In many non-right-to-work states, the union at your place of employment (while they can't force you to join the union) can require you, if you don't join the union, to pay some sort of dues to cover the expense the union has for representing you. Remember, you get the benefits of the union whether you join or don't. That creates what the conservatives like to call a "moral hazard" - why buy the cow when the milk is free?

Right-to-work removes that security clause from the unions.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:17 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


One Minnesota union's tongue-in-cheek response to a proposal to make Minnesota a so-called "Right to Work" State.

To take the union's example, forcing people to pay union dues seems just as much like forcing someone who has no intentions to go to the gym to pay for a gym membership because, hey, the gym is providing you the benefit of workout equipment that you can use.
posted by gyc at 5:18 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


In many non-right-to-work states, the union at your place of employment (while they can't force you to join the union) can require you, if you don't join the union, to pay some sort of dues to cover the expense the union has for representing you.

How is paying dues to a union 'not joining a union'?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Technically speaking (and what is a law but a technicality, really?), right-to-work restricts not just unions but unions and employers both, since contracts are agreements between the two parties.
posted by univac at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2012


The solution is simple - the union negotiates salary and benefits on behalf of members. Non-union members negotiate individual agreements directly with employers themselves.

Predicted result: 100% union membership.
posted by smithsmith at 5:20 PM on February 16, 2012 [14 favorites]


How is paying dues to a union 'not joining a union'?

How is getting the benefits of having the union but not paying for it anywhere near acceptable?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:21 PM on February 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Predicted result: 100% union membership.

Provided the union starts from a position of strength.
posted by kenko at 5:21 PM on February 16, 2012


You still have the right to work without union representation, it just has to be at a workplace that doesn't have a union workforce. Isn't that that argument used against marriage equality - you can marry anyone as long as they're of the opposite sex?
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:22 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


To take the union's example, forcing people to pay union dues seems just as much like forcing someone who has no intentions to go to the gym to pay for a gym membership because, hey, the gym is providing you the benefit of workout equipment that you can use.

Except it's far from certain that employees are "not using" the benefits of union representation, and far more likely that they are in fact benefiting, since if they were not benefiting they would certainly vote to decertify the union.
posted by univac at 5:22 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The solution is simple - the union negotiates salary and benefits on behalf of members. Non-union members negotiate individual agreements directly with employers themselves.

Predicted result: 100% union membership.


Except for the whole "Duty of Fair Representation".

How is getting the benefits of having the union but not paying for it anywhere near acceptable?

I expect it involves the same thought process of people with signs that say "I DON'T NEED NO GUBMINT HELP" walking down city streets and sidewalks.
posted by Talez at 5:24 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The solution is simple - the union negotiates salary and benefits on behalf of members. Non-union members negotiate individual agreements directly with employers themselves.

There is the idea of the non-exclusive bargaining representative or the "members-only" union. I believe this was more common prior to the Wagner act.
posted by univac at 5:26 PM on February 16, 2012


From 1912. As true today as it was 100 years ago:

It is essential that here should be organizations of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize. - Teddy Roosevelt
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:28 PM on February 16, 2012 [26 favorites]


Provided the union starts from a position of strength.

True. Union members would have to make up a reasonable portion of the workforce.

Duty of Fair Representation

That only applies to workplaces where unions are the exclusive bargaining party. That isn't the case when you make non-member employees negotiate their own award.
posted by smithsmith at 5:28 PM on February 16, 2012


How is getting the benefits of having the union but not paying for it anywhere near acceptable?

For clarity, I am coming from a different context. There are no compulsory dues in Australia, as far as I am aware. I suspect that this whole issue is highly subjective, depending on the industry and the workforce.

I work in the public service - in Australia, each agency negotiates a single agreement that governs the employment of all employees in that agency. This happens about every three years.

I am not a member of the public service union. Why? Because the union negotiator that acted for the union members was, IMO, useless and poorly informed and prepared.

My particular sector is full of fairly highly trained and educated professionals, many of whom are capable of and are accustomed to negotiating individual contracts. As my workplace offers non-union members the opportunity to be involved in the negotiations, I put my trust in a colleague rather than the union representative.

For those reasons, I would have taken a dim view of compulsory union membership or dues (which do not apply in Australia), since I personally would not have felt that I gained any benefit whatsoever.

Of course, change the sector and the workforce, and many of those arguments go out the window. Obviously, where there is a massive power differential between workers and employers, collective bargaining is an important tool in ensuring a reasonable outcome for the workforce.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2012


I was recently having a discussion with my girlfriend's family, who all work for a steel company in Hamilton, Ontario, called Dofasco. Hamilton is known as Steeltown because so many people there either work for Dofasco or their unionized competitor, Stelco (now called US Steel Canada). Now, I have no idea if this situation is common or not, but I'd never heard of such a arrangement. Basically, the employees at Dofasco have no union, but the management agreed a long time ago to abide by any new agreement the union representing the Stelco employees worked out with Stelco management. Dofasco then takes that agreement and betters it by something like a dollar per hour. This means no work-stoppages or strikes at Dofasco. And from what I was told by about half a dozen family members, the employees at Dofasco couldn't be happier with their work situation. On the other hand, Stelco is near bankruptcy. Although, apparently, the Steelworkers Union does stand outside the gates of Dofasco with buckets, looking for donations. Anyway, I just found that pretty interesting.
posted by gman at 5:37 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


As my workplace offers non-union members the opportunity to be involved in the negotiations, I put my trust in a colleague rather than the union representative.

I'm not trying to be dense or combative (at all), but aren't the unions why there are negotiations in the first place?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:39 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm an academic librarian. Unlike most academic librarians, I have exactly the same duties, benefits, and pay as the other faculty of my grade. This is a fairly unusual situation, and it only happened because the faculty union insisted that all faculty be the same. I am very thankful to my union.

I also have vacation pay, health care, days off, a safe working environment, and so on because of the work of other unions over the past century. None of these were things that Management gave up out of the goodness of their hearts, they are things that people fought, were injured, and even died for. I am very thankful to these unions, too.

Do unions have problems? Sure. But they are a hell of a lot better than the work environment we would have without unions.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:42 PM on February 16, 2012 [17 favorites]


Labor unions aren't people.
posted by republican at 5:43 PM on February 16, 2012


I am not a member of the public service union. Why? Because the union negotiator that acted for the union members was, IMO, useless and poorly informed and prepared.

Then you must be very unhappy with your pay and conditions, or are you making the laughable claim that the benefits you reap from your EBA were negotiated by your "colleague"?

Labor unions aren't people.

Yes they are. That's the purest definition of a union.
posted by smithsmith at 5:45 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do unions have problems? Sure. But they are a hell of a lot better than the work environment we would have without unions.

Collectively as a society, perhaps.

As an individual, I've worked in both, and have never found the benefits the union purports to offer worth the price the union wants you to pay.
posted by madajb at 5:45 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


..forcing people to pay union dues seems just as much like forcing someone who has no intentions to go to the gym to pay for a gym membership because, hey, the gym is providing you the benefit of workout equipment that you can use.

This is like those people who drive on public roads, are protected by public police and fire forces, have a public education, visit the public library and interact with all manner of public services both directly and indirectly who hate taxes.

Where "like those people" == "extremely stupid".
posted by DU at 5:46 PM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


The solution is simple - the union negotiates salary and benefits on behalf of members. Non-union members negotiate individual agreements directly with employers themselves.

Predicted result: 100% union membership.


Around here at least, we already do that.
Except the non-union people are called "contractors" and get market compensation.

Not many of them are in a rush to join.
posted by madajb at 5:48 PM on February 16, 2012


Labor unions aren't people

Of course not. They are untermenschen. Corporations, however, are Übermenschen and worthy of respect!
posted by Burhanistan at 5:53 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


As an individual, I've worked in both, and have never found the benefits the union purports to offer worth the price the union wants you to pay.

I have worked as a librarian (and as faculty) in both unionized and non-unionized institutions. It is at the former that I have been treated as a full colleague. My dues a very reasonable, and I gladly pay them. So, I would say that we have very different experiences.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:55 PM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


As an individual, I've worked in both, and have never found the benefits the union purports to offer worth the price the union wants you to pay.

What, the 8 hour day, weekends, sick and holiday pay isn't enough for you? It's not like this stuff isn't being constantly eroded by the very complacency you espouse.
posted by smithsmith at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'm not trying to be dense or combative (at all), but aren't the unions why there are negotiations in the first place?

Neither am I, and I apologise if I have come off as such.

Historically, yes, unions are the reasons why there is a collective negotiation.

I found the collective aspect to be an aspect of public service culture-shock for me, as I came in from the private sector and was accustomed to negotiating my own conditions.

I am not arguing that unions are not going to be of benefit to many workers in many industries. I suppose my point is, where employees are highly skilled, in demand and reasonably mobile, and capable of representing themselves, unions will be regarded as less relevent. Just because a model works in one context, doesn't mean it will work in every context. In my context, I find it to be problematic.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:05 PM on February 16, 2012


BTW, univac, this is really interesting - thank you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:06 PM on February 16, 2012


univac:

Point taken.( And I wasn't trying to say you were being anything but civil. I get a little ratcheted up sometimes when unions are the issue, and I was afraid I was the one who might come off sounding like a dick.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:09 PM on February 16, 2012


I have worked for state and federal governments, but have never been in a position that was covered by a union. From my position, it seems like one of the challenges that unions face today is that the value proposition is different for different types of workers. The UAW seems to have done a pretty good job for its members, but it's less clear to many white collar workers how they would benefit from unionization. That may be because even the government is forced to pay better wages and provide better compensation to its scientists and such than to its plumbers.


As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota I voted in favor of having a unionization vote, even though I voted against the union. That was another case where the incentives were different for various groups. We graduate research assistants were paid a fair bit better than graduate teaching assistants, and had better stability. It didn't make sense from my perspective to unionize, but it did from the perspective of the teaching assistants.

Also, as a non-union member I think that some of the big unions sure seem to exist more to serve the union officials than the rank-and-file members. My father was a PATCO controller when President Reagan fire them all and broke the union. Where was the solidarity AFL-CIO and the Teamsters promised then? Simple, they were protecting their own interests, which didn't lie with the controllers.
posted by wintermind at 6:28 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have worked as a librarian (and as faculty) in both unionized and non-unionized institutions. It is at the former that I have been treated as a full colleague. My dues a very reasonable, and I gladly pay them. So, I would say that we have very different experiences.

Naturally, which is why enforced union membership is so insidious.

What works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. A union (and I certainly support their existence and right to enter into agreements) should gain members by clear-cut benefit, not by default.
posted by madajb at 6:59 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


What, the 8 hour day, weekends, sick and holiday pay isn't enough for you? It's not like this stuff isn't being constantly eroded by the very complacency you espouse.

You mean, the same things I get in a non-union workplace?

If your intent is to espouse the benefits of unions by rehashing long-ago battles, well, good luck with that.
If unions are to survive and thrive in today's world, they're going to need to bring something new to the table, otherwise bills like the ones above will continue to pass.
posted by madajb at 7:03 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


madajb: "You mean, the same things I get in a non-union workplace? "

Hey, if you don't like the benefits that hard-fought battles waged by union members got you, you can always try China. I hear Foxconn is a great place to work.

madajb: "If unions all these protections we take for granted are to survive and thrive in today's world, they we're going to need to bring something new to the table, otherwise bills like the ones above will continue to pass."

That's better.
posted by mullingitover at 7:23 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not a member of a union, have never been a member of a union, and probably never will be a member of a union. However, I have met plenty of "union bosses" that loom so large in popular discourse. These people aren't kingpins, they're just electritians or civil servants or truck drivers or whatever who also agree to take on the responsibility of being a political punching bag because they are passionate about the issues. People who work as organizers also are not there for prestige, because it is not a lucrative position and nobody gets rich. They are absolutely not there to selfishly protect their personal interests.

Where was the solidarity AFL-CIO and the Teamsters promised then? Simple, they were protecting their own interests, which didn't lie with the controllers.

The AFL-CIO organized a march of 500,000 people in Washington DC during the PATCO strike. I think your standards are too high.
posted by Winnemac at 7:30 PM on February 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


You mean, the same things I get in a non-union workplace?

In other words, what have you done for me lately?

If unions are to survive and thrive in today's world, they're going to need to bring something new to the table, otherwise bills like the ones above will continue to pass.

That's just dumb. We're still fighting the same fucking battles. Get the basic stuff fixed (again), and then maybe we can talk about bringing new stuff to the table.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:30 PM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


madajb: "What, the 8 hour day, weekends, sick and holiday pay isn't enough for you? It's not like this stuff isn't being constantly eroded by the very complacency you espouse.

You mean, the same things I get in a non-union workplace?

If your intent is to espouse the benefits of unions by rehashing long-ago battles, well, good luck with that.
If unions are to survive and thrive in today's world, they're going to need to bring something new to the table, otherwise bills like the ones above will continue to pass.
"


Without unions, blue-collar workers would still be working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for some fraction of what they make now with no benefits. You may call that re-hashing old battles but chances are that even if you are a white-collar worker, you have benefited from them.

What exactly do you think that unions could possibly bring to the table when they are sawed off at the knees by state legislators who are only interested in doing the bidding of their corporate masters?

I'm ashamed to live in Indiana, the newest member of the right to work for less club.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:32 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


where employees are highly skilled, in demand and reasonably mobile, and capable of representing themselves, unions will be regarded as less relevant.

For what it's worth, I'm wrapping up a job change from non-unionized IT to a state who's union also covers IT. While I agree that the union contract rate was not that great, apparently one can still negotiate a higher wage. I of course make a point of keeping skills up to date through education, reading, and research, and remain mobile by renting over owning home.

I have no idea what to think about the union. They're not terribly effective negotiators, given that they accepted a statewide furlough when the education sector they represent is in good fiscal shape. And they clearly favor incumbents and seniority in both pay and job security, so much that it shows up in the data. I gather I'll be giving them dues whether I join or not, so I guess I'll try to keep an eye out for the supposed benefits.
posted by pwnguin at 8:06 PM on February 16, 2012


You mean, the same things I get in a non-union workplace?

My dad worked a union shop for 27 years.

He fell off a ladder at work and was injured. The company put him on a desk job, and then fired him while he was out for surgery to repair the injury. They also, because they fired him, denied his workers comp claim and were going to base his pension off his last held position - a 9 dollar per hour desk job.

It was theft, straight up. If my dad had stolen 1/10 of that from them, the state would prosecute and he'd go to jail. But, they are a large multinational corporation with teams of lawyers. My dad was working class schlub with a dislocated shoulder and no job.

Without his union, he was fucked. Do you suppose the state prosecutor would take the case ? Magic lawyer fairies ? Erin Brokovich maybe ?

The union sued, and got his pension. Got the disability and workers comp. They also got a really sizable settlement.

And the company had to replace thier shitty ladders with new ones.

So, yeah. My dad spent 26 years bitching about the stupid union taking his money and not doing jack for him.

He doesn't talk that kind of shit anymore.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:26 PM on February 16, 2012 [45 favorites]


In many non-right-to-work states, the union at your place of employment (while they can't force you to join the union) can require you, if you don't join the union, to pay some sort of dues to cover the expense the union has for representing you.
How is paying dues to a union 'not joining a union'?


In Minnesota, non-union members are obliged to pay what's called a 'fair share fee', which is technically not paying dues. I can't find the precise rules right now, but they're typically 85% of the union dues. (I think the rule's no more than 85% and no more than the cost of representation.) A fair share employee (i.e. a non-union member) is covered by the contract, gets the benefits of the union, the grievance procedure, etc., but is not able to vote in union elections nor hold positions within the union.

(To clarify, since U of M graduate students are talking about unionising again and this has made me paranoid about saying anything about unionisation: the vote to decide to unionise (to certify the union as the exclusive bargaining representative, I believe, in technical terms) is open to all members of the bargaining unit, regardless of whether they signed a card: basically, TAs and RAs, but not those on fellowship.)

We graduate research assistants were paid a fair bit better than graduate teaching assistants, and had better stability. It didn't make sense from my perspective to unionize, but it did from the perspective of the teaching assistants.

At least in my department, TAs and RAs are paid exactly the same. Obviously, I cannot speak to all departments, nr the past, but I don't understand our situation to be atypical.
posted by hoyland at 8:30 PM on February 16, 2012


gman writes "Basically, the employees at Dofasco have no union, but the management agreed a long time ago to abide by any new agreement the union representing the Stelco employees worked out with Stelco management. Dofasco then takes that agreement and betters it by something like a dollar per hour."

This is fairly typical in many trades. Because unions provide significant advantages to workers management is generally wants to keep them out so in industries with a strong union presence management ends up providing roughly equivalent compensation.

madajb writes "As an individual, I've worked in both, and have never found the benefits the union purports to offer worth the price the union wants you to pay."

See above, the simple existence of unions often raises the compensation of non union workers.
posted by Mitheral at 8:37 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


hoyland, thanks for that. Interesting model.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:42 PM on February 16, 2012


Hey, if you don't like the benefits that hard-fought battles waged by union members got you, you can always try China. I hear Foxconn is a great place to work.

I have nothing but respect for the many workers who were injured or even died in the struggle to give us modern working conditions.
Unfortunately, current iterations of unions resemble the past in the same way a cessna resembles a 747.
posted by madajb at 8:51 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


How is paying dues to a union 'not joining a union'?
In Minnesota, non-union members are obliged to pay what's called a 'fair share fee', which is technically not paying dues.


I work in a union job in Minnesota and do not belong to the union. In my case, it was because I didn't want to be fined if I chose to cross the picket line and the only way to guarantee that is to quit the union. I pay full dues and would have to ask for my 15% back each year, but I don't because I feel I do benefit from the dues. I would not cross if I felt the strike was for a valid reason, but the fines feel like a veiled threat.
I don't support this change in Minnesota law and think everyone should have the right to representation. My feelings about unions in general are here.

not able to vote in union elections nor hold positions within the union
I know a teacher who doesn't belong to the MEA and was told they still had to take their turn as a steward. I don't think it ever happened, but I thought that was hilarious.
posted by soelo at 9:00 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


See above, the simple existence of unions often raises the compensation of non union workers.

I have heard this often.
I am curious how it would translate to a largely non-union sector like IT.
posted by madajb at 9:03 PM on February 16, 2012


To take the union's example, forcing people to pay union dues seems just as much like forcing someone who has no intentions to go to the gym to pay for a gym membership because, hey, the gym is providing you the benefit of workout equipment that you can use.

that's where the analogy could potentially break down, but only in the case where the option to use union services and the services that you de facto use are completely worthless to you. in terms of the health club example, the *option* to use the health club is worth *something* unless you're a sloven piece of shit, or you have your own personal gym that is as good or better. of course, the analogy breaks down b/c with typical union contracts, you don't just have the option to use union services, you directly benefit from the work they do negotiating a higher salary.

here's an example to prove your point ridiculous, by restricting benefits to only being the option to use some thing or not: it's like a law that requires health insurance companies to fully reimburse you for the value of premiums you give them if you don't file any claims in the period those premiums cover.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:28 PM on February 16, 2012


not able to vote in union elections nor hold positions within the union
I know a teacher who doesn't belong to the MEA and was told they still had to take their turn as a steward. I don't think it ever happened, but I thought that was hilarious.


Yeah, I don't know about being a steward. I'm pretty sure you can't run in the elections you're not eligible to vote in, though.
posted by hoyland at 9:41 PM on February 16, 2012


>My particular sector is full of fairly highly trained and educated professionals, many of whom are capable of and are accustomed to negotiating individual contracts. As my workplace offers non-union members the opportunity to be involved in the negotiations, I put my trust in a colleague rather than the union representative.

>For those reasons, I would have taken a dim view of compulsory union membership or dues (which do not apply in Australia), since I personally would not have felt that I gained any benefit whatsoever.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:36 PM on February 16

That's sure eponysomething or other.
posted by dr. boludo at 9:54 PM on February 16, 2012


I don't really understand these conversations. Are unions good or bad?

Well, what kind of worker are you? How are your treated? Do you get a decent paycheque and the respect of your managers? Are you unskilled or easily replaceable, or skilled and scarce? How are the labour laws in your state or province?

Unionisation is one among many tools that people can use to pressure their employers into treating them fairly. It's not more complicated than that. As a skilled worker, I use the scarcity of people like me to counterbalance the power that employers have to dictate the terms of my employment. Steelworkers, truck drivers and mental health workers don't have that power so they bargain collectively.

Those workers who don't want the compromise of belonging to a union face the same dilemma as citizens who don't want to obey laws or pay taxes: stay or leave. In both cases, the latter is usually impossible, but I don't hear anyone arguing against citizenship, taxes or the social contract.
posted by klanawa at 10:01 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]



Incidentally, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that no collective bargaining agreement can require anyone to join a union, either.

That's demonstrably false. You are required to join the teachers' union in order to teach in Illinois. Or maybe there's some bullshit loophole they're exploiting.

Bah unions
posted by deathpanels at 11:11 PM on February 16, 2012


Pure confirmation-bias amateur sociology survey time: how many of the anti-union commenters in this thread are male and work in IT? Just a show of hands.
posted by ead at 11:13 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


>I guess I'll try to keep an eye out for the supposed benefits.

It shouldn't be too hard - how often do they hold meetings? How many positions are there that you could run for? You could learn an awful lot.

>I am curious how it would translate to a largely non-union sector like IT.

Many I.T. jobs, for example, the thousands in the public sector, are unionized. It works perfectly well.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:47 AM on February 17, 2012


And from what I was told by about half a dozen family members, the employees at Dofasco couldn't be happier with their work situation. On the other hand, Stelco is near bankruptcy.

Hmmm. So what happens if the union shop goes out of business and the "nice" company a) has a larger pool of workers to hire and b) no union-by-proxy to worry about?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:44 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


GenjiandProust: Hmmm. So what happens if the union shop goes out of business and the "nice" company a) has a larger pool of workers to hire and b) no union-by-proxy to worry about?

I dunno. I mean, I get what you're insinuating, but Dofasco has been named to Canada's Top 100 Employers list on several occasions, whereas Stelco has not. Here's a short article about the company so you can have a better understanding of how they treat their employees. Dofasco is also the first manufacturing company in Canada to offer profit sharing, and continues to do so even against shareholder wishes. And here's a bit more about how they operate.
posted by gman at 4:17 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I stopped caring about unions when unions started acting like corporations.
posted by dgran at 6:00 AM on February 17, 2012


I stopped caring about unions when unions started acting like corporations.

Outsourcing jobs?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:09 AM on February 17, 2012


I stopped caring about things when I discovered that it was easier to dismiss them with glib generalizations that resemble soundbites.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:12 AM on February 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


I take objection to the conceit that someone who doesn't want to join a union is just being a freeloader who is using their services without paying for it.
posted by gjc at 6:28 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a skilled worker, I use the scarcity of people like me to counterbalance the power that employers have to dictate the terms of my employment. Steelworkers, truck drivers and mental health workers don't have that power so they bargain collectively.

Thanks, klanawa, I'd never made that connection before (I am one of the relatively scarce).

I'm working through a few ideas here, bear with me.

There are lots of benefits of unions outside of a guaranteed compensation, this is true. But on that point--doesn't basing compensation purely on seniority favor the less-skilled and punish the greater-skilled? Thus, to me, it seems like unions are a better bet only if you're below average. Before you pile on, let me add:

1. Perhaps union pay isn't based solely on seniority. That's the stereotype, but I don't know if it's true.
2. To reiterate, I understand pay is only one benefit. The example above of the union-provided legal representation is a good example.
3. Everyone thinks they're above average.
4. In reality, pay is not usually based on how well you do your job, but rather how well you negotiate. If you do your job well, it can generally help your negotiating position.

It just strikes me as rather not in my best interest to, instead of saying "I deserve better pay because I am unique and valuable because of X and Y", say "I deserve better pay because we'll all stop working otherwise." But maybe that's what klanawa is saying above; what about the workers who are perceived as essentially not unique and valuable but rather replaceable, and cheap?

Maybe the real problem here is when we treat people as fungible resources. I really do think that everyone has unique contributions to a task, but I have a really limited experience to draw on. If my job were schlepping around bricks for a construction crew, would I be intrinsically more replaceable? I certainly wouldn't need as much education for it. But I can't help but think there's a ton of things even the brick-schlepper can bring to the task that would make it more efficient/better for the rest of the crew.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:22 AM on February 17, 2012


When someone is offered a new job, and they try to negotiate terms, they'll usually find that the employer will be flexible on some things but not others. A prospective employee who asks for 3 weeks of leave instead of 2 may be told that all the other employees have agreed to 2 weeks, and it would be unacceptably disruptive to grant three weeks of leave.

Compulsory payment of representational dues seems very similar: it is a condition of employment imposed by the employer, adopted after negotiations with employees. Proponents of "right to work" laws should explain why the government should interfere with the right of employers and employees to adopt this contract term.
posted by burden at 7:25 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see what's left of the middle class is still actively eating itself. Keep up the good work America.
posted by mek at 7:47 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Proponents of "right to work" laws should explain why the government should interfere with the right of employers and employees to adopt this contract term.

The government interferes with the right to freely contract in the workplace all the time. Things like minimum wage laws, overtime laws, OSHA regulations, anti-discrimination laws, etc.

Sure, one can argue that these are all bad things that the government is trying to eliminate, and the regulations are there to protect workers from being exploited, but one can also argue that having $80 or whatever the union dues are taken out of their paychecks, where some of the dues might even be used to support political candidates that some of the workers don't support, for something they don't support is also something they should be protected from.

In addition, unions also enjoy special government protection, such as the NLRA, so it's hardly a pure freedom of contract issue between companies and unions, when unions enjoy certain protections that enable them to have more leverage in negotiating with companies.
posted by gyc at 7:51 AM on February 17, 2012


Unfortunately, current iterations of unions resemble the past in the same way a cessna resembles a 747.

That's due in part because of jackasses like the Indiana state government taking away the engines.

I take objection to the conceit that someone who doesn't want to join a union is just being a freeloader who is using their services without paying for it.

Take objection to it all you like; it doesn't make it less true. As others have pointed out, in addition to things like the eight hour day and workplace safety laws that unions got for the American worker, the mere existence of unions causes the free market to provide at least roughly comparable pay and benefits just to make the formation of an actual union less attractive.
posted by Gelatin at 8:05 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sure, one can argue that these are all bad things that the government is trying to eliminate, and the regulations are there to protect workers from being exploited, but one can also argue that having $80 or whatever the union dues are taken out of their paychecks, where some of the dues might even be used to support political candidates that some of the workers don't support, for something they don't support is also something they should be protected from.

Lots of jobs require to pay for things you might not agree with - in the past, I've had to pay uniform and tool fees, and currently, I have to maintain an MCSE as well as my CCNA - and I don't have any real love for either Microsoft or Cisco.

My health benefits are a payment to me, and yet I don't get to choose the doctor. Or what prescriptions are covered.

So, yeah, I get that it sucks that union dues might support some political campaign or whatever you don't agree with. But then, it slots right in there with all the other benefits and costs associated with being employed.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:10 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, yeah, I get that it sucks that union dues might support some political campaign or whatever you don't agree with. But then, it slots right in there with all the other benefits and costs associated with being employed.

I'll go further than that. Given that the Republican anti-union agenda is blindingly obvious as revealed by Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Kasich in Ohio and the so-called "moderate" Mitch Daniels in Indiana, the use of union funds to oppose the Republican Party's explcitly anti-union agenda is a simple and inevitable cost of doing business. You might as well gripe about having to pay for the gas you use to get to work.
posted by Gelatin at 8:26 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. This has generated some thoughtful discussion and the disagreements have been pretty civil.

A couple things I want to address, and some additional points:

madajb: A union (and I certainly support their existence and right to enter into agreements) should gain members by clear-cut benefit, not by default.

I think this is like the argument that proponents of "right-to-work" make when they say that if the union is providing such a great benefit, then the union will have no trouble convincing the represented workers to join and pay dues. But the "right to work out" example shows how ridiculous this is. No other organization that I am aware of is required by law to provide a benefit or service - in this case work place representation - on an essentially donation-only basis. I think it should be required that any legislator who supports forcing unions to provide their services for free should forfeit their salary and have to go collect individual payments from their constituents. If their doing such a good job at representation, they will have no trouble collecting their salary. Or, corporations or retail stores - everyone has a basic right to shop, so we shouldn't be required to pay for food or clothes or whatever. If Target is providing such great products then people will have no problem voluntarily paying for them. No difference.

madajib: You mean, the same things I get in a non-union workplace?

As others have pointed out, these policy changes were effected by unions, and are being eroded as overall union membership and influence wanes.

madajb:Unfortunately, current iterations of unions resemble the past in the same way a cessna resembles a 747.

I would encourage caution in talking about "Unions," as though these institutions are monolithic & uniform. There are differences is culture, goals, strategy and tactics, and while I am pro-union, I can be critical of particular unions. I don't think such criticism devalues all unions.

klanawa: ...but I don't hear anyone arguing against citizenship, taxes or the social contract.

Are you in the U.S.? Because this has become mainstream discourse here.
posted by univac at 9:56 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Since I'm the only one that directly mentioned seniority, I guess I'll take a stab.

RikiTikiTavi: "But on that point--doesn't basing compensation purely on seniority favor the less-skilled and punish the greater-skilled?"

Yes. Fortunately the contract I reviewed offers merit pay increases for IT workers. But other than that, union contracts generally imply that experienced workers are obviously more productive in any given role. I've seen faculty protest to a college Board of Trustees that the top end was too low, using exactly such logic.

Anyways, for all the hand-wringing in the Blue about right-to-work causing the downfall of unions, it's got more to do with free trade than anything else. You can unionize all the Americans you want, but China's ostensibly Communist Party seems to have outlawed it, and until enough manufacturing jobs land there to soak up the massive pool of labor, a strike for higher wages stands to simply increase the velocity consumers move to foreign goods. Hence so many of the unionized workers left can't be exported: teachers and civil service. So I figure if China eases up on currency pegs, blue collar workers both domestic and abroad would fare better.
posted by pwnguin at 2:10 PM on February 17, 2012


RikiTikiTavi: "

Maybe the real problem here is when we treat people as fungible resources. I really do think that everyone has unique contributions to a task, but I have a really limited experience to draw on. If my job were schlepping around bricks for a construction crew, would I be intrinsically more replaceable? I certainly wouldn't need as much education for it. But I can't help but think there's a ton of things even the brick-schlepper can bring to the task that would make it more efficient/better for the rest of the crew.
"

The guy schlepping bricks or "carrying hod" as they call it, is usually an apprentice bricklayer who is doing the crap work for the journeymen so that he in turn can learn and master the trade.

Just because you are a precious and valuable snowflake with rare and vital knowledge of some subset of IT doesn't mean that you are better than a steelworker or that your job security is assured throughout your career. I've worked in heavy manufacturing as a grunt and IT as a specialist. Most of my IT co-workers wouldn't have lasted ten minutes in a steel mill. Your precious IT skills, no matter how arcane, can be learned by and done better and cheaper over a wire by someone in India.

ead: "Pure confirmation-bias amateur sociology survey time: how many of the anti-union commenters in this thread are male and work in IT? Just a show of hands."

This. A thousand times, this.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:08 PM on February 17, 2012


You can unionize all the Americans you want, but China's ostensibly Communist Party seems to have outlawed it, and until enough manufacturing jobs land there to soak up the massive pool of labor

Manufacturing isn't the only unionized labour. There are plenty of union jobs which simply cannot be outsourced: teachers, hospitals, police, firefighters, maintenance workers, pretty much any government/infrastructure work. This is the stuff that gets hurt hard by right-to-work, and the race to the bottom which results frays the very basis of society, to the detriment of absolutely everyone.
posted by mek at 4:55 PM on February 17, 2012


ead: [...] how many of the anti-union commenters in this thread are male and work in IT?

Well, I'm male and work in IT, but I'm pro-union. It just happens to be pro- a very specific union with exactly one member. I pay myself my dues in beer, which arrangement seems quite the equitable balance between cost and benefit.

Kanpai.
posted by sourcequench at 5:33 PM on February 17, 2012


Take objection to it all you like; it doesn't make it less true. As others have pointed out, in addition to things like the eight hour day and workplace safety laws that unions got for the American worker, the mere existence of unions causes the free market to provide at least roughly comparable pay and benefits just to make the formation of an actual union less attractive.

Then why does all the pro-union propaganda exclaim that non-union workers make less money than union-represented ones? It can't be both.

The freedoms that give us the right to join unions also give us the right to not join them, even if it is to our own detriment.
posted by gjc at 5:59 PM on February 17, 2012


But there are plenty of choices that we don't allow, on the grounds that opting out is harmful to the social contract. Firefighting is a great example of one where a couple crazy rural American areas have retreated from this, but Social Security and Medicare are two obvious examples. Of course, maybe you do support a Social Security opt-out?
posted by mek at 6:11 PM on February 17, 2012


Those things mentioned benefit everyone, where unions pretty much by definition exist only to benefit the membership. Any benefit to society at large is just a happy accident, and serves to weaken the unions' position as the protector of [some] workers' rights.

If the law were such ALL workers had to join SOME union, that would be fine. Workers could choose a union that matched their goals, or form a new one should an acceptable choice not already exist. But that's not what current law requires, generally. It says that if you want to work for Company X, you have to join a specific union and abide by their rules no matter what your preference is.

It might as well say that if you wanted to work for Company X, you have to join and tithe to their church.
posted by gjc at 9:30 AM on February 18, 2012


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