Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The right to work for less
June 11, 2013 8:02 AM   Subscribe

"In 1961, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “right to work” a “fraud,” saying that it “provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ ...Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining." -- The Most Dishonest Words in American Politics: 'Right to Work'.
posted by MartinWisse (73 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
No argument here. That term probably marks the high-water mark of conservatives tactic of controlling the debate through re-defining the language.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:20 AM on June 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


American politicians are very good at Project Calling Things The Exact Opposite Of What They Are™.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:23 AM on June 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'd support a "Right to Earn a Decent Living" law.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:24 AM on June 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Labour unions and progressives need to stop falling into the trap of using the language of their opponents. Stop calling it "right to work." I mean, who is opposed to giving someone the right to work? Call it the "freeloader law" or something like that. No one likes a freeloader.

Sometimes, in order to change the dialogue, you've got to change the language.
posted by asnider at 8:35 AM on June 11, 2013 [18 favorites]


US states by GDP per capita
Right to Work states
posted by seemoreglass at 8:36 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every state that has enacted these laws has seen a decline in worker wages and a decline in the robustness of the state.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Careful what you wish for, Longtime Listener, if crafted by the same folks as "Right to Work", the "Right to Earn a Decent Living" would include provisions for mandatory, hourly nutpunches.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:41 AM on June 11, 2013 [17 favorites]



I'd support a "Right to Earn a Decent Living" law.


The very idea of employER (active) and employees (passive) and that there is someone creating a job and giving it to you, for which you should be grateful, is outrageous too. In a work contract, the employee is giving something valuable - an important chunk of his or her life.

The employer often benefits from the employee's work way more than the employee. Underpayment is the order of the day. Work should be regarded as something given by the worker in exchange for wages, and the industry in general should ideally show more appreciation for it through higher wages and better conditions.

Which is, in part, what legislations and unions are about.
posted by ipsative at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2013 [40 favorites]


I think the terminology's correct. The right to work is a fundamental right, a right that also has First Amendment dimensions when a worker, as a condition of employment in certain industries or geographical areas, must pay a fee to a labor union. So a worker not inclined to support a labor union for whatever reason cannot exercise his fundamental right to work without diminishing his First Amendment speech and association rights.

It's debatable whether right to work laws had as their primary purpose defeating labor unions or solving a First Amendment problem; that some labor unions see decreased membership and an increase in free riders is certainly a consequence of right to work laws in many places, and whether that is a desirable consequence or not depends on one's views of organized labor, but it is arguable whether that was "the purpose" of right to work laws.
posted by resurrexit at 8:46 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


The images posted there by seemoreglass don't support the conclusion that it's bad. I suppose you can try to throw out Wyoming as not having enough people to smooth out the curve, but the worst states (Mississippi and West Virginia), one is one isn't. Virginia is doing well, but so is New York. Does Nevada count, or are we putting it in with Wyoming?

I think Right to Work sucks, but these images don't support either side really. I suspect it's more complicated an issue than just this...
posted by Windopaene at 8:49 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's debatable whether right to work laws had as their primary purpose defeating labor unions or solving a First Amendment problem...

It is to lol.
posted by DU at 8:51 AM on June 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


While different people may make claims these days, there seems to be some fairly good evidence that the Right to Work grew out of the KKK.
posted by idb at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


People tend to forget that King was interested in issues of economic injustice as well as civil rights. It's nice to see him quoted on this point.
posted by immlass at 8:57 AM on June 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


When I lived in a 'right to work' state, I referred to these measures as a 'right to be fired at any time for any reasons'.
posted by el io at 8:58 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's debatable whether right to work laws had as their primary purpose defeating labor unions or solving a First Amendment problem...

The laws are almost always the result of intensive lobbying by corporations and business/industry associations, not by workers who don't like paying union dues. Do you think those lobbyists are interested in first amendment rights? No. That's just the marketing they use to sell it to the voting public.
posted by rocket88 at 8:58 AM on June 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


It's debatable whether right to work laws had as their primary purpose defeating labor unions or solving a First Amendment problem

Not really. But here's a thought experiment: If it really was all about "protecting" civil rights like the First Amendment, how many "right-to-work" states provide protections for GLBT citizens?

Here's a useful guide to get you started:
"Right-to-work" states
LGBT employment discrimination law in the United States
posted by zombieflanders at 9:01 AM on June 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't disagree, DU and rocket88. But they have constitutional principles on their side. It's the same reason the generally-liberal ACLU supports various causes liberals might not support where constitutional principles are at stake.

zombieflanders, that's easy: so far as I know, LGBT people aren't required, as a condition of employment, to pay fees to and become a member of groups that support anti-LGBT legislation.
posted by resurrexit at 9:04 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


You have to be some kind of rube to think anyone gives a fuck about "solving a First Amendment problem" when there is money to be made.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:10 AM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


The images posted there by seemoreglass don't support the conclusion that it's bad.

One of the things they don't take into account are "boom" industry incomes in otherwise sparsely-populated states. Two examples on those maps are Wyoming, where the oil industry is going nuts, and Nevada, where the casino industry always weirdly skews financial matters.

But of course one can't make an easy correlation between union busting and per-capita income anyhow, even aside from the boom industry effects, since union busting laws like "Right to Work" initiatives only affect a particular segment of the earning population.
posted by aught at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll buy that "right to work" laws are motivated by deep concern for employees' First Amendment rights when they are expanded to forbid an employer from firing an employee for expressing views outside the workplace with which the employer disagrees.

AFAIK, employers are forbidden from firing employees for expressing contrary political views outside the workplace in precisely zero states.
posted by burden at 9:15 AM on June 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


so far as I know, LGBT people aren't required, as a condition of employment, to pay fees to and become a member of groups that support anti-LGBT legislation.

How about paying taxes?
posted by notsnot at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


The ACLU doesn't support Right-to Work.[1]
posted by goethean at 9:19 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


That suit is brought pursuant to the state open meetings act since the Legislature wasn't open to everyone at the time of debate owing to its being packed to the gills.
posted by resurrexit at 9:22 AM on June 11, 2013


resurrexit, what you're failing to comprehend is that no employer is under any obligation to hire someone. You have no first amendment right to work for any employer you want. If any employer enters an agreement with their employees, that the employer will respect the current employee's union and union rules and agreements, and not hire people who won't join the union, that is something decided by the employees, their union and the employer, all of their own free will, as part of the private market, with no government interference, except to give employees the right to unionize, if they wish. To come along and say that employers and employees don't have a right to make agreements such as collective bargaining or only hiring union members is violating the free speech rights and rights of association of both employees and employers.
posted by PigAlien at 9:22 AM on June 11, 2013 [20 favorites]


I don't disagree, DU and rocket88. But they have constitutional principles on their side.

True. Most conservative arguments have some validity to them. And requiring union membership for workers who would prefer not to join a union or support union-funded causes really sucks for those workers. It's unfair.
Unfortunately, the proposed solution to that unfairness - the "right to work" legislation - causes more problems than it solves by eroding union protection and enabling discriminatory hiring/firing practices, reduced worker safety standards, and poorer wages and working conditions all around, which I believe is the true intent of the legislation in the first place.
posted by rocket88 at 9:31 AM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


so far as I know, LGBT people aren't required, as a condition of employment, to pay fees to and become a member of groups that support anti-LGBT legislation.

And yet, as a condition of employment, they may be required to, y'know, not be gay (or liberal, or pro-choice, or any of a number of positions). Why don't they have constitutional principles on their side?
posted by zombieflanders at 9:33 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because for the time being (give it time), those aren't protected classes. The generic right to work, however, is given fundamental constitutional protection. If the Supreme Court does come out and say one has a fundamental right to be gay, liberal, pro-choice, whatever, then your argument becomes unassailable from a legal standpoint, and holders of those positions/states of being/whatever can't be discriminated against for that particular purpose.
posted by resurrexit at 9:43 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The constitutionality of union contracts and collective bargaining was decided almost a century ago. The conservatives do not have constitutional principles behind them. If an employer wants to hire an employee who doesn't want to join the union, then all that employer has to do is not renew its union contract. No employer is forced by law to work with a union. The law only says that an employer can't prevent its employees from unionizing. If employees unionize, then the employer can fire all of their employees and start fresh. I'm no expert on labor law, however, so please correct me where I'm wrong. This is my understanding.
posted by PigAlien at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2013


The generic right to work, however, is given fundamental constitutional protection

But open shop laws (the proper non-Orwellian doublespeak term) don't protect a generic right to work, either. In fact, quite the opposite: they put the power of choice to work in the hands of the employer rather than employee.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


So every non-union grocery store I've worked at has had signs up about how it's best not to bring a "third party" (read: the union) into the employment relationship. Every time I've looked at one of those signs, I've been struck by how what they're really talking about is bringing a fourth party into the employment relationship. There's:
  1. The people who sells their labor.
  2. The people who profit from the sale of goods made using that labor.
  3. The collection of lawyers, accountants, HR people, and so forth who support the people who are profiting from the sale of goods.
  4. And, that sinister fourth party, the collection of lawyers et al who support the people who sell their labor.
I'll stop thinking unionization are a good idea when they stop thinking incorporation is a good idea, and not a second before.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2013 [35 favorites]


I want to live in a right-to-employ state. It's like a right-to-work state, just backwards. In a right-to-employ state, employers would be free to act against the interest of the union that organizes their employees — but if they do they do the union can dissolve the employer's company and start again from scratch.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:01 AM on June 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


"Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize" -- Teddy Roosevelt
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:04 AM on June 11, 2013 [26 favorites]


It's also worth noting that many countries with high levels of freedom of speech, assembly, and association have very strong union presences: Japan, Sweden, and Denmark all come to mind.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:08 AM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


It has to be a little bit weird to argue that unions are super beneficial for the represented while simultaneously arguing that if you grant the represented an opt-out clause, everyone will shirk to the point that the entire union would collapse.
posted by pwnguin at 10:48 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It has to be a little bit weird to argue that unions are super beneficial for the represented while simultaneously arguing that if you grant the represented an opt-out clause, everyone will shirk to the point that the entire union would collapse.

If you can get the benefits of union membership without paying union dues, why bother paying? Of course, without funding the union can't do its job...
posted by asnider at 10:51 AM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


It has to be a little bit weird to argue that unions are super beneficial for the represented while simultaneously arguing that if you grant the represented an opt-out clause, everyone will shirk to the point that the entire union would collapse.

If people could get the benefits, of insurance without actually paying the penalties, you bet your sweet bippy that people would opt-out until the insurance company collapses, too.
posted by goethean at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


The images posted there by seemoreglass don't support the conclusion that it's bad.

Aught brings up a significant point. There are plenty of other factors involved. Population, unemployment, perks to companies involving tax breaks, incentives, millionaires per capita*, etc. I voted a resounding no to RtW, and after it passed, was the Cassandra proposing doom for workers. Oddly enough, everyone I know that voted for RtW is now kicking themselves. Oh, well. Try to get that changed now that it's bloody well written in stone.

*I threw that in mainly because it looked interesting.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:01 AM on June 11, 2013


You can have collective bargaining and a closed shop, or you can have no collective bargaining and an open shop. Any "mixed" or "voluntary": situation will, in practice, result in a fundamental asymmetry that disadvantages labor. It's less a question of "rights" than of the conditions under which workers have any real ability to set terms.
posted by kewb at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2013


I'm sympathetic, but I'd go with "Death Tax" for the most dishonest words.
posted by hwestiii at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


“It’s striking that they were not successful in passing it in Missouri,” says Shorey.

The only thing stopping it in Missouri is our strong, democrat Governor Jay Nixon.
God Bless Jay!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 11:28 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you can get the benefits of union membership without paying union dues, why bother paying?

Is the union legally required to advocate for all workers, or are they permitted to advocate just for union workers? Maybe the solution here is to let the union represent those who want it and opt in, rather than out - and negotiate its contracts on that basis. Maybe Joe Union Worker makes 12$ an hour, while Ununionized Guy makes 11$.

I find it hard to understand though why a closed shop, hiring only union members, is legal, but a closed shop, say, requiring DAR membership is not.
posted by corb at 11:37 AM on June 11, 2013


Most conservative arguments have some validity to them.

I wouldn't go that far.
posted by Gelatin at 11:38 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


In practice, responds Erin Johansson, if a worker complains to the National Labor Relations Board that she was illegally fired for union activity, it can take eight or nine years to get her job back.
This would seem to suggest that employers cannot, in fact, fire employees for participating in a union if he wants to have non-union employees, as does this, citing Labor Code 923.
posted by corb at 11:44 AM on June 11, 2013


Yes, if you want to pretend that sitting on the sidelines for eight or nine years is not effectively the same as being fired.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is the union legally required to advocate for all workers, or are they permitted to advocate just for union workers? Maybe the solution here is to let the union represent those who want it and opt in, rather than out - and negotiate its contracts on that basis. Maybe Joe Union Worker makes 12$ an hour, while Ununionized Guy makes 11$.

And why is any employer, anywhere, going to hire the $12 guy when they can simply have a shop full of $11 guys? Even if a union is not legally required to advocate for all workers, it's hard to see why they wouldn't have to do so for practical reasons.

What you've described *is* right-to-work, and unsurprisingly, where right-to-work passes, unions and wages (along with the other benefits unions have won for workers) tend to collapse.
posted by kewb at 11:51 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was a union member and on the contract negotiating team when our job shut their doors and moved to a different state. That is, technically, illegal. Complaints were filed and the NLRB went through its process and after something like six years found in our favor. But so what? We still didn't have (those) jobs. The company had to pay a fine, and not a very big one.
posted by rtha at 11:51 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is the union legally required to advocate for all workers, or are they permitted to advocate just for union workers?

Yes. That's what collective bargaining is.

Maybe the solution here is to let the union represent those who want it and opt in, rather than out - and negotiate its contracts on that basis. Maybe Joe Union Worker makes 12$ an hour, while Ununionized Guy makes 11$.

As pointed out, this encourages removal of wages and benefits. And it's more like JUW makes living wages with decent health care and a retirement plan, UUG makes minimum wage with no health care and no retirement plan. But of course, there's an overlap between people who oppose unions and those who oppose minimum wage (to say nothing of living wages).

Oh, and BTW, no member of a union shop is required to pay anything more than administrative and representative fees (unions have funds for different purposes), they aren't required to put money towards organizing or political action.

This would seem to suggest that employers cannot, in fact, fire employees for participating in a union if he wants to have non-union employees, as does this, citing Labor Code 923.

No, what that suggests is that employers cannot legally fire employees for participating in a union. They can, in fact, do so, and escape penalties for a very long time, as the line you quoted points out, and pay fines rather than provide for lost wages, benefits, etc.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I find it hard to understand though why a closed shop, hiring only union members, is legal, but a closed shop, say, requiring DAR membership is not.

Technically, a closed shop hiring only union members is illegal, and has been illegal, since 1947 in the U.S. When people talk about a closed shop these days they generally mean a place of work which requires that all hires join the union if they aren't already members.
posted by cjelli at 12:08 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


goethean: "If people could get the benefits, of insurance without actually paying the penalties, you bet your sweet bippy that people would opt-out until the insurance company collapses, too."

It's a bit like the psychology of bank runs then? Everyone knows not paying will lead to the union (or at least the organizer's) demise, so either:

1. they prefer the dues to union representation benefits
2. they prefer the dues now to the union representation benefits later
3. members expect the rest of the union to defect on dues, and reason contributing to the demise is better than contributing and watching it fail anyways.

The problem I have with option 3 is that at some point a majority had to agree on the formation of a union. If only a minority still agrees that unions are beneficial and worth paying for, why does said union exist at all?
posted by pwnguin at 12:08 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If only a minority of the workers want a union, the majority could vote to decertify the union.
posted by Longtime Listener at 12:12 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ununionized

Unununionization, typically manifesting in a so-called "Roentgen shop," is a synthetic and unstable labor arrangement. Though such workers display the most noble mettle, labor actions never last more than 26 seconds before at least half of the unununion members vote to transition to a simpler arrangement.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:15 PM on June 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


If only a minority of the workers want a union, the majority could vote to decertify the union.

I think the problem is that people are inherently inactive on such matters when they don't particularly care either way. So in any shop: you will have the die-hard union-pin-wearing song-singing union guys. And you will have the hell-no-we-won't-do-it anti-union guys. But in the middle - and I would argue that in some shops, it is a very, very vast middle - they just don't care. They don't think of the union. It doesn't come up in their lives as far as they see. They pay their union dues because they are automatically deducted out of their paycheck. They don't read the newsletters. They don't go to meetings. They have to think about whether or not they "Belong to the union."

The issue of right-to-work vs pro-union legislation seems to come down mainly to: what to do about those workers? Who has a right to those workers?

Those workers are unlikely to act either to remove themselves from a union or to join one. Their inaction is assumed. But who should the inaction benefit?
posted by corb at 12:25 PM on June 11, 2013


For example. I belong to a membership organization that has some thousands of members. To dissolve the member organization would take a majority of votes. But the majority of the membership doesn't vote, either for or against. Only some hundreds of people vote - and so no matter what all the active members decide, the organization will never be dissolved, because it is impossible to do so.
posted by corb at 12:27 PM on June 11, 2013


el io: “When I lived in a 'right to work' state, I referred to these measures as a 'right to be fired at any time for any reasons'.”
I always call it "Right to Fire."
posted by ob1quixote at 12:39 PM on June 11, 2013


As the link points out, only 30 percent of workers in a bargaining unit need to sign the petition to start the process, and the decision goes to whichever side gets more than 50 percent of the votes. The truly indifferent won't vote, so it doesn't matter how large their ranks are.
posted by Longtime Listener at 12:39 PM on June 11, 2013


Though as I now recall, I was educated on this by valkyryn some time back. "Right to Work" specifically covers only collective bargaining. Employment at will, i.e. the right to fire at any time for any reason, is in fact the default employment arrangement in 43 out of 50 states. zombieflanders is right, I should say "open shop laws" instead.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:48 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Union membership in the United States is at its lowest level since 1916. It has been on a long decline since the 1950s. I find it hard to imagine that there is a large percentage of anti-union workers trapped in jobs where they must endure the benefits negotiated on their behalf by a labor union.
posted by Longtime Listener at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


seemoreglass:
US states by GDP per capita
Right to Work states
Not seeing a real good correlation there. Numbers might help, but some of the "Right to Work Be Fired" states are high-GDP and some are low.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:59 PM on June 11, 2013


I find it hard to imagine that there is a large percentage of anti-union workers trapped in jobs where they must endure the benefits negotiated on their behalf by a labor union.

There aren't. The "plight" of non-union workers is a smokescreen. The laws are primarily aimed at wiping-out unions in the public sector. Teachers. Sanitation workers. Fire fighters. Police. Though, those last two still wield enough fear in politicians to where most municipalities and states take steps to specifically not apply the right-to-work measures to them.

With teachers, though, there is a situation where the non-union-worker issue does come into play. That involves the big push to replace trained (unionized) teachers with non-teachers with "real world" experience.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Those workers are unlikely to act either to remove themselves from a union or to join one. Their inaction is assumed. But who should the inaction benefit?

It's pretty well-established that union workers enjoy better conditions than non-union workers. On the whole, union workers earn more than their non-unionised counterparts. Women more so. Women of color even more so. It's not 'inertia' that's preventing decertification, it's people knowing they benefit from the union.

(Funny how that works. Who would have thought collective bargaining would insulate you from discrimination? Oh wait, everyone.)
posted by hoyland at 4:26 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Right to be fired". I like that.
posted by cthuljew at 4:33 PM on June 11, 2013


I don't really have a dog in this fight. I've never been in a union, I can't ever imagine I would join one and I can't ever imagine starting a business that would have a unionized work force. Frankly, this all looks like some weird 1970's socialist stuff that died out under Thatcher's gentle ministrations years and years ago.

I'm a pretty liberal guy in many respects, but I just don't get unions in the USA. They seem like the tattered remains of a long gone industrial age. Parasitic organizations feeding of the workers they represent. Which is all to say that unions have a serious image problem and as long as the wide middle of the US electorate are as ambivalent as I am, I believe they are on one way trip to irrelevance. The RtW laws are just one symptom of that.
posted by Long Way To Go at 6:01 PM on June 11, 2013


The Day President Kennedy Embraced Civil Rights—and the Story Behind It: 50 years ago today, the president gave his now-famous Civil Rights Address. But it was Martin Luther King Jr. and the Birmingham protesters who deserved the credit.
posted by homunculus at 9:05 PM on June 11, 2013


Complaining about union dues is the strangest thing. "How dare the union take $5 from my check? I'd rather make a hundred dollars less!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:01 PM on June 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Long Way To Go: "Which is all to say that unions have a serious image problem and as long as the wide middle of the US electorate are as ambivalent as I am, I believe they are on one way trip to irrelevance."

You're right about the image problem and the potential for unions to fade into irrelevance, but I suspect that your statement about how you "don't have a dog in this fight" is misguided.

What I don't think you're quite getting is that having a significant portion of the labor force unionized has raised conditions for all workers, whether they have ever been in a union or not, and those same unions, fading into irrelevance as they may be, could very well be the only thing keeping wages, benefits, and labor conditions from returning to Gilded Age levels. We've seen income inequality rising as union membership has declined, and though that's not evidence of causation, it seems to me that the middle class needs all the help it can get.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:17 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


In any open shop, there is always going to be a free-rider problem, where some workers are getting the benefit of union-negotiated conditions without themselves having contributed to the union. This, in a broader sense, is true of most of what we might consider to be social security - unemployment, healthcare, income support, disability allowances etc. There are always going to be people at the margins who exploit such systems, and it is legitimate to try to limit their numbers and opportunities as much as possible.
The US, however, seems to have developed almost a paranoia about these free-riders, since at least the times of the "Cadillac Queens". It's like a new McCarthyism, with the asshole on the dole replacing the red under the bed. It focuses the debate in a damaging way, allowing the system to be chipped away on the pretence of addressing the "abuses" of the benefits. The fanatical crusade to deny the free-loader on occasion gets so bad that it seems to inspires a sort of scorched earth policy, even amongst those who are in a position to lose the most.
In the world of a union shop, this translates to the resentment felt by many of the union members that the non-members are getting the union-negotiated benefits without paying their dues. They are tempted to stop paying their dues themselves. Why should they pay when someone else is getting something for nothing? But that way lies madness. Do you burn down your house to get rid of the squatter in the basement? Do what you can to get rid of the squatter, but don't destroy your shelter and security just to deny it to someone else.
posted by Jakey at 4:32 AM on June 12, 2013


I'm a pretty liberal guy in many respects, but I just don't get unions in the USA. They seem like the tattered remains of a long gone industrial age. Parasitic organizations feeding of the workers they represent. Which is all to say that unions have a serious image problem and as long as the wide middle of the US electorate are as ambivalent as I am, I believe they are on one way trip to irrelevance. The RtW laws are just one symptom of that.

Well, maybe it's because you've got it all ass-backwards. They're not a symptom, they're the disease. The decline of unions came from anti-labor laws and deregulation at times when the industries and government (Reagan in particular) didn't seem interested in keeping up with other industrialized nations like Germany and Japan that, not coincidentally, had and continue to have a history of strong labor union participation in both industry and government. And as pointed out above, also not coincidentally, the decline in unions has led to a wide range of issues with wages, income inequality, and access to benefits such as health care and retirement fund.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:27 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, it's not just the industrial sector where unions exist and are necessary. There's retail unions, creative works unions, domestic worker unions, and "professional" (white-collar worker) unions. There's been some really nasty stuff in those last two in regards to worker conditions and access to work where strong unions can be and have been a big help to workers.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:15 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, it's not just the industrial sector where unions exist and are necessary.

This has always seemed to me to be the place where the capitalist class, as it were, sold a bill of goods to folks in the later boomer/early Gen X and later cohorts. Unions are perceived as blue collar things and white collar workers in the tech sector don't need them. This is pretty hilarious given that the tech sector is full of wage and hour (particularly hours) exploitation. For instance, I used to be married to a NASA contractor and it was a standard expectation at his firm, and apparently throughout JSC, that contractors would bill 40 and work 45. That was 20 years ago.

I hear about all the crap in various sectors of the tech industry--like all the stuff with the gaming side where the conditions are horrible and the hours exploitative--and wonder why tech workers don't unionize. It's in large part because unions lost the propaganda war a while ago and they need to fight a new one to come back and remind people that gains like the 40 hour work week and prevention of wage theft (a thing that's big in the food service industry right now) didn't come out of nowhere. They can also be rolled back.
posted by immlass at 7:03 AM on June 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


In any open shop, there is always going to be a free-rider problem, where some workers are getting the benefit of union-negotiated conditions without themselves having contributed to the union. This, in a broader sense, is true of most of what we might consider to be social security - unemployment, healthcare, income support, disability allowances etc.

The "free-rider" idea itself is a symptom of a kind of thinking that makes a reductio ad absurdum of "fair treatment," the same sort of thinking that Anatole France criticized with his famous line about the magnificent equality of the law that prohibits rich and poor alike from sleeping beneath bridges.

Consider that, by definition, employed persons in a union shop have the ability to pay dues without suffering much financial distress. We are not talking about the disabled or the unemployed, and where a union is comprised of many members who are poor or deeply indebted you are not going to find especially high dues in the local shop. There'd *be* no local shop fairly soon in such cases.

It's essentially the difference between paying no taxes because your income is below a certain threshold and paying no taxes because you're a comfortably middle-class tax evader.
posted by kewb at 7:03 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


This has always seemed to me to be the place where the capitalist class, as it were, sold a bill of goods to folks in the later boomer/early Gen X and later cohorts. Unions are perceived as blue collar things and white collar workers in the tech sector don't need them. This is pretty hilarious given that the tech sector is full of wage and hour (particularly hours) exploitation.

Part of the "bill of goods" was the fantasy of the post-industrial economy; a lot people seem to imagine that unions only matter to "industrial" manufacturing jobs, and that such jobs aren't even what blue-collar folks do anymore in "post-industrial" economies. To them, blue-collar work means low-level service jobs.

Never mind that the United States is still the largest manufacturer in the world, or that stuff has to be built somewhere. And never mind that the problems unions existed to address can apply to non-industrial labor as well. We all know those jobs are just different, because we describe them with a fancy adjective that has the prefix "post-" and everything!
posted by kewb at 7:09 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hear about all the crap in various sectors of the tech industry--like all the stuff with the gaming side where the conditions are horrible and the hours exploitative--and wonder why tech workers don't unionize. It's in large part because unions lost the propaganda war a while ago and they need to fight a new one to come back and remind people that gains like the 40 hour work week and prevention of wage theft (a thing that's big in the food service industry right now) didn't come out of nowhere.

It's also because Libertarian Ubermenschen ideology is so goddamned rampant among tech workers as to be nearly unremarkable.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:52 AM on June 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


The Non-Union Workplace
posted by tonycpsu at 7:23 AM on June 15, 2013


« Older Plush cows? Plush cows! Plush cows....  |  The Accumulation Of Ruin Space... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments