Skip

What Happens When Low Wage Workers Suddenly Get a Living Wage?
June 6, 2014 8:00 AM   Subscribe

The other night I was on the train coming home and there was this young girl with three young children, and she had a container of milk, and I heard the middle child of the three ask, "Mom, can I have some milk?" and the mother said, "No, you know we need it for the baby." And I remembered feeling like that.
posted by the young rope-rider (215 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 


It's always nice to see us take a step back from the brink of a new Gilded Age....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:11 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


this was a great article
posted by rebent at 8:17 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


The comments are instructive.

People really don't like unions!

Some are at least happy that the union helped these people do better, making ends meet, becoming "pillars of society" like the one guy profiled said, but, "don't get me wrong, I still think unions are bad."

So weird.

(This story came up on Digg's daily email digest this morning, btw: I'm happy that Digg is helping us find this story and feel good about some good news, but don't get me wrong, I still think Digg is uncool.")
posted by notyou at 8:23 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


People really don't like unions!

Some are at least happy that the union helped these people do better, making ends meet, becoming "pillars of society" like the one guy profiled said, but, "don't get me wrong, I still think unions are bad."


I have a friend who will simultaneously complain about how little he makes compared to wealthy people around him and also complain about how unionized and government workers make too much. The extent to which the demonization of unions (and public sector) workers has succeed is mind boggling.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:26 AM on June 6 [84 favorites]


Americans have developed Pavlovian responses to certain words which shut down all critical thought. Thankfully, since this is America, all we have to do is rebrand them as something fun and web 2.0 like Groupr or Kollects and watch 'em take off.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on June 6 [89 favorites]


As a programmer, I don't make staggeringly huge amounts of money but I've been able to make more than I spent for the last 20 years or so. But for people who aren't making a living wage, the amount of mindspace that the concept "Can I make it through this week without running out of money?" occupies is simply horrific. I honestly have no idea how people not making a minimum wage don't go crazy - oh, not immediately, I've been seriously broke before, but in the long term when you can't ever take your finger off the button - or even just get sick - or you'll end up in the street, how can you take it for decades at a time?

As for the anti-union thing, it's purely the result of propaganda, nothing more or less. There are abuses of any power structure, and unions are no exception, but these pale into insignificance compared to the abuses inherent in a system that allows people to work for a wage that they can't survive on.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:31 AM on June 6 [53 favorites]


Those stories of their lives changing for the better were really touching. It sounds like their kids are going to be on a better path for the rest of their lives, all from a union negotiation. Pretty cool.
posted by mathowie at 8:32 AM on June 6 [14 favorites]


I wish this article ended with "After the publication of these profiles these people banded together to steal all the casinos money in the biggest heist in world history. They now live together on a island they purchased off Dubai."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:33 AM on June 6 [20 favorites]


I have a union job at a place that was unionized less than ten years before I was hired. So there's lots of living memory about how things were before. The main thing - and I remember this from when I was working temp jobs - is that before, they had lots of long, long term temp workers - the record was something like twenty years. Twenty years as a temp! There was a moderate wage increase when the union came in, but the real benefits for pink collar workers are in job security and a predictable wage structure where people in the same roles with the same amount of experience are required to make similar wages (which was not the case before at all).

The biggest impact, though, is on blue collar workers. If you work in food service or as a cleaner now, your starting pay is basically a living wage and you get good benefits.

In general, public service unions make the biggest impact on blue collar workers. Everyone assumes that it's the clericals or nurses or other relatively skilled workers who are making our [always undeserved, naturally] huge wage packet, but in reality we tend to make at or below what we'd make in the private sector (but our benefits are good). The people whose lives change are blue collar, and that is wonderful - a wage floor and stability for people who would otherwise be ground down to nothing.
posted by Frowner at 8:33 AM on June 6 [41 favorites]


I live in a right-to-work state and work across the river in another such state. I see workers getting treated like shit all the time. I don't make very myself but I'm better off than the woman who's been cleaning my state college workplace for the last 6 years for minimum wage: even though she's had the same job for that many years and works full-time year-round she's considered a temporary worker and gets no benefits, no health insurance, no paid holidays, no paid vacation days, no paid sick days. Right-to-work my ass! Right to exploit! Right of the rich to get richer by preying on the poor! It's heartening to hear that some people are still managing to establish unions.
posted by mareli at 8:37 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]


I think it's interesting to hear so many people refer to this as a "living/fair wage", but when you actually read the nitty-gritty, what are they talking about? "Private school", "a 2, 3 bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood." These are great, aspirational things to hope for, but they're definitely not the bog standard minimum.

Unions are good for people in them, and bad for people who aren't. It is advantageous both to join unions and to break them. It's a tough situation all around.
posted by corb at 8:40 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've never really understood the anti-union hate from my fellow libertarians and other economic conservatives. Corporations allow the providers of capital to pool their resources together to hire lawyers to negotiate on their behalf. Unions allow the providers of labor to do the same. This balance is a good thing.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:42 AM on June 6 [69 favorites]


sorry, that was rude. Let me be more constructive: Who gets to define "minimum" in your opinion?
posted by rebent at 8:43 AM on June 6


I'm always shocked and saddened by the hatred so many working- and middle-class Americans have for unions. Unions are the reason for pretty much every good thing about working (weekends, sick leave, vacations, protection from arbitrary dismissal, etc) that we have, and yet we've let that get eroded and eroded. It's a larger symptom, I think, of the tight focus on what we think is best for us, personally, that we ignore the needs of the larger community and, therefore fail to capitalize on our collective strengths. Because any time you need to go up against the bosses alone, you are screwed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:43 AM on June 6 [28 favorites]


Yeah, I've never really understood the anti-union hate from my fellow libertarians and other economic conservatives.

As far as I understand, it's not hatred of unions, more hatred of Taft-Hartley. The libertarian rallying cry I've heard is to eliminate that act, let the unions strike when they want and let the employers fire them if they want, and see what happens when the dust settles.
posted by corb at 8:45 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


"a 2, 3 bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood."

Wtf are you seriously saying this is too much to ask for? They mean "having enough room for their kids somewhere in Queens" not "penthouse overlooking the park". Your uncharitable reading is uncool there corb.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:45 AM on June 6 [116 favorites]


These are great, aspirational things to hope for, but they're definitely not the bog standard minimum.

Isn't that the entire point? These people were getting the bog standard minimum before, and there lives were overtly more miserable.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:46 AM on June 6 [21 favorites]


I think that whole thing with the milk illustrates is perfectly. Kid #1 gets fucked over because there isn't enough G-DDAMN MILK for everyone to get a fucking glass.

Recipe for empathy: Live in that world a while.
posted by mikelieman at 8:46 AM on June 6 [31 favorites]


I have a friend from grad school who works for one of the big tech companies in Seattle and keeps filling up my Facebook page with posts bitching about the minimum wage there. I'm sure that he makes six figures but somehow people making $15/hour is the worst thing ever.
posted by octothorpe at 8:47 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


The libertarian rallying cry I've heard is to eliminate that act, let the unions strike when they want and let the employers fire them if they want, and see what happens when the dust settles.

History happened. We know how this ends: corps either hire private thugs or employ the state's thugs to disenfranchise labor.
posted by PMdixon at 8:47 AM on June 6 [63 favorites]


Unions are the reason for pretty much every good thing about working...

Right. But they are also responsible for a lot of graft, corruption, other workplace crap.

The thing is - a union should be superfluous. There is no reason that the benefits a union provides can't be provided by the state. The job protections, the wage rules, the mediation - these are all things that could happen statutorily and instead are handled as civil contracts. It's inefficient, leads to misunderstandings, and worst of all is open to manipulation.

Yeah, I know, there can be problems with uneven prosecution of laws and whatnot, but at least those benefits would apply to every worker and not just ones in union gigs.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:49 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


We are suffering the same shit in the UK. We also have a min and living wage, but the living wage is only about £1.50 more than the min, so its hardly much better after tax and NI.
posted by marienbad at 8:50 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Unions are good for people in them, and bad for people who aren't. It is advantageous both to join unions and to break them. It's a tough situation all around.

Sorry, I just can't see how unions could possibly be bad for those not in them. At worst, the unions have no effect on others' jobs. At best, they put upward pressure on wages and benefits. Win-win for all workers.

Now, if you are an employer it may be different - but that's kinda the point.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:50 AM on June 6 [29 favorites]


I have a friend who will simultaneously complain about how little he makes compared to wealthy people around him and also complain about how unionized and government workers make too much.

And I think lotteries are an evil tax on the poor and that casinos are an unethical blight. I still play the lottery when it gets over 250 million (anything less isn't worth winning) and I like to occasionally sit a poker table. It's possible to hold completely contrarian views.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:50 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I think that part of the point is, that if you're working a full-time job (or want to be full-time but are being kept at 32 hours a week because then your employer can get out of providing benefits), that being able to afford an apartment that meets your needs, buy enough groceries to feed your family, and give your kids a decent education should be 'bog standard minimum'.

A 2-bedroom apartment in a decent (not actively unsafe) neighborhood for a 3-person household is not crazy luxury, it's basically just enough to let you not be miserably scraping by. I think it's totally reasonable for someone who is working full-time not be forced between paying their bills and eating.
posted by Kpele at 8:51 AM on June 6 [58 favorites]


see what happens when the dust settles.

Yeah, there's no mystery here. What happens is corporate-hired thugs kill strikers and union activists.
posted by rtha at 8:51 AM on June 6 [60 favorites]


I think it's interesting to hear so many people refer to this as a "living/fair wage", but when you actually read the nitty-gritty, what are they talking about? "Private school", "a 2, 3 bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood." These are great, aspirational things to hope for, but they're definitely not the bog standard minimum.

Why shouldn't they be "the bog standard minimum"?

Actually, what would you call "the bog standard minimum", and why?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:51 AM on June 6 [11 favorites]


The thing is - a union should be superfluous. There is no reason that the benefits a union provides can't be provided by the state. The job protections, the wage rules, the mediation - these are all things that could happen statutorily and instead are handled as civil contracts. It's inefficient, leads to misunderstandings, and worst of all is open to manipulation.

That would be a great and wondrous thing. Unfortunately we live in a polity that can't even bring itself to enforce PTO. So I think labor and laborers have to look to their own for the time being.
posted by PMdixon at 8:52 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Oh, and --

Unions are good for people in them, and bad for people who aren't.

Actors' Equity, the union covering actors and stage managers, has rules protecting non-union actors and stage managers in their contracts and ensuring their fair treatment as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on June 6 [43 favorites]


Private school likely means a 4k a year Catholic school, which is still a stretch on that wage.

Besides, she can't send her kid to public school--she might learn about sharing!
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:55 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Right. But they are also responsible for a lot of graft, corruption, other workplace crap.

Well, so are the Heads of Industry, and you don't see them getting that level of hate.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:55 AM on June 6 [29 favorites]


History happened. We know how this ends: corps either hire private thugs or employ the state's thugs to disenfranchise labor.

cf. this thread, which some people in this thread may remember
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:56 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


Bog standard minimum is living in a cardboard box...in a bog.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:57 AM on June 6 [10 favorites]


cf. this thread, which some people in this thread may remember

or this thread as well
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:57 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


Ruthless bunny, thanks for posting the link to Solidarity Forever. It led me down the rabbit hole all the way from John Brown's Body (the name of the tune) to The Battle Hymn of the Republic which was the most popular usage of the tune, and incredibly gruesome. I had no idea how closely linked the American Civil War was to religion, with verses like
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
the idea of looking at a vast army, no phones no cars no spotlights, just dim and flaring lamps, and seeing yourself as a part of a divine force who will "die to make men free" is incredibly striking. And that idea, I think, carries over to Solidarity Forever; from "die to make men free" to "It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own."
It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.
This is a transition - no longer is the song sung as a savior of slaves, but as someone who has slowly been turned into a slave themselves (albeit obviously more of a metaphorical slave than an actual slave).

Both these songs are about Freedom and Compensation. I don't think it's a coincidence that Solidarity Forever was written using The Battle Hymn's tune - our fight for the rights of workers stretches all the way back to the Civil War.
posted by rebent at 8:58 AM on June 6 [25 favorites]


I think it's interesting to hear so many people refer to this as a "living/fair wage", but when you actually read the nitty-gritty, what are they talking about? "Private school", "a 2, 3 bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood." These are great, aspirational things to hope for, but they're definitely not the bog standard minimum.

The guy who is talking about the 2-3 bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood has a partner who has a good professional job and whose expectations are naturally higher. The woman who is talking about "private school" is clearly talking about supplementary programs for her son, probably either aftercare or supplementary stuff because he goes to a low-quality and underfunded public school. Ask yourself this: these people all live in and around New York, which is very expensive. Their lavish union gigs pay in the neighborhood of $45,000 a year (most of them seem to be below full time, so I assumed 35 hours a week at $22/hour). Why do you think this is a luxurious wage in this part of the country?
posted by Frowner at 9:00 AM on June 6 [33 favorites]


Actually, what would you call "the bog standard minimum", and why?

That's a really interesting question. I suppose if I were to find a definition of what I'd consider a living wage, I would say that it would be either providing enough income or the supporting structure for a roof with a bed to sleep in, food to eat, clothes to wear, and some basic medical treatment - basically, the things you need to live. It would not include providing enough income or housing or education for children, because children are a choice, and not the choice of your employer.

(Mind you, I think everyone should be able to make that choice, but when you do, the onus is on you to consider how you will financially afford it.)
posted by corb at 9:02 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I just can't see how unions could possibly be bad for those not in them.

Many union shops have a "we only hire non-union workers when we're out of union workers to hire" policy, probably advocated or forced by the union in the first place. That makes it hard for people to benefit from joining a union, since you generally have to work in a union shop to get a union card, but union shops won't hire you without that union card, so they're stuck with working non-union jobs without the benefit of having a union watching their back. I know, it's not that way everywhere, especially in areas with a lack of unions trying to build the rolls, but I've known enough non-union people who couldn't get the jobs they wanted because the union shut them out. The guy who drives the furniture delivery truck around town probably spends all day wishing he could get a Teamster's job, but can't because no union trucking company will hire him.

Now, I understand that's the way unions are supposed to work, to avoid diluting the value of their workforce with any idiot that can scrounge up their union dues, but the people standing on the outside don't care much if they can't benefit from it, and it explains why scabs are so easy to come by.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:05 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


[it'd probably be best to focus on the stories in the link itself and keep this from being a single member vs. everyone thread]
posted by mathowie at 9:06 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


I had a plumber at the house this morning, a super friendly talkative guy and somehow the union came up and apprenticeship program and he took a deep breath, ready to expound and I held my breath afraid that our happy toilet fixing experience was over. But NO!

He said that people complain about the unions and union people complain that the apprenticeships are focusing on minority outreach, but people are blind to how bad things are without these things in place. So my day started well, with a thoughtful political discussion and working plumbing. The world can be a beautiful place.
posted by readery at 9:08 AM on June 6 [36 favorites]


Unions are good for people in them, and bad for people who aren't.

This is a crock of shit and there is ample empirical evidence that widespread unionization has an upward pressure on wages. Also I don't have work tomorrow, or the next day, so if you like weekends then you can thank the unions.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:08 AM on June 6 [57 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest : I think the point in your response is "widespread unionization" -- if everybody's in the union, everyone benefits. But, if you've got the union shops with their $25 an hour to start, but it only covers 25% of the workforce, and the other 75% are working at $8 an hour, it's plain to see how it's bad for the people who aren't. edit Even if that's flipped, 75% union, 25% non-union, it's still not so great for the nonunion people.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:12 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


That isn't my point and sorry I wasn't clear. Widespread unionization puts upward pressure on wages in non-unionized jobs.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:14 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


> t would not include providing enough income or housing or education for children, because children are a choice, and not the choice of your employer.

A society with that attitude won't last long. The idea most people don't deserve to have kids and that society shouldn't economically it allow leads inexorably into a horrific, dystopian future.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:16 AM on June 6 [50 favorites]


As for the anti-union thing, it's purely the result of propaganda, nothing more or less.

Come on, dissatisfaction with unions is not a *purely* baseless, right-wing invention. There are many legitimate reasons why some could regard them in a negative light:

- Being unaccountable to their membership
- Having a totally unquestioned relationship with the Democratic party
- Focusing on particularist interests rather than working for initiatives that benefit people outside the union
- Inconveniencing non-union members during a strike action or whatnot
- Unwillingness to organize certain sectors of workers

Maybe one could argue (and I do) that solidarity with the workers and a right to organize is way more important than any of the above things, but that is becoming an increasingly tough sell in today's world.

For instance, there was a recent transit strike in my area and the dominant narrative seemed to be "I'm a precarious worker and these greedy unionists are inconveniencing me from making money at my job!" Yeah, maybe it would be better if everyone linked arms and sang Solidarity Forever. But as it stands, there are many that see unions as antagonistic to their interests, and that's not an entirely fictional construction, unfortunately.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:19 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


corb >

Unions are good for people in them, and bad for people who aren't. It is advantageous both to join unions and to break them. It's a tough situation all around.

This is just plain wrong, but it's not surprising to see such blithely uninformed anti-union sentiment spouted off as truth these days. The fact of the matter is that unions are good for all workers. It is only because of the efforts of unions over the past hundred and fifty years or so, including the outright murder of labor organizers and striking workers by governments and private interests, that we ever got a 40-hour-workweek, weekends, child labor laws, occupational health and safety regulations, and wages sufficient to live in dignity for working people and families.

And guess what? With the decline of union membership that's happened since the 70's, occupational health and safety measures have been relaxed, people work more hours than ever for flat wages, Republican politicians openly call for child labor, and social mobility is at an all-time low. Think that's a coincidence? Furthermore, there's lots of empirical evidence which indicates that union-negotiated wages actually increase wages for non-unionized employees.

Unions are only bad for employers in the sense that they tend to halt the vicious cycle of exploitation that leads to lower wages and bad labor conditions for workers while benefiting the boss's bottom line. So, if your concern is that you won't be able to afford a new solid gold toilet in your yacht's remodeled rec room, yeah, I guess unions are a bad thing.
posted by clockzero at 9:21 AM on June 6 [77 favorites]


If the non-union sector is making less than the union sector, that has nothing to do with the union. But the union will place upward pressure on wages for everybody. If there is an opportunity for the $8/hr employer to lose employees to the $25/hr employer, then the $8/hr employer is going to feel more and more pressure to raise the wages he pays to retain employees. (There doesn't need to be a union involved for this to work, just two different levels of pay. But, unions are the most effective way to create those two levels in pay.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:21 AM on June 6 [11 favorites]


If they are not dying, they are receiving a living wage. Adding value-laden terms is a cheap rhetorical device: "You don't want them to have a LIVING WAGE? If they don't have a living wage, surely they will die. Why would you want people to die?" Obviously no one says that, but it is implicit in the term. But this article is preaching to the choir anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter in this case.
posted by jjmoney at 9:22 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Don't be disingenuous, that's not what living wage means any more than living room means "ROOM WHERE YOU ARE ALIVE"
posted by Ferreous at 9:24 AM on June 6 [79 favorites]


If they are not dying, they are receiving a living wage

There are plenty of living people who are plainly not receiving any kind of wage so... those people must be... dead?
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:26 AM on June 6 [18 favorites]


- Focusing on particularist interests rather than working for initiatives that benefit people outside the union

Sorry to put too fine a point on it, but if someone is dissatisfied with unions because unions put the interest of unions over the interests of other things, then those people are morons who chugged the right-wing kool aid.

Really, what does the SEIU owe you?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:26 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Union workplaces can be (but by no means always are) excessively rigid and inflexible, but the protections they offer to workers in terms of safety and benefits is huge.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:27 AM on June 6


Noisy Pink Bubbles said a lot of my mom, herself a child of a factory union worker and then at various times a factory and state union worker herself, reasons for not liking unions.

She felt her money was being used to support candidates she didn't feel had the best interests of the union members at hand. And when plants closed in our town, union reps were gone in an instant without providing any support to members, such as resume assistance, help with finding a new job, help with how to access services like unemployment, food banks, etc. They were just gone.

She knows they've done a lot of good but thinks the modern incarnation has lost the purpose and direction of what unions originally stood for.
posted by sio42 at 9:28 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


People seem to forget that a group of workers often can choose an established union to join, and if none fit the bill, they can establish their own.

It's not like there's a single monolithic union that has a monopoly on union action.

Hating on "the unions" is like hating on "the corporations" as though they're all the same.
posted by explosion at 9:30 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


If they are not dying, they are receiving a living wage.

I love this comment so much. Its really a gem. It is like the platonic ideal of bad faith pedantry. I want to, but I won't, debase it by applying that logic to other phrases to see how funny literal interpretations of political concepts can be.

You're like the Amelia Bedelia of political rhetoric. Bravo!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:31 AM on June 6 [111 favorites]


Really, what does the SEIU owe you?

Well nothing, I suppose, but I think we can all agree that unions are in the middle of a long-term publicity battle, and "Fuck you, we got ours" is not the best relationship to have with the public if you want them on your side.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:31 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


It seems ironic or something that the issue of children is where both libertarianism and most Marxisms founder.
posted by PMdixon at 9:32 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


If there is an opportunity for the $8/hr employer to lose employees to the $25/hr employer,

Why is there an opportunity in your example? if the union has all the employees they need, there's no opportunity for the $8-an-hour employer to lose their employees to the union. When unemployment goes up, people need to eat and have to take the job they're offered; they can't weigh the value of a union vs non-union job and pick the better one.

When unemployment is low, the lack of valuable employees will increase wages either way, that's not entirely the union's doing although they usually set the bar. If employers had their way, everyone would get $8, so, yeah, the union improves the wages for a chunk of the available employees, but once they've got enough employees to fill the union jobs, everyone -- including unemployed union members who now have to resort to non-union jobs because of the lack of demand for their skills -- have to settle for lower pay.

For the record, I'm not an anti-union person, I jut don't agree with the exclusivity of unions; they're more like a country club than a roll-up-your-sleeves groundswell movement today. The gates keep more out than they let in, which is just how unions work.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:33 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


No, what keeps people out of unions is the massive push to make unions untenable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law#U.S._states_with_right-to-work_laws

These didn't sprout up like mushrooms in the night, they were put together with the sole purpose of crippling unions.
posted by Ferreous at 9:36 AM on June 6 [30 favorites]


For the record, I'm not an anti-union person, I jut don't agree with the exclusivity of unions; they're more like a country club than a roll-up-your-sleeves groundswell movement today. The gates keep more out than they let in, which is just how unions work.

You think unions today are like country clubs? Walmart workers are striking for living wages against a company owned by a single family which controls over 140 billion dollars in wealth, and you think unions are like country clubs? McDonald's workers around the world are striking against a 100-billion-dollar company whose CEO makes the equivalent of one million bottom-wage employees every year, and somehow the union is like a country club?

What planet are you from, dude?
posted by clockzero at 9:40 AM on June 6 [81 favorites]


>Don't be disingenuous, that's not what living wage means any more than living room means "ROOM WHERE YOU ARE ALIVE"

That's hardly an apt comparison outside of a clever semantic similarity. The term 'living wage' is used when arguing that something or some policy should be implemented to raise wages. If you want people to be paid more, and argue that they deserve to receive a living wage, the idea is they are not currently receiving a living wage. But what is a living wage? It's an ill-defined rhetorical idea of the wage necessary to gain am ambiguous level of utility.

I'm not even arguing against the fact that most things would be better if there was less inequality and less constant financial struggle for those at the 'bottom' (Although to be fair there are issues in this piece. Casinos make money by draining the wealth from lower-income gamblers, which comes with its own set of questionable ethics. And mandated higher wages will mean on the margin less employees are hired, which can result in costs that we do not directly observe, but which do exist). But ultimately sure, this is great. I'm happy for these individuals and would love to see economically efficient policies that extend this type of support to those who struggle. I just dislike terms like 'living wage,' as they often create arguments far more targeted to ethos and pathos then logos. And, after all, I'm an economist.
posted by jjmoney at 9:41 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I know a lot about unions since my ex-husband is a union electrician. His average yearly take home (not counting the down turn economy years 2008-2012 which were mostly layoff, but again few people were working in the trades full time, he made in the $30's those years) is about $70K. For that pay he buys his own tools, etc. He can always count on at some point during the winter being suspended above the tollway in freezing temperatures and also at some point being outdoors all day in the August sun in 90 degree heat. The man knows more about long underwear than anyone.

He had his first hip replacement at 49 due to wear and tear and will have the other hip replaced before he turns sixty. the knees will wait until after retirement. So what's a living wage? There's no pension anymore, the local switched to a 401K plan and Wall Street made that disappear - will there be time to build that back up? There's great medical coverage but he's going to need it as the job has just wore him down. That $70K a year doesn't allow him to live large in a large metropolitan area. I do think it's fair. And I think all things considered he'd take a different path if he had it to do all over again. People hear 'union job' and think it's cake. And there's always notable exceptions - the no show jobs or the union pay to sit at a desk all day. But those are talked about BECAUSE they are so exceptional.
posted by readery at 9:42 AM on June 6 [29 favorites]


And mandated higher wages will mean on the margin less employees are hired

This is a oft-debunked myth.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:43 AM on June 6 [15 favorites]


For instance, there was a recent transit strike in my area and the dominant narrative seemed to be "I'm a precarious worker and these greedy unionists are inconveniencing me from making money at my job!" Yeah, maybe it would be better if everyone linked arms and sang Solidarity Forever. But as it stands, there are many that see unions as antagonistic to their interests, and that's not an entirely fictional construction, unfortunately.

The thing is, people always say this, and it's certainly true that a strike is going to hit people who don't have a lot of money the hardest. But the other option is Shoe Event Horizon - no one can ever agitate for better wages because any kind of work stoppage or slowdown is going to make things harder for even poorer people. So basically, no one should ever strike or organize, because there are short-term external costs that rich people can bear for a while and poor people can't. It's just like saying "yeah, it's okay to pay sweatshop wages because at least those people have a job" or "Wal-Mart has to gouge its employees because how else can it keep prices low enough for the poor?" It's demanding shitty but reliable immediate results (low wages for all, but bus service is uninterrupted; Wal-Mart workers on food stamps but cheap toilet paper in poor communities) over any kind of redistributive impulse.

I felt this myself when I was out a month's wages the last time we struck. But I had to strike, because that's how collective organizing works.
posted by Frowner at 9:44 AM on June 6 [33 favorites]


Perhaps libertarians could think of unions as corporations of the poor, groups that pull up each other's bootstraps and help reduce the need for that awful government or charitable assistance.
Assuming one thinks of corporations as good, the larger or more profitable the better. More formerly poor people making more profit = good, right?
posted by Dreidl at 9:49 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


... and somehow the union is like a country club?

When McDonald's gets their union, the Dairy Queen people don't get union benefits -- my experience is, you either are lucky enough to get a union card, or you don't, and if you don't get a union card, you don't get the benefit of being in a union. You want a union card? Sorry, you're not working for a union shop, you can't be in our union. When McDonald's opens a new restaurant, starts hiring 50 people, and they get 80 union-member applications and 150 non-union applications, guess who gets hired? That's the very definition of a walled garden, keeping non-union workers out.

I'm all for McDonald's workers and Wal-Mart workers to get their union, better wages and benefits that they deserve. That doesn't mean I won't think it puts non-union workers at a disadvantage...because that's the purpose of the union, to provide their members with better advantages than non-members.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:50 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I just dislike terms like 'living wage,' as they often create arguments far more targeted to ethos and pathos then logos.

Oh no someone used appeals to emotion to argue for increasing income for economically vulnerable people, get the fainting couch because I do believe I'm having an attack of the vapors!
posted by Ferreous at 9:51 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


First, I believe everyone should receive a living wage... however, when customer service reps and security guards make as much as people I know with master's degrees, does that reduce the incentive to get an education? Why take on a bunch of debt if you can make $45k/yr doing a relatively unskilled job that doesn't require a college degree?
posted by desjardins at 9:52 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


because that's the purpose of the union, to provide their members with better advantages than non-members

That may be the purpose of a union, but that is not the purpose of unions in general.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:52 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


however, when customer service reps and security guards make as much as people I know with master's degrees, does that reduce the incentive to get an education?

Uh, on average, people with masters' make more than people with no degrees. I mean, c'mon now.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:53 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


Every time there's a thread like this i have to wonder...Did some people not get that Scrooge is the bad guy?
posted by like_a_friend at 9:54 AM on June 6 [47 favorites]


does that reduce the incentive to get an education?

Some people pursue education for the pleasurable and enlightening experience of learning about themselves and the world.

But I guess that's another old-fashioned, discarded idea.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:54 AM on June 6 [11 favorites]


When McDonald's gets their union, the Dairy Queen people don't get union benefits

Unless they organize and fight for those benefits. Just like when steelworkers unionize, plumbers don't benefit. When auto-workers unionize, school teachers don't benefit. If Dairy Queen workers want to organize and collectively bargain, the McDonald's employee union can't stop them.
posted by bradf at 9:55 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


My husband recently took a union job at a pretty extreme pay cut -- he makes $12.50 an hour now -- because it gives him a sane workplace, with things like meal breaks and sick leave and not having to be on-call 24/7. It's the best work environment he's ever had, that shows him basic respect and decency as a human being. They understand that sometimes he gets sick, or someone else in his family does and he has to take care of them. At his last job, they threatened to fire him if he took any sick leave and did not have a doctor's note to prove he was really sick enough to not work.

Ironically, the non-union jobs doing the same work at similar government agencies in the area pay almost twice as much. The union is currently trying to use this data to raise pay at his workplace, but unions don't have the power they once did. But private sector can be way worse. I can't tell you how stressful it is, to the worker and by extension their family (because you do take that stress home, you carry it with you all the time), to not have basic security and the time and space to take care of one's self and family. There's more to a good job than just the pay.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:55 AM on June 6 [27 favorites]


Also, even if a union (or really, its membership) has the goal of providing their members with advantages, it often simultaneously has the goal of making all workers members.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:55 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


When McDonald's gets their union, the Dairy Queen people don't get union benefits -- my experience is, you either are lucky enough to get a union card, or you don't, and if you don't get a union card, you don't get the benefit of being in a union.

Or you can, you know, start a union. It's not a question of luck, it's a question of organizing. Your facts are all wrong, brother.

You want a union card? Sorry, you're not working for a union shop, you can't be in our union. When McDonald's opens a new restaurant, starts hiring 50 people, and they get 80 union-member applications and 150 non-union applications, guess who gets hired? That's the very definition of a walled garden, keeping non-union workers out.

Wait, what? How do you get to be a union member before you have a job, exactly?
posted by clockzero at 9:57 AM on June 6 [10 favorites]


Unfortunately not every Master Degree is considered to be worth a huge amount on the open market. It certainly doesn't guarantee that you'll always make a huge amount of money.

And keep in mind a lot of those entry level jobs that you say require no skills are being filled by people with college and professional degrees simply because there are no other jobs and employers can basically look for the perfect candidate that requires no additional training.
posted by vuron at 9:57 AM on June 6


Sorry, I just can't see how unions could possibly be bad for those not in them. At worst, the unions have no effect on others' jobs. At best, they put upward pressure on wages and benefits. Win-win for all workers.

You aren't thinking very hard then. I'm pro-union and I've directly experienced the negatives of being non-union in a union shop. I worked fours summers in the Molson Brewery in Toronto and the foremen and the shop stewards openly allowed us to be used in conditions that the unionized members wouldn't accept - even while we were paying full union dues! I spent days inhaling caustic acid fumes on top of a superhot bottle soaker with broken down beer cases as all there was to insulate us from the warm metal that would heat up the steel plates in our workboots. We were routinely scheduled for shifts in punitive patterns that violated the union agreement (such as involuntary months on graveyard or evenings). We had zero job security, had to provide our own workwear including boots (you go through two or three pairs a summer because of being soaked in beer all the time), no choice about overtime, 10 minutes less per break than the fulltimers (this was unofficially but wink wink - mess with this and the union guys would fuck you over hard), spotty training and on and on.

Both the union and the management exploited us as summer temps.

I got mine is not a symptom of just the non-unionized and management. It's a pervasive human failing and part of why unions were so easy for management to destroy. Solidarity and brotherhood are ideals that very few unions live up to with the kind of consistency for them to work as the social glue they need to be.
posted by srboisvert at 9:58 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


Uh, on average, people with masters' make more than people with no degrees. I mean, c'mon now.

well, yes, overall, but according to wikipedia, the median income for people with bachelor's degrees is about $45k and the median for people with master's is $49k, so my point still stands, the people in the article are making about $45k with no degree.
posted by desjardins at 9:59 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


There might be some unions like the SAG where the percentage of actors to union cards are really low but I'm pretty certain that does not represent the desired state in fast food. I'm pretty sure that most new restaurants aren't going to be staffed exclusively by union members as is the fear being expressed.
posted by vuron at 10:00 AM on June 6


I love the logic of "a person with a masters could earn less than a security guard" and somehow laying the blame on the security guard for making too much.
posted by Ferreous at 10:00 AM on June 6 [78 favorites]


This is pointless exercise because you need to compare averages with averages.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:01 AM on June 6


That may be the purpose of a union, but that is not the purpose of unions in general.

And that comes back to my fundamental statement: I'm not anti-union, I'm just not a fan of the exclusionary way unions operate. I did a quick google of "how do I become a {union name} member?" and they are pretty much universally "you either get a job at a union shop or you organize your non-union shop". The guy who's just trying to make ends meet and can't risk shaking the apple cart by trying to unionize their employer doesn't have many options. You all make it sound like organizing a union is something somebody with a 40-hour a week job can just do. If it's easy, the Wal-Mart and McDonald's unionizers must be doing something wrong.

Wait, what? How do you get to be a union member before you have a job, exactly?

Exactly my point. If a union shop preferentially hires union-members, people new to that industry have a lot of trouble getting hired.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:01 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Wait, what? How do you get to be a union member before you have a job, exactly?

From my husband's union website:
Once your money is paid, you become a member.


I guess not all unions work this way, but some sure do.
posted by kitcat at 10:01 AM on June 6


Construction unions typically allow people to join prior to having work, right? It's not like many people get a full-time job in a place that employs 80 electricians, and then joins the electricians union.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:03 AM on June 6


There are many legitimate reasons why some could regard them in a negative light:

Except none of those factors are inherent in any union. They exist, because union leadership is made up of people, and people are open to co-opting, but, if you actually believe those arguments, why are you not arguing equally against corporations, where the venality, in historical terms, beggers that of unions by entire orders of magnitude (who do you think is doing the co-opting?).

The history of unions in the US is pretty checkered -- they tended to seek improved pay over longer-term interests like control of decision-making, for one -- but arguing that the working- and middle-classes have not benefited immensely from the work of unions is either disingenuous or massively ignorant.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:03 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


So what is your solution for low income workers if not unions? Because it sure sounds like telling a thirsty person to open their mouth and hope for rain.
posted by Ferreous at 10:03 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


Why is it bad for people with no degree to make $45k? I know lots and lots of tradespeople that have a massive amount of on the job training and knowledge that I can't hope to replicate with my advanced degrees.

And I say that as someone who regularly helps design complicated systems, I definitely would prefer for the electricians and plumbers and HVAC technicians to be paid a decent wage and be committed to the work.

I don't want there to be a you have to have a college degree in order to live a middle class lifestyle because honestly college isn't for everyone even though it was for me. Tradespeople should live lives of drudgery just because book learning isn't something they excelled at.
posted by vuron at 10:04 AM on June 6 [40 favorites]


Every time there's a thread like this i have to wonder...Did some people not get that Scrooge is the bad guy?

Here's your random trivia for the day. The character of Scrooge is based on a real person - Ebenezer Scroggie, who provided catering to the Royal Visit to Scotland of King George the IV. He was lampooned because he famously provided very stingy meals and charged an exorbitant fee for the pleasure.

He's remembered today thanks to Dickens, but attracted attention at the time because he stiffed the King.
posted by LN at 10:05 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


People really don't like unions!

There is a stigma that corporate classes have spent years cultivating and people keep falling for it hook, line, and sinker.

Memo to the naive: corporations have unions, too and they call them "lobby groups."

And you don't see those people knocking lobby groups.

Unions need to be revised for the modern era, but without them, people would be forced to work for free...hiya unpaid interns!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:07 AM on June 6 [21 favorites]


Exactly my point. If a union shop preferentially hires union-members, people new to that industry have a lot of trouble getting hired.

But shops should preferentially hire union members, because higher union density increases wages, benefits, and working conditions for union and non-union members alike, so hiring non-union members would hurt everyone who's already in the union and lead to lower wages and worse conditions for everyone. And of course union shops will hire union members over non-members. Complaining about that is like complaining that businesses try to make profits and ensure their survival, and that they should really be selling whatever things the speaker wants to buy and at whatever price people want to pay.

It's not the fault of unions that capitalism tends toward zero-sum scenarios, you know. We just increase the share that workers get versus management, which would be close to zero without unions.
posted by clockzero at 10:08 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


corb: "Unions are good for people in them, and bad for people who aren't. "

This argument has been used by conservatives and free-market libertarians to bash unions forever. It's also absolutely untrue.

In their history, Unions forced basic human rights for all workers to be enshrined in law, including safe working conditions, living wages, child labor reform and reasonable (40 hour) work weeks. Those rights didn't stop with union members. All workers have benefited from them. An argument could probably be made that all American citizens benefited. Unions were pretty much responsible for the rise of the middle class in America. And of course, where they are eliminated en masse in a geographic region, the middle class suffers or disappears. The "recent" rise in conservative union vilification and busting methods have also given rise to the class gap in America.

These are tangible benefits given to Americans by unions that affect far larger population demos than the "people in them." But they're convenient to ignore or gloss over when groups like the Cato Institute try to lobby against teachers making more money, which is why we never hear such things from Fox Newschannel.
posted by zarq at 10:08 AM on June 6 [23 favorites]


because book learning isn't something they excelled at

Or, they might have excelled at it but couldn't make enough money despite that. I personally know two philosophy PhDs who went into the trades.
posted by kitcat at 10:08 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


I'm pro-union and I've directly experienced the negatives of being non-union in a union shop.

That sounds like a really shitty job and everyone who participated in that treatment of you and your coworkers should be ashamed of themselves.

I have to mention, though, that dangerous and illegal conditions are very common in completely non-union shops. The existence of a union whose membership were getting better working conditions didn't create the poor working conditions.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:08 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]



well, yes, overall, but according to wikipedia, the median income for people with bachelor's degrees is about $45k and the median for people with master's is $49k, so my point still stands, the people in the article are making about $45k with no degree.

Well I know a Bachelor's isn't worth what it used to be but it's not "no degree," it is still a degree.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:08 AM on June 6 [7 favorites]


The history of unions in the US is pretty checkered -- they tended to seek improved pay over longer-term interests like control of decision-making, for one -- but arguing that the working- and middle-classes have not benefited immensely from the work of unions is either disingenuous or massively ignorant.

I think there's two different points here, both that I agree with:

1) Historically, unions have provided benefits both to their members and the working populace at large
2) Today, the imperfect nature of unions mitigates their popularity with the working populace

In my comment that you quoted, I was only arguing 2, I didn't say anything about 1 (even though I do think 1 is true).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:11 AM on June 6


First, I believe everyone should receive a living wage... however, when customer service reps and security guards make as much as people I know with master's degrees, does that reduce the incentive to get an education? Why take on a bunch of debt if you can make $45k/yr doing a relatively unskilled job that doesn't require a college degree?

It might reduce the incentive to get an education, which, considering how expensive they are, is probably a good thing for a lot of people who would otherwise be burdened by significant student debt. There were a lot of people in my college who couldn't care less about English literature but they sucked it up because they wanted a decent quality of life.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:11 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]


That's hardly an apt comparison outside of a clever semantic similarity.

Well, I think it was more of a funny bard against a really nasty off-hand statement. The idea that people who aren't dying are making a "living wage" ignores the very clear fact (illustrated in TFA) that people who are not making the Living Wage actually are dying. Not immediately, not necessarily quickly, but for real. Every paycheck is a leap from one title to the next, hoping that you aren't going to slip or fall or land on a trap, because then you are dying quickly.
Oh, [life before the contract] was awful. I was actually borrowing money so I could make it. It was horrible, especially health-wise, because I couldn't see the right doctors. I had some surgery, and I was supposed to get some blood tests, but I couldn't get them done because I didn't have money for my co-payments. You know, it was a struggle.
That, in part, is what dying looks like below a Living Wage.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:12 AM on June 6 [34 favorites]


Can someone explain the "being in the union" thing? I don't have experience with this and I don't understand it. How could someone be in a union job and not be in the union? How can you be in the union if you don't have the job? (e.g. the applying for a job in a shop and some people in the union and some people not in the union apply). This is a concept I'm not familiar with it and I can't figure out how it works.
posted by brainmouse at 10:19 AM on June 6


2) Today, the imperfect nature of unions mitigates their popularity with the working populace

UM, maybe a little, but I think the enormous amount of money, political power, and energy that have been spent by monied interests to attack the very idea of unions is also at play. As I said above, you can easily find more corporations doing worse things than any unions, yet corporations are not vilified to anywhere near the same extent.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:22 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Can someone explain the "being in the union" thing? I don't have experience with this and I don't understand it. How could someone be in a union job and not be in the union?

I am in a faculty union. All faculty positions are governed by a contract negotiated by the union, whether or not you are a member. Non-members also have the protection of the grievance process and a number of other union-run elements of the university. Non-members have to pay a relatively small fee to cover some of these costs, and only members can vote and hold office, but are dues are hardly excessive, so I am not all that clear on why everyone doesn't just join (beyond political orientation and being to immersed in research to care until you notice your ox being gored, but, hey).

Faculty unions are a bit unusual, however, and I expect people with more relevant experience will speak up.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:27 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I gotta say, I'm a little appalled by the classism displayed in comments that sound like people who couldn't afford to go to college/didn't want to go to college/insert another reason why they didn't here don't deserve to make as much or more as people who did. That really sounds like sour grapes. At the very least, "know your place."
posted by Kitteh at 10:30 AM on June 6 [50 favorites]


I think part of the problem is the delusion of whiggishness: the idea that progress, once gained, can't be rolled back. Even more is the delusion that corporations/wealth can be contained by some concept of morality, and that they would never go back to the bad old days.

They absolutely would pay for the murder of labor organizers if it was profitable. The reason it is not is that capital is so much more mobile and powerful that the power of exit is itself almost a power of life and death, and so there's no need to get your hands dirty when you can just close down the store/mine/factory. That is every bit an existential threat in many areas, just as much as a machine gun into a crowd.

Lot less messy, though. Probably has less paperwork, too.
posted by PMdixon at 10:32 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Why take on a bunch of debt if you can make $45k/yr doing a relatively unskilled job that doesn't require a college degree?

The number and kinds of jobs that require a college degree (in the sense that they will not hire you unless you have one) is predicted to keep rising. We've had plenty of discussions around here about how a college degree is really just becoming a required bit of paper you need in order to get a job, and it says less and less about actual education or skill level.
posted by rtha at 10:37 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


The notion of everyone needing to get a college degree from a four-year university was not really a Thing until recently ("recently" meaning, within the past few decades). It was much more possible to make a decent living without a college degree - there were more manufacturing jobs, there was more tradesman work. And the standard of living for everyone was such that the wages someone in a factory made - which were still less than someone in a white-collar job made - were still good enough to afford the basics and a few extras.

Two big things happened to change both the availability of non-degree jobs, and the public perception of degrees. I admit that I'm repeating only what I'm vaguely remembering from something I was half listening to on NPR, but - the GI Bill following World War II probably did a lot to change the attitude towards college degrees; a lot of the returning vets had been recruited on the promise that they would get financial assistance to go to a four-year college after their tour of duty was over. And a lot of them jumped at the chance because at that time, getting a degree was a major, major status thing. And for them, having a degree really did make a huge difference.

And then they had kids - the Baby Boomer generation - and instilled the same "omigod you need to get a college degree to make something of yourself" attitude in them. And then they birthed us, and further instilled that same "get a degree" attitude upon us.

Now, you probably had the same pressures to "get a degree if you want to make something of yourself" around before World War II, but that sudden jump up in the number of people who actually did skewed the public perception about how available and useful such degrees were. Before World War II, you either had to be above a certain economic plateau, or you had to be really smart; the GI Bill lowered the bar a good amount, so now it became way more common to meet someone with a degree, and that made it all the more important to have your kids try to get one.

While all this was going on, though, you had just as sharp a decrease in the number of manufacturing jobs, combined with the beginnings of a decrease in the standards of living. A lot of factories were closing up and moving operations to other countries. The cost of living was rising. So where before, if you didn't get a college degree it was still kind of okay because a lot of other people didn't and you could still work at the local factory and do okay, you had a situation where if you didn't get a college degree all you could do is work in service jobs which paid jack-shit and so you were screwed.

I think the Boomer generation was probably the last generation where you could get away without having a college degree and still be okay. College was still a status-aspirational thing - my mothers' side of the family was all well educated, starting with my grandfather who graduated MIT and who founded a department at the University of Connecticut and made sure mom and her brothers and sister all went to college, even if - like my Mom - they didn't have much in the way of ambitious career aspirations. But tradesmen - like my paternal grandfather, and later my father - still did okay. And a trade school was still a viable option for people like my father, who were definitely smart but weren't studious. Dad was still able to make a decent career out of engineering design, and in the mid-70's got a job that ended up paying him a sizeable enough pension that he could retire early.

And within one generation after that, you have us, for whom if you don't have a college degree you're kind of screwed, and if you ask about pensions you're lucky people know what you're talking about.

In conclusion - it sounds like the real villains in this scenario are Hitler and Reagan.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on June 6 [20 favorites]


Unions are only bad for employers in the sense that they tend to halt the vicious cycle of exploitation that leads to lower wages and bad labor conditions for workers while benefiting the boss's bottom line

When I was in high school I worked in movie theatre in a popular little part of town. At the time there were seven or eight theatres in the immediate area, all owned by the same exhibitor, and all the employees were union. (They took 25 cents a paycheck.)

One of the perks of working at the theatre was being able to eat an unlimited amount of food and drink, as long as it wasn't inventoried. For example soda in your own cup, popcorn and nachos in one of those little carry boxes instead of popcorn tubs and nacho trays. Cups, popcorn tubs, and all the candy was inventoried and had to be paid for. This was all great. Most of the workers in the theatres were in high school or college, except for the managers, who were all old white men who had been a boys clubs for decades. They didn't do much and weren't around, so it didn't really matter.

So one day I get a call at home from an assistant manager (a 18-yo) to tell me I'm fired because I was caught eating Junior Mints and stealing popcorn cups. (This was before the candy came wrapped in plastic.) Then she told me to call one of my co-workers and tell her she's been fired for the same reason. (I know!) Not only wasn't it true, I hate Junior Mints and have always hated minty candy.

I think it was my friend's parents who thought to call the union, and a few days later my union rep met me, my friend, and a parent or four in the manager's office. What happened is that inventory came up short (maybe way short) under the Assistant Manager's watch so she accused us of stealing the cups. For what reason, we all asked? We get free popcorn, why would we steal the tubs? They said we had some grand scheme where we would bring our stolen tubs to work, sell customers popcorn in them, and then keep the money. Yes, it really was that stupid. The best part was my mom telling the manager that it couldn't possibly be true because I hated mint and if I was going to steal anything I'd steal the chocolate-covered almonds.

In the end the rep got each of us severance pay and offers to work at one of the other theatres. I took them up on that offer, my friend did not. A few days later my union rep and I met with the new old, white, male manager and she explained to him why he was going to hire me. Right now. He was not pleased.

Everything was fine for a month or two, and then one day I was walking to work and a co-worker who was leaving saw me and gave me a hug. "Aww, I'm sorry, " she said. "Sorry about what?" "Oh.... You haven't seen the schedule?" "Nooo...." "You should go look."

I walked into the break room and there was the schedule, posted on the break room wall like always, with a big, fat, black line through all my shifts. So that's how I learned I got fired from that job. You know who was there for me? My union rep. This was clearly retaliation for causing trouble at the last job and forcing old, white dude to hire me, and also a violation of firing procedures. This time I took the two weeks severance she got me but declined the offer to work at a different theatre.

It's a long story that I don't tell very often, but I really want to highlight the everyday little things a union does that may get lost in the Hollywood and news media portrayal. I was just a high school kid, but the union fought for me as if I was the head of the local. It didn't stop the managers from trying to exploit us occasioanlly, but it did stop them from succeeding. (And it taught me to stand up for myself, which was a great life lesson.) And prior to all that, the only thing I new about my union was that they were the ones who got that 25 cents.

It's not just about establishing working hours and salaries, unions are there to make sure workers aren't being exploited but if they are, they get to be made whole and the managers face consequences. I don't think business owners who are anti-union do it because they don't want to pay higher wages (although that's also true) I think it's because they don't want to have any consequences when they exploit their labor force.

But shops should preferentially hire union members, because higher union density increases wages, benefits, and working conditions for union and non-union members alike, so hiring non-union members would hurt everyone who's already in the union and lead to lower wages and worse conditions for everyone. And of course union shops will hire union members over non-members.


And if you are a union shop and your competitor across the street isn't you are going to get the best applicants and this will also give you an business advantage.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:40 AM on June 6 [91 favorites]


When McDonald's gets their union, the Dairy Queen people don't get union benefits -- my experience is, you either are lucky enough to get a union card, or you don't, and if you don't get a union card, you don't get the benefit of being in a union. You want a union card? Sorry, you're not working for a union shop, you can't be in our union. When McDonald's opens a new restaurant, starts hiring 50 people, and they get 80 union-member applications and 150 non-union applications, guess who gets hired? That's the very definition of a walled garden, keeping non-union workers out.

I have a union card. I did not have a union card when I got this job. Should I be unfortunate enough to lose this job, my union membership here will not give me priority anywhere else. Skilled trades and Teamsters have this union card system - which makes a certain amount of sense, because if you're going to be a plumber, well, you should have some apprenticeship - but most others do not.

A "closed shop" is not one where they will only hire pre-existing union members; it's one where if you work there you have to join the union.
posted by Frowner at 10:42 AM on June 6 [16 favorites]


In Australia the minimum wage is decided when the Australian Council of Trade Unions goes up against the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Without the unions in place the battle would be one sided and I assume we'd still be in work houses making a pittance.

I'm thankful for the Stonemasons of 1856 taking up the cause because without them my life would be a hell of a lot different.
posted by Talez at 10:44 AM on June 6 [7 favorites]


I think the enormous amount of money, political power, and energy that have been spent by monied interests to attack the very idea of unions is also at play. As I said above, you can easily find more corporations doing worse things than any unions, yet corporations are not vilified to anywhere near the same extent.

No doubt, but in a discussion about the pros and cons of unions, I don't think you do your argument a favor by shifting the discussion to a different topic, pros and cons of corporations.

Since you brought it up, I agree with you that corporations suck and that they use their economic and political power to demonize and combat unions, and that both of these things have been the case for the past century, at least.

But I think both these things can be true at the same time: 1) unions are not perfect institutions whose shortcomings are not purely fabricated by corporate propaganda 2) unions are indeed under protracted attack from corporations.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:47 AM on June 6


I'm thankful for the Stonemasons of 1856 taking up the cause because without them my life would be a hell of a lot different.

In the US, the reason most of us aren't working in appallingly dangerous conditions, starting as small children, forced to work insane hours, given a pittance in wages, and had private goons sicced on us for having the temerity to think any of that is bad. Of course, that's not stopping a large segment of people from trying to bring that back. The sad part is that they're actually doing a pretty good job, Taft-Hartley be damned.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:48 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


How can you be in the union if you don't have the job?

My husband's tradesperson union works this way (he is a scaffolder):

Step 1: Have some experience/training in your trade. You would get this either via trade school or by having prior work experience (in a non-union job, since you're not a member yet) or some combination thereof.

Step 2: Join the union (apply to become a member with proof of your experience and schooling, do the orientation, pay for your membership).

Step 3: Get a job in a union shop.

So, anyone in the trade may join the union. Once you're in, you are not allowed to work at a non-union shop. If someone finds out that you are working a non-union job, you can be kicked out of the union.
posted by kitcat at 10:51 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


It's not just about establishing working hours and salaries, unions are there to make sure workers aren't being exploited but if they are, they get to be made whole and the managers face consequences. I don't think business owners who are anti-union do it because they don't want to pay higher wages (although that's also true) I think it's because they don't want to have any consequences when they exploit their labor force.

*nodding* Actors' Equity went to bat for me when was injured during a rehearsal and had to drop out, and had to start seeing a doctor for a couple months of physical therapy on my injury. I'd filed a Worker's Comp claim for the payment - or so I thought. A couple months into the treatment, the doctor's office called to say that no, the producer of the show had initially said he'd pay for my treatment himself - but had just recently stopped, and how did I want to pay now?

I called Actors' Equity for advice on whether this situation sounded weird, and the rep was silent for a long moment - then said "...you sit tight. We'll figure out what's happening." And then after a day of tense and persistent calls to the producer, they uncovered the truth - that the producer had neglected to secure worker's comp insurance for our show in the first place. And he had been paying my bills to cover that fact up.

"So now what?" I asked, when Equity told me. "Do I call a lawyer?"

"No - now we call our lawyer for you." They did so, and impressed upon my producer the importance of him paying off the remainder of my medical treatment bills, in full, without hesitation. Which he did. They also started a file on the guy, supplemented with notes from me about other abuses he'd done during the production, sufficient to ensure that he pretty much Will Never Work In This Town Again.

A couple years later I was on the producer side of things, and we goofed a bit on the timing for filing our own worker's comp insurance policy. Equity called me and said that we now owed a fine of $50 - and were surprised when I shrugged and cheerfully paid, admitting it was our fuckup. "You aren't gonna contest this?"

"Hell no, you guys had my back."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on June 6 [65 favorites]


And that comes back to my fundamental statement: I'm not anti-union, I'm just not a fan of the exclusionary way unions operate. I did a quick google of "how do I become a {union name} member?" and they are pretty much universally "you either get a job at a union shop or you organize your non-union shop". The guy who's just trying to make ends meet and can't risk shaking the apple cart by trying to unionize their employer doesn't have many options. You all make it sound like organizing a union is something somebody with a 40-hour a week job can just do. If it's easy, the Wal-Mart and McDonald's unionizers must be doing something wrong.

I'm also just sort of confused by how you'd be in the union if you worked in a non-unionized shop. How would that work? You would sign up with the Teamsters and the Teamsters would show up at your non-unionized business and tell your boss that they had to give you and you alone a special contract? I just don't understand why "get a job at a unionized place or organize a union" is such an exclusive thing.

And yes, organizing a union is really, really hard. And it opens you up to retaliation, and you don't always succeed. The first attempt to unionize my work failed and they didn't get the union until eight or nine years later. That's not because some bureaucrat a Union Central decided that it would be hard - it's because, on one hand, you have to convince the unconvinced (which is only appropriate) and on the other, you have to fight very, very hard against bosses who will hire union-busting lawyers, lie to the other employees and do everything they can to fire your ass. That's labor history. People have literally fought and died for this stuff, from Peterloo to Guatemala to the farthest reaches of the world. That's one reason that I'm proud to be in a union, and it will be a long day in the morning before I cross a picket line or go against an organizing campaign.
posted by Frowner at 10:52 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]


I own my own little business with no employees, but think unions are the most important thing in the world for the humans working in it. What union can I join to show solidarity and to put my money where my mouth is?
posted by maxwelton at 10:52 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Also: The 35-hours-per-week-to-avoid-benefits is such fucking bullshit.
posted by maxwelton at 10:54 AM on June 6 [18 favorites]


This is pointless exercise because you need to compare averages with averages.

Actually, medians are better for comparing things like wages.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:55 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


The decline of unions coincides with the growing income disparity of the first world.

I mean can't these living wage folks also chase after the twitter tweeting millionaire guy leaving money everywhere too? Isn't that what income disparity is all about?!? Why have no unions or income disparity like this if one can't throw money out moving limos or drop it from drones whilst the rich record the hijinx?
posted by vonstadler at 11:00 AM on June 6


man, between this and the overweight thread from yesterday, I feel like I'm speaking klingon here.

Why is it bad for people with no degree to make $45k? I know lots and lots of tradespeople that have a massive amount of on the job training and knowledge that I can't hope to replicate with my advanced degrees.

the people in the article are not tradespeople. they are security guards and customer reps. even if these particular people have degrees, college is not required to know how to be a security guard or a csr. it might help you get hired (why?? that's ridiculous) but the education you get in college is not required to do the actual damn job. (cue 20 comments from people with degrees that don't use them)

I am not saying that non-degreed people do not deserve to make whatever. I am not saying they are dumb or unskilled or whatever else people are projecting onto me. I am saying that people who go into thousands of dollars of debt to pay for education should make more, not because they are inherently better people or whatever, but because they have made more of an investment wrt time and money.

of course this is not the world we live in. college often has a terrible ROI for many people. if I could make more as a cashier or barista then why the fuck did I go to college in the first place? (cue 20 comments about the intrinsic value of education, which does not help pay rent)
posted by desjardins at 11:02 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I am not saying that non-degreed people do not deserve to make whatever. I am not saying they are dumb or unskilled or whatever else people are projecting onto me. I am saying that people who go into thousands of dollars of debt to pay for education should make more, not because they are inherently better people or whatever, but because they have made more of an investment wrt time and money. of course this is not the world we live in.

Yep. That's the "Regan" half of what I'm now thinking should be called "The Hitler/Reagan Method of Socioeconomic Destruction."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on June 6


my union membership here will not give me priority anywhere else. Skilled trades and Teamsters have this union card system

I know for an absolute fact that if you're not a member of Teamsters, you only get hired when the pool of eligible Teamsters-card-holding-members are exhausted. My original comment about the furniture-delivery guy wishing he could be a Teamster is a true story; he tried, over and over, having had his CDL for decades and knowing a lot of Teamster drivers well, he couldn't get hired with a Teamster shop, so he kept driving the non-union delivery truck. Teamsters absolutely do get preferential hiring privilege over any other skilled, reliable trucker with a good record.

What I'm hearing in this thread is a lot of "If done right unions should be great for everyone", and I agree that, if done right, there's more benefits than drawbacks for unionization, but to discount the negatives of unions as they're run today on the scale of the entire job market, thus creating haves and have-nots, is short-sighted.

Edit: in retrospect, I believe I'm agreeing with you about Teamsters; skill labor unions are the only ones I have experience with, and I don't know anything about unions that don't require you to pay dues or hold membership but still works for you, and I'm not even sure how that would work and still call itself a "union".
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:15 AM on June 6


I am saying that people who go into thousands of dollars of debt to pay for education should make more, not because they are inherently better people or whatever, but because they have made more of an investment wrt time and money.

And what is being said is that sans classism, your argument makes no logical sense. Why should this specific investment guarantee (and yes, you are arguing for a guarantee) a superior salary? The only way that your argument becomes anything but a confusing non secquetor is that this investment places you in a superior social class, and as such, you should benefit from that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:17 AM on June 6 [23 favorites]


of course this is not the world we live in. college often has a terrible ROI for many people. if I could make more as a cashier or barista then why the fuck did I go to college in the first place? (cue 20 comments about the intrinsic value of education, which does not help pay rent)

I am 100% unclear here, as in the overweight thread, what in the blue hell you want us to tell you.

If it's true you could make more as a barista than as...whatever it is you do as a direct result of your degree, then no, I guess you shouldn't have gone to college. By going, you wasted time and money. It's a thing that happens. If it becomes standard for degree-requiring fields to pay as little as or less than non-degree requiring fields, then yeah, people will probably opt out of college in larger numbers. This is already happening to some degree.

Some people will go to college anyway; some professions will continue to require a level of specialized education regardless of what kind of salary they pay. (Someone still has to teach you how to be a nurse, an engineer, etc., even if those stop being well-paid paths.)

But none of this is even remotely new or surprising, it's been the case as long as I've been in the workforce at least (15 years) and nobody disagrees with you at all, so that's why it's puzzling that you're arguing at all of us...
posted by like_a_friend at 11:17 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


"It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize."

Theodore Roosevelt (emphasis mine)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:22 AM on June 6 [18 favorites]


I hate these arguments and threads. Bickering about who gets to be paid how much and in what circumstances because there isn't enough money in the salaries bucket to go around.

Bullshit. Total bullshit. Cap salaries at 500% of the lowest paid worker associated with your company/cap salaries at $3m/tax everything over $3m at 100% (pick one of those three) and use it to bring everyone beneath $30k up to $30k.

Cap the geysering leak and watch as pressure returns to the smaller outflows.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:24 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


I am saying that people who go into thousands of dollars of debt to pay for education should make more, not because they are inherently better people or whatever, but because they have made more of an investment wrt time and money.

Thats not how people are remunerated in a market economy.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:24 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


college often has a terrible ROI for many people.

One thing to consider about a college degree is that you need one to become a teacher, at least here in the states. If you want to teach little kids it doesn't even matter what degree you have. Your degree in lit or art is perfectly fine for a $40,000 to $100,000 / year job teaching primary kids or lit/art in middle/high school.

Teaching in public school is much, much better than in the private sector, because of unions... in my area, public school teachers make $10k to $30k more than private school teachers, and have much better job security (maybe too much in certain cases, I'll admit, but knowing that losing your job is almost impossible is pretty awesome). Plus great benefits, three months off a year, etc... all negotiated by a union.

My union has service fee payers, who are not actual members but get the benefits of negotiation, but one big benefit of being a full member is a $1,000,000 insurance policy against lawsuits... of which there are relatively many in my district.

It always amazes me when teachers I work with complain about paying union dues, or about the union in general... so go teach in private school for less money, worse benefits, and little job security... and negotiate your contract yourself every year.
posted by Huck500 at 11:24 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Also, pretty sure my father, who is a tradesperson, put in more time and effort and money into building his business and trade than I did spending 4 years hitting the bong and drinking 40s.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:26 AM on June 6 [11 favorites]


If we're pulling out historical labor/capital quotes, I've always been fond of this one (note the date!):

"In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism... It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government.
...
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." -- Abraham Lincoln, SOTU address, December 1861
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:30 AM on June 6 [15 favorites]


There seems to be a stunning lack of understanding of what unions do/how they work by people who nevertheless are opposed to unions itt
posted by Ferreous at 11:36 AM on June 6 [15 favorites]


negatives of unions as they're run today on the scale of the entire job market, thus creating haves and have-nots

You seem to be saying that unions are bad because their members enjoy better benefits than non-members. That sounds ridiculous to me, but maybe I'm misunderstanding one of the half-dozen comments where you said the same thing. Unions help create "haves." The employers who refuse to pay a living wage and employees too frightened or misinformed to organize create the "have-nots."
posted by bradf at 11:37 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


AzraelBrown: "... and somehow the union is like a country club?

When McDonald's gets their union, the Dairy Queen people don't get union benefits -- my experience is, you either are lucky enough to get a union card, or you don't, and if you don't get a union card, you don't get the benefit of being in a union. You want a union card? Sorry, you're not working for a union shop, you can't be in our union.

corb: "As far as I understand, it's not hatred of unions, more hatred of Taft-Hartley."


As much as corb is pissing me off in general with this thread, this point is generally correct. You're complaining about Unions AS THEY ARE LEGALLY STRUCTURED IN THE US.

Unions in and of themselves do not exist in a vacuum. If they did, well - yes, we'd have that arm conflict Corb is discussing. Unions are effectively weakened, by law, on purpose.

A lot of people complain about Unions being too strong (union thugs; taking my dues without me getting anything (until, of course, you actually DO benefit, say, when they have to stand up for you for being sick or something))... But then, notice "without me getting anything" - in other words, they're not complaining Unions are too strong. They're complaining Unions are too weak (except, of course, when Unionized people make more than you, then boo, and fuck them for doing well - but if you're a billionaire then somehow you aren't part of a giant fucking Union called CAPITALISM/CORPORATE STATES OF AMERICA.

Anyways, first: make up your mind (not you, Azrael, but anti-union people... it's the same thing they always play "The Soviet Union - it's weak, inefficient - it's not as awesome as Capitalism is! We are the most efficient, powerful and greatest thing..." VS "Be afraid, be very afraid! The Soviets are coming, they are mighty and powerful! They will destroy us because they are so very powerful!" And you can mix and match the argument as needed, need a big bad scary? TOUGH GUY STALIN! Need a weak ass ineffective system? POOR ECONOMY BREZHNEV!)...

But the point stands. For those who hate the unions primarily because they're not seeing a benefit, it's because of the guildist-structure of our current unions. The Wobbly way is the best way, but because everything, LEGALLY has to be done by shops and floors and you can't just be fucking Union all over, you're weak and divided. Why do Unions give benefits only to Union people? Free Rider problem. Of course, that's not to say that they don't give benefits, but it's invisible. A push towards a higher pay for unions causes an overall rise in pay, and people will start seeing more money and SHOULD say "hey! we should get that" but as always, the psychology is "fuck you! I don't have that! Why should you!"

This is utter sheer psychological warfare played upon people using some sort of psychological effect that they use to train the masses in the corporate-consumer state. I am not quite sure what is at play here, though I feel there is a social status ranking issue involved (if I'm not on the lowest rung, then good, but if those guys lower than me get up then... that means i'm on their lower level, nobody to look down at, so at least if we can kick them down and prevent others from rising, I can at least stay above them).
posted by symbioid at 11:39 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


I am saying that people who go into thousands of dollars of debt to pay for education should make more, not because they are inherently better people or whatever, but because they have made more of an investment wrt time and money.

My mind boggles. Advanced degrees are not all equal and your debt isn't your employer's problem. You should only make more with a higher degree in specialized fields that require advanced degrees.

A person with an MS in geosciences makes more than a person with a BS because they are considered more highly trained/qualified and are hired for different positions.

But a person with a MS and a person with a BS and a person with no college degree all should make the same wage working as baristas because their degrees are irrelevant to the job.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:45 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


While I support the idea of unions, my pair of personal interactions with them has been pretty negative.

One shop, a grad student teachers union, quite openly admitted it was doing nothing, but was glad to take the mandatory dues. The second refused me a transition from temp to perm with no reason given... though it was apparent that all the perms (20+) belonged to the same fundamentalist church. Small towns, eh?

As a separate note, it's nice to see the almost total absence of the classic term "scab" in this thread. I hope, instead, it can become "someone who hasn't joined the union... yet".
posted by underflow at 11:56 AM on June 6


How is the idea that unions have upward pressure on all jobs (although the union workers benefit the most, and nonunion workers are still fucked, though perhaps not as fucked as they would be without unions) different from the concept of a trickle-down economy?

Sure, everyone benefits, but in both cases the elite class trends towards exclusivity and becomes institutionally entitled to the prime tranch, and that is what people are angry at unions for.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 11:56 AM on June 6


I am not saying that non-degreed people do not deserve to make whatever. I am not saying they are dumb or unskilled or whatever else people are projecting onto me. I am saying that people who go into thousands of dollars of debt to pay for education should make more, not because they are inherently better people or whatever, but because they have made more of an investment wrt time and money.

This is bullshit. I can't even tell you how many degreed people I've met who are just dumber than boxes of hair. And yet people like you think that because those other people have pieces of paper that cost them tens of thousands of dollars, they should make more money than me, because all I have is nineteen years of experience in the working world and no expensive piece of paper, and those other people "deserve" it more.

Utter, complete bullshit.
posted by palomar at 11:58 AM on June 6 [36 favorites]


How is the idea that unions have upward pressure on all jobs (although the union workers benefit the most, and nonunion workers are still fucked, though perhaps not as fucked as they would be without unions) different from the concept of a trickle-down economy?

They're different in almost every conceivable way, most importantly, that there is empirical evidence that unions put upward pressure on non-union wages.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:08 PM on June 6 [11 favorites]


however, when customer service reps and security guards make as much as people I know with master's degrees, does that reduce the incentive to get an education?

Union security guard is standing RIGHT HERE.

Most of my coworkers have degrees. Several have masters degrees. We would all love to be working in our specialized field of choice. My coworkers with masters degrees would absolutely be making much more money if jobs in their fields were available.

I have some pretty specialized skills myself, but unfortunately the jobs in that field tend to be of the shitty pay and no benefits variety because "you're so lucky to be doing what you love!"

We're not idiots, contrary to popular belief. Nor are we the ones who are underpaying your educated associates. How is the undervaluation of their labor our responsibility? Why does your perception of our lack of skill and intelligence mean that we do not deserve decent wages, health benefits, and legal protections afforded us by union representation? Why do you seem to think we are taking something away from them?
posted by louche mustachio at 12:12 PM on June 6 [37 favorites]


I-Write-Essays: "How is the idea that unions have upward pressure on all jobs (although the union workers benefit the most, and nonunion workers are still fucked, though perhaps not as fucked as they would be without unions) different from the concept of a trickle-down economy?

Sure, everyone benefits, but in both cases the elite class trends towards exclusivity and becomes institutionally entitled to the prime tranch, and that is what people are angry at unions for.
"

But that's my point - it's not the Unions in and of themselves. It's the specific organization they are forced into taking BY LAW. As I said - to me, the right and proper way to have a union is the Wobbly Way "ONE BIG UNION" We are all workers, we all live or die and we all fight together. That is the only way to have a real true and proper functioning union, but that concept has neutered by the power of the State and Corporate laws regarding how Unions are to be organized.

I won't be one of the people who says "you just don't know what you're talking about - you haven't experienced the union" I know plenty of people who were union members (or who even helped organize them) but got turned off.

Funny, as I was writing that, I was seeing the "rising tide lifts all boats" bullshit metaphor (which to me, is just as much bullshit as trickle down as it is normally sold). The difference, however, is that one is still at least working class in some way shape or form (well, maybe not the tippy top of the biggest unions).

Let me put it like this. All those anti-Union people who are complaining about "Union bosses getting rich off you"... if it's because they're making mad money while we don't - why is it that those same anti-union folk aren't out there raging against the Capitalist bosses? In other words, why are they apologists for Capitalists? If the issue is economic discrepancy, then one should be blaming both sides.

So clearly it's NOT that. Something deeper and more fundamental. Maybe a perception of hypocrisy? "Oh those rich unions SAY they're for me, but they're just for themselves. At least the CEOs are selfish pricks and they admit it, or everyone knows they are. There's no pretense for them to be in the interests of the workers (except of course, when Capitalists do precisely that and talk about how Capitalism is great for workers yada yada yada
posted by symbioid at 12:14 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


I am not disputing that unions put upward pressure on wages the same way I am not disputing that capital creates jobs. They also both create an exclusive elite that keeps the majority of spoils for itself and which the underclass resents due to being rejected entry.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:15 PM on June 6


Unions prevent other people from unionizing? I don't think so
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:20 PM on June 6 [11 favorites]


The Wobbly way is the best way, but because everything, LEGALLY has to be done by shops and floors and you can't just be fucking Union all over, you're weak and divided.

Yeah, I mean, I don't like how the current Taft-Hartley works to prevent people from making their own free choices, but in large part it fucks the workers just as much as it fucks the bosses. The illegality of wildcat and sympathy strikes, or secondary boycotts, for example, has a huge impact on the lack of clout unions have, and is also bullshit.

I may have issues with the way a lot of unions do things (pie-cards and otherwise), but saying that people aren't allowed to strike when they want to or for the reasons they want to is crazy.
posted by corb at 12:22 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Symbioid, that last paragraph is precisely the sense I get about this, and why I make the analogy to trickle-down to explain resentment towards unions. The issue of perceived hypocrisy certainly would go towards explaining why there is an added edge of betrayal in the resentment towards unions.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:23 PM on June 6


Metafilter: And, after all, I'm an economist.
posted by jokeefe at 12:27 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I mean, I don't like how the current Taft-Hartley works to prevent people from making their own free choices, but in large part it fucks the workers just as much as it fucks the bosses. The illegality of wildcat and sympathy strikes, or secondary boycotts, for example, has a huge impact on the lack of clout unions have, and is also bullshit.

It's really a sign of the times that we're being asked to remember how Taft-Hartley fucks with workers; at the time, it was "the slave-labor bill" that was essentially seen as a union busting measure. Taft-Hartley does very little to hurt management.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:33 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


If you want to teach little kids it doesn't even matter what degree you have. Your degree in lit or art is perfectly fine for a $40,000 to $100,000 / year job teaching primary kids or lit/art in middle/high school.

Um, wrong. . . your degree in lit or art won't mean shit if you don't fulfill the criteria required by the state to receive a teaching certificate, including multiple education courses and a semester-long unpaid internship. Maybe it's different in other states, but at least here (CT), you WILL NOT get a teaching job in a public school without that certificate. Maybe a $15,000 paraprofessional job, but not a teaching job. (And paras even have their own union, and still are stuck with $15,000.)

I'm not saying that unions don't help teachers a great deal in this state--they do--but the casual dismissal of what's required to be a teacher doesn't help you make your point at all.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:34 PM on June 6


One theory on a factor in Union hate (and I say this as a union member and supporter and former organizer, just trying to think it through) is that thanks to people like Jimmy Hoffa, Tony Boyle and that ilk back in the 70's, Unions gained a bad image problem that corporations have been able to exploit to this day. Just a thought.
posted by jonmc at 12:37 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Am I understanding correctly that when someone making 8$ wants to get a raise to 25$ but is refused entry into the local union in his profession, the recommended solution is to get all the other people like you and... unionize? So, create a competing union and make a counteroffer to capital?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:38 PM on June 6


If they are not dying, they are receiving a living wage.

I know we've moved on from this, but jeez, read the article. People were surviving by going into debt, borrowing money, getting food stamps, and hitting up relatives or soup kitchens for meals. Oh, and by foregoing medical care--in other words, dying.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:40 PM on June 6 [16 favorites]


One theory on a factor in Union hate (and I say this as a union member and supporter and former organizer, just trying to think it through) is that thanks to people like Jimmy Hoffa, Tony Boyle and that ilk back in the 70's, Unions gained a bad image problem that corporations have been able to exploit to this day.

I'd say that's close to being "just a theory" the way evolution is "just a theory". :-)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I'm confused...unions don't complete against one another for a finite pool of resources.
posted by kitcat at 12:41 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Even my libertarian friends who hate unions still agree that collective bargaining is ok, so I was shocked when it was banned in Wisconsin.

I understand how people got brainwashed against unions, because some unions did some bad things and it's easy to blow that up, but how could you ban collective bargaining?
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:41 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


... I don't know if some of you are willfully misreading me or what. I really don't know how to say this any more clearly so I will repeat what I said and bold it this time:

I am not saying that non-degreed people do not deserve to make whatever. I am not saying they are dumb or unskilled or whatever else people are projecting onto me.

Okay. If my job requires a degree, and your job does not, and your wages are doubled, why should mine not also be raised commensurately? I am not saying people's wages should not be raised! In fact I very deliberately said that everyone should make a living wage.

However! It does not make sense to me that jobs that do not require a degree or specialized training (e.g. cashiers) and jobs that do require a degree or specialized training (e.g. plumbers) should pay about the same.
posted by desjardins at 12:42 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Unions prevent other people from unionizing? I don't think so

Lots of things prevent people from unionizing - it's not like a throw of a switch, it takes a lot of time and effort that somebody --who is already on the verge of not paying rent every single month and has to watch really closely to make sure they have enough food for those last three days before the next paycheck, and can't afford to lose their job if somebody in power really wants to enforce the already-unevenly-enforced rules just to find a reason to let him go, and maybe doesn't even have the personality to shake things up so greatly despite thus being the kind of person who really needs a union -- has great difficulty justifying the already thinly-spread time and effort calculation to put into motion.

The point from the very beginning is: the people who really need a union as an advocate have the hardest time getting one, and those who already have a union advocate are entrenched in making sure they don't lose what they got. Nationalizing weekends off and minimum wages and OSHA, the legacies of unionization to begin with, is the Wobbly "union of everyone" that really should be the core of a democratic United States. Unions help, but they're not the fix.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:43 PM on June 6


Unions prevent you from unionizing because there can only be one union, and they decided you can't join it. That is the antiunion narrative I am familiar with.

I'm a programmer; I'm in the class exempt from unions anyway, so don't take my honest confusion for sarcasm.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 12:45 PM on June 6


It does not make sense to me that jobs that do not require a degree or specialized training (e.g. cashiers) and jobs that do require a degree or specialized training (e.g. plumbers) should pay about the same.
posted by desjardins at 3:42 PM on June 6 [+] [!]


If the cashiers can unionize and push up their wages, why shouldn't they make more money?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:47 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


What about a "right to join" law to allow people to join unions, provided they pay their dues? Seems like it would help avoid some of the nasty situations people have described about being non-union in a union shop.
posted by fraxil at 12:50 PM on June 6


MisantropicPainforest: " If the cashiers can unionize and push up their wages, why shouldn't they make more money?"

I don't think desjardins is saying they shouldn't. I think she is saying that society should place a higher value (in the form of higher wages offered) on those who have trained in specializations?
posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on June 6


That came out wrong... I mean, I think she is saying that jobs requiring specialized training should pay more than those which do not require it.
posted by zarq at 12:51 PM on June 6


I meant to say why shouldn't cashiers make more money to the point where they have the same wages as plumbers.

This is all beside the point anyway because the market determines wages.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:52 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


there can only be one union, and they decided you can't join it

I'm a programmer too, and I don't know a ton about unions. But I've been part of one in the past, and my husband is in one now. Let's say McDonald's has a union and it's employees get $25/hour. Wendy's workers have no union and get $8/hour. There are at least two possible scenarios here to get all these workers into a union. First, a Restaurant Worker's Union is created and covers BOTH the McDonald's and Wendy's employees. This is how my husband's union works. The second scenario is that Wendy's employees could set up their own union (not saying that's simple) and negotiate for better wages. The fact that the McDonald's union exists does not mean a Wendy's union can't be formed. Those two unions are independent.
posted by kitcat at 12:53 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I'm a programmer too, and I don't know a ton about unions. But I've been part of one in the past, and my husband is in one now. Let's say McDonald's has a union and it's employees get $25/hour. Wendy's workers have no union and get $8/hour. There are at least two possible scenarios here to get all these workers into a union. First, a Restaurant Worker's Union is created and covers BOTH the McDonald's and Wendy's employees. This is how my husband's union works. The second scenario is that Wendy's employees could set up their own union (not saying that's simple) and negotiate for better wages. The fact that the McDonald's union exists does not mean a Wendy's union can't be formed. Those two unions are independent.

But the thing is, the Wendy's workers can't just say "oh, we'd like to join this Restaurant Workers' Union....we are, after all, restaurant workers". They have to fight a campaign to bring the union to Wendy's. It's easier to bring an established union because that union usually has organizers who can help you with legal and strategic stuff. To start your own union from scratch means fighting a campaign and doing a lot of set-up stuff. People seem generally to do this mostly when existing unions don't serve their needs, whether because the existing unions are bad (racist, sexist) or just not suited to their line of work (ie, the electrical workers' union doesn't unionize clerical workers, generally).

You don't need a recognized union, though, to organize and bargain with your boss - Wal-Mart workers, the fast food workers who have been organizing and various IWW locals have all supported this other kind of organizing in situations where a formal union structure is either infeasible or unsuitable. You just need to get everyone together and basically do All The Union Things but without a union. It's not as effective as having the money and know-how of a union behind you, but sometimes it is a better method because of specific location conditions.
posted by Frowner at 12:59 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


your degree in lit or art won't mean shit if you don't fulfill the criteria required by the state to receive a teaching certificate,

True, but my point was that you can't get a teaching credential without the degree, so a degree might not be as useless as some people are saying it is, assuming being a teacher is something you might want to do.
posted by Huck500 at 1:02 PM on June 6


MisantropicPainforest: " If the cashiers can unionize and push up their wages, why shouldn't they make more money?"

I don't think desjardins is saying they shouldn't. I think she is saying that society should place a higher value (in the form of higher wages offered) on those who have trained in specializations...


Yeah, this was my take too. Unfortunately, I think this is the kind of statement about which an old roommate of mine used to say, "and as long as I'm dreaming I'd also like a pony."

Society absolutely should value some trades higher than they currently do, but the amount of societal sea change required in order for that to come to pass is just way too big without some major worldwide shift of some sort, and you usually don't get major worldwide shifts without something like a plague or an international disaster or something equally as catastrophic or some kind of deus ex machina thing happening.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:08 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]



Unions prevent you from unionizing because there can only be one union, and they decided you can't join it. That is the antiunion narrative I am familiar with.


There are two unions in my workplace, SEIU and OPEIU...

I'm a programmer; I'm in the class exempt from unions anyway, so don't take my honest confusion for sarcasm.

...OPEIU is a white collar union, so not entirely exempt.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:09 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


You had Susie Derkins as a roommate, EmpressCallipygos?

There are clearly bad unions -- incompetent ones, or corrupt ones. That doesn't mean that unions are bad.
posted by jeather at 1:11 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Kitkat,

The anecdote that serves as my model for union resentment is from a friend who in college had a food service job where he worked the same number of hours as the union workers, was not allowed to join the union due to an agreement between the school and the union, but still had to pay dues out of his minimum wage paycheck. He was absolutely furious at being fucked by both sides.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 1:11 PM on June 6


You had Susie Derkins as a roommate, EmpressCallipygos?

Until this moment I had no idea he was quoting Calvin and Hobbes.

....Then again, it makes total sense for him to have done so.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:12 PM on June 6


I-Write-Essays: He had to pay dues? Wow. I can see why he was furious. I've never heard of such a thing.
posted by kitcat at 1:14 PM on June 6


As someone mentioned upthread, I think we all need some education on unions, myself included. Obviously my mental model isn't great either.
posted by kitcat at 1:17 PM on June 6


However! It does not make sense to me that jobs that do not require a degree or specialized training (e.g. cashiers) and jobs that do require a degree or specialized training (e.g. plumbers) should pay about the same.

For one thing, many of those jobs that you say "do not require a degree," basically DO, these days. My mother could not get the equivalent of her current customer service rep job now without a degree; she is the only non-degree holder in her ENTIRE OFFICE, and that includes receptionists. If she hadn't been there like 20 years and basically become the only person who knows how anything in the building works, she'd be SOL and working a minimum wage retail gig.

For another, I would really like to meet all of these millions of cashiers and baristas who make $45K+ a year. The ones I know are scraping by in the low $20Ks, if they're lucky, unless they're management, in which case yeah maybe they get close to $40K. But those management jobs invariably go to degree holders, so....
posted by like_a_friend at 1:17 PM on June 6 [11 favorites]


The anecdote that serves as my model for union resentment is from a friend who in college had a food service job where he worked the same number of hours as the union workers, was not allowed to join the union due to an agreement between the school and the union, but still had to pay dues out of his minimum wage paycheck. He was absolutely furious at being fucked by both sides.

And yet, you're not out here saying that academic bureaucracy is bad, schools should not have administrators, etc etc. The union - which I guarantee you is the weaker party, and which probably took that agreement because it was the best they could get - is the villain, of course. Yes, it sucks, I think that's a terrible agreement. At the same time, I've seen how these kinds of agreements get generated, and they are not proposed by the union. I assume what was at issue was "the school would like to replace full time workers who get benefits with student workers who will be mostly part time" and what probably happened was that the school said "we want to hire students and we don't want them to be union" and the union said "fine, we can't afford to strike right now, you can hire X percentage of students who can't join the union but they will have to pay dues, thus both discouraging students from taking these jobs and making sure that the union is still getting funds to use on stewards, legal and bargaining stuff even though they have fewer members". It's the worst of all worlds for the student - but please understand that in general, unions want the people working at a place to be union. If you see an arrangement like this anywhere except in a skilled/apprenticeship-requiring situation, it is because that is the agreement that the union was forced to take.

Americans get this bizarro-world narrative about unions - like, once you have a union then suddenly the bosses have to do everything the union says, and the union just demands huge wages and ridiculous rules and the bosses can only agree. Actually, as anyone who has ever observed a contract negotiation knows, the bosses are still pretty much in the saddle and the union is much the weaker party.
posted by Frowner at 1:21 PM on June 6 [19 favorites]


(I add that a retainer for a lawyer or paying a union steward's union work hours costs just about as much if you have ten people in your union as if you have a hundred. Some costs scale up and down, but any union has fixed expenses that get harder and harder to meet as you have fewer members.)
posted by Frowner at 1:23 PM on June 6


I don't think desjardins is saying they shouldn't. I think she is saying that society should place a higher value (in the form of higher wages offered) on those who have trained in specializations...

We're getting closer! what I'm saying is that if a cashier's wages are raised to that of a plumber's, there are probably going to be a decent number of plumbers who are going to be like, fuck all this specialized training bullshit, I'm just going to be a cashier. Unless I'm wrong and a lot of plumbers go into the field because they love plumbing. I am not a plumber.

If we want to continue to have plumbers, we're going to have to pay them more than cashiers.

For one thing, many of those jobs that you say "do not require a degree," basically DO, these days.

The only reason they "require" degrees is because of high unemployment. The job your mom does obviously DOES NOT inherently require a degree, otherwise she could not do the job (I am sure she does an excellent job). Someone I know has 20+ years experience in his field and did not complete his degree. He has been held back from jobs because of the stupid HR checkbox. He gets paid well for what he does because he is good at it.

For another, I would really like to meet all of these millions of cashiers and baristas who make $45K+ a year.

Who said there were millions? The article is about one business that raised its wages. There have been lots of demonstrations across the country to raise the minimum wage (not to $45k, granted, but $30k is nothing to sneeze at either).
posted by desjardins at 1:24 PM on June 6


We're getting closer! what I'm saying is that if a cashier's wages are raised to that of a plumber's, there are probably going to be a decent number of plumbers who are going to be like, fuck all this specialized training bullshit, I'm just going to be a cashier. Unless I'm wrong and a lot of plumbers go into the field because they love plumbing. I am not a plumber.

...and then there would be a shortage of plumbers, thus the wages of plumbers would rise.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:28 PM on June 6 [15 favorites]


maybe this will make more sense if we take the degree out of it:

like_a_friend, so your mom has been there 20 years and presumably has gotten some pay raises in all that time. what if they hired someone new, maybe a 19 year old intern who just makes copies, and paid her the same as your mom makes now? how would you feel about that? is that fair? what if they paid her the same as your mom makes now, but your mom got a big raise? is that more fair?
posted by desjardins at 1:31 PM on June 6


From what I recall, unions also are not allowed to service specific segments of employees. So let's say you work in, I don't know, a Wendy's. From what I remember hearing (and please correct me if I'm wrong) you're not allowed to have, say, a "cashier's union" and a "cook union" and a "janitorial union." You have to have a big, all-encompassing union that the entire shop votes on.
posted by corb at 1:32 PM on June 6


corb - that is not necessarily true, the mechanics at UPS are in a different union than the drivers
posted by desjardins at 1:33 PM on June 6


The anecdote that serves as my model for union resentment is from a friend who in college had a food service job where he worked the same number of hours as the union workers, was not allowed to join the union due to an agreement between the school and the union, but still had to pay dues out of his minimum wage paycheck. He was absolutely furious at being fucked by both sides.

I want to add that I think making the student pay dues was a bad decision that would be guaranteed to backfire in some way or other. It's just that an awful lot of the "oh, look at the stupid union being stupid and greedy" decisions that people point to are decisions that are actually triage by the union when they are in a weak bargaining position.
posted by Frowner at 1:36 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


corb: "From what I recall, unions also are not allowed to service specific segments of employees. So let's say you work in, I don't know, a Wendy's. From what I remember hearing (and please correct me if I'm wrong) you're not allowed to have, say, a "cashier's union" and a "cook union" and a "janitorial union." You have to have a big, all-encompassing union that the entire shop votes on."

I worked at a movie theater in high school. Cashiers had a union. No one else did. So you had more than one tier of worker in the same business, and only some of them were unionized.
posted by zarq at 1:38 PM on June 6


Who said there were millions? The article is about one business that raised its wages. There have been lots of demonstrations across the country to raise the minimum wage (not to $45k, granted, but $30k is nothing to sneeze at either).

I'm unclear on why you think that letting baristas make $30K inherently prevents plumbers from making more than that. We pay for demand, not status. If people need plumbers more than they need baristas, plumbers will be able to charge more for their services. Changing the MINIMUM just changes that--the MINIMUM. It doesn't place an artificial cap on other professions!

But if we stop needing as many plumbers, for whatever reason, then yes, their wages will fall, and the profession will become less desirable. It is arguable that in some places baristas might be, at some point, more in demand than plumbers. Why then should we NOT pay them more, for providing a service we require more?

like_a_friend, so your mom has been there 20 years and presumably has gotten some pay raises in all that time. what if they hired someone new, maybe a 19 year old intern who just makes copies, and paid her the same as your mom makes now?

I'd be like hallelujah, it is about goddamn time we stopped exploiting young workers. Being 19 doesn't make someone automatically less worthy of solvency. And while my mom's experience has some value to her company, plenty of people with less experience are just as good at the nuts and bolts of it (p.s. my mom isn't even pulling in 45K.)

what if they paid her the same as your mom makes now, but your mom got a big raise? is that more fair?

Not more fair, but also fair. If the company thinks it's worthwhile to pay their new young employees a healthy middle-class wage, AND ALSO compensate older workers for their experience and soft skills, I'd say fuck yeah, that's a company with its head on straight.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:38 PM on June 6 [12 favorites]


I worked at a movie theater in high school. Cashiers had a union. No one else did. So you had more than one tier of worker in the same business, and only some of them were unionized.

And I point this out just to clarify - that is generally not the union's choice. Tiers of workers in one shop create a bad situation for unions - bad feeling, wage pressure, incentive to shift duties to the non-union people, incentive to restructure duties and eliminate union positions while creating non-union ones. You see these situations when the union had to knock itself out to get anyone unionized at all.
posted by Frowner at 1:41 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


Oops, no, my comment above is incorrect. The projectionists also had their own union. So the concession cashiers and the projectionists had their own unions. The ushers, janitorial staff and managers did not. The ushers and concession cashiers were also used interchangeably at the ticket booths.
posted by zarq at 1:41 PM on June 6


Here's a crazy thought about fairness: with increased wages, those undegreed workers we keep shitting on in this thread could probably better afford to get that degree. Just saying.
posted by palomar at 1:41 PM on June 6 [14 favorites]


Frowner: "And I point this out just to clarify - that is generally not the union's choice."

In this case, I have no idea. I worked there two years and was never approached by anyone interested in unionizing the ushers. Except for the ticket booths, all workers' tasks were segregated by job category.
posted by zarq at 1:44 PM on June 6


Frowner, I'm not here saying unions are evil, and I refuse to blindly accept either prounion or antiunion ideology. I am here asking questions because every side seems to lead to absurdity. I have no personal animosity towards unions because they don't exist for me anyway, and it is not neccessary to ask why people are angry at the capital class in this thread; the question is why are nonunion workers pissed at unions.

Of course they are also pissed at capital, but that is no mystery, so dont feed me that strawman please.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 1:50 PM on June 6


I am saying that people who go into thousands of dollars of debt to pay for education should make more, not because they are inherently better people or whatever, but because they have made more of an investment wrt time and money.

What about people who made a huge investment in tulips? Do they also deserve to make more money than people who didn't make that investment? Should any investment of time and effort trigger this "deserving" status? If not, then how do we decide which ones deserve higher pay? Currently we decide through the market: if the market won't pay more for your tulip-decorated hat than a regular hat, then you made a bad investment. If the market won't pay more for your masters than for someone without a masters then you made a bad investment.

Problems with that include market inefficiencies (gap between change in rewards and new masters degrees appearing) and the non-economic incentives and costs involved in education, but you're not arguing about them.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:51 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


nonunion workers are pissed at unions because they have been fed a steady diet of antiunion propaganda by the capitalist classes.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:53 PM on June 6 [15 favorites]


You want a union card? Sorry, you're not working for a union shop, you can't be in our union.

The conversation is more likely to work like this:

"You want a union card? Here's my number. If you have coworkers who feel the same way, call me and we can set up a meeting after your shift. It's not easy to form a union, but I can tell you how it works, the best case scenarios and the worst, and we can see if there's enough of this sentiment and enough interest to pursue it."
posted by vitabellosi at 1:55 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


In this case, I have no idea. I worked there two years and was never approached by anyone interested in unionizing the ushers. Except for the ticket booths, all workers' tasks were segregated by job category.

I know I'm posting a lot, and I'll slow it down after this one.

The thing is, union campaigns are really difficult and labor intensive. And they generally do not happen by someone who is from the union but not an employee walking in the door and saying "hey guys, how do you feel about a union?" This is because when the bosses know that you are unionizing, many of them will fire you illegally, knowing that it will take the NLRB months or even years to rule on the case and you won't be able to afford to wait around. (This is what happened during the Jimmy John's union campaign here in Minneapolis, which some of my friends were part of. Sure, the NLRB ruled in their favor....long after it would have done any good.)

Union campaigns happen either because workers organize autonomously amongst themselves, because workers request help organizing from an established union or because union organizers "salt" the place (get hired with an eye to organizing - this usually doesn't happen unless there's already employee discontent and relations between at least some employees and the union, because it's very difficult).

People really, really, really don't understand how hard it is to unionize - especially for less skilled professions. I am personally fucking dazzled by the work done by the fast food organizers, because it is so high risk. It is so easy to just fire poor folks for organizing - they're broke and they either don't know the law or can't access or wait for legal services. You fire them, they're defeated and they move on. Again, Americans get fed this notion that you get a union because a couple of complainers force it on everyone and then the bosses just have to do everything the union says. I suspect that this narrative is popular because it covers up the history of violent union-busting in this country, and how even when the workers are united, they can be fired or beaten or killed or blackmailed. People were killing IWWs who were riding the rails during the Depression and organizing the most marginalized in the lumber camps and mines.

A problem now in this era of weak unions is that some of the big unions won't take on small campaigns even when they're asked - and that's bad. They figure it's too much work and too risky for too little benefit. That is one reason that people organize either with a union that doesn't seem like a natural fit (clericals organized by the Teamsters, etc) or without a union at all. And this is one reason for the moderate resurgence of the IWW - the IWW will organize anyone, pretty much. Depending on your local situation, they may be really good at it, or they may be terrible, but they won't turn you down.
posted by Frowner at 1:56 PM on June 6 [47 favorites]


It seems ironic or something that the issue of children is where both libertarianism and most Marxisms founder.
posted by PMdixon


with the added irony that, in the end, everything we do is dependent on there being a the next generation, whether one personally has children or not. Without reproduction, production would cease.
posted by jb at 2:03 PM on June 6


Is this world in which workers want to join a union but the union won't let them the one where Spock has a goatee? Because it ain't this one.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:05 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


however, when customer service reps and security guards make as much as people I know with master's degrees, does that reduce the incentive to get an education?

Lots of people with masters' degrees are working as customer service representatives and security guards - or teaching ESL for $25k per year or working in a coffee shop for near minimum wage.

What is the incentive to get an education? Well, in the case of the latter two (actual people), it was love of learning combined with the hope of bettering their lives (both from working class families). But success with a masters is far from guaranteed, and can actually be a barrier to some jobs.
posted by jb at 2:09 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Frowner, I learned something new. Thanks very much for explaining.
posted by zarq at 2:12 PM on June 6


vitabellosi: "You want a union card? Here's my number. If you have coworkers who feel the same way, call me and we can set up a meeting after your shift. It's not easy to form a union, but I can tell you how it works, the best case scenarios and the worst, and we can see if there's enough of this sentiment and enough interest to pursue it."

So, as long as I'm currently working in the industry as the union I want to work in, and I'm working for an employer with enough employees doing that same work to warrant unionizing, and like you said if I have like-minded coworkers, and want to put in the hours it takes to unionize while putting my job at risk (because I don't have a union to protect me and this is a right-to-work state anyway), as long as all that works out, then I should call?

persona au gratin : Is this world in which workers want to join a union but the union won't let them the one where Spock has a goatee? Because it ain't this one.

There's plenty of unions where, if you haven't worked in a union shop, you can't be a member of the union. Teamsters and IATSE are two I know of. No matter how willing or qualified you are, you can't get in just by asking.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:14 PM on June 6


Squabbling about who makes more than whom is a bourgeois distraction from the goal of abolishing the wage system altogether.
posted by No Robots at 2:16 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


> How could someone be in a union job and not be in the union

I did that. I worked part-time in a library. There was a union which worked to make sure the staff got reasonable pay and benefits, and all staff at each level were paid the same rate whether or not we were union members. I didn't realize until after I'd left the job that joining the union was an option for me even though I worked part-time.

> Also: The 35-hours-per-week-to-avoid-benefits is such fucking bullshit

Absolutely. When I worked at that job I got prorated benefits. I bet that was the union at work again.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:18 PM on June 6


So, I get where desjardins is coming from, but at the same time, I've got 1 5/6 generally-useless graduate degrees, and I think there's something here to be said about the fact that we really need to stop incentivizing people to go to graduate school, even to go to college when the thing our society needs is cashiers. And we do need cashiers. We need fast food workers. We're trying to get every last person to go to college in a world where more and more of the available jobs do not actually require four years of liberal arts background to do competently. More and more things are requiring degrees, but not because that much education actually helps. I am all for education as a general thing, but you know what most people who want to be more well-read should do? They should read books. From the library. Not spend $50k going to college.

You should absolutely, 100% be able to have the sort of job that allows you to buy a home (or at least, for the moment, in areas with stupid housing markets, rent an adequate home) and raise a family on any job that you might be expected to occupy past the age of 21. If fast food isn't included in that, fine--find better jobs out there for everybody working fast food who's a grown adult. Can't do that? Living wage. Including homeownership. Everybody who contributes a full workday at least five days a week should be entitled to raise kids and live in a situation where they don't fear for their ability to maintain shelter or food. This is not too high a standard for people living in a country that continues to insist it should be the model for the Western world. How we get there is unlikely to involve everybody making the jump to fair pay at the same time. It is probably going to involve skill/knowledge paying less of a premium than it used to, but that's ultimately a good thing.

Children are a choice. They are not a luxury good. If one chooses other ways to attain personal fulfillment in life, great, those aren't usually free, either. If you live an abnormally spartan lifestyle in some respect, great, you have more money to spend on something else. The ability to make choices about one's life should not be confined to the well-off. Nobody's arguing that the poor should be able to choose to drive Porsches, but if you work as hard as anybody else--and those cashiers do--then you should be able to have more of a life than an olive drab standard-issue jumpsuit and a dormitory. We are entirely too rich as a country to be claiming that children and stable housing are equivalent to Porsches.
posted by Sequence at 2:54 PM on June 6 [32 favorites]


We are entirely too rich as a country to be claiming that children and stable housing are equivalent to Porsches.

BRB getting this tattooed in a prominent spot on my body.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:04 PM on June 6 [14 favorites]


There's plenty of unions where, if you haven't worked in a union shop, you can't be a member of the union. Teamsters and IATSE are two I know of. No matter how willing or qualified you are, you can't get in just by asking

First, there's a misconception here about how Teamsters-type unions work. They don't operate on a worker-by-worker basis. So no, you can't get into Teamsters just by asking, at least not as an individual. You and your coworkers have to organize and join Teamsters.

As for being barred from getting a job at a Teamsters-unionized workplace because you are not a Teamsters member, this can't be accurate - not because my anecdata are better than yours, but because it's against the law (at least, in the US, UK and Australia). Sorry, this is a wikipedia link but see here. It's part of the Taft-Hartley Act mentioned a few times upthread.
posted by kitcat at 3:25 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


What Happens When Low Wage Workers Suddenly Get a Living Wage?

Don't get me started on when guys like me who are barely making a living wage, suddenly are very low wage workers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:39 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


From what I recall, unions also are not allowed to service specific segments of employees. So let's say you work in, I don't know, a Wendy's. From what I remember hearing (and please correct me if I'm wrong) you're not allowed to have, say, a "cashier's union" and a "cook union" and a "janitorial union." You have to have a big, all-encompassing union that the entire shop votes on.

Speaking up from another industry which isn't like that - theater. Actors and stage managers are one union; playwrights another; choreographers another; stagehands, electricians and sound guys another.

How could someone be in a union job and not be in the union

Again, theater. There are a lot of different kinds of contracts Equity can offer a producer, depending on their budget, cast size, size of the venue, and a lot of other factors. Most of these are union-only when it comes to the cast and stage manager. But one - the "showcase", which is what most off-off-Broadway is - allows for both union and non-union cast members. The union members do enjoy a bit of an advantage in pay (and I do mean a bit), but all the other rules concerning the treatment of the actors - giving people regular breaks during rehearsals, giving everyone one day off a week, giving everyone a 12-hour rest between the end of one rehearsal and the beginning of the next so everyone can get some damn sleep, various safety checks - apply to everyone in the cast, union or non-union.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


maxwelton: “What union can I join to show solidarity and to put my money where my mouth is?”
Anyone who is a worker and not an employer, and who is willing to study and abide by the IWW Constitution, can join the IWW.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:44 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


I suspect the aforementioned scenario about a university student having to contribute union dues while also being denied access to the union largely stems from how student employees in general tend to be treated as a special class of workers. Because students almost always have to either be on their parent's insurance or have to purchase university provided insurance plus the limits on employee hours (for instance the University I work for limits student workers to 19hrs a week) creates a lot of pressure on the unionized full time workers. At a university with a big international student population there can be hundreds of applicants for every position and this presents a weird form of competition that I can totally see a union wanting to be very careful about.

I don't think anyone is going to suggest that anecdotes about how a specific union experience might've negatively impacted a specific worker but I definitely believe that on aggregate the beneficial effects of unions particularly in the form of collective bargining with employers who hold all the cards is both extremely critical and beneficial to society as a whole.
posted by vuron at 5:13 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Anyone who is a worker and not an employer, and who is willing to study and abide by the IWW Constitution, can join the IWW.

Hmm.. I looked through their constitution, it has tons of info on how the IWW conducts itself, but nothing I could find about union action towards employers. Sure I'd love to unionize my shop. But I can sign up and pay $9/mo dues and be the only IWW member in the shop. And I'm in a at-will state so I would gone at the end of my current temp employment gig.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:18 PM on June 6


Why don't these articles headline out how much people paid a living wage spend? They're not sticking the money under their mattresses! They're paying for services and goods - school, cars, food. This is a good thing.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:14 PM on June 6 [5 favorites]


not because my anecdata are better than yours, but because it's against the law (at least, in the US, UK and Australia).

As I said above, qualified card-carrying union members get hiring preference in union shops -- so only once the union-member applicants are exhausted do a union shop hire non-union workers. Non-union workers aren't barred from working; they just end up at the end of the line. Eventually, when unemployment drops (meaning fewer union workers out of work), then new people can get union cards as the pool of eligible workers shrinks to contain mostly non-union applicants. It's not explicit refusal, it's just the math of open positions vs qualified applicants that's leveraged to prefer union applicants.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:12 PM on June 6


Hey, unions! Something I'm most familiar with! Especially the Hollywood associated ones. Like the Teamsters (shout out to 399!).

With the exception of 399 and whatever the NYC local is, you can get in the union several ways. Your job can be unionized. You can get hired on a federal contract job that requires union members and get automagically unionized. Or you can go down to your local, ask for the out-of-work list, put down your name and license level and all your endorsements, pay your ~$20 and wait for a call. Do it again the next month. Make sure you're there the day the new list is posted, as you will rise up it. When you hit the top, usually takes 2 - 3 months, you'll probably get sent out to work. This is for the construction halls.

Here's the problem with that. You will NOT get hired in your home town. You'll be sent out on the road somewhere to live in a shit motel while you eat dust building a pipeline or a road or a dam. But you will be climbing the ranks, so you mustn't get discouraged. And you will be earning significant amounts of coin. And pension and health. After less than ten years you'll be A list and get to pick your jobs.

Kinda hard at the beginning then it pays off. Rather like starting any new job. With better pay and bennies.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 10:41 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


Hmm.. I looked through their constitution, it has tons of info on how the IWW conducts itself, but nothing I could find about union action towards employers.

My husband is a Wob, and he says that traditionally, they have been big supporters of the general strike and sympathy strikes, which can be very effective if utilized. (They're also, however, against Taft-Hartley) The IWW has very low membership right now, so they're not particularly effective at the moment - they were involved in a Starbucks strike and some fast food strikes two years ago, but that's about it.

However, because they don't believe in trade unions, you can join them in one job and still remain a Wob into your next job - it will just change the number of your section. They also accept dual-carders, so being in the IWW doesn't restrict membership in any other union.
posted by corb at 4:23 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


"if I could make more as a cashier or barista then why the fuck did I go to college in the first place?"

Don't you *want* less competition for jobs in air conditioned environments where the most serious injury you'll get is a paper cut and you don't have to cater to random members of the American public that just happen to come in off of the street? Don't be silly. There are still benefits to having a non-service/security job that will not go overlooked. Also, those jobs, as little respect for them as you may have, are the ones that the market is producing at a steady clip. Making those jobs better is important because of their sheer ubiquity and because they can't be offshored and will not be automated as quickly as jobs that require masters degrees. Also, many people with degrees are working as cashiers and baristas, and that's part of their dismal ROI. Have a bit of consideration for us and our student loan burdens.
posted by Selena777 at 7:15 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


Why don't these articles headline out how much people paid a living wage spend? They're not sticking the money under their mattresses! They're paying for services and goods - school, cars, food. This is a good thing.

The problem you'd run into if they did - as evidenced in this exact thread, in fact - is that you'd have people getting all judgy about the exact services and goods they did spend money on ("You spent that money on a private school? What, the public school ain't good enough for ya? What's next, a new car rather than a used one? Shame on you.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on June 7 [12 favorites]


octothorpe: "I have a friend from grad school who works for one of the big tech companies in Seattle and keeps filling up my Facebook page with posts bitching about the minimum wage there. I'm sure that he makes six figures but somehow people making $15/hour is the worst thing ever."

I agree with them, but perhaps not in the way they'd expect.
posted by scrump at 4:29 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


("You spent that money on a private school? What, the public school ain't good enough for ya? What's next, a new car rather than a used one? Shame on you.")

How dare you not save/invest that money, you're wasting the money we gave you?
How dare you not spend more to support the economy, what did we give you the money for?
posted by rebent at 8:13 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


I always thank heavens for unions because that was finally how my family was able to make enough money to actually buy real groceries even though I still prefer the commodity butter to any other. Then unions started ripping off the very people that they were supposed to be taking care of and the stories were rampant and verified. So now people hate unions, when they should just hate the crooks who stole the unions because the concept is great if applied properly.
posted by OhSusannah at 6:35 PM on June 10


OhSusannah: Then unions started ripping off the very people that they were supposed to be taking care of and the stories were rampant and verified.

[citation needed]
posted by tonycpsu at 6:54 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


« Older Delonte West's Via Dolorosa and Mental Illness in...   |   A Eulogy to the NHS Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post