Friday, November 21, 2008

Myths and Lies: The Truth Be Told

A little wisdom and common sense to combat myths, lies and above all - ignorance.

Myth #1: Union wages are responsible for companies relocating to foreign countries.

It’s true that in the past some jobs have been moved from the Northeast to the South in order to take advantage of a non-union environment and a lower standard of living. It’s a fact. Back two decades or more,there were definitely built-in benefits of setting up shop in the South.

Replacing a union worker earning $18.00 per hour in Pennsylvania, with a non-union worker earning $10.00 per hour in Georgia was enough of an inducement for a factory owner to decide to relocate. Moreover, there’s not much a union can do about these wage differentials. People in the North need to make more money to pay the rent and live up here.

But,a company that moves its operation to a foreign country isn’t doing it to avoid paying a union wage; it’s doing it to avoid paying an American wage.

Where being able to pay a non-union forklift driver $10.00 per hour instead $18.00 per hour represents an opportunity to trim costs, the prospect of moving abroad is seen as a shrieking bonanza.

Moving an operation to Asia or Latin America is not a case of union vs. non-union. It’s a case of a decent standard of living trying to compete with the permanent underclass of a fledgling economy. It’s no contest.

And to suggest that it’s somehow organized labor’s fault that businesses are forced to exploit the foreign labor market is to perpetuate a lie.

The United States could go non-union overnight, and you’d still have businesses seeking foreign labor. Why? Because the wage differentials are simply too staggering, too alluring, even compared to work being done in the U.S. for the federal minimum wage.

Myth #2: Union members are sub-standard workers.

Consider the premise for a moment. People can say or think whatever they wish about labor unions (they can accuse them of being anachronistic, out of touch, too powerful, etc.), but they can’t deny that, across the board, union jobs typically offer better wages, benefits and working conditions than non-union jobs. The notion that the best paying, most coveted jobs in a community would attract the least competent workers simply makes no sense.

As a general rule, the highest paying and best-benefited employers will attract the highest caliber of worker—whether we’re talking about accountants, cooks, college teachers or warehousemen. Think about it. Which warehouse is going to attract and maintain the better shipping checkers—the one that is clean, safe and generous, or the hole-in-the-wall outfit that pays lousy wages and offers little or no benefits?

Also, because a union shop offers better pay, benefits and working conditions, it’s going to have many more applicants to choose from, allowing management to pick and choose from the very best candidates, an option the tiny mom-and-pop enterprise won’t have.

Still, this notion that union members somehow aren’t as competent or hard-working as non-union members has seeped into the national consciousness. Part of it may be because a union contract provides workers with dignity on the job.

That doesn’t mean they’re bad workers; it just means they don’t have to grovel or jump to attention when a boss passes by.

Part of it may be that a union contract exposes inferior managers. Working within the confines of a union contract requires the bosses to be consistent and attentive, something which some managers (particularly the lazy or dumb ones) aren’t capable of.

You commonly hear this work performance slur in regard to the school teachers’ union, where incompetent teachers (rather than a myriad of other obvious factors) are blamed for low test scores. This is a myth that is being propagated by school administrators who don’t have the courage or resources to address the root problem. Blaming the teachers is far easier.

If people really, truly believe that union workers are less competent than non-union workers, then they should think twice before calling 9-11 or flying somewhere on a trip. Police, firemen and pilots are heavily unionized occupations.
Myth #3: Union members can’t be fired.
As good as union workers generally are, there are occasions where they, like anyone else, deserve to be fired. And, despite the myth, union members do get fired. Indeed, union members in this country get fired every day, for every manner of violation, from insubordination to poor work performance to insurance fraud to chronic absenteeism (the most common offense).

No contract in the world is going to include language that forbids management from firing a substandard employee.

Again, all one needs to do is consider the premise. What management representative would ever sign a contract that contained “immunity” language of that sort? And what union rep, no matter how bold or arrogant, would dare suggest that such restrictive language be written into it? In truth, no one wants to work with deadbeats . . . not even other deadbeats.

Is it harder to fire a union worker than a non-union worker? Yes. Thank god, yes. Having a modicum of job security is one of the virtues of being a union member. Where a boss in a non-union shop might be able to fire an employee because, say, he didn’t like his “Nader for President” bumper sticker, or because he wanted to give the job to his wife’s nephew, he couldn’t do that in a union shop, because in a facility governed by a union contract you need actual grounds to get rid of someone.

Again, it’s school teachers who are frequently scapegoated here. Administrators complain that it’s inordinately hard to fire an incompetent teacher, even though, per the provisions of the union contract, the school has two full years from a teacher’s date of hire to fire him or her for any reason they like, without having to defend that decision. Two years. Compare that window of opportunity to the standard 60 or 90 day probationary periods found in most businesses.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672 and is an advocate for American workers and author of this article.


Anonymous said...

The good thing is that the people who say and believe those myths about unions fit into the same categories - either uninformed and uneducated or just ignorant.

Anonymous said...

You are correct that the extreme complaints about unions are often exaggerated and overly generalized and unions have greatly benefitted not only union workers, but all workers. However, union protection has led to countless absurdities committed by its members. The members of unions need to understand they are basically offering a commidity, which is labor, and like any business need to be aware of how they present themselves to the world. I will give you one example, I could give many more.

During a union construction job in Cleveland, Ohio a lumber company located about 60 miles from the job site had drive to the site to deliver the same load of lumber three times because the one person with the job of operating the fork lift was not present. None of the trips were a surprise to the crew, yet the fork lift driver just simply was never there. Because it was not their jobs, the rest of the crew refused to help with the unloading and because they did not have the materials (the lumber) they needed did no work for two days. When the owner of the lumber company became disgusted enough and sent the lumber up with a crane on the truck to unload the lumber, the union members became angry and threatened the men delivering the lumber, but fortunately only yelled at the men.

This is the sort of thing that reflects poorly on all unions when admittedly they are bad apples in a bunch. But, it seems that this sort of thing is tolerated too often by other union members.

bullhorner said...

Sometimes there are components to the story that we may not know. But on the other hand, sometimes things do happen that shouldn't and they should be addressed. However, why does it seem to give ALL unions a bad name? - it really shouldn't.

Sometimes what it really shows is an underlying bias against all unions....and taking the opportunity to paint everybody with the same brush. Are all Italians in the mafia? All blacks in jail? All Irish drunks? Same answer, no.

People sometimes don't do the right thing and believe it or not it does cross the unon / non-union line. That does not mean that all non-union people are bad, that they are all downtrodden or too spineless to stand up for their rights either.

But yes, in some peoples minds, all unions do get the bad rap. It becomes a situation where we must really consider the source on one hand and other times we need to stand up and kick the asses of our brothers with the other foot.

As the saying goes though - one bad apple doesn't spoil the whole bunch.

To be clear, we don't appeciate the assholes screwing it up for all of the good people in the union either ...but we believe they are in the minority of our group.

.....and EVERY GROUP has 'em.

One more thing, unions have to stand up, stand out , get vocal and fight for everything they get. Some people confuse that with trouble-making or being "bad" - that is where we part company with those people.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, according to your poll, it would seem you are a true union man. Stifle the opposition. Unwelcome dissent. Stomp the individual.

So you want everyone in the world to agree with your views, and believe anyone who does not, is an 'ass wipe'? You are a Richard Cranium.

I can't believe I haven't seen the light, and realize your word is Gospel.

bullhorner said...

I knew I'd be able to flush you out.

Anonymous said...

Flush me out? Get a life. If you spend more than a minute thinking about me, wondering if I will be 'flushed out', like I am hiding or something, it's a minute wasted in your life, you will never get back. Loser! and worse, Coward.

bullhorner said...

Don't worry, its not even close to a minute.

Anonymous said...

I am dissapointed, I thought you are smarter than that. A minute, a second, a nanosecond, if you spend ANY time at all, looking to flush anyone out, you are a moron and need to get off the computer,

bullhorner said...

Asswipe was a good choice of words.