I'm crossposting this; it was a comment on a pro-union article on a libertarian site.
I respectfully do disagree about the real world effect of collective bargaining, and I have been directly negatively impacted by the power of it for most of my adult life in exactly the manner described in this article. Please do read it as it is unbelievably accurate as to what really occurs. My husband is a blue collar independent serviceman who is constantly threatened by unions and their workers (not every single time; occasionally there are out of state union workers that don't do it - and I shouldn't need to say this but he has not done anything even close to wrong to warrant it), but that pales in comparison to the negative economic effect it has had on us and continues to have to this day.
I couldn't think of the proper way to explain it in depth, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that that work had already been done for me in the above linked article. As I say, this is *exactly* how our personal and local economy has been affected over the years, in all ways.
Things outside the scope of the article - In our earlier years, he worked for an excellent company that supplied health care products and did medical research. If you've ever been in a hospital or a doctor's office, you've seen their name plastered on most of the supplies. They were not a union company and they had to fight to resist unionization (they would have left the state if it came to it.) That includes bullying Teamsters who would come out occasionally and try to shout the workers into unionizing the place, but as I say it didn't work. As a result, even the lowest workers were paid *double* the going rate for identical positions in even the next-door companies, with far better hours, with top-notch benefits and countless perks and free or low cost medical products ranging from diapers to high-quality bandages and cafeteria type supplies, the list was endless. (Our grocery and incidental bills were unbelievably low during those years.) As a result, we were able to be a one-income family and all the benefits that go along with that. When their tax burden in the area was increased drastically, they were faced with the decision to move out of state - otherwise scale back either employment or quality, neither of which they were willing to do. They moved. We chose not to move with them, though the option was available.
Thus he entered a different line of work which is not easy to describe but had both union and non-union jobs, and he worked as a non-union worker in a small company that employed both for various jobs. The only way it was able to work effectively there was that the union workers in this small company would have their dues paid by the boss, adhere to the letter of the union "law", but not to make any of the attendant trouble, and keep their union cards as tokens to appease the various contractors.
What happened was expected and actually is within the scope of the article - the field itself is full of men who make 3 times what the market will bear, so they work possibly 5 or 6 months out of the year, and those independent companies could no longer to afford to continue. If you want to do that kind of work you have to be willing to work only half the time and adhere to everything the union demands, but the fact is there are very few of them now - no one can afford to hire them and they are now basically a rubber stamp type of profession as opposed to a vibrant, viable industry.
He had to switch to a semi-related field of work, but it does entail going to many places that are filled with other workers from other types of contracts unrelated to him, who nonetheless do various kinds of threatening if they catch wind of the fact that he doesn't belong to a union (not that there is one for what he's doing.) Which is of course horribly unfair (and of course I don't blame the author here for that.) But it happens all the time. It does not have to involve any kind of violence, though sometimes it does - most of the time it is the threat of being thrown off that job but it almost always involves the threat of bringing economic ruin to him as well - they literally get very angry that he does not want to be in a union and is not in fact in one. Even though as I said, there isn't a union for what he does and he's just there for a little while to do a specific one or two man job and leave. They threaten as well to pressure the businesses into never hiring anyone but union laborers for *any* job and thus he will be left with no livelihood. Yes, they forget about him after he leaves, but what kind of thing is that? If it were just occasionally that would be one thing, but this is on every job that happens to have any construction going on or other type of work being done. Even though he is not threatening THEIR livelihood in ANY WAY. Yes, he tries to explain that he is not a competitor for what they are doing but they can't keep to themselves. I explain this because the author is against union violence, but a *realistic and very possible* economic threat is just as violent as beating someone up.
As to myself, I've been a member of the AFL-whatever alphabet soup, and it sucked. I had medical coverage, but there was one doctor in the state who would accept it by that point, since they never got paid. If an executive wanted to clean the place out, he would tell the shop steward to make up phony reports and force us all to sign them and be "warned" so it would be on record. I was better off when I was a temp for them prior to that. My current place has a union for the physical laborers but not for the office workers, and there is some weird kind of hostility that I can't understand between the two when they have to interact on any level beyond the bottom. "It's not my job" and "It's for the company" and other things that don't make sense to me are de rigeur. The union guys make decent money - at least those on the old contract, which is why the old guys who would normally retire instead work 7 days a week - and none of it is negotiable between the workers and the company - it's all done for you before that.
Very disturbingly, they call these guys into meetings and make them sign political documents (always either Democrat or otherwise leftist) en masse in order to drive policy in the state. For example, they drove policy to stop any competing businesses from opening in X area from them (a big area, not like across the street, but miles) in order to keep prices falsely inflated. Then they drill it into them that they're being disloyal if they shop someplace else, so they don't. Thus I have to go a lot farther to find good prices for some very basic things - thus I have to buy less of what I want when I want it because I can't afford it. (Actually that part was also covered in the article.) They need to move to a new facility but are badly hampered by the fact that no town wants to lose an inflated business because now they're dependent upon it. So we have to stay in buildings that are not sufficient to our needs anymore because moving is nearly impossible with all these entanglements. They are constantly pressured to vote for leftist candidates, but pressure isn't necessary after a while.
This is one reason why various production is moving out of northern states and into southern ones where they aren't unionized as well - it's a natural economic consequence.
Lastly, my father in law was a serviceman and a postman after that until he retired. I used to read the material his union would send him, and it was like bad comedy - not funny and pretty horrifying. Caricature depictions of any conservative or libertarian leaning politicians and smear articles against all of them, an endless parade of it, with constant admonitions to support only the most hard-left and egregious candidates and policies imaginable, year after year. Not surprisingly, that's what they often did - support the left politically and demonstrate extremely skewed thinking.
So...in the end, all things considered, I can't support unionization as a supporter of free markets. It's one of those things that sounds good in theory but in practice does too much harm and distorts the market in every conceivable way, and not to the benefit of the common man like myself and my family. It drives up prices, unemployment, hampers negotiations between any individuals, keeps other willing people from becoming employed, and so on and so forth. It is one thing for a small group of people to stand together voluntarily and bargain with their boss as a united front; as an institution it's an entirely different thing.
I think I'll crosspost this at my blog - now Eric, I know this was long, but you can see that it needed a thorough explanation as opposed to just "I disagree" and then coming out in bits and pieces, right? I felt a proper case ought to be made since the author made his case as well, and it wasn't a personal attack.
Right Guy, I hope this helped clarify your position as well :)
"My post was meant to put forward the notion that people in groups tend to seek power over those groups and with the power comes corruption to some extent."
Ha! I thought that was meant to apply to unions because it fits, except it was meant to apply to productive businesses like WalMart, that grew a great deal from the time that we here in the East had never heard of them into what they are now. Penn and Teller did a very good piece on Bullshit! about WalMart hating. If a business has to be "protected" by coercion and market distortion, it shouldn't exist. If they can't compete, they can't compete. Same thing with government bailouts, only in the other direction. The only acceptable force in businesses is the market force and the protection of individuals against fraud or encroachment; that is what drives prosperity and always has. That is why third world countries always looked to the US for aid and not planned and controlled economies like the Soviet Union or China.
Added: The reason that this was so exciting to me, finding that article, is because the theory is entirely validated. If a school of thought can not only analyze data as to what has happened, but can *reliably tell you what will happen as a result of a given action*, that validates the theory. How cool is it to have a theory that you know is good validated demonstrably by objective reality? The Austrians win again, and economics with predictive power? That's what it's all about. Even if in this case it's something that has been personally harmful to me.