March 15, 2009

Collective Bargaining

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. 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.


vesta44 said...

Yeah, I have no use at all for unions, none!
Back in the late 70's, my dad worked as a mechanic for one of the big soft drink companies, maintaining their fleet of trucks. He was the only mechanic, and kept a fleet of 10 or 15 trucks running. He'd been there almost a year when the truck drivers, who belonged to the Teamsters Union, found out that he didn't belong. They agitated, and my dad was told that if he wanted to keep his job, he had to join the union. Basically, he told them to go fuck themselves, he wasn't joining. He quit, and within a week, he had another job as a mechanic working on farm equipment (which is what he'd been doing before he took the fleet maintenance job).
I worked at a garment factory in Washington state that wasn't union for about a year and a half. After I left that job, a friend who still worked there said they decided to join the garment workers' union. Big mistake. Their pay wasn't increased by much, they still had no benefits, they had to pay union dues (which effectively did away with the little pay raise they got by joining), and if the union didn't like something the company did and wanted to strike, the workers had no choice, they had to go on strike and lose their income until the union decided they got what they wanted.
A couple of years later, I worked for a company that made timers for washers and dryers (among other things). That company had been in our small town for quite a few years (my mother had worked there and so had my aunt). Back in the early 60's, the union (electrical workers) went out on strike over a 3 year contract offering raises of 2 cents, 2 cents, and 2 cents. The workers were out of work for 6 months, no pay, and they went back for 2, 2, and 2. When I worked there, I had to join the union. Didn't keep me from getting laid off, and about 6 months after I got laid off (this was in 1976), they went on strike again. The company said that if the union didn't settle the contract, they were closing up shop and moving out of town. Union refused to settle, they wanted more than the company was willing to pay. Back story to this - the company moved to our town from another town because of a union strike for more pay. I had another job, so I didn't care if the company left or not (it was a shitty job anyway). Sure enough, after 3 months of the strike, the company packed up their equipment and parts, and guess who crossed the picket lines to haul everything away? The Teamsters Union, who breaks legs if you cross one of their picket lines, but can cross any other union's picket lines with impunity.
So yeah, unions can suck it as far as I'm concerned. They've done nothing for me but cost me jobs and money, I've gotten none of the supposed benefits of union membership.
Hell, when my mother worked for the phone company as an operator (back before everything was computerized), she ended up applying for jobs in the company that weren't union, for that very reason. She went from being a union employee of the phone company to being a company employee (supervisory positions weren't union, they were company only) simply to avoid the loss of work and pay that comes with a strike (and don't let anyone kid you, strike pay isn't shit compared to what you're paid when you're actually working, unless you happen to be a bigwig in the union).

AnnieMcPhee said...

Holy crap! I had a feeling you had some stories like that, thanks so much for posting them. I never had the pleasure of being involved in any strikes - I remember when bad or unfair things would happen I would ask the shop steward if there wasn't something we could do, some way to at least complain, but she wouldn't put up with any complaints from workers, only from management. Naturally the presence of one poor steward doesn't make a case against unions in general, but that's beside the point. The case is a lot bigger than that. And I don't like living under such a constant threat and having to pay more for basic necessities because of the presence of people who want *everyone* to be in a union, or else, or because a union tells our workers to sign this petition and vote this way or that way.

phthaloblu said...

Wow, Annie, you were brave for posting this at LR. I'm sure big mouth Bint savaged you with her lack of logic tirades. My dad worked for the Pennsylvania Rail Road (PRR) for 40 odd years. He started with the PRR and ended with Amtrak. He hated the union with a passion, but he was forced to belong. He had an amazing work ethic (from being poor as a child) and our family, far from being well off, did not lack for necessities. Every time a contract negotiation would come around, he'd say we have to tighten our belts. So, years later when I worked a minimum wage job for a department store that no longer exists, and some union was trying to infiltrate, I told them to go to hell. I was young, and these guys would come in and flirt with us girls that worked in the shipping area. I was having none of it. Of course I was branded a lesbian and every other derogatory word because I refused to be cooperative. Fuck 'em. If I gave a damn about what everyone thought about me, I'd be a dimocrap. The union never did get in and I left that job to work at the printing company. I'd been there about 5 years when things started going down hill for the printing industry. It was evolution in the field, that's all. The big commercial printers were having a tough time competing with the desk top publishers and I saw what was eventually going to happen. But, other people didn't or couldn't. Some union was contacted and they showed up in the parking lot handing out cards. The company took a hard line and banished them to the property line and threatened to prosecute if any employees were blocked from entering the parking lot. Then management began calling us in one by one and issuing their own veiled threats, that if we took the cards, we could lose our jobs. I don't play games. I was there to do my job and leave. I told my manager that I wouldn't work for a union. So, if the union got in, I would be quitting. Mind you, this came after the debacle at Caterpillar in York, PA. You could probably google it and read the history, but basically they had people working on their assembly lines, that were high school drop outs, or only a high school diploma, pushing buttons and making $25 or more an hour. The company wanted the employees to contribute something toward the insurance that the company had been paying for years because of health costs increasing. The union got it's hackles up and went on strike. The negotiations were strained and agitated. In the end the company closed shop and left and all those people who had lost their jobs had to sell their big homes and expensive toys and try to find new work. And because they didn't have an education, they lost out to younger people who did. And the boo-hooing and woe is me attitude made me sick. People like our family took advantage of the opportunity left in the wake of the devastation and bought the homes at bargain basement prices and bought the expensive toys that the original owners couldn't afford anymore. Lots of the employees tried to find jobs elsewhere while the strike was going on, but because they were the largest employer in town, no one else would hire them, because they knew that once the strike ended, those people would go right back to Caterpillar. All of this just reinforced my position on unions. They are no better than the mafia and their tactics prove it. Recently, my BIL worked on a union job in Atlantic City as a non union worker. He was given shit from the first day on the job because he didn't belong to any union. They wrote him up for putting his own desk lamp together (he was supposed to have an electrical union guy do it) and other things that he chose to do himself because it only took a few minutes. He was so pissed off, that after weeks of putting up with shit like this, he demanded that his boss send him elsewhere. He said it was getting ugly, but nobody pushes him around. He's from North Jersey and he knows what the score is. The point is, that in all of these cases, the quality of life and the wages were never what the unions said they would be for the people. Unions take and take and take but they rarely give. They take union fees, but those fees are not offset by the higher wages that are promised. And the aggressive intimidation practiced by the unions in squeezing out all competition is directly related to the higher prices the community is forced to endure. Once upon a time in history, unions were needed and preformed a necessary function, but with the federal mandates from the labor department, I really see no use for unions anymore and neither do they (I suspect) and that's why they employ the tactics that they do. In fact I remember reading on line a couple of years ago that NZ fell for the same line and voted in a socialist government and ended up with the unions in control. The rectified that quickly with their next election. It should be fairly easy to find out. We had been thinking of moving there and I had been researching the country and it's government and that's how I found out about it.

AnnieMcPhee said...

Ohh, nice meaty posts - excellent! I'm toddling off for a bit, but stopped to say that one hasn't had at me yet on this one ;) But if it happens, it won't matter - my experiences are there to highlight the economic realities and the validation of the Austrian school, not as ammunition for silly attacks. Well, that's not the only reason I put it here; I was hoping to get input from you guys like this, so I'll be back!

Larry said...

North Carolina. Right to work state. Good thing, too, because the company I work for just cut us from a 3 and 4 schedule (basically you work 3 days one week and 4 the next, 36 hours and then 48 hours, so always 8 hours overtime on each check) to a 40 hour week, that ends up being the equal of losing a full 8 hour day pay-wise. A union would have probably called for a strike, but I would rather have a job at 40 hours a week than no job at 3 and 4.
I probably wouldn't have such a big problem with unions if they would not 1) make companies go all-union and 2) use union dues to make political campaign contributions.
If I owned a business I would make it clear up-front that any attempt to unionize the workforce with a national union would result in the closing of the doors permanently, although I would probably allow an in-house and completely voluntary union.
I will agree that unions once upon a time maybe had a place to push for workplace safety and such, but now they aren't really needed any more - if, indeed, they ever really were.
The list of companies that were destroyed by unions is long and varied, and always the unions pat themselves on the back because they didn't cave in to the corporate demands, and in the meantime their union members go hungry. What's particularly annoying is the union members that complain that the company left town because they were cheap, but by golly the union didn't cave! How is that working for you?
Sorry to eat up your bandwidth Annie. Looks like I'm just as long winded as the rest...and I haven't ever belonged to a union!

phthaloblu said...

The other point I wanted to make about the union leaders is that while the company employees are hungry during strike time and after a company closes it's doors, the leaders are still living large. Something that just doesn't sit right with me. Nobody speaks for me, but me. Especially some big wig asshole that doesn't know what it's like on the line.