Software Nerd

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unions: Card-check

A recent post at SparkASynapse got me writing about unions. Though unions have declined in the U.S., they are still a serious and on-going threat: airline unions, autos, and the union I really despise: the public-teachers union (NEA) . (Every time someone tries to introduce even a small measure like "Charter schools", the NEA launches a strong campaign to retain the status quo.)

A while ago, Gus van Horn blogged about auto-unions. He quoted an article that said "GM pays $31.35 an hour. Toyota pays $27 an hour. Not such a big difference. But--thanks in part to union work rules that prevent the thousands of little changes that boost productivity--it takes GM, on average, 34.3 hours to build a car, while it takes Toyota only 27.9 hours."

Actually, the hourly wage is not all that GM pays. Past union contracts have them paying much more in terms of benefits, pensions and retirement health-care. According to another article, "The wages and benefits package for U.S. hourly workers at Ford equaled $70.50 in 2006, up from $64.90 in 2005. More than half of the labor cost is related to benefit expenses, including health care. " The bottom line here is that a worker costs Ford about $140,000 a year, while a worker in a U.S. plant run by Toyota, costs the latter $100,000 each year. Throw in restrictive union-rules and the really amazing thing is how the US "big-three" auto companies aren't already in bankruptcy.

The auto unions have seen the writing on the wall. They know they have to give in now, while the entity they feed off still has life. For instance, they have started to sign deals that allow different wage rates for newer employees. There is also some speculation that they might agree to certain cuts in retirement health-care. I've blogged about this before; so, let's leave the auto-unions be.

A more important question is: have we learned from all this, and are we moving away from unions? Unions have been on the decline. The primary cause of this decline is that workers no longer want them. If 50% of Walmart workers vote for a union, they will get one; but, they do not vote that way. Obviously, at least to this extent, the workers have the correct politics. That's the good news.

The bad news is that some legislators want to change the voting rules. They want to remove the requirement for a secret ballot. They want to replace this with some type of public "vote". This is referred to as "card check". Under a card-check system, a union organizer can go around and get the signatures of employees who want a union. If organizers collect signatures of over 50% of the workers, they will get the union -- no secret ballot required.

Ever met a union thug organizer?

Yes, workers should be able to stand up for what they think is right. However, if that argument holds water, why do we have secret ballots for anything?

What's the main reason offered by politicians who are for this bill? They say that when some workers start to spread the word about unions, companies fire them, and are able to get away with it, since they aren't unionized yet. In truth, this is not the norm, but even if it were, any Objectivist would see why it's important to keep the current system in place.

The real reason unions want to abolish secret ballots is that they know that while many workers are against unions, those workers do not have the philosophical arguments for their stand. When encountered by a persistent union organizer, spewing socialist theory at them, they often nod, express sympathy for the cause, and and go on with their life. Later, in the secrecy of the voting booth, they go with their real view and keep the unions out. Unions want the bully session to end with some type of signature that can be used just like a vote.

Write to your congressman and tell him to uphold secret ballots for unions. [The bill passed the house and was rejected 51-48 by the senate. Tell your congressman not to try again.]

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  • I watched a TV program a long time ago about the tendency for union workers to get physically violent when they were fired from their jobs and replaced by new workers. physically violent toward the new workers, that is. "The right to a job" mentality in action. But what is needed there is the company standing up for itself and the government protecting citizens from force.

    I have also seen first-hand the effects of unionization in many places, including the maintenance staff at two places where I used to work: a) a sense of entitlement b) laziness c) the refusal to do anything even remotely beyond their "job description" such as helping to lift something heavy, even if it was maintenance-related.

    By Blogger Monica, at 1:36 PM  

  • Even when they're not violent, angry co-workers can make life very unpleasant.

    As for "job descriptions", trying to take the initiative and go beyond them can land one in trouble. Here's a true story:

    An acquaintance had asked for something to be done in his office cubicle, and office-services were slow to respond. After a week, he did it himself. Basically, he wanted to change the furniture around, but it meant getting a screw-driver, disassembling paret of it, re-assembling... a max of 30 minutes of work.

    The union guys filed a complaint that he had done this himself when it was someone else's job. He ended up getting off light: with a scolding from the boss, and with writing a letter of apology for doing the work himself.

    Union environments can be terrible. Managements end up making all sorts of "productivity" agreements with unions. For instance, the contract may specify that a worker will assemble 50 widgets in an hour. As long as they do 50, management is not allowed to fuss. Now, if anyone tries to make too much over 50 an hour, the union usually gives him a talking to: does he want to force them to admit to a higher number in their next contract negotiation? etc.

    By Blogger softwareNerd, at 3:56 AM  

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