Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Unions Are Bad

With all the union vitriol lately, I thought I would explain exactly what I despise about unions. Philosophically, I have no qualms with unions. America guarantees the freedom to associated (First Amendment) and we enforce contract rights. So if a group of employees bind together and demand a group contract and employers are willing to accept that, then so be it. The problem with unions is what they've become.

First, I have a serious problem with union protections being put into law. If employees want to bind together, I support that. But only if the employer also has the right to not contract with them. I cannot support federal law giving one side or the other the right to force their will upon the other. I do not believe in freedom for only one side.

Secondly, modern unions have long ago stopped being organizations that seek to protect “workers.” Instead, they’ve become corrupt bureaucracies whose sole purpose has become self-perpetuation. What’s more, these unions are intensely short-sighted. They really would rather see a company or industry fail and see jobs sent overseas than they would compromise in any meaningful way. That’s why clothing is no longer made in America and why American cars can’t compete.

Nor do they care about consumers or the products they make. That’s why union companies fail to innovate and their products are shoddy. As proof that unions don’t care about consumers, no matter who they are, let me present this quote from Albert Shanker, the former President of the United Federation of Teachers: “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I'll start representing the interests of school children.” That’s why our schools not only are falling behind, but cannot change.

Third, unions have become organizations of thugs. Witness the number of death threats their membership sent to Republican legislators in Wisconsin. This is unacceptable in America and the unions that encouraged these members need to be charged as racketeering organizations. Or consider that former SEIU executive Stephen Lerner was caught on tape discussing a plan to destroy banks and the stock market by trying to coordinate a “strike” on mortgage, student loans and local government debt repayment. His idea is to destabilize banks to “create the conditions necessary for a redistribution of wealth and a change in government.” Or consider the recent civil RICO lawsuit by Sodexo against the SEIU. The complaint alleges harassment of employees, threats of making false claims of wrongdoing, putting roaches into food served by Sodexo, and lying to hospital patients about Sodexo food containing bugs, rat droppings, mold and flies. These are not people who care about workers. They have become criminal enterprises that dabble in politics.

Finally, even when the unions aren’t misbehaving, their priorities are disgusting. Rather than protecting workers from abusive employers, they are protecting abusive perverts and criminals from justice. Consider what the New York Times just discovered. The Times conducted an investigation into state-run nursing homes in New York State. After examining 13,000 allegations of abuse by staff in 2009, including sexual abuse and violence against people with conditions like Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy, the Times found that only 5% were reported to law enforcement even though state law requires that each instance be reported.

Moreover, the Times reviewed 399 disciplinary actions take in 2008 against employees accused of serious neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse. It found that in each case, the allegations were proven true and in each case the worker had previously been disciplined at least once. And what happened to these people? In 25% of the cases involving physical, sexual or psychological abuse, the agency just transferred the worker to another home. The agency tried to terminate 129 of these employees, but only succeeded in firing 30 of them. The rest skated through to abuse again.

Why can’t these people be fired and their crimes reported? You guessed it: their union. The Civil Service Employees Association (their union) challenged EVERY attempt at discipline. Said union executive Ross D. Hanna:

“If they’re brought up on charges, we have an absolute duty to represent them. That’s our job. When we know the person is guilty, we try to convince the person to get out of it by resigning. But if the person decides to go forward, we have to do our best job.”
That's bull! Nowhere is there an obligation to protect someone the union knows to be guilty. And if there is, then the union is not legitimate.

This is why people have come to hate unions. They don’t care about workers and they don’t care about companies. They don’t care if companies die or jobs vanish. They don’t care about consumers or taxpayers. All they care about is redistribution of wealth in the country, bulking up their political power, and protecting the vilest creatures from getting what they deserve. How does that help anyone?

This is what’s wrong with unions. They served a purpose in the age of robber barons when workers were treated like expendable machines. But now they’ve become the robber barons themselves. It’s time for them to reform or die.


Ponderosa said...

Dysfunctional industry?
Staggeringly high barrier to entry?
Can’t get anything done?
Jobs being shipped overseas?
Nearly impossible to make a profit?

Be sure to look for the union label!

Airlines, Steel, Autos, Textiles, bureaucracy, schools, Hollywood, etc.

Unions destroy the economy sector by sector.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, That's true. That's what happens when you get a groups that says they would rather that the industry die than reduce any of their "benefits."

When they claimed to give up HUGE concessions in exchange for the GM bailout, the things there were talking about were ridiculously minor -- things like reducing coffee breaks by 5 minutes and yet they acted like this would somehow make them competitive with nonunion companies where people worked longer, harder, better and cheaper.... and cared about what they were doing.

Anonymous said...

I quoted this line in one of my film school blogs. A sci-fi author named Jerry Pournelle came up with the "Iron Law of Bureacracy" which states:

"In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself."

It's the difference between my dad the teacher and Mr. Shanker the teachers union president.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's true. And the problem is that the more people you get who work solely to perpetuate the organization, the more it drives out those who work to achieve the goals of the organization. At some point, the organization collapses under the weight of their indifference.

And as long as they are protecting people who assault students, who are incompetent, or who just don't work, the more people like your dad need to pick up the slack and the more people like your dad will struggle with the public perception because the public will see only the bad guys and the union working hard to protect them.

If unions cared at all, they would force these bad people out so that people like your dad would have a better work environment.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, that's pretty much my basic philosophy with unions. I believe workers should have the right to associate with each other and make collective demands to their employer if they want, but I also believe the employer should have the right to ignore those demands.

I wonder, though, if people are really becoming as turned off by unions as you say they are. No doubt they don't like the unsavory qualities of unions--the thuggery and inefficiency, for example--but I think most people still believe in the idea of unions, that they represent the "working man" as opposed to the evil bosses. They don't understand that the problems are so deeply rooted, and until they do, I don't think much is going to change.

CrispyRice said...

ITA with T-Rav!

Great article, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I didn't really analyze how the public view of unions has changed, but I would say that the public is being turned off by the unions for two reasons. First, you see unions almost entirely vanishing from the private sector. Secondly, the public is accepting things like Wisconsin right now, which they never would have in the past.

And I think the louder and nastier the unions get, the more they will drive the public away. The public doesn't like confrontation, they don't want to have to hear about labor issues.

Also, in the article about Lerner, he interestingly says that unions are dead and that's why they need to bankrupt the banks, so that the public will see the unions as a trustworthy alternative again.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Thanks. I suspect that most Americans would agree with the idea that both sides should have the right to work out whatever they can agree with the other side. Beyond that, I'm not sure I see much support outside of Democratic ranks for the idea of forcing people to accept unions.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Let me add, that when organizations like the Times are pointing out the problems with unions and when the Democrats are even starting to talk about unions having gone too far or being a hindrance, then you know the public is not on the side of the unions at the moment.

DUQ said...

Wow! I can't believe people aren't up in arms about the nursing homes. How can they possible justify not firing people who commit sexual or violent crimes against those people? That's unbelievable.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Yeah, I wonder about that too. It's really stunning to me that anyone would want to let these people continue working in these state-run homes. Hopefully, this will light a fire under people in Albany, but we'll see. The CSEA is apparently one of the strongest unions in New York.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Even most dumb bacteria and viruses intuit that if they kill their host, they die themselves. Unions aren't smart enough or selfless enough to understand that concept. Unlike most people (including the United States Supreme Court), I see officially-sanctioned collective bargaining to be exactly the same kind of restraint of trade that is forbidden by law for companies, corporations and business groups.

If a particular collection of employees wants to get together voluntarily and negotiate as a group using a representative or lawyer as their spokesman dealing with the company, that's fine. That's genuine contract law. But that's not how it works. The union is a syndicalist organization, protected by government, negotiating for employees who have little say in the negotiations and often no choice as to whether to join the union or not. Opposition views within the legally-sanctioned "international" or "local" are ruthlessly squelched.

What little justification there was for industrial unions in the past century is long gone, and today's "service" unions serve only their "bosses" and the Democratic Party. If RICO were properly exercised, unions would be gone forever.

As for public sector unions, they are a cancer on the body of society, and comprise one of the greatest dangers to democracy imaginable.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree entirely. If employees want to band together and deal with an employer, more power to them. But the government should not be diving into that and telling employers that they must accept the union anymore than the government should be coming in and telling employees "no, you need to work for less money." This is an issue that should be between employees and employers and let the market sort it out.

And you're right that the union don't represent employees, they represent "the union," which apparently now means something larger than the employees as a group -- it means an organization that exists on its own and exploits both companies and workers to survive. It's despicable.

And what really riles me (and should rile the union guys too) is that these unions protect the kinds of monsters they are protecting in New York. That does no one any good -- not the patients, not the good workers, not the unions, not the tax payers, not society. That needs to stop.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I couldn't agree more. I think that most people who tolerate unions don't really understand why they're so dangerous and why they're so powerful.

Let's go back to that group of employees in the real world of contracts. They get together, hire a labor expert or a labor lawyer, and negotiations are on. If the group doesn't like the way the negotiations are going, they can instruct their representative to change course. If the representative doesn't follow their instructions, the group can fire the representative and get one more to their liking.

Ever try to "fire" a union? The government, not the group, has already determined who will do the negotiating and how by the process of "certification." Left-leaning government labor boards protect the union bosses. De-certification is an arduous and nearly-impossible task for the employees. De-certification also requires both a vote on whether to de-certify, certify a new union, or get rid of the union entirely. That takes months, even years, and all the cards are stacked in favor of the existing union. Not particularly conducive to effective negotiations.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's true. Once the system kicks in, its primary goal seems to be to protect the union leadership from everything, especially their membership.

And once you have something like this ensconced it becomes impossible to remove it. And that means there is no incentive for the union to act in anyone else's interesting, including the employees, the company or the customers. Their sole goal becomes protecting their source of income, i.e. dues, and protecting the interests of the union leadership.

That is a recipe for failure.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I thought I would weigh in, although much of what I would discuss echoes Hawks comments.

1) Putting union protections into law - this is huge, although pragmatically, as Americans, we tend to permit exceptions to ideology when one side gets too much power. As an example, I am a free market believer, yet am not opposed to the Sherman anti-trust Act since without it, it is clear monopolies or oligopolies can exploit the public. We have gone way too far towards the unions in that arena. The notion of closed shops, and card check are an anathema to me.

2) No question unions have become bureaucratic and the nature of the buracracy is to perpetuate itself. I don't claim it is the sole purpose, but no question the original purpose almost always gets lost in the shuffle. This is hardly unique to unions, but no question, they have sucumbed in spades. In theory, I don't begrudge laborers the chance to fight for a decent wage, but in a global economy, unskilled labor in particular, will flock to the society with the cheapest labor, and that "ain't" the U.S.

3) Thuggery - This was probably my first experience with unions. The building and trades council in Philly, a huge union town of thugs who blew up construction sites and beat up scabs. In all fairness, back in the days of the Molly Maguires, companies used thugs as well, but now it is much more unions.

4) Priorities - My biggest complaint with unions is that it does not reward individual performance, but seniority. That goes against my capitalist nature.


StanH said...

Government unions are criminal and need to be completely abolished. I love when one of these statist bastards argues for unions and still couches it as, “unions against the evil corporations” when in fact it’s the unions verses the taxpayer, their entire premise is false.

Anecdote: About thirty years ago in a small town in Georgia, there was a company that produced cotton goods, and employed around 3200 people. The unions attacked this company relentlessly, and finally got their vote. The owner of the company who was well off, and getting on in years, told the employees if they unionize he would shut the business down the next day, no ambiguity there…right. Well the union said he was bluffing, and by a narrow margin, won the right to unionize, and the old man shut his business down the next day. The unions disappeared quickly thereafter without a worry in the world, as did 3200 jobs, you should have heard the gnashing of teeth. Now I don’t know if this business owner did the right thing, but in a free society, it’s his right.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I agree with each of your points. I don't like the union protections in law but I doubt they can be eliminated -- though I would like to see them weakened.

I have no problems with anti-trust law either, as I think a free market does need protection from people who have found a way to "corner the market," as that is not good for business, the economy, consumers, or society.

Along the same vein, I think many of the labor laws are good, such as requiring work place safety in some industries, overtime laws, etc. But frankly, those would exist at this point with or without unions as Americans are not likely to vote those away.

I think the thuggery needs to be taken out of the unions just like it had to be taken out of the mob. I have no problem with their rights to protest, but when they start damaging property, interfering with private property or contract rights, or hurting people, then it's time to stop them.

There is no place for public sector unions. That is taxpayer money and is taken by force, not given voluntarily in the hopes of getting a return on investment. Since we have no choice in whether or not to pay, they should not have the right to unionize to try to demand more.

In terms of priorities, I would say they go further than just not rewarding good workers, they actively discourage them. And that's the problem. Whereas the union should be about protecting all workers, it's instead become protecting the lowest common denominator.

Ed said...

I hadn't heard about the NY state thing, good catch. I'm sorry to you had to read the Times to find the story! You should get hazard pay.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I think the real point is that it's not up to us to say if he did the right thing. It was his money. He wasn't running a charity, he was running a business. And if he decided that it wasn't worth his time to keep running that business if they unionized, then he had every right to close the shop.

And let me note the irony that even with his shop closing, somehow the union wasn't able to (or didn't even try) to buy him out or run the business without him. Clearly, they just wanted to take, not to create.

Great story!

As for government sector unions, that's absolutely true -- they are taking from us. Also, it's like a rope-a-dope in that they are often negotiating with people who are themselves union employees. It's like the world's greatest scam, with the proceeds going directly into Democratic Party pockets. It needs to stop.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed! Just be glad I'm not part of the Bloggers Union or they wouldn't have let me read the NYT. That's too hazardous... let some contractor do it! ;-)

rlaWTX said...

I kept waiting for an outraged comment from the BRE - then I realized that Commentarama had reached the pinnacle of success as an oppressive Robber Baron and was keeping the BRE in the dark in the Boiler Room!

But otherwise, what y'all said!!

I think it's interesting that the US auto industry has become foreign companies based in southern states!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, The BRE are traveling at the moment. They apparently went to Florida to check out the last space shuttle launch and are now somewhere else... not sure where. But they'll be back, and they'll probably be upset! LOL!

About cars, I find that interesting too. In the 1980s, there was this question about whether cars could still be made in the US. Well, the US car makers decided to farm their work out to Mexico, Japan and China. And everybody else moved into the American South and really did a great job. It just goes to show that there is no reason for the rust belt to have lost so many of it's jobs, except that its labor relations were so rigid that they just couldn't keep up with the changes going on.

rlaWTX said...

good to hear that the BRE are out and about instead of being chained in the Boiler Room - although that does remove you from the Robber Baron status!

I'd like to think that there is an inherent "South is better than North" component, but I figure right-to-work is more applicable...

Notawonk said...

teachers unions are hysterical in texas now that their money is being threatened. interest in actually teaching the kiddies?! NEVAH! all steam ahead to keep their unions so they can keep their pork.

they couch their objections based on the fact that texas is ranked 44th overall in the country in success (failure) of schools, and that if more money is taken from the system then lawsy have mercy, where will we rank then?! they can't even see their hypocrisy when touting the numbers that THEY'RE responsible for.

i say cut 'em off at the knees and make 'em teach. that's what they are supposed paid for now.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I hope you're right. It's certainly looking better than it has been. Guess we'll have to see.

By the way, is there such a thing as the Bloggers Union? Because if there is, don't tell me. I don't want to find out what my dues might be ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I wouldn't say no to the idea that the South is better than the North. :-)

The BRE might disagree about us not being Robber Barons! LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, It's never been about teaching, it's always been about getting their hands on the biggest slice of the pie they could get away with. And now that the pie has shrunk and people are starting to ask questions like "why can't you people teach?", it's going to be an ugly time for many teachers unions.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I think it's all about the recession and the busting of budgets and the fact the unions refused to take pay cuts like everyone else. I think they lost the war by putting all their eggs in the Obama basket.

If there is such a union, they've to jam a membership card into my cold dead hand! ;-)

Joel Farnham said...


Try as I might, I have yet to see what the so-called robber barons did that created such venom. As a whole, all they did was create an industrial society. As a whole, all unions did is create a gaping mouth that devours companies.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, The problem with the robber barons was threefold.

First, some of them were outright criminals -- fraud, extortion and hiring thugs to attack competitors.

Secondly, they engaged in anti-competitive (read: anti-capitalist) behavior by doing things like getting the government to grant them monopolies in things like railroads that they could then use to discriminate against competitors and people who won't pay "rebates" (bribes or kickbacks).

Finally, their employment practices were so nasty that they laid the ground work for a public backlash that gave us decades of unionization and labor laws.

Ed said...

Andrew, Reading the Times is hazardous to your health. You should charge everyone a nickle to read you article! Lol!

Wesvigo said...

Andrew I'm trying to understand the first point of your argument. Are you saying that if employees decide to unionize that that employers don't have right in place to protect them? I'm just asking cause I don't understand

AndrewPrice said...

Wesvigo, No, that's not quite what I'm saying. I'm saying that the government should stay out of this. I'm saying that both have the right to make demands on the other and to accept or reject those demands, but that the government should not be picking a side and giving one side or the other the right to impose their views on the other.

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