Friday, August 12, 2005

Unions in the U.S. today

[I live in a non-union state. I have no idea what it's really like in Detroit, for example. So I am writing already skewed...]

I'm listening to the head of some meta-union that seceeded from the mega-union recently. The guy was complaining about how union workers make 15% more than non-union, on average in the U.S. But the rate of increase in union pay has not gone up much in the last 10 years (or was it 20?). AND, those corporate &!%$#'s are giving more and more work to China.

I am STUNNED that people like this are in charge of their own electric bill, much less many workers. Hmm. Let's see. We all want to make more money than last year. So how does a company provide this? Increased wages, of course. How does a company afford this? Increased prices (a.k.a. inflation). But we want to pay LESS for the same thing. Wal-Mart hired L.S.D. induced smilies to pull out weapons and cut price markers. Why? United States citizens really, really want to pay less and make more.

How long can this last? Evidently not as long as the U.S. Why buy more expensive stuff from the U.S. when it's cheaper and better when made somewhere else. So top executives pay themselves well so they don't have to see reality. And Unions babel about how they want more money and to work less and to spend time union-ing. When did a Union ever scold its own workers for being lazy or slow or inefficient? Nope. We want everyone else to do more work. Or we want to get paid more for doing the exact same thing.

The only reason I should get paid more at work is because I am producing something more valuable than last year or because I can do more of the same thing in the same amount of time (efficiency). If not, why would I get more money? The company gets no increase in productivity or benefit from me!

What if instead of wanting a raise, I saved money. Instead of having my "deserved" vacation that I cannot afford, what if I waited until I had enough money before going? Or saw vacation as one of many ways to spend my money. What if I lived in reality - a closed system (my labor = my income + my status) does NOT just gain energy without an outside source. I have no "right" to an outside source, it is grace-upon-grace-upon-grace (or so I think as it pertains to God and this world and/or my life).

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." -Paul


BAB said...

Amen Amen. The love of money has really gotten us screwed up hasn't it. I have been thinking about this "money as a tool" concept lately. I think we have gotten so far into hording mode that we forget that we have the power to use it for good, to support people, support communities, etc. And all of this outside of more taxes.

Jimmy said...

David, I think there's ample room for us to invoke biblical references warning us about the love of money. . . . but in our society, it would seem that we should focus 99% of such invocations on the 20% of our poplulation (made up number) that lives in the upper-middle class/rich/super-rich category, who, I'd argue, are almost assuredly NOT in unions.

My union cost me a job last year due to seniority issues. I'm a critic of them in some ways, but as to the wages and benefits that unions have helped hard working people to procure, I have no complaints. Saving a few cents or dollars per month on an electric bill could never recover the wages that union people would most certainly not be paid if there were no union at all. American business has no track record of showing great concern to provide living wages to people, so I have no problem with organized labor which effectively says, "we are not going to provide you exuberant profits on our backs without us being able to have a decent wage in the process."

David M said...


If you happen to check back . . .

Would not your suggestions put us into a stalemate of union vs. management? My uncle who worked for Boeing for some ridiculous amount of time, was a union worker how always hated "the other side." Great. They both got some of what they wanted but never got TOGETHER and synergized.

If I didn't put my life and family in such need of money, maybe I could "vote with my employment." What if I just worked for someone else who didn't mistreat his/her employees? Then the power-mongers would be left with employees who didn't care and never would and would produce inferior products/results and the company would flounder or fall or piddle along.

Seems to me that matching greed with power doesn't really fix much, not long-term anyway. Not for my kids, grandkids, and/or great-grandkids.


John Lynch said...

I am convicted with you, Dave, that Americans work hard to sustain complicated systems (including unions) that protect the "American way of life" ... one largely predicated by capitalistic greed. But I wonder if perhaps this issue is more complicated than it might seem?

Unions have historically been responsible for moving the standardized work day from 12 to 8 hours, addressing unsafe factory working conditions, ending some forms of hiring & wage discrimination, restricting the potential of unchecked monopolization & frequently resultant insufficient wage scales. Do you think that it might at least be possible that, despite our good & ever-improving labor legislation, unions might still serve some purpose today?

And though I don't know, I wonder if there might be at least a cultural connection between the decrease of union participation over the last 40 years & the increase of both poverty & the "working poor" in the US?

As far as "voting with my employment" ... that seems like a scary idea considering unemployment continues to rise in many areas of the country. For many who aren't living in the population-growth hot spots of our nation, voting with their employment is more like gambling with the lives of their family. In Chicago, there are numerous qualified men and women (some in our own church) who have been out of work for roughly a year... I don't know of many who save a year's worth of quickly liquidatable income - although I suppose it is certainly possible.

This might be more of a response to your comment to Jimmy than to the primary post concern of American greed; but I'm eager to read your continuing thoughts.

Blessings man.

David M said...

John L.,

I am being ridiculously idealistic in this post (actually, in all of my life right now).

When someone is "out-of-work" for a year, does that mean they cannot get a job at Quick-E-Mart? For a long time I have told people (and now have to live it out!) that a job keeps one from having the time and resources to Love God and Love People, then it's the wrong job. It's better to live in a tent with no facilities and still love one's God, family, and community than otherwise.

NOTE!! I am in NO way saying that Unions have done NOTHING good at all. But "good" is a term with non-descrete affecting (a.k.a. it's relative). If Unions have increased wages, is it not fair to say that they have also increased inflation?!?! (cf. Wendel Berry article referenced elsewhere in this Blogsite)

The whole system is shot. We are in a no-win situation: CEO's get paid stupid amounts, unions HAVE to exist (huh-huh), etc. My point is not about a solution as it is about OVERHAUL. At some point, it's going to stop: either by choice or by time. I think by choice is better. But it WILL cost, no question. It will just cost someone else a lot more later :-)

David M said...

Wendell Berry article is at the link on the right and is also at:

John Lynch said...

Wow... Thanks for that Wendell Berry article Dave. It was awesome!

Crap... now I'm going to have to rename my blog. ;-)

Rob said...

Having grown up in the heart of union country, I've seen excesses by both sides, without a doubt...but I think unions are absolutely necessary.

The labor market, like our political system, only works long-term when there is a balance of power. We typically hear about the balance of power/stalemate between management and unions, but ideally, the government is the third party in this equation, protecting both workers and corporations.

Unfortunately, politicians are often heavily weighted one way or the other, depending on who helped put them in office. I would say ultimately it's the politicians who have failed us.

When people can afford to live somewhere other than the sidewalk or their car, can afford to feed their families and take them to the doctor when they're sick, then they're seldom eager to stage a walk-out. When they fear they will lose these abilities, they'll talk about action.

I, like you, think it would be nice to be able to "vote with my employment," but unfortunately that's not realistic, because I'm sure your family, like mine, relies not on money but food and medical attention...and that's not a situation you or I put them in. And, speaking as someone who was "out of work" for more than a year...yes, sometimes that does mean we can't get a job at Quik-E-Mart. (One of the side-effects of a highly-trained workforce is that workers are sometimes over-qualified for the available jobs and therefore unemployable.)

I don't believe the whole system is shot in the sense that it cannot be fixed, but it does take a greater degree of balance between the powers. In my view that would require that the government/politicians step up and make laws that hold management accountable in a way that protects both the workers and the corporations both...which may mean that it's shot in the sense that it won't be fixed.

David M said...


You have a much more realistic and compassionate viewpoint than I.

The post previous to this one, though, further explains my frustration with these "systems."

"Balance of power" to me is HIGHLY LIMITING. A funny parallel to physics. Take a large push-broom and balance it on your finger. Then walk. The broom wants to fall. Unless you walk REAL SLOOOOOOOW. If you let the broom begin to fall forward, you must run with it to keep it from falling.

I dream of the later. "Balance" requires slow, methodical, RISK AVERSION movement. I don't like that. Take Trax Technologies ( that is run by a man I know. That company can move fast, make drastic sweeping reform, AND can help end poverty in its locations in Costa Rica, Singapore, China, and Prague. No "balance" of power there, just a CEO. That company can do more for its customers and more for the WORLD than anything invovling a union and management (or democracy, or a republic, or ...).

THAT's more my point. For now.