Friday, February 27, 2009

If it's Fair, Does That Make It Right?

So, the topic of unions has come up recently. I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in Iowa, union leadership is trying to push through bills including the idea of "fair share" in the workplace.

In Iowa, we have right to work laws, that state that in order to work, one needn't necessarily join a union or pay union dues, just because a union is present in a particular workplace. Union and non-union members alike work side by side. With Fair Share, if put into legislation, any worker in these particular workshops would be required to pay union dues (people hired before enactment of any such law would be grandfathered in, as this is limited to new hires) regardless of union membership.

Now, let me first say this. I am not against unions. I think they have their place in our society. They have done many good things in the past for workers (the 40 hr week, weekends off, etc), and still presently provide benefits to their members.

Where my argument against this idea of fair share lies is the limitation of my choices. If I'm a welder by trade (which I'm not, just an example), and I wish to go to work at a local foundry or whereever, and they have union representation in that particular shop, the union leadership is trying to say that I have to pay them, or go look elsewhere for employment. I've never met an employer that demands payment from me, for my work. It's always been that they pay me for my doing work so that they can make and distribute a product, or provide a service. But in order to participate in this hypothetical scenario, I now am required not only to pay about 20% or so of my earnings to the government in taxes, social security, and medicare/aid, but also now I'm throwing a percentage of my check at the union leadership. What all they do these days, depends on the local and the particular workplaces, I don't know the specifics. If the union leadership decides everything in our shop is hunky-dory over the span of my career, what exactly is my money funding?
In the end that's not even the point. The point is, I need money to support myself and more importantly my family, so that we have what we need to live. If I have the money by trading my time and efforts, and I have to use this money to pay for al these things, why should I also pay someone for the God-given right and responsibility to support my family?

Does my union membership somehow make me a better worker? Or for that matter, lack of membership suddenly decrease my talents and abilities on the job? I don't think so. I know some union workers who make my work activities look like kid's play, but I also know union workers who wouldn't work as hard as me, because they don't get paid enough to work that hard (despite making more than I do, which isnt hard to do), or "it's not their job" (I dont much care...if your forklift load lost a package off the pallet, pick the damn thing up if it isnt all that big or heavy).

Does union membership or lack thereof determine who I can trust in the workplace? Or suddenly preclude me from friendship with a memebr of the other side of the issue? No, because that's stupid. I'm a conservative, yet many of my closest friends and family are bleeding heart liberals, who agree on nothing with me politically. We don't say to each other, either take my side, or you're not a firend, or someone I can trust. I'm a devout gun guy, but those who don't care for guns, are fine by me. I also like to eat meat, a LOT. Do vegetarians offend me? Not really..although if you try to sneak in a tofu burger in place of my all beef patties, we might have ourselves a bit of a disagreement on the spot.

Anyways, my ADHD-like ways took over again...sorry. If I'm out looking for a job, and I'm offered an opportunity to work at a place, I'm going to take the job. If a union is present, undoubtedly a union rep will find me. I will listen to what he has to say and offer me. In the end, it should be my decision as to what I participate in, for exchanging my time and labor. If the employer is offering me one wage, and the union offers me better pay for the exact same position, I'll most likely go through the union rep. But in the end, I'd like the opportunity to sign my own deals. Either way I go, the rewards or consequences solely rest on my shoulders. My work choices shouldn't be mandated by the government, as these bill, if passed, would be a reality.

Pro-union people have pushed the "right to work" laws as "right to work for less". The way I see it, I have the right to work for whatever amount of money is within the limits of an employers ability to pay. Again, I'm not opposed to unions, but unions shouldn't be opposed to me making my choice of where i work, and for what amount of money.

1 comment:

scotterb said...

Very good points. As a chapter President in the faculty union (associated with NEA/MEA), I know that the union argument is that benefits won by the union accrue to those who don't join, meaning they are better paid and get better benefits without paying the cost of union representation. From a political science perspective this is known as the collective action problem. It's best if no one litters, but someone might find it rational at the time to throw out a wrapper so as not to clutter a car. If I listen to public radio it's more rational for me to let others pay for it than contribute myself (though if everyone thought that way, it would cease). Choices that are rational at the individual level often lead to collective outcomes that the individuals wouldn't want.

Ultimately I end up, despite being active in a union, respecting the choice of those who do not want to join (and I've gotten people mad at me for having that view). I prefer to make the moral argument that they should join, plus point out the protections they receive. Still, the collective action problem is real, and one reason why issues are so complex -- they can't all be reduced to individual choices, there is a higher level of complexity.