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Home > Blog > The State of the Unions
Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, June 29, 2004 12:35 PM
The State of the Unions
Kevin Salwen on Business

A carpenters' union has been picketing outside my office building for the past few days, protesting the fact that a new health club is popping up in the building's food court -- and doing its construction with nonunion labor. Yesterday, a manager of the health club told me that he has received plenty of support from individuals annoyed by the union's protest chants, and that he believes it has actually helped his membership drive.

That's not unusual here in Georgia, a right-to-work state that has long been hostile to anything but individualism. But it got me thinking about the decades-long decline in union membership nationally -- to about 8.5% of the nongovernment workforce from 30% in 1967. Like in the case at my building, unions may stand for the right things, but often do it in such a ham-handed way as to annoy the rest of the public (think teachers' or athletes' strikes).

As importantly, though, in the U.S. economy at least, so many of the issues that unions have stood for already are part of what either governments have mandated or companies have grown accustomed to providing: minimum wage, parental leave, paid vacations, overtime pay, the 40-hour workweek, etc. Which leads me to think that unions may just have succeeded themselves out of relevance. The sole caveat: health care benefits; if I were a union leader, I'd be on that issue 24/7.


4 comments

Human Growth Hormone - 2/24/2005 5:53:14 PM
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Ray Daly - 7/6/2004 12:58:21 AM
Who needs a union?

Everyone, not just workers. But lets start with workers. How many are afraid of their bosses? How many have been oursourced while companies profits rise? How many are certain that they will be treated fairly? The marketplace does not produce fairness by quiting nor does it produce good bosses. It produces unemployment and no benefits.

And America needs unions. The fair pay that union employees receive touches everyone, especially their families. College was possible for many because of union jobs.

If you think non-union work is better for America, then you are thinking like the corporate figurehead who only looks at the quarterly report and sacrifices the long-term health of all.

PS Most union work is by volunteers.
Terri - 6/30/2004 11:37:22 AM
I've said for years that unions have outlived their usefulness. I know of a small airline where the union (ALPA) just cost a lot of pilots their jobs because their demands made it impossible for the airline to make any money on a contract rebidding, so the airline dropped its bid.

The point is, nowadays if a company treated its employees REALLY badly (like some did 125 years ago), the employees would either bail or sue. Who needs a union?

Health care--a totally different issue, and IMHO demands for more and better health care coverage can only exacerbate the problem.
Tom - 6/29/2004 4:24:58 PM
Something similar has happened at two separate construction sites here in the Rochester area. In both cases the protests seemed to have no effect and work went on unimpeded. Both sites were isolated from pedestrian traffic so the only people who even saw the pickets were passersby in cars and truck drivers going in an out of the sites.

My question is how (and if) the union members were compensated for being there instead of working.

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