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October 02, 2006

Comments

Actually, Andrew, I am not surprised.

And you point out a lot of the mbiguities involved in unions.

Do they serve a purpose?

Definitely.

Can they become a disadvantage to society?

Yes.

Should people be allowed to join unions?

Yes.

Should they be forced to?

Not in my opinion.

Unions have brought about a lot of positive changes for workers. At the same time, unions have forced some companies, such as GM, etc, into a corner with various demands.

To the real question you have about governments role, I agree with you that this is a rather intrusive step by this administration and possibly violates the First Amendment. However, it also serves the interest of its biggest backers, big business.

Unions are a perfect example of how a well intentioned system can be avused, but also how it can met some of those positive intentions. The question society has to ask itself is how much of the downside is it willing to accept to achieve the upside.

Good post. (Prepare for incoming attempt to render you in compliance with Right And Correct Thought!)

"If people are willing to cross a picket line to work, union members should not be permitted to use violence to prevent them from doing so."

Certainly.

"I have less strong-feelings about business being able to fire people simply for attempting to organize; on the one hand, business owners should have a right to hire whoever they choose to work for them. On the other, being able to fire someone just because they want to talk about organizing places the workers in an extremely difficult situation if they hope to organize, so we are left to deal with two conflicting principles and no really good answer."

Let me be the first to give you a simple answer and say that there's a perfectly good answer, which is that the law should forbid employers from firing people, at a minimum, for certain minimal reasons, including such as because of racism, sexism, bigotry, and union organization.

Whether other, higher, standards should be applied as to what sort of firing might arguably be forbidden, or not, I'll leave up for debate. I am big in this way.

Now, I grant that my principles here are simply axiomatic as to the sort of society I wish to live in, and the good I see, and that others will hold different views, and that ultimately there may be no agreement, and no useful arguments beyond "should!," "shouldn't!," because I'm not going to accept "it violates freedom!" as a persuasive argument that I'm wrong, and a sufficiently, ah, emphatic enough libertarian won't accept any restriction on employer rights, as a matter of principle, as well.

Nonetheless, I see my answer as a perfectly "good" one. I think basic union rights, the rights of employees to organize, are a necessary minimum principle for a fair society. I gots no significant conflict here.

National Labor Relations Act:
Section 1: The policy of the United States is to be carried out "by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment..."

Section 7: "Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or bargain collectively through representation of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining..."

Section 8(a): "It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer . . . to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7..."

In Solidarity,
Step2

the idea that the federal government has the power to decide who gets the right to organize strikes me as a pretty clear violation of one's First Amendment right to free assembly.

I may just be revealing my ignorance here, but I'd guess that although the government can't prevent workers from making common cause together informally, it does have the power to determine which such groups qualify for the set of official benefits and protections that go along with being an official "union" (as opposed to just an ad-hoc group of like-minded employees).

If people are willing to cross a picket line to work, union members should not be permitted to use violence to prevent them from doing so.

Assault is assault is assault.

Vocalizing in a most vigorous fashion your disagreement with the picket-crosser's decision is fair.

I pretty much agree with John Miller about unions in theory. In practice I think they tend to currently be much more damaging than they are helpful because their incentives are for constant 'improvement' which can throw things out of balance in the long run (key examples being the escalating difficulty in firing an employee the longer a union has been around or in locking in certain wage structures even if jobs become obsolete). But people should be allowed to choose. I am not a fan of closed shops--people should be allowed to choose.

BTW, a brief example of how unions sometimes can be a hindrance for their members.

While I was a Mental health and Substance Abuse case manager for a major insurance company, a large employer group asked my advice on benefits for substance abuse. The contract with the union calle dfor 15 days of inpatient treatment per calendar year. I told the company that they might as well have none, becuase typically 15 days is going to do very little and suggested they approach the union with increasing the plan to 30 days, the cost of the increase being borne by the employer.

They agreed but later came back to me and sai the union turned it down because they did not trust management to do anything good for them. It should be pointed out that the 15 days did not require any special approval by the insurance company but the 30 day limit would (IMHO a perfectly legitimate request). The union management felt that was an infringment and in effect hurt their members because of it.

The point being that unions can be both good and bad for their members.

My grandfather once worked in a closed shop, and every year the union voted on whether to take a $0.05/hour raise or a $20 bonus right then (the numbers were not static, of course). They voted for the bonus, every year. Drove him absolutely crazy.

John Miller, just so I understand: if an employee entered a 15 day substance abuse plan it would not require the approval of management and/or the insurance company, while the 30 day version would?

If may characterization is correct, it doesn't sound so crazy to me. Why agree to a benefit that could, potentially, be denied in every case. Much of course depends on the relationship b/w management and it's bargaining unit. It sounds like this particular union didn't trust the employer to act in good faith.

The rational behind closed shops, at least from British Columbian perspective:

Why are people forced to join unions and pay dues?

It takes a lot of courage for workers to organize a union. The employer uses all kinds of tactics and strategies to try and persuade their workers not to join. The employer usually resorts to fear and intimidation tactics to keep the union out and in many instances workers get fired. Despite this employer opposition, unions exist because the majority of workers believe very strongly that the introduction of a union at their workplace will help to better their lives through better working conditions, wages and benefits.

When the majority of people in a workplace vote for a union the law requires that unions must represent all people in the workplace — even those that voted against the union. People who oppose unions are not forced to join the union or sign membership cards. They are required, however, to pay dues. There are several reasons for this.

People pay municipal, provincial and federal taxes whether or not they voted for the person or political party in office. If every worker in a workplace benefits from a union contract, everyone should pay dues. If a union wins a wage increase, it goes to every worker, not only to those that pay dues. If the union negotiates other benefits such as vacation, entitled leave or job security, the same holds true.

Spartikus, the point is that a 15 day treatment is almost useless. A 30 day tretamnt ives a chnace for success. The company actually was looking out for itself in this case as successful treatment was somewhat important to it due to lost productivity otherwise.

I undertand where you are coming from, though.

It would be nice if unions and management could actually view themselves as working towards the same goal, as opposed to always being hostile towards each other and suspecting every motive of the other.

BTW, it was not a requirement for management approval. In fact, under Federal Law, the employer can not be told of the reason for treatment without the employee's approval. It would require approval of the insurance company, and this is where there is some cocern, as many really make it hard to obtain that approval.

Of course, I was not one of those.

It would be nice if unions and management could actually view themselves as working towards the same goal, as opposed to always being hostile towards each other and suspecting every motive of the other.

A-bleeping-men to that.

It would be nice if unions and management could actually view themselves as working towards the same goal, as opposed to always being hostile towards each other and suspecting every motive of the other.

That changes from workplace by workplace, and sometimes subject by subject.

Speaking ancedotally, the relations b/w my employer and my union are generally quite good. In 15 years, I've only been on a picket line once....for 3 hours.

"When the majority of people in a workplace vote for a union the law requires that unions must represent all people in the workplace — even those that voted against the union. People who oppose unions are not forced to join the union or sign membership cards. They are required, however, to pay dues. There are several reasons for this.

People pay municipal, provincial and federal taxes whether or not they voted for the person or political party in office. If every worker in a workplace benefits from a union contract, everyone should pay dues. If a union wins a wage increase, it goes to every worker, not only to those that pay dues."

You could change the laws so that the union doesn't have to represent everyone. I'm not as troubled with the cost of collective bargaining--that is a miniscule part of the dues. I'm more troubled by the portion which goes to general political activity. The rationale for forcing people to pay that is pretty close to non-existant. The Supreme Court agrees, but in practice unions do everything in their power to keep employees from exercising their rights in that area.

Seb: I'd be perfectly happy with a law saying either: that both union political donations and corporate political donations are illegal, or: that both require majority approval by members/shareholders, respectively.

sorry -- should have restricted that last to publicly traded corporations.

Again speaking ancedotally: When I first started the aforementioned 15 years ago there was a small group of union members who could fairly be described as the Last of the Bonafide Trotskyists. Union meetings would be dominated by discussions of events in Nicaragua and so on, which are legitimate topics, just not directly relevant to our work. The rest of the membership got turned off. The rest of the membership got organized and the reign of Trotsky was ended.

The point, I suppose, is to illustrate that a union is a democracy and if you don't like the way a union is run, get involved and make your case to the membership at large.

"The point, I suppose, is to illustrate that a union is a democracy and if you don't like the way a union is run, get involved and make your case to the membership at large."

Better than the ice-pick.

"The point, I suppose, is to illustrate that a union is a democracy and if you don't like the way a union is run, get involved and make your case to the membership at large."

But why should you be forced by law to associate with them? Would you be ok with that if I forced you to give money to the Republican Party?

Hey, fine post. This, particularly:

While I am as suspicious of their tendency to aggregate power on behalf of their leadership as I am of any other large organization, I think that unions are a good means for workers to counteract one of the natural advantages businesses have: unity of command.

makes an important point that often gets neglected. Further, of course, 'unity of command' isn't a natural advantage of businesses -- it's an artifact of our limited liability laws that encourage large accumulations of capital. This is probably necessary for a modern society, but it means that equity demands laws protecting labor in order to balance the huge bargaining advantage otherwise given to businesses by our legal system.

Liz,

I think that unity of command is a natural advantage of all businesses, actually. With rare exceptions, businesses have a hierarchical structure with decision-making authority vested in a relatively small number of people. Those with hiring authority are generally an even smaller group, so they have a great deal more ability to see what the market is and adjust accordingly. If an HR director is getting lots of resumes for qualified personnel, it's easy to keep benefits low with the knowledge the workers can be easily replaced. It's much more difficult, relatively speaking, for a worker to determine if the labor market is tight or slack, and even more difficult for workers to determine this as a group.

Would you be ok with that if I forced you to give money to the Republican Party?

If that was the wish of the membership at large, yes.

Great stuff Andrew. You may be interested in reading about the history of labor unions in the US, as I think it gives an interesting lens into some of the problems that we are facing today in areas that might not seem related at all. To give a quick recap, the labor movement in the US at the beginning had two distinct streams, the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and the AFL (American Federation of Labor), with the first having a more radical agenda and the second advocating a tactical approach. Unfortunately, the second strain, while initially demanding egalitarianism, gave way to accepting craft unions that discriminated against African-Americans. Slowly, the AFL began to associate itself with nativists, with Samuel Gompers and the AFL supporting the Chinese exclusion act. While I certainly don't think that, given the times, the AFL could have been non-nativist and successful, many of the tactics for putting pressure on Chinese (and later japanese) immigrants arose not because they were a threat to the labor market, but because they were an easily identifiable minority who served the purpose of rallying people. This tends to get glossed over when reading about the labor movement, and it's difficult to get this picture unless you read stuff about IWW (or Wobblies, a term which has several possible origins, discussed here) but this can be difficult if you are highly allergic to places that link to Chomsky, Marxist thought approvingly. Dos Passos trilogy USA, using fictional newsclips and bios, gives a sympathetic sketch of the IWW.

"But why should you be forced by law to associate with them?"

Sebastian, employers tend tp inflict a vast number of requirements upon employees, both official and unofficial, starting with typically requiring certain hours to be kept, certain clothes to be worn and not worn, certain things not to be said in the office, and on and on.

Do you also object to these requirements? If not, why not? Or what's the distinction between these requirements and any as regards unions?

"Sebastian, employers tend tp inflict a vast number of requirements upon employees, both official and unofficial, starting with typically requiring certain hours to be kept, certain clothes to be worn and not worn, certain things not to be said in the office, and on and on.

Do you also object to these requirements? If not, why not? Or what's the distinction between these requirements and any as regards unions?"

What is the distinction? Umm, what's the similarity with forcing someone to join a union and give money to political activities not having to do with collective bargaining?

Requiring certain hours is typically required to coordinate working together (with co-workers, customers and vendors). What that has to do with union requirements to give money for non-collective bargaining is beyond me.

By way of more similar situations, would you be OK with an employer requiring (as a condition of employment) that an employee give $500 per year to the Republican Party?

You mean like by paying them less and making the donation itself? That certainly happens.

For something else similar that happens, what about the management of a corporation requiring that the shareholders donate a portion of the corporate profits they own to a candidate? So long as that's allowed, I see no reason that unions shouldn't be able to do the same.

It is rather easy to change the ownership of stocks to reflect your political dis-satisfaction with the owners--there are even special funds which do that. It is much less easy to change jobs to avoid contributing to a union you don't like--especially when you work in a trade where the union controls all of the nearby workplaces. But I would be thrilled to ban corporate contributions if union contributions would also be banned. I'm completely certain that the Democratic Party would not take that offer up (we know this from the last three rounds of campaign finance reform).

I don't mind the idea that a voluntary organization makes contributions. I'm not happy with involuntary organizations making contributions. If the union isn't closed shop or otherwise mandatory, I don't care about the political contributions. Forcing an employee to join a union and then forcing him to pay dues and then using those dues for non-collective bargaining purposes is just plainly exploitive.

Sebastian,

It's not clear to me whether your opposition to closed shops is based solely on the issue of political contributions or on broader matters. The contribution argument makes sense to me, but so does the free rider argument in favor of closed shops.

I generally think that neither unions nor corporations ought to be making political contributions - even if the majority of members or shareholders votes in favor. After all, those individuals are free to make their own donations to candidates they prefer, and no one should have their money given to candidates or parties they oppose.

It's interesting that political contributions seem to be the poisoned chalice in this. It gives me a bit more sympathy when thinking about the Supremes having to figure out what to do with campaign finance.

"Umm, what's the similarity with forcing someone to join a union and give money to political activities not having to do with collective bargaining?"

Perhaps if you'd reword that sentence, I'd understand it better.

"Requiring certain hours is typically required to coordinate working together (with co-workers, customers and vendors)."

No, in fact, most such requirements are purely arbitrary: "because it's how it's done" -- "because I say so." Jobs are full of those, whether as fiats from individual bosses, or as corporate policies. Is this really a point you'd contest?

"By way of more similar situations, would you be OK with an employer requiring (as a condition of employment) that an employee give $500 per year to the Republican Party?"

I'm not okay with most of the arbitrary nonsense employers force on employees, so that won't get you far. But I'm looking for some consistency here as to why some things might be objectively objectionable and other things not.

"It is much less easy to change jobs to avoid contributing to a union you don't like--especially when you work in a trade where the union controls all of the nearby workplaces."

It's equally as hard to change jobs because you object to the political donations of your employer or corporation. Hod do you feel about this?

"Forcing an employee to join a union and then forcing him to pay dues and then using those dues for non-collective bargaining purposes is just plainly exploitive."

Most of what employers enforce upon employees is exploitive; have you not noticed that?

It is rather easy to change the ownership of stocks to reflect your political dis-satisfaction with the owners

Well, I was waiting for that. It's not true.

If you own shares in a mutual fund or pension plan, for example, you are unlikely to even know what companies you hold shares in. Even if you own them directly, it is not easy to know what contributions are made, and impossible to know ahead of time what contributions will be made. Selling after a contribution means your money has already gone away.

Besides, while it's easy to buy and sell shares, it's not cheap. Aside from commissions there are bid-ask spreads and tax consequences. Investors shouldn't have to monitor the politics of all the stocks in their portfolios to avoid having their money spent on causes they oppose.

"But I'm looking for some consistency here as to why some things might be objectively objectionable and other things not."

And "because they're unions, damnit!" wouldn't be adequate.

Obviously, part of what I'm trying to get at here is whether you have legitimate and consistent complaints, or simply don't like unions.

As a seperate question, let me ask: would you say that, measured overall, over the past 150 years, American unions have done more good or evil for the working person? Have there been praiseworthy aspects to the union movement, or are they outweighed by negatives?

Second question: have you read much labor history?

Just curious.

"As a seperate question"

Or even a separate question.

"No, in fact, most such requirements are purely arbitrary: "because it's how it's done" -- "because I say so." Jobs are full of those, whether as fiats from individual bosses, or as corporate policies. Is this really a point you'd contest?"

Yes I absolutely would like to contest this. Is it your contention for example that having standard business hours does not facilitate working with co-workers, does not facilitate working with vendors and does not facilitate working with customers?

I'm very much a night person. I do my best work at night and am pretty much useless in the morning. Nevertheless, I would not say that it is "purely arbitrary" to have my working hours from 8 to 4:30. Except for a very small subset of jobs (perhaps ones you have done?) it is perfectly understandable to want people to be at work during certain times.

"As a seperate question, let me ask: would you say that, measured overall, over the past 150 years, American unions have done more good or evil for the working person? Have there been praiseworthy aspects to the union movement, or are they outweighed by negatives?

Second question: have you read much labor history?"

Second question first. Compared to you, certainly not much. Compared to your average person, much.

Over 150 years I would say that individual unions have done much that is good. That good isn't outweighed by the last 30 years of bad that they have done. They have been a victim of their own success. Workplaces are much safer than they used to be, and now there are government agencies dedicated to safety. Modern unions have remained mired in an inflexible model where you would expect to work in the same place your whole life. Modern unions are not the same as past unions. It would be silly to ask if the Republican Party--including Lincoln freeing the slaves--has done good for black men over its entire history. If you limit yourself to the last 30 years you might get a rather different picture than if you try to swallow the whole history at once.

Seb,

Unions give most of their money to Democrats for the simple reason the the Republicans are anti-labor and will do everything they can think of to weaken Unions and Collective Bargaining, see case outlined above by Andrew or the following one:
"Homeland Security" as Union Busting

I'm not arguing about the idea that many union leaders believe the Democratic Party serves their interests.

I'm arguing that forced membership in unions--justified only by the free rider problem of collective bargaining--should not extend to non-collective bargaining political contributions.

This is a problem I have in lots of arguments on this blog--the rationale used to defend a questionable practice does not cover other associated practices leaving one with no legitimate rationale. I don't even fully buy the need for closed shops or forced membership at all. But even if I grant that rationale wholly, you don't get to political contributions.

Another example of the love the Republican Party has for Unions
Washington Monthly - Pinkertons at the CPA

First, during his tenure, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer repealed virtually the whole Iraqi legal structure with his so-called 100 Orders. He did not, however, repeal Saddam's 1987 Labor Code, which forfeited the right of public sector workers to bargain collectively.

"Is it your contention for example that having standard business hours does not facilitate working with co-workers, does not facilitate working with vendors and does not facilitate working with customers?"

For some jobs it does; of course; for innumerable jobs, it does not, yet is required any way.

"Flex time" is a relatively recent invention. In some cases it's been taken up because changes in technology and society allow for people to do things, via portable communications, online at home and elsewhere, and so forth, that they couldn't do before; in innumerable cases, it's simply become something more fashionably acceptable now, and the only reason it wasn't done for decades before was as an arbitrary display of the power of The Boss.

Look, if you really want to defend the proposition that there's no arbitrary enforcement of the power of the employer over the employee, and that all requirements by corporations and individual employers and bosses is always justified, we have no common ground for discussion, clearly.

This would be a denial of the simple truth of "power corrupts."

"Except for a very small subset of jobs (perhaps ones you have done?) it is perfectly understandable to want people to be at work during certain times."

That "small subset" contains millions of people.

See here, for instance:

According to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the nation's 99.6 million full-time wage and salary workers in May 2001, 28.8 percent claimed some form of flextime arrangement, with about one-third of them saying it was as part of a formal company program.
Why did this change occur?
[...] Flextime -- which can include coming in and leaving the office early, a compressed workweek in which an employee has all or part of Friday off, a reduced work schedule or even telecommuting -- gained in popularity during the Internet boom of the late 1990s. As employers were trying to attract talent in heavy demand, they began offering this benefit, among others, to potential employees.
Now, this wasn't simply a matter of technology, but as much a matter of power shifting from employer to employee: demand for sufficiently talented employees in various niches went up, and employers were no longer able to find sufficient employees without surrendering some of their power over them.

This was not, due to the forced decline of unions in recent decades, due to unions, but it's an example of large-scale power shifting, and power disparity, between employer and employee, and of arbitrary employer power existing and formerly being exerted for reasons of demonstrating dominance.

"Over 150 years I would say that individual unions have done much that is good. That good isn't outweighed by the last 30 years of bad that they have done."

Well, that gives me a clue.

So how would you feel if we reverted to where union/employer relations, including the legal standards then in effect, were 30 years ago?

I could largely live with that.

And my follow-up, sir, is what metric you would put forward to measure this increased evil effect of unions in the past 30 years, that you feel has had such a malignant effect?

My own view, for the record, is that unions can certainly at times engage in stupid policies, harmful in the long, or even short, run to both the interests of their members and/or the employer and/or society -- any organization or individual can and do do such things, and unions are no exception at all -- and their are certain categories of behavior that are perfectly legitimate criticisms, but that overall, such negative effects tend to be quite mildly deleterious, as a rule, compared to the general usefulness, and outright need, for unions to defend the rights of workers, and the power disparities between workers as unorganized individuals, and their employers.

But if you have metrics, rather than feelings, to demonstrate otherwise, I'm all ears. I hope you'll forgive me if I feel that the burden of proof lies with you to demonstrate that unions', in the last thirty years, "good isn't outweighed by the last 30 years of bad that they have done."

And loosely speaking, I'd agree with Steward Beta's point. And Nathan Newman is an excellent blogger to read on unions and labor issues.

That is, I was agreeing with Stewart Beta at 07:21 PM.

I'm arguing that forced membership in unions--justified only by the free rider problem of collective bargaining--should not extend to non-collective bargaining political contributions.

as opposed to this
CFO Magazine - Office Politics

But that comment suggests PACs are genuinely conduits for individual giving. The reality is much fuzzier. Corporate PACs promote company interests, not employees' political ideologies. Of the finance executives surveyed by CFO, 28 percent said they didn't even know where their PAC contributions went, 61 percent said they had no influence (but were kept informed), and only 12 percent said they helped decide how to allocate the money.

...

That pressure apparently exists at higher levels, too. In CFO's survey, 79 percent of respondents held the title of vice president or higher (among them, 45 percent were CFOs, 17 percent controllers, and 11 percent vice presidents of finance). Yet even at those levels, 24 percent said not giving to their corporate PAC could be detrimental to their careers, and another 16 percent said they were unsure.
At many companies, employees have the option of making a regular donation — via automatic payroll deductions — to their corporate PAC. Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show that among upper management, these donations are often calculated to add up to exactly $5,000 per year — the legal limit for individual donations to PACs (see "Big Spenders," at the end of this article).

It would be nice if unions and management could actually view themselves as working towards the same goal, as opposed to always being hostile towards each other and suspecting every motive of the other

It would be nice if the rewards labor and management received when things go well (or poorly, for that matter) were in some remote way proportional to the contribution each makes, or to the value each creates.

When that doesn't happen, it's hard for the party holding the short end of the stick to see "working toward the same goal" as being all that compelling of a motivation.

I'm not even talking about labor and capital investors or owners. That's probably another whole set of issues.

I'm talking about labor and management.

Thanks

In re individual freedoms and the associated moral issues (as per Andrew’s first two paragraphs):

While, as an American, my knee jerk, culturally-conditioned response is to come down on the side of rugged individualism, and all that, I try to make judgments on these sorts of issues by asking, “Who stands to benefit the most?” Or, what throws trump, the good of the group/society or the good of the individual?

One helpful thing to consider in favor of unions in respect to broader benefits, since is it so infrequently makes an appearance in the labor-capital debate, is the inherent personal and institutional transmission of knowledge and its quality of production corollary. I can’t speak to other industries, although I would imagine the effect is similar, but this dynamic has had a major, positive impact in building construction. In areas of the US where unions are (were once, more accurately) strong – generally, the East Coast, the Rust Belt, the Midwest – the quality of construction is markedly superior to regions where with little or no unions. The result is quality of life and long-term economic benefits for businesses and homeowners alike. (The impact of rapacious consumption is a big factor in the decline of unions – what is the point of making a quality product if the goal is instead to sell as many disposable ones as possible? – but that is a separate debate.)

FYI: If you are in the market for a house in regions of the US with historically low union activity, for example, the Sun Belt and other areas that have undergone dotcom, oil, or similar housing booms, be sure to hire an inspector who will go above and beyond code. Building codes in cities with poor or nonexistent unions and/or undergoing rapid development are notoriously weak, amounting to little more than a tax.

In re government intervention (e.g. NAFTA):

From the Del Rio, TX Chamber of Commerce website (http://www.drchamber.com/live/industry.php):

“Typical hourly wages in the Del Rio area are general office clerk, $5.28; assembly line worker, $5.54; warehouse worker, $5.41 and forklift operator, $5.90.”

And under “The Maquila Possibility”:

“Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, is in the lowest wage region of Mexico. Mexican minimum wages, for direct labor, with all fringe benefits included, have remained in the range of $1.15 to $1.35 per hour (U. S.), as the peso has been revalued in comparison with the dollar. Major advantages to the Del Rio/Ciudad Acuña locations are short border crossing times, a minimum of union activity, and the ability to use U.S. trucks and drivers to deliver to Mexican facilities.”

“A "shelter" operation provides a facility, staffing, training, equipment setup and accounting.”

“The true "maquila" offers the largest savings, but it requires such expertise in setup, construction, staffing and operations that most companies without experience retain a consultant. Del Rio offers experienced, capable consultants, who have set up their own facilities and who have taken clients through each of these steps. They are: Amistad Offshore Industries, North American Fabrication Trades Activities…” etc.

SH,

-“I'm more troubled by the portion which goes to general political activity…”

Is this a valid argument to be made against capital in re corporate lobbying? (echoing Hilzoy, 5:25)

-“That good isn't outweighed by the last 30 years of bad that they have done.”

Which, since unions often stand in the way of increased profits and since the last thirty years have exhibited a loosening of restrictions on capital, globalization, problems in “growing” a post-industrial economy, etc., opinion-makers have beaten the public over the head with that theme.

Russel (8:11),

Major point. Hardly any mainstream coverage.

Here's a simple question, Sebastian: are Wal-Mart workers better off without a union, or not?

Union membership charts, 1948-2004:

http://www.laborresearch.org/charts.php?id=29>Overall
http://www.laborresearch.org/charts.php?id=53>Private Sector
http://www.laborresearch.org/charts.php?id=54>Public Sector

It is rather easy to change the ownership of stocks to reflect your political dis-satisfaction with the owners--there are even special funds which do that. It is much less easy to change jobs to avoid contributing to a union you don't like--especially when you work in a trade where the union controls all of the nearby workplaces. But I would be thrilled to ban corporate contributions if union contributions would also be banned. I'm completely certain that the Democratic Party would not take that offer up (we know this from the last three rounds of campaign finance reform).

I would have more sympathy for this argument if Republicans applied it consistently. Instead, they only want to argue that it's tough to find a new job when the subject is union dues, and not when it's corporate behavior that necessitates looking for a new job.

Gary, "Look, if you really want to defend the proposition that there's no arbitrary enforcement of the power of the employer over the employee, and that all requirements by corporations and individual employers and bosses is always justified, we have no common ground for discussion, clearly."

Hmm, you turned my argument into an absolutist strawman. Did you learn that from Jesurgislac? I'll come back to you in the discussion when you want to discuss with me.

Otto,

"[quoting me]'I'm more troubled by the portion which goes to general political activity…'

Is this a valid argument to be made against capital in re corporate lobbying?"

It could be the start of an argument for that if you want it to be. I would tend to draw distinctions based on very different levels of compulsion, but sure have at it. Does this mean you accept that it is wrong for unions to compel their members to contribute to politics the members don't like?

Did you learn that from Jesurgislac?

I had a comment about an excluded middle wandering around looking lost, but I didn't post it because the hockey ref only breaks then up after they've collapsed on the ice. However, pulling other commenter's names when they haven't appeared in the thread is not a wise idea, given recent history. FWIW

SH,

-“I would tend to draw distinctions based on very different levels of compulsion”

Tell me more about your thinking here, please.

Meanwhile, I’m back to the conundrum in the first para of 8:16:

Capital’s use of profits to influence politics is a form of exploitation and force – and a force often used for the benefit of capital at the expense of labor and others while severely limiting choice in its own right – so in the interest of parity, as long as capital has an avenue for the use of force, forcing someone to join a union and pay dues to leadership they don’t agree with, while it certainly stifles individual freedom and is not an ideal situation, may be a reasonable solution towards that elusive greater good. Unions, if they are to be effective in securing their goals and balancing the power of capital, need to push back and work toward “improvements” in pursuit of the interests of labor. My beef, here and elsewhere, has not been against capitalism, but against unregulated, rapacious capitalism. Permitting capital the largely unchallenged, forceful use of profits – to include influencing “government agencies dedicated to safety” – while jumping on unions for coercing labor to its respective political ends is a double standard which has worked against all those wonderful benefits we attribute to unions in their heyday. It’s fair to say that the negative image many of us have today regarding unions has far more to do with the efforts of capital, especially in public opinion-making and character of products, than it has to do with the abuses of unions. If this is not so, and unions have indeed done so good a job as to create the conditions for or corrupted themselves to the point of their own irrelevance, why do we encounter the Wal-Mart issue that Gary raised* or the NAFTA/maquiladora racket. Do we encounter these issues precisely because of either of these union actions, or is there another reason? My conclusion is, in a word, balance. And I don’t see much of that in the last thirty years (or even before that, frankly). Indeed, let unions be curtailed in their use of unwanted force, but let’s have capital, with its lion’s share of power exhibiting a far greater downside and without deferring to them to make that adjustment on their own, do their part first.

*The Wal-Mart “SBD” document is fascinating in its perspective and language use.

P.S. Apologies. This turned out to be a longer response than I had intended, and hilzoy made the same point so much more succinctly upthread.

I may have missed this above, but to address the question of the difference between requirements imposed by an employer and by a union: a worker applies for a job with an employer and accepts a wage on the assumption the wage recompenses the worker for the time and inconvenience required by the job. (I am aware that many people do not have good options when it comes to taking jobs. I am sympathetic to that argument, after the year I spent in the private sector. But the fact still remains that nobody forces anyone to take a job, and if you don't think the money is good enough, you can always leave.) In a closed shop, however, an employee's money is taken away by the union for many activities that are of dubious benefit to the individual employee.

I'm personally of the opinion that, if a group of workers makes a deal with ownership to have a closed shop, that's their business as consenting adults. I just object when government gets involved.

There is a lot going on in your comment otto, but I’ll try to address it all. Since you reference your previous comment directly, I’d like to quote from it.

“While, as an American, my knee jerk, culturally-conditioned response is to come down on the side of rugged individualism, and all that, I try to make judgments on these sorts of issues by asking, “Who stands to benefit the most?” Or, what throws trump, the good of the group/society or the good of the individual?”

I don’t really think that “who benefits the most” is a particularly useful question when talking about free speech or association rights. Everyone benefits so much from them that marginal differences in benefit aren’t enough to jeopardize the basic rights. To take a very different case as an analogy—the fact that rich people probably benefit more from the right to a jury trial should not be used to attack the right to a jury trial for poor people.

Back to your more immediate comment—I’m concerned by how you use the capital/worker dichotomy. In the framework of the economy there are three essential units, not two. They are employees, employers, and customers. Employers (which is what I think you mean when you use “capital” in your comment) don’t exist to exploit employees. They exist to make profit. This profit is created by producing a good or a service to customers. I’m generally not inclined to allow “the good of the society” to trump “the good of the individual” because I’m very suspicious of how people typically measure “the good of the society”. I suspect that many more people rhetorically turn the good of an individual (themselves) or the good of their own preferences into the good of the society without actually having much in the way of “good of the society” really coming into the analysis. But even if I grant the legitimacy of the analysis (which I do, but with major reservations), it is woefully incomplete to talk about the “good of the society” purely in terms of employees and employers. The functions of “employee” and “employer” do not exist just so that one can exploit the other. Both categories exist only to serve customers. For a vast majority of the economy, profit is created by doing something that other people find difficult or annoying to do but that they find really useful to have done. To ignore or trivialize that side of the equation when trying to analyze “the good of the society” is to miss the whole point of bothering to have an economic system and is if I may be so bold one biggest flaws in Marxist economic analysis.

“It’s fair to say that the negative image many of us have today regarding unions has far more to do with the efforts of capital, especially in public opinion-making and character of products, than it has to do with the abuses of unions.”

I completely disagree. A vast part of the negative image comes from unions focus on keeping awful employees from being fired and everyone else’s experiences (as a co-worker, employer or customer) with those employees. There are vast other problems which go much deeper than public relations. If anything I would suggest that unions are still surviving on good will from a long gone era (see for example Gary’s question about the 150-year history of unions).

Which brings us to your question about Wal-Mart and similarly vilified large chains (Barnes & Noble and Starbucks being two that leap to mind). There are broadly two major complaints with such stores. First, that they don’t pay enough. Second, that they drive nearby mom and pop stores out of business.

The first issue has multiple parts. Part of the reason they are so successful is because they provide good quality at inexpensive prices. Maintaining low labor costs is part of how they are able to do so. A more subtle point can be found in identifying which worker you think isn’t being paid “enough”. Whether or not Wal-mart could exist with the higher prices that would come with higher labors costs is a completely different issue from whether or not those particular employees would be helped by some mechanism forcing Wal-mart to pay much higher wages. I strongly suspect they would not. A very large percentage of Wal-mart employees are marginally employable even at the current price. They often lack experience, have been out of the job market for long periods of time, or have other problems with employment. When more than a thousand people apply for jobs at the new Wal-Mart in Chicago for barely more than one hundred positions it strongly suggests that the wages offered are worth it to the applicants. The reason it is worth it is because for those prospective employees, Wal-Mart is a step up. Would someone fill the job at twice the wage? Of course. Would it be those people? Absolutely not.

Does this doom such people to low-paying Wal-Mart jobs for the rest of their lives? Not at all. Wal-Mart has high turnover because the company fully expects people to gain job skills and move on to higher paying jobs. Wal-Mart replaces the no-longer marginal worker with another marginal worker. If the US ran out of marginally skilled workers (many of them gaining their skills at Wal-Mart) Wal-Mart’s model would have problems. That would be a great thing for the country. But that doesn’t mean that Wal-Mart is causing the problem. This reveals another problem with unionizing in Wal-Mart specifically and in the new economy in general. A union wants to hang on to its workers in a specific business. It is more effective for skilled workers to move more fluidly from job to job.

This may be the most important point I have (so I shouldn’t bury it in the middle), but we shouldn’t want people to aspire to getting a unionized Wal-Mart job and sitting there for the rest of their lives. We want them to go get better, more challenging and more useful jobs as they gain skills and employability.

The second major objection is that such stores puts mom and pop stores out of business. This critique has at least two major flaws. First, to the extent that these chains do so, they succeed by providing something better to the customer. They provide better prices, but that isn’t all—there are many cases where people will pay more for better quality or service. These chains often provide not only better prices, but also better selection and quality. That is why they succeed.

Second, though related to quality, much of the mom and pop superiority is just nostalgia. Starbucks put some coffee shops out of business, but we shouldn’t pretend they were all high quality shops. Wal-Mart put some corner shops out of business, but weren’t a lot of them kind of nasty? Barnes & Noble put some bookstores out of business, but I remember some of the hole-in-the-wall stores as rarely changing their selection. And that is just in the big cities. Throughout the rest of the country the chains brought high quality and much deeper selection in their respective areas for the very first time. I’m very interested in bookstores. When I went to Bozeman, Montana for a family reunion 15 years ago it didn’t have one much better than a dime-store. Now it has a perfectly serviceable Barnes & Noble. Wal-Mart superstores bring reliable access to a much larger variety of fresh produce than many people have ever had available under the corner store system.

Hmm, I’ve gone rather far a-field. But oh well. :)

"But the fact still remains that nobody forces anyone to take a job, and if you don't think the money is good enough, you can always leave."

Despite your preface, Andrew, this is still essentially wrong (and I'm limiting myself to current America).

Government compulsion isn't the only sort; endless numbers of people are simply unable to leave their jobs, for a variety of reasons. Need we really run through them?

Really? The business will hunt them down and kill them if they leave? Outside of possibly the mob, I think you're wrong there.

Now if you want to argue that many people do not wish (for good reason) to deal with the consequences of leaving a bad job, I'm willing to listen. Otherwise, saying I'm wrong demonstrates to me only that, well, you're not interested in discussing the facts.

a worker applies for a job with an employer and accepts a wage on the assumption the wage recompenses the worker for the time and inconvenience required by the job.....nobody forces anyone to take a job, and if you don't think the money is good enough, you can always leave.)

In a closed shop, however, an employee's money is taken away by the union for many activities that are of dubious benefit to the individual employee.

I don't see the difference here, Andrew. If I am considering taking a job that requires me to join a union, then I surely (in ideal econo-world) will consider whether my compensation minus my union dues is enough to cover my time, inconvenience, etc. If not, I can look elsewhere.

Jobs have many negative aspects. The prospective employee weighs these against the positive aspects in deciding whether to acept a job offer. Why single out union dues?

Bernard,

As I said at the close of that post, if the enforcement measures of a closed shop are strictly those of the employer via agreements with the union, I have no objection.

Let's use language carefully, Andrew, please?

You know perfectly well this is not a fair means of argument: "The business will hunt them down and kill them if they leave? Outside of possibly the mob, I think you're wrong there."

Not that I'm immune to using sarcasm -- hardly -- but that's all this is, of course.

What you wrote was "if you don't think the money is good enough, you can always leave."

Now, people in prison can "always leave," if they find a way out. There are constraints on finding a way out, but people do manage it. So obviously people in prison can "always leave" -- if we're using language at the level of precision you wish to apply to other people's language, but not your own.

However, if we agree that the constraints upon convicts whose sentences aren't up leaving prison are sufficient that we may colloquially, and only very slightly loosely, say that they "can't leave" -- due to certain constraints -- then we can also say -- at approximately the same level of precision/looseness that some people "can't leave" their jobs because of certain constraints.

Such constraints would be: losing medical insurance for their family and a loved one dying; becoming unable to feed one's children; being unable to keep one's dwelling; and arguably other reasons of losing an essential factor in their life.

Thus "if you don't think the money is good enough, you can always leave" can be perfectly fairly and accurately said to be not true or "wrong."

Or we could just agree that if a soldier doesn't like being in the Army, she or he can always leave, a convict can always leave prison if the convict desires, I can always leave the planet Earth if I want to spend enough money, a fish can always leave an acquarium if the fish wants to, and so on and so on.

All any of the latter have to do is make the choice, after all. They're free to do so, right? Consequences: that's another matter entirely.

an employee's money is taken away by the union for many activities that are of dubious benefit to the individual employee

People keep asserting this, but I really have no idea what these dubious activities are. I'm sure you could find an ancedote here and there of some union executive donating $500 to buy Chomsky Readers for Tots and donating them to Venezualan pre-schools, but honestly, most of my union dues go decidely undubious things that are of immense benefit to me, my family and my workplace.

Now might be the time for a put up or shut up moment and call for bonafide statistics on union dues and where they go.

Prison: you are prevented from leaving by armed guards.

Job: you are prevented from leaving by...what? You mean to tell me there are no other jobs out there with the same or better benefits? In this job market?

In any event, one of these things is completely unlike the other.

Gary,

If anyone needs to use language carefully, I submit you start with yourself. I said that they can leave, and that is precisely accurate. They may face unpleasant consequences, but to suggest that losing one's medical insurance is the same as being shot and killed is, quite frankly, an unworthy debating tactic. If a prisoner escapes from prison, he knows that the police will hunt for him and will quite possibly kill him. If a worker quits his job, he knows that he needs to find another one. These consequences are hardly equivalent.

So, to answer your linguistic legerdemain, no, saying that 'they can always choose to leave' is not wrong or untrue. As I noted above, if you'd like to discuss the fact that people may be in a position where the consequences of quitting their job are so high that a reasonable person would feel that their best available option is to remain at the bad job, I'm more than willing to discuss it. If, however, you wish to continue your assumption of the Humpty Dumpty role, I will not waste further time discussing the question with you.

Andrew:

As I said at the close of that post, if the enforcement measures of a closed shop are strictly those of the employer via agreements with the union, I have no objection.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but isn't this always the case? I didn't think there was anyplace where 'closed shop' was mandatory -- there are only states where it's not forbidden by law. Are there states where the law requires union contracts to be closed shop?

Liz,

The caveat is a hedge against my own ignorance. Given what spurred this post, the silly ability granted to the NLRB to determine who can or cannot form a union, I have no idea what other silly labor laws exist out there.

Companies don't exist to serve their customers. The founder might have aimed at income certainty, management might aim at growth and power, shareholders might aim at a quick profit: there are al sort of entities involved. But serving the customer is only the means to an end, not the endgoal.

Also, companies don't live in a vacuum. If you look at the governmental reports on which country is better to invest in, you see that 'competitiveness' is for a hugh part determined by things the government has a major influence on. Political stability, infrastructure, taxes, education level of the population, spoken languages, environmental laws, health care provisions, etc.

Companies are part of society, influenced by both measurable and non-measurable parts of their environment (by non-measurable I mean things like attitude towards working women, perception of their products/management, etc.).

Theories that assume that companies are unattached entities that respond willingly to one or two factors (cost of labor as a result of availability and need of labor for instance) are too simplistic.

I'm not a great believer in Adam Smith's invisible hand :)

Now, people in prison can "always leave," if they find a way out. There are constraints on finding a way out, but people do manage it. So obviously people in prison can "always leave" -- if we're using language at the level of precision you wish to apply to other people's language, but not your own.

However, if we agree that the constraints upon convicts whose sentences aren't up leaving prison are sufficient that we may colloquially, and only very slightly loosely, say that they "can't leave" -- due to certain constraints -- then we can also say -- at approximately the same level of precision/looseness that some people "can't leave" their jobs because of certain constraints.

Such constraints would be: losing medical insurance for their family and a loved one dying; becoming unable to feed one's children; being unable to keep one's dwelling; and arguably other reasons of losing an essential factor in their life.

Are we supposing a parallel world where it is impossible to secure a new job before quitting your old one. Believe me, I find being an adult and paying for my own dwelling and health insurance and food is annoying but that doesn't make me trapped in any one particular job even if I have only one particular trade. But if I'm a truck-driver or metal-worker or actor, I may find it almost impossible to avoid the union. The company/union parallel just isn't that close when it comes to voluntariness.

Spartikus,

People keep asserting this, but I really have no idea what these dubious activities are. I'm sure you could find an ancedote here and there of some union executive donating $500 to buy Chomsky Readers for Tots and donating them to Venezualan pre-schools, but honestly, most of my union dues go decidely undubious things that are of immense benefit to me, my family and my workplace.

Now might be the time for a put up or shut up moment and call for bonafide statistics on union dues and where they go.

I've spoken of giving to the Democratic Party for example. As for bona fide statistics on union dues, unions don't like providing those. While the right to withold union dues for non-collective bargaining was affirmed in the 1980s, unions have effectively denied the right by refusing to submit to audits or otherwise prove the amount used. These statistics, like some abortion statistics we have talked about previously, are being actively suppressed. (If you want to know more about this I suggest you research enforcement attempts with respect to the Communications Workers of America v. Beck. In the Beck case discovery showed that they were using just a bit less than 80% for non-collective bargaining purposes.) So by all means, if you can get your union to disclose the information please tell us.

"Companies don't exist to serve their customers. The founder might have aimed at income certainty, management might aim at growth and power, shareholders might aim at a quick profit: there are al sort of entities involved. But serving the customer is only the means to an end, not the endgoal."

I'm not sure I understand this objection. There is no income certainty without serving the customer. There is no growth and power without serving the customer. By this expansive definition of 'means' there are practically no ends. What does the founder want income security for? That isn't an 'end' either. Companies don't exist unless they create something that customers want. You can desire income security or profit all you want--many people do--but if you don't have a customer for your skills or work you can't get any of that.

Also, given the form of your objection, I don't see what follows from it. The founder wants income security gained by serving customers. What does that insight gain that "the company exists to serve customers" does not?

Employees might want to join a union to get higher wages for "income security". Is that a legitimate "end" for an employee but an illegitimate "means" for an employer?

I've spoken of giving to the Democratic Party for example.

I'm not sure why contributing to a political party in any given country with the best record on labour rights and advocacy would be considered "dubious", but that's just me.

As for bona fide statistics on union dues, unions don't like providing those.

If you don't know, then why all this talk of "many dubious expenditures". It could be the union movement as a whole donates only 1% of a member's dues to a political party.

That, and every member of a union does receive a copy of annual expenditures, and votes to approve it.

"That, and every member of a union does receive a copy of annual expenditures, and votes to approve it."

No, many unions do not break out the statistics.

"If you don't know, then why all this talk of "many dubious expenditures". It could be the union movement as a whole donates only 1% of a member's dues to a political party."

I've mentioned the Beck case where discovery showed that just under 80% of the dues were spent on non-collective bargaining activities. Should union members have to sue every time they want to find out?

IIRC you previously stated that big pharmaceutical companies are entitled to higher profits, to be able to attract high-risc capital. Where is the "serving the customer" in that goal??

Because if pharmaceutical companies don't have an incentive to innovate, they don't create new drugs and consumers die from diseases they might otherwise have survived?

This may be the most important point I have (so I shouldn’t bury it in the middle), but we shouldn’t want people to aspire to getting a unionized Wal-Mart job and sitting there for the rest of their lives. We want them to go get better, more challenging and more useful jobs as they gain skills and employability.

Just curious, but this 'we want' only applies if Wal Mart does it, but not if the government undertakes it? I've always taken you for a free market type, so adding 'we want something' is a bit confusing.

Should union members have to sue every time they want to find out?

No, the worker should simply have to declare his Beck rights and the fee s/he is charged, subtracted from what his union dues would be, should represent the difference. That s/he might not may reflect on the Gary/Andrew portion of this thread.

Andrew: Because if pharmaceutical companies don't have an incentive to innovate, they don't create new drugs and consumers die from diseases they might otherwise have survived?

You're beginning to believe the pharmaceutical companies' propaganda. Sadly, I have no cure for this, and no pharmaceutical company will be interested in developing one: they would rather you didn't notice that it's government-funded research that does the expensive groundwork of medical research, and pharmaceutical companies who simply take on the responsible role of ensuring that they get to make a profit out of marketing drugs to doctors.

Andrew: like Viagra ;) ?

No, many unions do not break out the statistics.

Two things: Unions aren't required to give financial statements to the public at large. Second, I won't speak for the situation in the United States, but in Canada the union is required by law to present to it's membership it's expenditures, which as mentioned are voted on. I would be very surprised if this wasn't the case in the United States.

I think you are confusing due-paying non members with members.

I've mentioned the Beck case where discovery showed that just under 80% of the dues were spent on non-collective bargaining activities.

From COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS v. BECK, 487 U.S. 735 (1988)

Respondents, bargaining-unit employees who chose not to become union members, filed this suit in Federal District Court

And now I know where the confusion stems.

There are alot of things my union does for me that is not directly related to collective bargaining that while not glam, still benefit me (greatly). Things like administration costs. Our local's president is a full-time position. We pay that person's, elected for a two year term, wage.

dutch,

While I thankfully don't have a need for that particular product (yet, knock on wood), I imagine that there are quite a few people who are very glad that it exists. I'm quite sure I would be, if I needed it.

But I do hope you don't assume that the mission of bigPharma is to make sure you have an interesting sexlife - and the fact that they earn some money to help you is a nice detail?

Dutchmarbel, "IIRC you previously stated that big pharmaceutical companies are entitled to higher profits, to be able to attract high-risc capital. Where is the "serving the customer" in that goal?"

Isn't treating diseases serving the customer? I guess I don't understand the question.

"Just curious, but this 'we want' only applies if Wal Mart does it, but not if the government undertakes it? I've always taken you for a free market type, so adding 'we want something' is a bit confusing."

The "we want" is a response to otto's "Or, what throws trump, the good of the group/society or the good of the individual?"

If you accept that style of analysis (and I said above that I don't wholly accept it) you still have to analyze the situation as more than the present tense employee-employer relationship. And Wal-Mart doesn't 'do' it anyway. It pays in low wages, work skills and work experience. It gets a functioning store out of the deal. That is what it 'does'. As the successful employees gain more experience and skill they tend to leave because they can now do more important (to the economy) things. By "important to the economy" I mean things that third parties are willing to pay more for. They are replaced by the other people with low skills and little experience.

It is a perfectly good value judgment to say that most people shouldn't aspire to be Wal-Mart stockers for their whole lives. The nice thing about the market is we don't need to pass laws about which jobs are better and which ones aren't. The market adjusts the rates for stockers, checkout clerks, computer programers, research assistants, and doctors. These rates get adjusted over time as things change. No government agency had to decide that fewer travel agents were needed when orbitz.com came along.

Not at all, dutch. I assume that the mission of pharmaceutical companies is to make money, and creating drugs like Viagra (or Aciphex, Zocor, and Gemfibrozil) all allow them to do that by...serving the customer.

if the enforcement measures of a closed shop are strictly those of the employer via agreements with the union, I have no objection.

Yes. I read that. I don't know the answer to LB's question, but again the basis of this distinction is not altogether clear to me. From the point of view of the prospective employee, who had no voice in reaching the agreement, the union dues are still a burden, as indeed they are for workers who opposed the closed shop setup but were outvoted. What's the difference between being put into an unattractive situation by a vote of other workers and being pu there by the legislature?

I do not think there is any state that requires workplaces to be unionized.

Dutchmarbel, do you believe that Viagra was intially researched for the purpose of improving people's sex lives? It was in fact researched for hypertension and angina.

Jesurgislac, this statement would be difficult to notice since it isn't true: "they would rather you didn't notice that it's government-funded research that does the expensive groundwork of medical research, and pharmaceutical companies who simply take on the responsible role of ensuring that they get to make a profit out of marketing drugs to doctors." I do however invite you to come to sunny San Diego and investigate the life (and almost always quick death) of actual pharmaceutical research companies doing actual pharmaceutical research.

Spartikus,

"There are alot of things my union does for me that is not directly related to collective bargaining that while not glam, still benefit me (greatly). Things like administration costs. Our local's president is a full-time position. We pay that person's, elected for a two year term, wage."

According to the definitions in beck as written up by Justice Brennan:

filed this suit in Federal District Court, challenging CWA's use of their agency fees for purposes other than collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment (hereinafter "collective-bargaining" activities). They alleged that expenditure of their fees on activities such as organizing the employees of other employers, lobbying for labor legislation, and participating in social, charitable, and political events violated CWA's duty of fair representation, 8(a)(3), and the First Amendment. The court concluded that CWA's collection and disbursement of agency fees for purposes other than collective-bargaining activities violated the associational and free speech rights of objecting nonmembers, and granted injunctive relief and an order for reimbursement of excess fees.

That is how "collective bargaining activities" was used in the suit.

Also spartikus, the question is not "do you gain any benefit whatsoever from the activity" but "is the free rider problem so damaging to the union that we should violate people's associational rights and force them to pay you even if they don't want your help". I gain benefit from my neighbor repainting his house an attractive color. That doesn't mean he should be able to force me to chip in for the cost if I don't think the benefit is worth the cost to me.

No, you don't pay for your neighbour's house. But if you live in a townhouse or condo (which is a more apt analogy I think), you do in fact chip in for the paint. Even if you live in a place where your apartment can't be seen from the street and even if you hate the colour.

I don't find the activities outlined in the lawsuit as "dubious". YMMV

"I don't find the activities outlined in the lawsuit as "dubious". YMMV"

Brennan even did. It isn't as if he is exactly about to drop off the right side of good ship "politics".

knock on wood

If you've got it, knock it?

Slart,

Apparently I was inadvertently contaminated by the egregious punfest in the other thread. I completely missed the double entendre there.

For the sake of argument, let's hold the activities dubious. This is still just one union out of thousands.

Thanks Sebastian, though if I use that same reasoning and say 'of course, this is not an be-all, end-all', you won't go all ballistic ;^)

Also, apologies for not getting the worker's comp stuff up at TiO, I've got bunch of interesting stuff, and will try to get to it tonite.

Sebastian: simplified version = they want to earn money. Serving the customer is a way to make money. Depending on how you define company there *are* companies that don't exist mainly to make money. Non-profit organisations, police, the army... But those are usually more tied to the government allready.

The companies that want to make money are also tied to governments, to an environment. We, as a taxpaying society, have an impact on the environment of that company. How skilled the workforce is, depends also on how easy it is to get educated. The latter makes a difference for a company (you're better of founding an international call centre in Europe, but you're better of founding a mass production factory in China) but is decided by a.o. how the taxes in that region have been used in the last decades.

You state that Wallmart actually helps people because it provides them with a skill set - and they can do that because those unskilled workers require low wages. Suppose that I agree with your reasoning about the mechanism - would you than state that their goals is to provide that skill set? Or is their goal to pay the lowest wages possible?

Don't you think that big companies try to steer their environment? Lobby with the government, donate to parties that are willing to change the laws in ways that are favourable for them, etc.?

Companies are not separate, uninvolved rational entities that are run by objective economic policies. They are interwoven with society.

SH,

-“I don’t really think that “who benefits the most” is a particularly useful question when talking about free speech or association rights.”

Isn’t that what’s partly behind not being able to yell fire in a crowded theater, or hate crime laws?

Yes, I was simplifying the terms and I understand how it limits the argument, but since Andrew’s topic dealt with union versus company ownership, I did not think the simplicity hurt my the point I was trying to get at. The same goes for the good of the consumer, which is why I made mention of the quality of building under union construction. I completely agree with your point about the “good of the society” bit getting out of hand. But the good of seeking and increasing profit can also get out of hand, which is why I think unions are a good check.

-“The functions of “employee” and “employer” do not exist just so that one can exploit the other. Both categories exist only to serve customers.”

But this is often the reality. If a company is required to produce ever-increasing profits in order to stay competitive, it does not seem unreasonable that they would take the difference out on labor – and, as it turns out, customers as well. Is a customer served today by buying, on average, three cars in a ten year period when a little over a generation ago that same customer bought only one over the same time period? I am not trying to trivialize, only point out that partly due to the growing weakness of unions the customer had been harmed by the lopsided power balance that has accrued.

-“A vast part of the negative image comes from unions focus on keeping awful employees…”

I understand and am not trying to ignore the abuses of unions, but – and here we are back to my imbalance of power concern – on whose side, generally (I know, another simplification), are major, corporate media outlets, labor or capital? Aren’t they pressed by the same need to increase profits? And if they are on the side of customers, which seems odd to me in relation to my last question, how are we to understand the almost complete lack of sympathy for unions in the news? Is it because they afford no benefits to either labor or customers? Does keeping bad employees trump all of the other effects of unions?

I have to run right now, but will get back to the rest of your post. Thanks for your response.

Andrew: I assume that the mission of pharmaceutical companies is to make money, and creating drugs like Viagra (or Aciphex, Zocor, and Gemfibrozil) all allow them to do that by...serving the customer.
Exactly... hence my statement that serving the customer is means to an end.

Sebastian: I know that Viagra was not intented as a sex-improver. Big Pharma examples are maybe wrong, because the come with so many other discussions... you've promised a post/thread about it monts ago :) and I'm still waiting...

My main point is that companies are not just independent entities. Just like 'homo economicus' is not for real: money is not the sole motivator. Companies *are* part of society, influence that society, profit from things that society invests in and bear some social responsibilities.

It is past midnight IMPOTW, so I'm off now.

"on whose side, generally (I know, another simplification), are major, corporate media outlets, labor or capital?"

Labor. Compare the number of movies with a corporate bad guy to the movies where the union is bad (I'm sure there must be one somewhere). How many news outlets run "Wal-mart creates jobs for people who haven't had them in years" vs. "Wal-mart is evil because it sells stuff that people want at low prices"? Which side did you think Dan Rather was on when Reagan broke the ATC union?

"Compare the number of movies with a corporate bad guy to the movies where the union is bad (I'm sure there must be one somewhere)."

Hoffa
The Replacements
Birth of a Nation
On The Waterfront
Blue Collar
The Fountainhead
Edge of the City
Teamster Boss - The Jackie Presser Story
Last Exit To Brooklyn
FIST
My Favorite Year
The Godfather
The Godfather, Pt. II
The Godfather, Pt. III
Emerald Cowboy
Once Upon A Time In America
The Last Shot
Armed and Dangerous
The Stars Look Down

The Molly Maguires is kinda ambiguous.

I'm tempted to suggest The Pajama Game, but will forbear.

Ever seen the tv show from the Eighties, Wiseguy?
But, yeah, I think there might be one or two. Pretty much every Mafia film ever made, for one thing.

This is just off the top off my head, after all.

And how many movies celebrate the triumph of the entrepeneur and the glories of succeeding in business? Quite a few.

Not to mention anti-union silent films.

I'm not really sure you could classify Mafia films as having union villians in at all similar ways as corporate villians appear regularly in movies (many of them also have Mafia 'heros' for example) but ok.

"I'm not really sure you could classify Mafia films as having union villians in at all similar ways as corporate villians appear regularly in movies (many of them also have Mafia 'heros' for example) but ok."

It should be ok, since otherwise you're moving the goalposts.

You asked for something different than what you just changed to:

"Compare the number of movies with a corporate bad guy to the movies where the union is bad (I'm sure there must be one somewhere)."

You asked for movies where the union is bad; I gave you a bunch. There are plenty more, albeit many are obscure, but that just shows how prevalent the meme is.

And let's not even get into episodes of tv shows, or I'd be throwing The A Team and Starsky & Hutch at you ad infinitum.

I'm not disagreeing that there are endless numbers of movies with corporate villains, of course. Nor that there are a noticeable number of films celebrating unions (though not that many; it's just that several have been high profile).

I'm just all about the you ask, I answer. ;-)

SH,

In re your 3:05 post:

I’m wondering how you arrived at the conclusion that my understanding and critique of the issue failed to take into consideration the customer when my first post to this thread dealt precisely with the impact of labor v. capital to the detriment of this group?

Also, maybe a more basic question might be the best course to take here: How would you affect a balance between the interested parties? Or is such balance necessary? How is labor supposed to have any power if it does not unionize - to include the necessary measures to effectively challenge capital and benefit the customer? Is the right of the individual enough of a deterrent to check capital? Yes, an individual does have the right not to work at a job, but they may not have the ability. How powerful is such a right when you’ve got kids to feed?

I’m curious to know what your definition of “good quality” is, and does it take into account planned obsolescence? Again, the satisfaction of the customer is a factor – a greater good issue. Also, you mention experience, skills, and aspiring to get a better job. Aren't these some of the benefits that unions can help provide labor? I’m having trouble with the whole cause and effect thing here. In order for someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as you suggest, it might help to have bootstraps to begin with.

Chain stores provide better service than mom and pops?! On what planet? What is the incentive for a high turn-over employee in relation to service to the community?* Since my experience is in construction, generally speaking, I’m lucky if the employees at Lowe’s or Home Depot are able to find their products on the shelves, while at mom and pops, though I know I will pay more for products, I also know I can walk in the door and get sound advice. I dare everyone to challenge your contention here, Sebastian (e.g. try getting an exact paint match on a dried, non-stock color sample at Home Depot versus a locally owned and operated paint store). I agree that competition provides some benefits, but you seem to assume that competition takes place on a level playing field.

-“Wal-Mart has high turnover because the company fully expects people to gain job skills and move on to higher paying jobs.”

What is your evidence for this? According to the “SBD” document provided by Gary, Wal-Mart seems to think that: “Moreover, because we pay an Associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases, we are pricing that Associate out of the labor market, increasing the likelihood that he or she will stay with Wal-Mart.” The main issue for Wal-Mart revolves around an entirely economic rationale based on the rising costs of benefits in relation to the static quantitative extraction of labor for long-term employees. Gaining job skills so that employees can move up in the world is not even on Wal-Mart's radar.

SH, I do not say this to be rude or to question your life experience, but have you ever had to work at a place like Wal-Mart in order to eat, as is the case for many people? I suggest that your understanding of the dynamic here is off the mark.

Since Gary introduced this tangent, if you would like, I would be happy to continue the Wal-Mart issue at his blog.

* All, a great book on this is “Why Nothing Works” by cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris.

Slartibartfast,

-"In this job market?"

Did you see the economic info on Del Rio above? In addition, apart from government agencies, which employ the vast majority of people in this town, the next largest employer is Wal-Mart (http://www.drchamber.com/live/employers.php).
For many, a town like Del Rio is the norm. "A tax base for good schools? In this market?"

-"Companies don't exist unless they create something that customers want."

Like $8 a gallon bottled tap water? Where did that want come from? :)

"All, a great book on this is 'Why Nothing Works' by cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris."

Everything I've read by Harris is great.

Did you see the economic info on Del Rio above?

Nope; didn't even look. I'm sure, though, that Del Rio is entirely typical of the rest of the country, and that somehow the entire country is well below average.

I hear The Pink And Perfect Plastic Icon Company has some open positions, though.

Not sure why I said that, but I'm not sure why you brought up Del Rio as if it were somehow relevant to anything at all, so I'm just filling in, here.

Andrew,

In re the pharmacy issue:

By "serving the customer" do you include the doctor who prescribes the drugs? And if we include this actor, how does that effect the consumer and the goal of treating disease?

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