For many years I had little time for unions. I saw them as outdated, no longer necessary and getting in the way of productivity and efficiency, not to mention interfering with the rights of business owners.
I believed unions meant that:
- Some staff get away with woeful misconduct on the job,because the union protects them
- They create a disincentive for individuals to perform well, since raises and promotions are seniority, not performance, based
- Often union members on strike are those providing basic public services (like dealing with our garbage) and they are so well paid for such basic work, and we taxpayers should be able to dictate that they go back. They often have made more than me! And they shouldn’t be allowed to be so disruptive to society! So let’s legislate them back to work.
On top of all that, Unions have become an industry unto itself, often serving its own interests rather than the interests of its membership.
I’ve since changed my mind.
Regrettably, I think we still need unions even if some of the byproducts are less than desirable. (“Regrettably” refers to the fact that they’re needed)
If you’ve worked more than 10 years you must have witnessed some of the same things I have – gross misconduct by an employer which goes unchecked because of who holds the cards.
Here are a few examples of poor, poor employer behaviour which I’ve witnessed first hand :
- senior executive who made advances on many of his young female staff with impunity. Some of the young, courageous employees made an unsuccessful attempt to go above his head to point it out, to no avail.
- demeaning micro-managerial “style” which included insisting on submitting daily work plans, insisting that all e-mails be filtered through the manager, summarily ordering individual staff to meetings without telling the staff the purpose of the meeting and making it clear any questioning or candid discussion would be subject to discipline
- promises of future rewards in exchange for poor salaries and no benefits, except the rewards, years later, never materialized
- blatant favouritism that had nothing to do with the quality of work produced by the golden child
- isolating and bullying of a target employee who by all objective standards was entirely competent and dedicated
I’d like to think that for the good of the company, if not the good of the employees, senior management would have stepped in and kicked some ass. To my knowledge, none of the instances saw justice done except one by a lawsuit.
So here’s my argument: until there’s a real shift across the land (which may well come as we tilt dramatically towards a labour shortage), we need unions. Even as messy as they are, we need them. They offer a counter weight and provide some measure of recourse to those good folks who find themselves in a situation to which they should not be subjected.
OK Readers – couple questions:
1. Do you know of a horror story in which a union could have helped?
2. Do you agree that until employers really, really get their responsibility to create an environment generally characterized by fair play and basic decency, that we need unions?
Have at ‘er!
Photo credit: Evan G; used by Creative Commons Licence