I grew up in a non-union family with Republican tendencies. I have never belonged to a union nor have I been employed at a company with a union. HOWEVER, I believe that having a unionized work force for a significant portion of that work force is beneficial to all workers, union members or not. The US developed a significant and growing middle class after WW2 when large numbers of workers were union members. As union membership has declined, so too has the middle class as good jobs that pay well disappear. Our democracy depends on a vibrant middle class.
Why do managements oppose unionization so strongly? Money and power. Management wants the flexibility to structure work as they see fit, without input or restraint from anyone else. They also want to keep as much of worker productivity as they can to please stockholders and to pad their own compensation. It is a shortsighted policy that reduces the ability of workers to purchase the goods and services that they themselves produce.
Workers need protection by government from employer actions. They also need to band together in unions with other workers for self protection. In this country, we lack free speech in the workplace and we can quit or be fired at will. If you have roots in a community, it is hard to relocate to find another job elsewhere in the country. When my wife and I left California to move to Utah, we did not have a lot of household goods. But the moving bill for less than 500 miles exceeded $5,000.
My first job as an adult involved customer service for an electronics company. I did well and received a generous salary, but not what I felt I was worth. After 21 years I left their employ. Part of my dissatisfaction was monetary, but the greater dissatisfaction came from the general manager’s actions. At first, he encouraged all employees to grow on the job and take responsibilities that required us to stretch. At some point his goals changed, but were not announced. At first I could not believe the change since it seemed so out of character. Eventually over time, I realized the change was permanent. The interests of those of us who worked there were being subordinated to his goal of becoming company president. The division where I worked earned impressive profits. The manger decided to squeeze more profits from us to impress the board of directors. He succeeded in becoming president and the rest of us paid a price. I decided to leave even though I knew that finding comparable employment would be difficult.
Eventually I decided to enter the healthcare industry at a much lower salary. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I still earn much less than my first job but I am enjoying myself much more. While employed at a hospital in California, I was able to observe at first hand how management combats a unionization effort. The nurses wanted a union and were able to enlist the California Nurses Association‘s help in the effort. While working the night shift on weekends, I was surprised to find top management roaming the halls at 3, or 4 o’clock in the morning. I never discovered what they were doing, but I suspect that they were watching for pro-union speech and actions. The election was finally held and the union lost narrowly. There was joy in management and even among employees who were not nurses and would not have been affected. I was disappointed because I wanted to see a union in action close up.
There is a general correspondence between the rate of national unionization and how well the average person lives: the rate of unionization in the US has dropped from a high of 36% to today’s under 16% rate. Unionization in Denmark is about 95% and it exceeds 85% in Finland. The rate in Germany is 30% plus and I have been unable to find the rate in France, although it is less than in the US. The average person in those countries lives a better, less stressed life than the average worker in the US. If you try to point that out to the Party of No, they will immediately shout socialism. My question to you is this. Are you willing to live a less fulfilling, more stressed life because of someone else’s prejudices?
Please seeI am not a Marxist | Globalization 101 | What I learned | Hospital | Great Depression 2 | One world, Ready or Not
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