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  • Writer's pictureGary Roth

Labor Unions - Good Or Bad?

Updated: Nov 26, 2023


You probably didn't know that the massive UAW strike ended, mainly because the big media companies stopped covering it a while back. Well, it did and here is a brief summary of the outcome after what some are calling unprecedented:


  • The UAW strike lasted for 46 days and involved more than 40 facilities and 46,000 workers from the Big Three automakers: Ford, GM, and Stellantis.

  • The strike ended after the UAW reached tentative agreements with all three companies, which still need to be ratified by the union members.

  • The agreements include significant pay raises, benefits, and protections for the workers, such as:

    • 25% pay increases by April 2028, raising top pay to about $42 an hour.

    • Restoration of cost-of-living adjustments, which were suspended in 2009.

    • A shorter path to full pay and an end to most wage tiers.

    • Health insurance, retirement plans, paid sick leave, and paid family and medical leave.

    • Rules and procedures that ensure workers’ rights, such as due process, grievance mechanisms, seniority, and nondiscrimination.

    • Enforcement of occupational safety and health standards, training and education, and monitoring of hazards and injuries.

  • The strike was the longest US auto strike in 25 years and had an economic impact of $9.3 billion in the first five weeks.

  • The strike was also the first time in UAW history that the union staged a simultaneous strike against the nation’s three unionized automakers.

To be completely honest, I felt that both sides of this strike acted poorly, greedily, and refused to communicate properly. It should also be stated that while the "benefits" that were "gained" were left out of several renewals, which likely created this perfect storm we saw recently.


 

With that being said, I decided to write this post. In my wide circle of personal and professional connections, the opinion of labor unions are as varied as their personalities. I have my own personal opinions, which I'll reserve, but I wanted to dig in and find out what is really being pushed out there. Sprinkle in some AI help and here we go:


Some people think labor unions are bad for various reasons. Here are five paragraphs that explain some of the arguments against labor unions.

  • One argument is that labor unions operate as legal cartels that restrict the supply of labor and drive up wages artificially. This benefits union members, but harms non-union consumers who have to pay higher prices for goods and services. Higher prices also reduce the demand for products, which leads to lower sales and fewer jobs in the industry.

  • Another argument is that labor unions reduce the autonomy and flexibility of workers and employers. Union contracts often impose rigid rules and procedures that limit the ability of workers to negotiate their own terms and conditions, or to switch jobs or careers. Employers also face constraints on how they can manage their workforce, such as hiring, firing, promoting, or rewarding employees based on merit.

  • A third argument is that labor unions create workplace conflict and division. Union campaigns can be divisive and hostile, pitting workers against each other and against management. Union leaders may use coercion and intimidation to pressure workers to join or support the union, or to go on strike. Strikes can disrupt the normal operations of the business and cause losses for both workers and employers.

  • A fourth argument is that labor unions are corrupt and wasteful. Union dues are often used to pay for high salaries and lavish perks for union leaders, or to fund political campaigns and causes that may not reflect the preferences of union members. Union officials may also engage in fraud, embezzlement, or other illegal activities with union funds or resources.

  • A fifth argument is that labor unions are outdated and irrelevant in the modern economy. Union membership has declined significantly over the past decades, as workers have found better opportunities and protections in non-union sectors. Unions have failed to adapt to the changing needs and preferences of workers, such as more flexibility, diversity, and innovation. Unions have also lost their bargaining power and influence in the face of global competition and technological change.

On the more positive side of things, labor unions are organizations that represent the collective interests of workers in various industries and sectors. They have many benefits for workers, communities, and democracy. Here are five paragraphs that explain some of the advantages of labor unions.

  • One advantage is that labor unions help workers to achieve higher wages and better benefits. On average, a worker covered by a union contract earns 10.2% more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation, and experience in a nonunionized workplace in the same industry. Unions also help workers to secure health insurance, retirement plans, paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, and other benefits that improve their quality of life and well-being.

  • Another advantage is that labor unions protect workers from unfair or unsafe working conditions. Unions negotiate with employers to establish rules and procedures that ensure workers’ rights, such as due process, grievance mechanisms, seniority, and nondiscrimination. Unions also advocate for workers’ health and safety, such as by enforcing occupational safety and health standards, providing training and education, and monitoring hazards and injuries.

  • A third advantage is that labor unions foster solidarity and cooperation among workers. Unions provide workers with a sense of belonging and identity, as well as a platform for collective action and voice. Unions also promote social and economic justice, as they support causes and campaigns that benefit the common good, such as raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, and fighting voter suppression.

  • A fourth advantage is that labor unions enhance the productivity and innovation of workers and employers. Unions encourage workers to invest in their skills and education, as they provide opportunities for training, certification, and career advancement. Unions also facilitate communication and collaboration between workers and managers, as they help to resolve conflicts, share information, and implement improvements. Unions can also stimulate innovation and competitiveness, as they push for higher quality standards, better customer service, and more efficient processes.

  • A fifth advantage is that labor unions strengthen the democracy and civic engagement of workers and citizens. Unions educate workers about their rights and responsibilities, as well as the issues and policies that affect them. Unions mobilize workers to participate in the political process, such as by registering to vote, contacting elected officials, and endorsing candidates. Unions also influence the public agenda and policy outcomes, as they lobby for legislation and regulation that reflect the interests and values of workers and the public.

In my somewhat limited experience, many of these benefits never exist in reality. But at the same time, labor unions have a proud history of protecting workers in the United States. I have read horrendous stories of poor working conditions, abuse of workers, and outright theft of wages. Labor unions were needed then!


Fast forward a few decades and now we have OSHA, the internet and other methods to ensure a fair wage is being paid. Working conditions are massively improved and the implementation of technology makes most jobs a lot easier.


With this arguement, you have to ask yourself: Are unions still needed?

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