Are Unions Good or Bad?

Seems like they are around for good reasons; preventing the work force from being screwed over on basic human needs seems like a legitimate function. On the other hand, I know reasonable older folks in my daily life who don’t think too kindly of Unions. Typically they admit they have a function in society, but that they’ve grown too large and have made certain industries less efficient. However, these are anecdotes from Managers who are in a position naturally in opposition to the activities of the Unions.

So, what are the facts on this issue? (Yes, I’d like to hear the facts, not just philosophy).

Unions are the only way for workers to negotiate from a reasonable position of strength equal to their actual value to a company. They make a company “less efficient” in the same way that abolishing slavery made cotton farming less efficient.

Every contract signed by a union was also signed by management. Therefore, management shares at least half the blame if certain industries have become inefficient.

Compare work today to when there weren’t any Unions in America, or when Unions were weak and had no power. There’s your facts. Without Unions to protect people, why would corporations care about things like safety and fair wages? There are Republicans right now who think the free market in all its Industrial Revolution glory days of child labor, unsafe working conditions, exploiting the poor, and monopolies are good. That’s a bygone era I don’t want to ever return to

I don’t care if Unions get “too powerful”. “Too powerful” is relative anyway. Compared to management, they will forever be #2. The ideal is to get Unions to be just as powerful as management so that both sides are represented equally. Management needs the labor and labor needs the factories

So, you’re saying they’re bad, right? :smiley:

Unions are organizations of people. Like every such organization, they can be good and they can be bad. But the are not inherently bad. As a free market kind of guy, I consider unions (or at least the ability to freely form one) to be an essential element of such the market.


Whether a union is a good thing or a bad one is going to depend a lot on perspective. The reality is that, like any human institution they are open to abuse of power, corruption and manipulation. But like most human institutions, that doesn’t mean they are unnecessarily, or that the good can’t outweigh the bad.

Facts? We don’t need no stinking FACTS! :stuck_out_tongue: I’m unsure what facts you are looking for here. You could find examples of unions being absolutely critical to labor, especially in the early days…and you could find examples of unions or the folks running them abusing their power, being susceptible to corruption or being manipulated for means other than the good of labor. You could find examples of businesses trying to crush unions in order to whip labor into line, or examples of unions crushing businesses, or driving them out of business or out of competition. And even those examples are going to be debated, depending on who is giving them, what point they are trying to make, and their ‘philosophy’ and world view.


Unions are part of the free market. It’s the workers’ way of counter-balancing management’s ability to organize.

If we’re going to demonize the unions why not start with the bankers’ union, the lobbyist union, the investors’ union… oh wait, they don’t call themselves unions; although they are quite equally organized.

You mean like now? Unions today are weak and have little power because they big unions died. The sole remaining ones I consider to be powerful are the autoworkers and the government unions, because the others all died! Moreover, your economic history is weak, because we the eras of greatest growth and gretest improvements in health and lifespan occurred quite irrelevant to unionism.

Most people today don’t have a union and have no use for one, because unions can’t help them.

Then you won’t have many jobs, and goods will be priced to the sky.

What you fail to see is that unions come in variety of flavors. Unionism as a movement came in a variety of flavors. Many wanted nothing but wage increases. Some wanted better working conditions, but that was rare. These days, they prefer security, which doesn’t come cheap.

Except management doesn’t neccessarily have a choice, or faces such a cruel choice as to be no help. Everything’s easy for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself. Take the UAW. (And before we go there, know that you’ll find few harsher critics of GM management than I.) The contracts were signed in one era which seemed very straightforward. But things changed. The UAW didn’t, and their own jobs suffered. They couldn’t close factories or lines, and it wasn’t until recently that they could even get fired. The infamous “Jobs Bank” was a fiscal nightmare. They did even more than Rollin’ Rick Waggoner to run GM into the ground.

And hey, it worked out for them. They got the government to bail them out, and effectively took control of GM and Chrysler. They also screwed over vast numbers of other creditors (mostly institutional investors, not handfuls of rich men), but the union got what they wanted. And in fact, unions were often supported by the government and have the ability in some circumstances to force a settlement. They don’t usually invoke this, but the fact that it exists gives them a huge leg up.

This illustrates a significant point. Unions aren’t about “the People.” They’re about the union, and they care only about the union. If that happens to help others, they’re happy to parade it. If not, too bad. They don’t magically care about others.

I don’t particualrly care about unions. I choose not to use one, and have no interest in the indurstries that do. However, I absolutely do not ever support the government handing them any freebies. They may take whatever they can get, and no more. The early union movement needed government to keep it from comitting acts of brutal violence, not to wipe its nose because the big meanie company wouldn’t be nice.

The fact that unions today recruit most heavily from government is even more sickening, and we’ve seen the end result of that kind of nonsense in California.

I suppose I want to keep the discussion within the basis of what qualities Unions have, either by their inherent nature or according to examples from history. I clarified this point, perhaps unnecessarily, because I’ve heard too much bs on the subject from my elders.

These forums seem pretty trustworthy, though.


Please cite where any current Republican office holders seek removal of child labor laws and the repeal of anti-trust laws that prohibit monopolies.

In concept unions are essential to a free market. As other have noted, unions are made up of people and not all unions end up being helpful.

Well, here’s a cite on the child labor laws (from my home state, no less):

Unions are hardly too big or too powerful. There are some sectors where unions are still at work - mostly teachers and health care.

Trust me, those are the two places you want a union to be in the most.

The only time unions irritate me is when local labor groups (like a conglomerate of unions) try to dictate who runs in elections (for the primary). Annoying. Luckily, that (usually) only happens in union-heavy areas. When my old city went ‘home rule’ and we voted in new city council members, half of the new council was hand picked by the unions–including the mayor.

Technically, the worst they did was make sure union laborers got city contracts (which is fine by me) but then they tried to have a say in primary politics even more. :confused: As if they didn’t use their cash to bribe people enough. Unions are also big in the ‘first’ states for primaries, as those people are the most likely to participate.

As far as bigtime candidates go, they’re not that powerful. Nor are they great lobbyists. The exception would be SEIU as they lobby for things that the rest of America cares about (e.g., healthcare).

Unions shift the balance of power away from management and towards workers. In an industry where the workers already have sufficient bargaining power, unions give them too much power and make the industry less efficient. In an industry where workers have too little bargaining power, unions can give them a voice, reasonable working conditions, and livable wages.

Of course, there are also unions that are simply crap, like when I joined a union (and paid dues) in order to get a job that paid minimum wage, the state minimum number of breaks, and no benefits.


And which period was this?

Yes, the age of industrialism is over. Thankee, cap’n obvuyus.

If such were the case, employees would vote to disband their union.
I hope you have to work on Labor Day.

So what did you do about it? Did you try to change anything?

A workers union is a team. If you don’t like it, go be a representative. Or do something. Also, you can file complaints against your representative union if they mistreat you in some way.

After 3 months, I quit, deciding to enter the 11th grade instead of pursuing a career in Supermarket Cashiering. I suppose folks with longer term views than I had at the time got more from the union, but I still paid my dues.

In addition to that, here’s a link on how current Republican congressman want to roll back proposed changes to the meatpacking industry which would make it easier to sue on anti-trust provisions.

So to Republicans, it’s ok if a company’s actions harmed only one rancher or one farmer, or a dozen. Only if it harms the whole industry do these farmers and ranchers even have standing to sue. Of course, like typical Republicans, they are framing it as an attack on business instead of protecting individuals. We see where their loyalties lie :rolleyes:

Rubbish, as any skilled worker can tell you.

And there is no such thing as “actual value” vs. anything else. You are worth whatever you can get someone to pay you, compared to everyone else in the same circumstances.


Simplistic, at best. The fact is that employers have a budget, and someone who does X job will be paid within range A-B. That range may be in a formal document or in an informal guideline, but the manager who pays administrative assistant #1 twice as much as administrative assistant #2 will be told that one of those salaries is out of line. The same goes for military officers, nuclear physicists, non-unionized teachers or any other skill.

Even commissioned salespeople, who theoretically can make an unlimited salary, often find at some point that their commissions are capped, or their accounts are handed off.

As long as the employer exercises the right to treat two employees the same, the employees should have the right to bargain with the employer as a unit.