A friend of mine is an usher at the Boston Opera House. Years ago, I found out that she (and everyone she works with) is a member of a union. This immediately struck me as very odd, and every once in a while, I find myself pondering this, but I never get any closer to understanding it. Here is my train of thought; help me see where I’ve gone wrong:
A union forms because the workers believe that their needs will be better served by collective bargaining.
The power of collective bargaining lies in the possibility of the entire union going on strike if their needs aren’t met, forcing the employer to either hash out a quick deal, or replace all of the striking workers.
The latter option is often impossible because the workers have a skill set that cannot be quickly trained.
But if the workers on strike use a skill set that can be quickly trained, then the threat of a strike is largely meaningless. “Oh, you want to stop working? OK, bye. Who wants a job?”
Ushering is easy. Some theaters just use volunteers. If you can walk, breathe, and read, you’re qualified to be an usher.
So ushers really have no power for collective bargaining.
The only reason I can think of why a theater would bother dealing with an usher’s union is if that union were tied to a union that employs skilled workers, such as IATSE.
But if I were, say, a carpenter in IATSE, why would I give a shit about the concerns of ushers? If my union rep said “The theaters are ditching our ushers, we’re going on strike to protect them!” I would cross the picket line in a fucking heartbeat, and I imagine most IATSE members would feel the same way.
So what’s going on here? Why is it possible for ushers to be unionized?
The people who can be easily replaced are the ones who have the most to gain from being in a union. I mean, sure, if one individual theatre usher decides to say “you don’t pay me enough, fuck your job!” and walk out, well, the employer presumably just calls up the next guy waiting in line. But if they all down tools and walk out, well yes, they can be replaced, but it will take time. Maybe it will just be easier to increase wages by 5 cents per hour, or reinstate the guy they fired for taking a bathroom break while on duty or whatever.
In short, you’re right - workers who are difficult to train have more leverage with employers. But if your job requires little skill or training, unionising might be your only chance.
I think your view of labour relations is absurdly reductive; you suggest that it consists largely of threats to strike, which are either effective or not, depending on how easily the workers can be replaced. In the real world, very little of a union’s time and effort is taking up with striking or threatening to strike.
It may suit employers to be able to address labour issues collectively, rather than separately with every worker, and of course it may suit workers too. It may suit everyone to have an established structure through which issues can be identified and resolved long before they get to the point where striking becomes an issue. Workers may value union support and advice in relation to, e.g., an individual disciplinary issue that they are facing. Etc, etc. It’s not all about striking.
Ushering isn’t hard, but it’s not as easy as you think it is. I’ve been both an usher and a house manager, and the idea of having to replace all of my ushers in the middle of a season sounds like a real nightmare. Having to negotiate hours and pay individually with each of them sounds like an even bigger nightmare. The ushers are an important part of the larger show crew, if it’s a union theater they belong in the union too.
**But if your job requires little skill or training, unionising might be your only chance. **
Perhaps I should clarify: my question is not why ushers would want to unionize; that much is obvious. My question is why, if an usher union exists, would the employers pay any attention to it?
**Aren’t the Usher Unions closely tied to other theater related unions? If the ushers go on strike and the other theater workers join them it would shut down the theater. **
As I mentioned in the OP, yes, I’m aware that usher unions may be connected with other theater unions. But if this really is the most important feature in this scenario, then why haven’t unskilled laborers in other industries followed suit and buddied up with skilled labor unions? Why do McDonald’s workers not attach themselves to whatever union is responsible for delivering food to the locations?
It may suit everyone to have an established structure through which issues can be identified and resolved long before they get to the point where striking becomes an issue.
Most other companies seem to have figured out how to do this without the need to grossly overpay their unskilled laborers: “This is how much you get paid, this is when you take breaks, this is who to talk to if someone grabs your ass. This is where you sign, if you don’t like it, take a hike.” That’s pretty much par for the course in any other industry, is it not? Contracts, written by the employer, without any input from the employees, exist for this very reason, do they not?
Because once the employees have voted in a union, the employer must bargain with the union in good faith NLRB
McDonald’s workers haven’t organized for whatever their reasons are (which are probably related to the high turnover). But if they organize, the Teamsters delivering the food may not cross the picket line even if there is no connection between the two unions. There are plenty of unskilled jobs represented by labor unions, such as supermarket and retail workers.
Most other companies don’t provide contracts, which imply an agreement between two parties which are then bound by the contract. They may impose policies and pay rates by fiat and many companies go to great lengths to ensure that such documents as employee handbooks cannot be seen as a contract. Therefore, policies can change at any time and the job I took paying $50K can have the pay cut to $25K starting tomorrow.Or I can be told today that I must sign a non-compete to keep my job when it wasn’t necessary when I was hired. Even so, non-union companies often negotiate pay , benefits and working conditions with at least some employees.
A strike is seldom used by most unions. I have been in the operating engineers union since 1971. Been on strike once and I voted two other times to strike but the majority of the members did not agree with me. Most of the time the last thing anyone wants is a strike.
But if a strike vote pass and the union is a member of the AFL CIO and the labor board grants sanction other member unions and their members should honor the picket lines. Doesn’t always happen. and the Teamsters are not a member of the AFL CIO so they may or may not honor a picket line. But maintenance workers, projector operators and others may be unionized. Also a large theater will have to replace a large number of employees.
Another reason to not have striking workers is the bank, If the owner is trying to get a loan or expand a loan and there is a strike most banks will wait until everything is settled before continuing.
[QUOTE=Cryptic C62;16809303It may suit everyone to have an established structure through which issues can be identified and resolved long before they get to the point where striking becomes an issue.
Most other companies seem to have figured out how to do this without the need to grossly overpay their unskilled laborers: “This is how much you get paid, this is when you take breaks, this is who to talk to if someone grabs your ass. This is where you sign, if you don’t like it, take a hike.” That’s pretty much par for the course in any other industry, is it not? Contracts, written by the employer, without any input from the employees, exist for this very reason, do they not?[/QUOTE]
And now you seem to be operating out of a paradigm in which “union recognition” = “gross overpayment of unskilled labourers”. Again, in the real world, this is not the case, and there is no obvious reason why it should be so. I can’t help but suspect that you are approaching this through a certain set of ideological preconceptions.
Common sense suggest that contracts written by one party with no input from the other are unlikely to be optimal; contracts work most effectively where they serve the interests of both parties, and they are more likely to do this if the parties are open to talking to one another about what their respective interests are.
What a coincidence - I just got back from seeing La Bayadere at the Boston Opera House this evening. (If you don’t believe me, I’ll post a pic of my ticket.) When I was there, I was very impressed with the calm, authoritative manner of the ushers. At most theaters, the stage manager makes an appeal from the front of the house to turn off phones and electronic devices. It rarely works. At the BOH, the ushers went down the aisles and firmly told the audience to shut off their phones and to refrain from talking during the performance. They were not afraid to address their instructions to individuals. They politely made it clear that the rules would be enforced.
Most of the ushers were middle-aged women with the air of school-marms who expect to be obeyed. The audience heeded the ladies and this was the most stress-free, electronics-free, chatter-free performance that I have attended in months. I left with considerable respect for the ushers. Most live performances these days are a nightmare of bad audience manners.
I didn’t know that the ushers were unionized until I came home and chanced upon this thread. If unionization empowers these women to keep order in an increasingly unmannerly world, then I’m all for it.
Employers have no choice. If a group of workers vote to form or join a union then the employer must recognize that union. It then must negotiate in good faith with the union. No one can be sanctioned for joining a union or working to organize one.
If a union goes on strike they can not be fired, though they can be replaced depending on the reason for the strike. The Wagner Act and Taft Hartley govern how employers must relate to unions.
One of the reasons unions support one another is that what is won by one union can be expected by the other union when it is time to sign a new agreement. For example if the usher union wins a 10% pay hike than the stagehand union will be asking for the same 10% pay hike in their negotiations.
Is this all/always true? I’m pretty sure I had to sign a document saying I wouldn’t attempt to organize when I worked at McDonald’s in high school, and that I could be fired for even suggesting it to fellow employees. But that was 15 years ago, so my memory could be off.
There are exceptions, but fast food employees aren’t one of them and I’m fairly certain that the law has been in effect for longer than 15 years. Which doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for your employer to have had you sign such a document - even if your employer knew it was illegal 9 (and if you worked for a small franchisee it’s possible) , it’s unlikely that your fellow employees did.
About the IATSE: “Today the IATSE is the largest union representing workers in the entertainment industry. Our members work in all forms of live theater, motion picture and television production, trade shows and exhibitions, television broadcasting, and concerts as well as the equipment and construction shops that support all these areas of the entertainment industry. We represent virtually all the behind the scenes workers in crafts ranging from motion picture animator to theater usher.”