Union workers are generally quite well paid. Why are they so often dissatisfied?

I keep seeking stories about unionized workers striking, like dock workers, airline workers, auto industry workers etc. where the the average industrial wage range is 40,000 to 90,000 (or even more in some cases) per year. Why are these workers (seemingly) so dissatisfied? This seems like damn good money.

It will vary by the industry and location.

First, any times a union is in place because the company has a history of bad feelings with the workers. Unions are not magic and manyt Americans don’t like them. To get enough workers to sign up for a vote and enough more workers to vote in a union, the company has to have a pretty bad track record dealing with its people.

So you start off with bad feelings.

Then you come to specific issues. I have seen relatively few strikes directly over wages in recent years. More often the dispute is either based on the company wishing to reduce health benefits or make it easier to lay people off. A reduction in health care coverage for either an older employee or for an employee with young children can be a serious pay cut even when the nominal wages are increased. And with the economy still sluggish, after falling pretty hard a few years ago, there is a real fear that companies will simply begin wholesale layoffs.

Now, it can be argued that the measures the companies are taking are necessary to maintain profitability and someone will be along shortly to claim that all union demands are unreasonable, but since the question was simply “why?” those tend to be the answers.

(You might also check the local cost of living in places where strikes occur. Someone making $40,000 a year can be doing pretty well where housing costs $70,000 for a three-bedroom ranch and milk is $2.49 a gallon, but they may not be doing well, at all, where the same house costs $400,000 and milk is selling at $3.99.)

$40K is “damn good money”? That’s barely enough for a single person to get by in California, much less support a family. You’re definitely never buying a house on that income - not here.

I think in general you are correct in saying unionized workers seem to be more dissatisfied than non-unionized ones. In my ten year temp career, I’ve worked at many different companies, and the unionized ones always seem to have the highest rate of people feeling used and abused by their company. Ironically, they also seem to have the best working conditions, lowest rates of hours worked, and most standardized jobs and expectations.

It is my personal opinion that union workers too often simply don’t know how good they’ve got it. Not everyone works at a couple of different companies each year like I do, and therefore have a pretty good idea of what’s out there and what’s good and what isn’t. Also, I suspect their unions don’t tell them the whole story - just what is in the best interest of the union.

Highlighting mine.

I come from a family of 4 in Los Angeles County(90065). My parents earn significantly less then 40k combined and they would own our house if it wasn’t for some financial problems they had to bail my brother out of.

Imho, 40k is middle class. Most definitely not ‘barely getting by’

You’re damned straight. Here in Chicagoland, every last damned job is unionized, from the grocery checkout baggers to the monkeys that press the button to raise the gate in parking garages. I think a major component is the idea that they think that everyone else with “office jobs” is somehow rolling in it and they’re not. The real truth is that with two Bachelor’s degrees, I’ve never made more than 25K at a job in my life. These people are already making an obscene amount of money and benefits for people with no skills and no education, but they feel a sense of entitlement.

A $40K gross income earned by a union member would result in a smaller take home than the same amount paid to a non-union worker, as dues are also deducted to feed the union structure. Making a direct apples to apples comparison can be difficult when variables of health care and pensions come into play.

I would counter this with the suggestion that you don’t know what it’s like to work for a single company for a long period of time.

On the other hand, I feel that I should contribute the necessary “you realise you’re talking about N American-specific stuff, and that unions elsewhere aren’t the same?” comment to the thread

Here in the Detroit area, the United Auto Workers union is huge. Let me tell you, those guys have it good. I have a degree in engineering, and I work as a material testing technician in an automotive-related (but non-union) job. The guys working on the line in the factories make better money than I do. Those jobs do not require a college education, and many of them don’t really need any skills at all beyond basic literacy. And their health coverage has got to be among the best in the country.

And they wonder why the domestic auto companies can’t turn a profit.

Oddly that wasn’t my experience at all in Chicagoland. My two Bachelor’s degrees (plus several years of actual work experience) landed me a decent job there, with excellent benefits. Perhaps you applied at the wrong places?

Nor have I found most union workers to have no skills and no education. At least three of the union reps that I know would be rather surprised to discover that they are unskilled and uneducated.

Could it be that unions are adversarial by their very nature? Unions collect dues and are supposed to fight for their workers. It wouldn’t look that great for the unions if they just said “Looks like everything is great at this company”. Union members would start to wonder what they were paying dues for. Unions must therefore generate complaints and continually fight for something to maintain their very existence. That promotes hostility between union members and management.

All union demands are unreasonable. :slight_smile: I had to do it.

Seriously though, I think that unions basically have the same greed as management. Just as management needs to be checked, lest it rob the company blind with its belief that every C-suite deserves an 8 figure salary, a union’s basic goal is to maximize the aggregate consideration its workers receive for what they do. They owe allegience only to the workers they represent, not to the company.

When you are of the mindset that your job is to always get more, and when you put that mindset into employees, then why would you ever seem happy? If you are content, then why would they ever pay you more (or give you some other form of greater consideration)?

This may be the case in Chicago, but it certainly isn’t the case in Australia or Britain. No skills? Yeah, constructing a bridge or a skyscraper takes no skills.

It’s not the case here in Calgary either. Most unionized jobs here are not unskilled, uneducated jobs. It’s quite a mixed bag here, actually - some painters are unionized, healthcare workers are unionized, city employees, some transportation employees, and school board workers are unionized - I don’t know who else is, but it usually isn’t the trained monkey workers.

You’re right, GorillaMan, that I haven’t worked anywhere for a long time - 20 months is my max at a couple of jobs. I was usually glad to end my employment, though.

I agree with most previous posters in that a lot of union employees tend to suspect that those in professional fields are raking in the bucks and enjoying privileges much better than their own. Once in a union job, people tend to stay there because of the job security it provides, thus losing touch with what’s happening in other fields. Naturally the “we’re getting fucked” attitude eventually prevails. Union brass helps to keep the pot stirred with discontent because it empowers them and gives them a reason to exist. Shagnasty said it best.

Here’s a story of your tax dollars at work;
Before she retired, my mother worked as a custodian for the school district in my hometown. She and all her cow-orkers were members of the Teamsters. Because of the incredible bargaining power of the union, they all enjoyed excellent wages, benefits and working conditions. For example, my mother made about $18/hr, paid something like $1 a month for top of the line full health benefits, had beaucoup vacation/sick/personal days, and a generous pension plan. All that for a menial unskilled janitorial position that had no repercussions for doing a shitty job. I would often go to the school to meet her for lunch (in the evening, 2nd shift) and sit with her cow-orkers for awhile. Nearly every time, the conversation incessantly revolved around how bad the district was corn holing them on workload, pay, schedules, etc. Contract time was especially volatile. Of course no one ever commented about the fact that their supposedly 1/2 hour lunch often lasted more than twice that, or that they all were able to finish their assigned work in 3-4 hours so that they could convene in the library to watch primetime television until their 8 hour shift was up. It was a complete joke. Meanwhile, they were convinced my office type tech job at the time was treating me much better than they were getting. If they only knew I was working my balls off 50+ hours per week for less money and security than they were enjoying.

Texas is a right-to-work state so unions don’t have the same hold here as they do everywhere. I would venture to say the vast majority of unionized workers here are highly skilled workers, such as electricians and such. However, reading these and other boards I see where many unskilled workers in other states are unionized and as a result the wage differences are huge. I was just visiting a website sponsored by a union, and according to the posts on the message board it’s not at all unusual for a grocery cashier to make in the range of $15-19/hr with full benefits even for part-time employees in other parts of the country, whereas here they usually start out in the $6-8 range and seldom get any kind of benefits. Granted, the cost of living is lower here, but I have a very hard time believing the cost of living is that much different. These days grocery store clerks don’t even have to know how to give change or figure tax - is the job really worth $19 per hour?

I think these type jobs (and wages and bennies) are what everyone is talking about when they’re referring to the outrageous wages that an unskilled, uneducated worker can garner thanks to a union.

On preview - AnatomicallyCorrect’s mom’s job is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

“Monkeys that press the button…”, nice attitude :rolleyes: . Your attitude is exactly why unions are needed, people with “office jobs” need to be reminded that uneducated “monkeys” are actually people who are doing a job that they wouldn’t lower themselves to do. The “monkeys” recieve so little thought from the “office job” types that they need the power of the collective to be heard.

How society ranks importance/value is all fucked up if you ask me. If the rubbishmen go on strike for a week, every one of us would notice but they are uneducated “monkeys” and not one of us would want to have their job. If some Hollywood actor or pro golfer/tennis player etc went on strike for a week it wouldn’t affect us a jot, (there is a good chance they would be an uneducated “monkey” too) but the media coverage would be spectacular.

Why do we pay idiots millions to kick/throw/hit balls yet pay peanuts to “monkeys” who supply services we would bitch and moan about if they were missing?

I have a Uni degree but I don’t think it makes me a better or more productive person then the person who collects my rubbish, serves me at a resturant or works in a factory.

Unions protect those who do jobs that are needed but not respected.

Society ranks importance/value based on ability/scarcity. This is evidenced by the “overpaid” atheletes. There may be about 10 people in the world who could paint the corners with a fastball like Roger Clemens for example. I am supremely confident in my ability, or the ability of most people, to collect garbage or sweep floors. I am not supremely confident in the ability of the average person to understand or perform a C type corporate reorganization.

In other words, “need” for the work is not nearly as important as the number of people who can do the job. Likewise, I spent seven years not making any money, in fact paying universities money, to get my final degree. I am fully comfortable saying that, based on the effort I put in, the debt load I have incurred, and the amount of work that I do, that I deserve to make a material amount more than your rubbish collector.

I have no issue with respecting and appreciating the work that rubbish collectors do. I do have an issue with the theory that the job should be paid as well as one that requires greater ability, educational background, and generally more work.

Another thing that I do not believe many unionized employees understand is how hard the average white collar employee works. Those “fatcat” young associates in New York law firms and “overpaid” young doctors in residency are not punching the clock after their 8 hour day is up. Yes, they may not perform physical labor, but in terms of hours away from their families, hobbies, and other things in life that most people tend to enjoy, they are beating the average rubbish collector and automotive manufacturer hands down. The image of the young professional who strolls in at 9 in the morning, orders the help around until 4 in the afternoon, and then takes off in his Beamer are a joke to those who have witnessed the life.

I think people are talking about the labor, not those actually doing any intellectual work. Being told to put that support beam there by a supervisor with a Masters in Civil engineering isn’t a skilled job. Nor is the guy doing the grunt work slaving 60 hours over the blueprints, possessing a degree that took him 6-7 years to complete and nor does that guy make less than the archetectual engineer that does these things. On the contray, the grunt likely makes more, and has better benifits.

So yeah, by comparison, a job that takes less than a year to learn is an unskilled job. Any job that doesn’t require anything more than on-site training isn’t really something I would say is a skilled position.

I think people are talking about the labor, not those actually doing any intellectual work. Being told to put that support beam there by a supervisor with a Masters in Civil engineering isn’t a skilled job.[/QUTE]
Welding isn’t a skill, huh?

I hope to God you’re never put in charge of building any skyscraper I ever have to step into.

I agree that white collar workers work very hard; I should know, because I’m a white collar worker and I work very hard. But I think a lot of folks in this thread really haven’t a clue what the word “skill” means. Most blue collar workers possess many skills. Working in a grocery store might not require any particular skills, but working in a factory does. Working on a construction site sure does.