So - a union (as plenty of people in this thread have pointed out) is a worker organization, intended to support and protect the (collective) interests of the workers in a particular trade or a particular industry. They may fail to represent any particular worker whose interests don't align well with their fellow workers as a whole because of unusual circumstances. And it's possible for a union to fail to represent its members as a whole -- this normally happens with big trade unions where the leadership and payed administrators get too cozy with management and too far removed from the shop floor, a structure encouraged by US labor law. However, unions are, at least in principle, On Your Side and representing Your Interests -- when they fail to do so, it is for the same reasons that representative democracy tends to fail.
On the other hand, you have management, who are out to maximize profits, especially short-term profits, and see labor as a cost-center to be minimized as much as possible. Management are inherently in opposition to Your Interests as a worker. And their opposition to unions is mainly due to the fact that the union gives you the power to fight for Your Interests in opposition to Their Interests.
So you see why the two are not at all equivalent? Pro-union propaganda may be to some extent false -- to the extent that it presents to you an overly rosy picture or a best-case-scenario that you are unlikely to realize. But anti-union propaganda is guaranteed to be an absolute fabric of lies trying to convince you to act against what are almost certainly your best interests.
That said, there is one possible catch. Each union advances the interest of the workers they currently represent as they see them. It is possible that this may not always be the same as the interests of the workers they are advertising to.
There are other failure modes, too. A minority union working with one company many sacrifice the interests of their members there in order to gain an advantage with negotiations with a different company. This most famously happened with Hostess, wherein one of the unions that represented a small number of Hostess workers was incredibly hostile in negotiations in order to improve their hand with a different company.
You're absolutely right that anti-union propaganda should be distrusted and disregarded out-of-hand. Yet, it's perhaps possible that pro-union interests shouldn't be treated as automatically aligned with those of a given worker or set of workers. As you say, in-principle alignment isn't always the same as in-practice alignment.
i know of a scenario in which multiple employees were making $100,000 as unioned employees. they were on a full-time schedule, aggressively arranged by the union, that allowed a certain percentage of work time to be from home. the result of these employees? they lied about their work, "worked" almost exclusively from home, and had less than 5% of the work output of the non-unioned employees who had the exact same titles and job duties who also happened to make less.
it took many years (years!) to get rid of these employees (basically through forced retirement) and any attempt to have the employees to have even a minimally acceptable work output resulted in angry visits and process blockages from the union. the managers reporting the fraudulent behavior and giving the poor ratings were harassed, and the union straight up lied to the point where the managers started recording all conversations and actions with the unioned employees and union representatives to even protect themselves and their jobs (as non-unioned employees and managers!). the employer was basically powerless in getting literally ANY work from these employees, who acted as a tumor in the organization. because of the aggressive and firmly established union, these employees essentially committed theft and fraud as their full-time jobs while making six figures.
so no. unions are not always these powerless little entities getting stomped on by corporations. as the person you replied to stated, BOTH sides can often be viciously ruthless and blind in their quest for money and power over the other.
i know of a scenario in which multiple employees were making $10,000,000 as management. they were on a full-time schedule, aggressively arranged by management, that allowed a certain percentage of work time to be from home. the result of these employees? they lied about their work, "worked" almost exclusively from home, and had less than 5% of the work output of the non-management employees who had the exact same job duties, but different job titles and also happened to make less.
it took many years (years!) to get rid of these 'employees' (basically by seizing the means of production) and any collective attempt to get management to have even a minimally acceptable work output resulted in angry visits and strike breaking by management. the employees reporting the fraudulent behavior to techcrunch and giving poor ratings on glassdoor were harassed, and management straight up lied to the point where the employees started recording all conversations and actions with management and company executives to even protect themselves and their jobs (as non-management employees!). the employees were basically powerless in getting literally ANY work from those in management, who acted as a tumor in the organization. because of the aggressive and firmly established capitalist culture, these management employees essentially committed theft and fraud as their full-time jobs while making eight figures.
so, which of these two sides of the coin sounds more familiar to you?
I'm just not sure that's true. I think it's probable the unions do it because they like to build an empire and see their power and clout grow - that's human nature. I think they want me as a member because it grows their power for whatever pet peeves and politics they have, not because they want to help me.
Also, "neither is worse than the other" is either false or so vague as to not have meaning. Unions are out for their workers, it's their raison d'être. So, for a worker, a union is better than no union. I'd imagine for the CEO no union is better than one so they don't have to care about what their workers collectively bargain for.
I'm not really sure it's quite that simple. The union is out to strengthen the position of their members. They want you to join because it strengthens them, not because they're just nice people in general and want to help you. The deal they make to you might be best for them, but not best for you.
What you are suggesting is akin to suggesting that fascism and democracy are both the same because democratically elected representatives do not at all times represent all of the interests of all of their constituents. Which is often true, and can be a serious concern -- one that you should bring up at your local union meeting. Where you vote on the behavior of the union. And discuss with your fellow workers. Where you can advocate for yourself without being immediately fired/denied promotion/punished for it.
Or I suppose you could talk to management yourself and ask to be treated better. Better have that resume ready to go though. I hope you live in a town where work is plentiful and you don't need your job.
Both the company and the union have an incentive to present me propaganda to do things their way, even when actually what they want to do could be against what I want or damage me.
I don't see how the democratic process of the union makes a different. A group of people not including me democratically decided they wanted to do something, and they're trying to get me to join to help them do that. I don't see how that's different to a board of a company voting and deciding that the want to do something and trying to get me to get on board with that to help them do it.
The critical point here is that of course, in democracies decisions are not made that always align with your views. This does not mean democracy is bad considering the other options available, it just means that democracy is imperfect. If something is being considered as an option, I would prefer to have a vote over not having one.
When you are not in the union you have no vote. When you are in the union you have one. If you don't want one and are content to provide complete and blind obedience towards every directive given by management, are comfortable with a possible firing without cause or dangerous working conditions with no compensation or reduction in salary/benefits or forced unpaid overtime, and want to abandon your fellow workers who need the cooperation of the full workforce in order to do collective bargaining which almost always happens partially on your behalf whether you want it or not (enjoy salary bumps? benefits? weekends? vacation days? not being fired for being sick? these are things that exist only because of unions)... well that's certainly your choice as well. Just as in a democracy you can choose not to vote, you just don't get to complain about the outcome which you've chosen to have no say in.
That is not to say there hauven't been corrupt unions. But generally speaking, as the OP said, a union is better than no union for employees.
The union has an incentive to get me to join, as it helps them get their pay by seniority, but it doesn't help me so they would want to hide that from me. I would be cautious of what they tell me, just like I would be cautious of what Uber tells me.
A vote does nothing to help me if I'm down-voted. I'd be better off outside the union so it doesn't have more power to force pay by seniority, but they don't want me to know that. Hence the risk of propaganda.
There's actually no corruption there, just their interests not being mine.
If you don't like the seniority pay structure a union is pushing, you can go and try and talk to people to change the vote. Presumably there are a lot more younger workers than old (the way it tends to go everywhere), and you younguns could arrange the union in a way to benefit you now AND in the future.
No union? Well, you're on your own, negotiating with people who see you as disposable and expendable (and they do--they'd be fools not to).
Remember, in a democracy, a vote isn't a ticket to instantly get what you want, it's a way to ensure that you have some say even if it doesn't go your way every time.
Or I could not join the union! Vote with my feet! Why would I want to give more power to a group of people trying to do something I don't want? You're saying join them, vote on it, and then when I lose the vote stick with it anyway because that's democracy. No, if I don't like something then I'm better off not affording them the right to say they're representing me.
The union knows that, so they have an incentive to give me disinformation to get me to join.
That's my original point - the union does potentially have incentives to give disinformation. Just like the company has. So I treat both with skepticism.
You would join the union because the organization of labor gives you more power than individually. This is all pretty basic democratic theory here. Why would an independent state join a federation of states? Why not vote with it's feet by seceding when they don't get what they want out of the federation? Perhaps because the benefits outweigh the loss?
Don't like seniority pay, but what about the four weeks base vacation and the negotiated pay scale that benefits younger workers? The point here is that companies are by design dictatorships (or at best oligarchies) and unionization is not the evil that 20th century robber barons told you they are.
The UAW has done infinitely better things for labor in the US than most people could ever understand, even if their power led to a certain amount of corruption. Corruption of a democracy is at least marginally better than a dictatorship where you just hope the dictator is benevolent.
You've taken dictatorship and equated it with fascism. I'll assume you didn't intend the bait and switch there, but it's not necessarily the case.
It's worth remembering that not all democracy is good, and not all authoritarianism is bad. California's proposition 8 banning homosexual marriage was a democratic decision, while supporting the arts through encouraging the establishment of People's Houses was an authoritarian one.
The point that I believe the grand-parent was making is that a lie in support of a goal that you like is not better than a lie in support of a goal that you don't. Both are lies, and shame on whomever proffers them as fact. If your position is indeed the superior one, then you shouldn't need to result to lies to bolster your position.
That said, it's been well established that unions, democratic or not, are not always acting in the best interests of their members. We've seen this time and again with kickback cooperation, compelled membership, disallowance of disassociation, corruption, etc.
I'm not necessarily invested in the debate here, so please don't take my position as arguing for or against either side, but as I recently mentioned elsewhere, if your position is that "unions are good and companies are bad", then you've fallen prey to ideological confirmation bias, and are disinviting nuance from the conversation, which limits the effectiveness of said discourse.
It is indeed "not that simple".
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benevolent_dictatorship
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Houses
And certainly in isolated cases dictatorships can be better than democracies. But I think there's plenty of evidence throughout history to suggest that over time democracies perform better for the people in them.
There are certainly companies that operate like benevolent dictatorships; many high end tech firms come to mind. Small businesses I've worked at come to mind. These are companies which don't require unions and for which unions are mostly counterproductive -- I agree. You generally do not see unions where workers don't need them and a great many companies fall into that category. But we are discussing the case where a union is being formed/already exists. So a huge number of workers have already decided that trusting the dictator's benevolence has not been working out.
And indeed, unions can act opposed to the interest of some of its members. That's why unions have meetings and discussion and voting. States can act against the interest of their members as well. We don't throw away the idea of voting at all and give a person absolute and complete power because this happens.
Did you mean people in the union? AKA workers? Sure they want a strong position when bargaining for worker rights. This seems like it's good for workers still.
Going another step further one could, more truly, state CEO's and the board are just out for their own interest. They could (and do) attempt to skate by caring as little for their own workers as possible. In which case, it'd be nice if someone had enough power to stand up and get better working conditions through some sort of organized union perhaps?
I don't know if that kind of thing happens a lot in practice, but can you see how their interests aren't always going to be yours?
The issue is that, in a union shop--and this varies state by state--you might have to pay union dues whether or not you're a member.
That issue of being compelled to pay union dues whether or not you're a member is the crux of the "right to work" debate (a bullshit term, because everyone always has the right to work, these laws are just about weakening unions and setting laws in favor of the owners).
But being compelled to join a union? In the U.S.? Nope, never.
On the other hand, if you _still_ think that's somehow unfair, you can go to one of those "right to work" states....
But, unions don't seem to want that, because they benefit greatly both from the power dynamic in closed shops and from this very argument (that anti-union workers are free-riders at best or scabs out for themselves at worst).
Off the top of my head, I could see entrenched businesses that already have union workers (ie. big auto manufacturers, ISP's, etc) want to make sure their competitors have to work with the union, too.
If I run a workplace where the union has marginal support, I might see an underfunded, unpopular union as more vulnerable than a smaller union with stronger support.
If the union has strong support, I'm probably better off with it representing everyone. A union that represents 80% of my workers would have almost as much leverage but less flexibility to make concessions.
On the other hand, the employer wants none of that because they want as much power over employees as they can muster.
How does that make them as worse as each other?
It's somewhat ironic that it seems like a lot of people in this thread are basing their talking points on unions off the anti-union propaganda at hand rather than personal experience or evidence.
Here is some evidence that helps explain Teamsters. It's a lot different to have Teamsters come in than this utopian view of a few workers banning together to protect their interests.
No I didn't say that what the business was saying wasn't propaganda. I said that what the union was saying was propaganda as well.
> make people feel they are giving up something by asking for things together
I don't think you have to go up something by asking for things together, but it does seem likely in practice doesn't it? A large group of people are unlikely to all agree on exactly what they wanted without any compromise amongst themselves are they? Any some of the compromises might mean individual workers actually have their interests damaged.
Neither is worse than the other.
It has been a very successful framing in the USA, particularly, but that is about marketing, not fact.
Or do you think the unions are just doing it for your sake out of the goodness of their hearts? Well if you're willing to be so trusting that they are doing the right thing, why not trust the owners as well?
Admittedly, workers already in the union have a reason to encourage you to join, but it's not sensible to suggest unions don't care about workers, because that's their only defining purpose.
(That is, in theory it's certainly possible. I don't know how bad this is in practice.)
Also, saying workers have no leverage without a union is another exaggeration. How much leverage you have depends very much on the circumstances.
It's not a knock on unions for those of us who have found ourselves in a relatively fortunate position to admit it. It means there is room for a more subtle, nuanced conversation.
It reminds me of doublethink.
As an analogy, nations are made up or citizens, but that doesn't mean they are aligned with any individual citizen.
The goals/interests of the workers in a particular collection of workers are not all identical ( even after modding out by certain things like "it is in my interests to receive more payment, but not /inherently/ in my interests that Joe receive more payment, and visa versa for Joe's interests").
1. Union becomes big, needs full-time administrators
2. Union immediately becomes utterly self-serving and no longer has worker interests at heart
You can make the same argument about governments. It's like the old joke about democracy. Unions the worst form of worker advocates, except for all the others.
Or corporations, and it's flawed in all three cases, even though the principal-agent problem  is a real thing that should not be ignored, and does come into play in all three scenarios.
Some unions have their workers best interests in mind. Others don't. When I was in high school, I worked at a union store. I had to join the union. But I made less than walmart workers in the same job category and seniority. The union cut a deal with my old employer that got old workers a sweat deal (some cashiers were making 25 dollars if they worked there since the 70s). I made 7.5. And it wasn't just seniority. I could work there my entire career and I'd never make over 9.5 for part time work. They had different contracts for new employees than old.
And I was forced to pay 10 bucks a week for that bullcrap.
Have you seen what a union beurocracy machine usually looks like?
Info isn't shared until enough people say they want a union. While the legal threshold is much lower, normally that doesn't happen until about 70% say they want a union by signing cards.
So much of this thread is theoretical concerns, but I'm wondering what the actual on the ground experience is like.
As a result of NALC representation he was entitled to a modest pension upon retirement - slightly more than break-even in small-town Vermont, but cannot receive Social Security benefits. He also received a form of medical coverage for life, something he pays some amount of money for but nowhere near what its market price would be if it could even be obtained at all (doubtful). This coverage has likely saved his life several times (cancer) and has been a firewall between himself and the financial disasters that can result from age-related diseases.
Being in a union gave him a voice in how his workplace was run locally and to some extent how the USPS functioned nationally. Union members had a modicum of power in an environment where, but for the union, they'd have had none. Contrary to what anti-union propaganda would have people believe, the union most definitely did not negotiate sky-high pay rates far in excess of other blue-collar workers at the time. I think he earned a good wage for the era for a semi-skilled non-professional job but not a remarkable amount. That said he did have job security as a result of union representation, something that mattered more to him I think, with a stay-at-home wife and three kids, than the numbers on his paystub at the end of the month.
Union membership resulted in my father having financial security while employed and during retirement and also having a certain amount of respect/power/dignity in the workplace when dealing with management. I sometimes wonder how blue-collar workers of his sort today (and many skilled white-collar workers for that matter) manage to keep their heads above water or have hope for the future. Do they have any idea how much they've lost as a result of the union-busting of the past 30-40 years?
Postdocs unionized and made it so that very-short-term postdoc contracts weren't allowed. After I got my PhD my advisor wanted to pay me as a postdoc for the 2 months before my postdoc at another university began -- this would have been EXCELLENT for me. But, union rules, he wasn't allowed to do this. So I had to float my own way for a couple months. Thanks United Auto Workers (the people who ran the postdoc union).
Is it real?