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The New Yorker has formed a union (newyorkerunion.com)
307 points by knuththetruth on June 6, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 355 comments



Just for another data point: I live in Idaho, which is a right-to-work state:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law

Here we tend to call it right-to-work-for-less. The gist of it is that employees aren't compelled to pay union dues if their workplace pays union-negotiated wages. If you think of union protections as something like a private form of OSHA, or say private car insurance, then opting out of paying for them while still receiving benefits is self-evidently not sustainable. Not enough people pay (essentially the same as having too many scabs) so unions can't maintain their bargaining power. The end result is that there are almost no unions in Idaho.

My experience with this was when I was moving furniture as a non-technical day job in the early 2000s. It was $10/hr for warehouse work and $12+/hr working for private truck drivers (you could negotiate your own rate). But if you went across the border to Oregon (a non-right-to-work state), it was at least $15/hr. I had several drivers from California pay me $20/hr for the same reason.

Our warehouse charged $34/hr. In a business where the work is done primarily by laborers, it's hard to understand how it's fair to pay them less than 1/3 of gross income. That's because it's not. Many businesses here charge $75-100/hr or more and pay their employees the going rate of $15/hr. The end result is that Idaho now has some of the highest wealth inequality in the nation:

http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/business/article209332734...

I mention all of this because I get the feeling that non-right-to-work states are enjoying the benefits of unionization without realizing it. It's one thing to argue the nuances of liberty and another to make 1.5 to 2 times as much money (or more) and provide for yourself and your family.

Unionization isn't about raising prices. It's about paying better wages so everyone is better off rather than one millionaire at the top. I think of it as "the person doing the lion's share of the work should receive the lion's share of the income". I feel it's important to really stress this on a site like Hacker News whose readership prides itself on being informed and rising above propaganda.


One path to improving ones lot in areas like this, particularly for high-labor content businesses, might be to form cooperatives. I think you tend to see more in some business areas where it's almost all labor-content, but if there could be some better capitalization path for cooperatives I think we would see a lot more of them. Some papers indicate that they can operate more efficient than the average business (though I don't think that's a guaranteed thing).


Why not both? :)


Oh, I'm not excluding both at all, but in the previous posters warehouse example, it's difficult for a group of laborers, even if already supremely knowledgeable about the warehouse business, to get the capital to buy a warehouse and start their own coop.

I've been thinking in the background of how one might setup a process for that kind of "coop lending/setup/tech" service. One thing I've read articles about is how unions actually control a lot of pension type funding, and that either legal restrictions, or even conventional financial management practices shut out that money from use as a community lending source.

Added: There are other sources of capital, but unions in theory and with some historical examples, have something of a common interest, and that kind of funding/lending has happened in the past.


This mental model of an economic system leads to disaster.

> The gist of it is that employees aren't compelled to pay union dues...

This is always the argument unions make to get mandatory contributions from employees. The risks of doing so are the following:

1) that all employees regardless of their individual contribution get the same salaries, meaning that over-achieving workers will work less, and under-achieving workers will not work more. (a.k.a. elimination of incentives)

2) That employees that do not like how the union is managed cannot work in that place, either because the union would not allow them, or because they have to pay for an organization that they do not belong to voluntarily

3) That the union, having sole negotiation power for all workers, takes kickbacks from the company for lower compensation for all workers.

4) That even if the union is incorruptible, its optional but its subscribed by most employees, that it actually manages not to decrease productivity, then, there is another company that does not have the same problem, will attract more capital since it gets bigger returns, and the company fails anyway.

Unions are not economically efficient organizations. They are politically efficient, so they serve a great political purpose, but their work in the economic sphere is only destructive.


1) Lots of unions and guilds don't operate like this; maybe you get more based on seniority, education, performance reviews, by hitting targets, or some other measure. Maybe the guild (think of the hollywood ones; writers and actors guilds) sets a minimum pay but you're able to negotiate for more. Union=same salaries is far too simplistic, there are lots of ways this can be negotiated.

2) Same is true for non-union workplaces - you don't like how a place is run I guess you're going to be unhappy there. With a union (that you can take part in, vote for your leaders, vote on your contract, etc.) maybe you can change that.

3) Sure, if your union/leadership is corrupt. Vote the bastards out then. With no union...the company just keeps that money that would have been used to bribe a union official. Not clear to me that's better for the worker.

4) Maybe. Maybe the union attracts better employees, improves retention, etc. and leads to a better and more profitable workplace. Maybe the whole industry gets unionized so it's an even playing field and the owners of all companies lose (and workers gain).

I certainly think it's possible unions reduce the total amount of wealth generated from a system. But so what? I think society would be better of if, for example, Walmart made $90b instead of $100b and the workers gained $9b. (Numbers completely made up, of course).


I have yet to see a union that would support management firing an underperforming employee, but have seen many that would protect underperformers.

I've also never heard of a union that supported performance pay, because by the law of average most of their members will be under average, and they wouldn't want to irritate them.


>>I have yet to see a union that would support management firing an underperforming employee, but have seen many that would protect underperformers.

What unions almost always do is require management to follow the procedures in place in the negotiated contract. A well negotiated contract lays out what underperforming is, what qualifies as appropriate notice, etc.

People find it hard to say "your performance is not great in these ways, you need to improve in these ways" and then follow up over weeks or months. That's often what union negotiated contracts require. Employers, obviously, would prefer to be able to say on a Friday "hey you're fired go home" and pay no severance.


In grad school, I taught recitation and lab sections of physics courses. Some of my students were local school district teachers. Two of them I remember.

These two, in different years, had one thing in common. Both were functionally illiterate.

Neither one could read at the level one would need to in order to take the non-calculus version of physics. Math was simply beyond them.

I asked my advising professor what I should do about this, as it was obvious that the right thing to do was to report this, get the person some help, and get them out of the classroom.

I was told to drop it. That the teachers union was simply too powerful, and would protect their own. That if I made noise, it would hurt the university, this program, etc. That I should find a way to pass them.

Yeah. That.


I have yet to see a company without "underperforming" employees that have been around for ages and payed more than "over performing" new hire despite having never worked in a union shop.


Screen Actors Guild. now you've seen one with performance pay...can you change your tune the next time around on the next union-related thread?


> I have yet to see a union that would support management firing an underperforming employee, but have seen many that would protect underperformers.

Much like a defense attorney a union must defend everyone--even the crappy ones.

Because most of the time, the employee really isn't that crappy and simply annoyed management by doing something silly like--oh, demanding the safety equipment necessary to do a task and told management to pound sand when they didn't provide it. Yeah, seen that one in person.

It is up to management to make the case that the shitty employee actually is so. And, if they can't, well the employee really isn't that bad then.

For example, everybody bitches about the crappy teachers, but I have seen numerous cases where the school superintendent never even tries to make the case because that would affect his ability to get his next job. Why does nobody ever complain about the superintendent not doing HIS job and putting together the case to fire the teacher?

> I've also never heard of a union that supported performance pay

Not true. However, the union almost always demands that the performance criteria be objective or that the union gets to determine who falls into which categories. Funnily, management never seems to want to agree to "performance pay" that they can't hand out arbitrarily.


Any union worth a damn should always fight any performance based pay because it goes contrary to their interests.


Except they don't.


> Same is true for non-union workplaces - you don't like how a place is run I guess you're going to be unhappy there. With a union (that you can take part in, vote for your leaders, vote on your contract, etc.) maybe you can change that.

You will find interesting that there is a link between high unionization and unemployment.

> Sure, if your union/leadership is corrupt. Vote the bastards out then. With no union...the company just keeps that money that would have been used to bribe a union official. Not clear to me that's better for the worker.

If you dont vote for the union, you dont get hired or get fired. You as a worker now are subject to the whims of a new master, one that is worse that the previous one.

Also justifying the bribes is pure robbery. You should be ashamed of thinking that.


>>You will find interesting that there is a link between high unionization and unemployment.

Yes, and there's a link between high unionization and higher wages/better benefits/better working conditions. Of course there are trade-offs. Look at the history of labour movements in the west. Why do you think we have weekends, overtime pay, etc

>>If you dont vote for the union, you dont get hired or get fired. You as a worker now are subject to the whims of a new master, one that is worse that the previous one.

That's completely untrue - if you vote against unionization you don't get fired. The union (almost always) doesn't choose who gets hired or gets fired; they often offer protection against undue termination. You may (depending on jurisdiction) be required to join/pay dues. Also, unions have elections - you have a regular chance to choose who negotiates on your behalf. How exactly is the "new master" worse then the previous one?

>>Also justifying the bribes is pure robbery. You should be ashamed of thinking that.

Not at all what I said. I said owners keeping 100 rather than keeping 95 and bribing with 5 is no better for the worker; both situations are shitty. But when the union leadership is being bribed they can be voted out by the union members.


>>>You will find interesting that there is a link between high unionization and unemployment.

>Yes, and there's a link between high unionization and higher wages/better benefits/better working conditions. Of course there are trade-offs. Look at the history of labour movements in the west. Why do you think we have weekends, overtime pay, etc

No, the point the parent was making is that there is a well understood and accepted link between increased unionization and increased unemployment.

>>>If you dont vote for the union, you dont get hired or get fired. You as a worker now are subject to the whims of a new master, one that is worse that the previous one.

> That's completely untrue - if you vote against unionization you don't get fired. The union (almost always) doesn't choose who gets hired or gets fired; they often offer protection against undue termination. You may (depending on jurisdiction) be required to join/pay dues. Also, unions have elections - you have a regular chance to choose who negotiates on your behalf. How exactly is the "new master" worse then the previous one?

It's quite true. Here in Michigan, until we regained our sanity recently and went right to work, there were closed union shops. You could get hired if and only if you were a member of the union. Which you couldn't get into without being hired. The entry fee into the union ranged depending upon the union, but it was most definitely a pay for play scam. So if you were poor, and couldn't afford the entry fee ... how would you get in? How is this not a monopoly?

On those union elections ... Do you believe for a moment that the elections were either free, or fair? Do you not believe that there were corrupting outside influences?

This new master became rent seeking, drove costs up, quality down, caused higher unemployment by driving costs up, and eventually drove much of the work to lower wage locales.

Yes, this is the reality of what unions have wrought.

As for this

> But when the union leadership is being bribed they can be voted out by the union members.

um ... no. The people in power in their rent seeking ways have a habit of building up a support system of similarly minded folks. Trickle down. Bribes paid supported large union machines that existed for the sole purpose of keeping their officials in power. These elections are rarely ever free, and are most certainly never fair. There are entrenched interests that wish to not rock the boat, as that introduces uncertainty. Be this from management, external groups that want to dip into union coffers, etc.


>>well understood and accepted link between increased unionization and increased unemployment.

Yes, I know what point the parent was making, and I agreed with that; my points also stand. Unemployment isn't the only consideration - if we had no labour laws or minimum wage I bet unemployment would be lower too.

>> closed union shops

You need to look at your history more carefully. Closed union shops have been illegal in the US since 1947. The Supreme Court decided in 1985 that a union member can resign from a union at any time (and keep employment). Unions are able to collect "agency fees", but THAT IS ALL - they cannot enforce membership. No forced membership, no entry fee (if you don't join), no closed union shops, no fines imposed by the union (if you don't join). You can get a job at a unionized shop, pay the agency fees, and never join the union.

>> Unfair, unfree elections

Absolutely there are some corrupt unions with shitty elections, bribes, rent seeking, etc. Same is true for any hierarchy or any democratic process. Saying no one should unionize because some are corrupt is like saying countries are a bad idea because Putin rigs elections.


Looking at history, and some recent (2010) articles before we changed. See [1][2][3]

The laws to which you refer ar the Taft-Hartley act, and the NLR act.

As for the "no forced membership", it was seemingly easier for local companies to bend to outrageous demands of unions in their contract language, than it was to actually enforce the law as written. There are quite a number of lawsuits apparently about the closed shop nature of many Michigan companies with unions, up and until that right to work was passed. After that, not so much.

> Absolutely there are some corrupt unions with shitty elections, bribes, rent seeking, etc.

I've not seen counter examples where the unions were not corrupt, rent seeking, etc. I'd love to. This ranges from 11yo me caught in the nastiest teacher strike in the US, where my own teachers were throwing rocks at me in my school bus, though 32yo me being told not to move computers my company was trying to sell to Ford because that was a union job, and there would be consequences to that.

So yeah ... in my entire life, currently north of 50 years, 39 of it with experience with unions, I've not seen an example of a positive force a union plays. Anywhere.

Many people are in my position, many have seen the corruption, the violence, the rent seeking, etc. personally.

> Same is true for any hierarchy or any democratic process.

Power has a tendency to corrupt. This is why there must be competing forces for the power, each jealously guarding its interest.

> Saying no one should unionize because some are corrupt is like saying countries are a bad idea because Putin rigs elections.

This is a poor analogy. The two are not comparable. Also, I did not say "no one should unionize because some are corrupt". I said "unions are corrupt". There may be a vanishingly small number of counterexamples. But I have not personally encountered any.

Putin is as Putin does. If he really invested $2M in the ads that no one saw on FB and TWTR, and that swayed the US election ... yeah, I'd be pissed.

[1] https://www.varnumlaw.com/newsroom-publications-michigan-a-r...

[2] https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/employee-... . Closed union shops can be ... closed union shops.

[3] http://www.nrtw.org/union-discipline-and-employee-rights/ which details the purposefully misleading way many of these membership agreements, collective bargaining agreements, etc. were constructed, as well as the language and insinuations on the part of union officials to the workers.


Similar to a quote often attributed to Churchill that goes...

> Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

in this case I think the burden of improvement is on those trying to tear down the union and we can rework it a bit to say

> Unions are the worst form of worker protection, except for all the others.

I don't disagree that Unions can de-incentivize workers and become corrupt, but it's the best tool we have right now.


I think the burden of proof is on the other side: no special protections should be given to unions, they should be voluntary and thats it.


Right-To-Work laws are special protections for the business not vis a versa.

Without them business' and union get/have to freely and voluntarily come to an agreement about employment terms.

With them the union is handicapped in favor of the business.


Wrong in most aspects. Right to work effectively ends most labor monopolies that unions have erected. By removing the monopolies, workers have far better choices about whom to work for, and how to negotiate wages.

Here's a simple example of the power of monopoly and oligarchy. The recent wage fixing kerfuffle over at google, apple, FB, and others resulting initially in depressed wages for workers. Upon breaking up that oligarchy, and putting those companies on notice ... what has happened to wages?

If I believe the pro-union folks here, then they have fallen dramatically, and workers are at a disadvantage in negotiations.

However, I believe in market economics, the invisible hand of the market, and see it in action here. Wages have risen dramatically, as the market distortion due to the oligarchy has been removed, and labor is free to discover its price.

Had there been a union ... this would not have happened. You would have a floor and a ceiling. More productive workers would not seek to increase their wages by working harder, or switching companies. Demand would be distorted.

If you want to be able to negotiate wages, you need leverage. Leverage in the form of a union is well understood, and has consequences for locales. Leverage in the form of demand (get multiple job offers, create a market making enterprise for selling your labor, select the highest/best offer).


Also hold on a fucking second: you consider class action lawsuits against employers as some how not part of organized labor?


Language.

The class action was done via antitrust mechanisms as I understand it[1][2][3]. If you want to assume that a class formation is a union, albeit a temporary one to effect good, I FULLY support that. This is how a union should work. It should come into being frictionlessly, and upon completion of its mission, or a specific timeout, it should be destroyed.

Otherwise we get the rent seeking behavior, corruption, etc. which appears to be the normal for unions.

[1] http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-tech-job...

[2] https://www.cnet.com/news/apple-google-others-settle-anti-po...

[3] https://www.nexsenpruet.com/insights/criminal-antitrust-expo...


Those "labor monopolies" were negotiated voluntarily in environments that were already actively hostile to unions. Right to Work laws interfere with the right to association idea that libertarian capitalism champions as a absolute good.


Paraphrasing that economic philosopher Inigo Montoya ... You use that phrase "negotiated voluntarily" ... I do not think it means what you think it means.

Right to work laws limit the power of unions to form labor monopolies, opening up the market for labor. You may form a union or not. You may join one, or not. But you can no longer coerce someone to pay dues/fees for something they do not wish to associate with.

That is, fundamentally, the breaking of a monopoly over labor. Everyone has an inherent right to negotiate on their own if they so choose. Or not, they can join the union if they so choose. But they are no longer coerced into funding activity that they may not wish for on their own behalf.

Right to work does exactly what it says on the label.


"Right to work" makes it illegal for unions to form exclusivity contracts with businesses. That denies them the ability to freely form contracts that every other type of organization is allowed.

If a business wants to hire people who aren't part of a union, then they shouldn't have signed a contract saying that they won't.


This is incorrect. Right to work, prevents a monopoly on labor that a business must consume via a union, from using its power to preserve its monopoly.

Previously, businesses, even if opposed in principle to a union forming, had little recourse but to deal with the labor monopoly once formed. NLRB specifically went after businesses opposed to union formation, or who wished to purchase labor on the free and open market.

They had little choice in signing of the contracts. Blaming them for acquiescing to unreasonable demands in order to avoid further material harm ... isnt ... a win, for anyone.

This specific action, that unions so happily crow about, costs employers more. Which drives them to look at investing in new sites where costs are lower, and automation. You are seeing exactly this in the rush to $15/hour areas.


No, the burden is instead on the people who are trying to force everyone to join their club.

The baseline default should instead be that nobody is forced to join your organization, and it.is on THEM to convince you to join.

Freedom of association is an important value, that is enshined in the Constitution.


If you prefer, think of it thus:

1. People in a shop voluntarily associate with the union or not 2. If the shop hires non-union workers, the union workers stop working 3. Mgmt decides whether or not this is worth it to them to hire non-union workers

No one is coerced or forced into an involuntary association. A "union shop" is just a shorthand for the process above.

Incidentally, who is lobbies/bribes politicians for "right to work" etc.? Is it management or individual, non-organized workers? (If you think it's the latter I've got a bridge to sell you...). Why might management be interested in promoting the "right to work"? The interests don't seem to line up.


> No one is coerced or forced into an involuntary association

That is provably false in at least some states, because joining some professions in certain states required you to pay agency fees whether or not you chose to be a member of the union at all.

That's been the case since 1977, and was decided with __Abood v Detroit Board of Ed__[1], hich compelled teachers to pay union dues, no matter their stance on the union.

To whit:

> A Michigan statute authorizing union representation of local governmental employees permits an "agency shop" arrangement, whereby every employee represented by a union, even though not a union member, must pay to the union, as a condition of employment, a service charge equal in amount to union dues.

That issue is currently up for dispute in __Janus v American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31__[2]

[1] - https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/431/209/case.htm...

[2] - https://www.oyez.org/cases/2017/16-1466


> because joining some professions in certain states required you to pay agency fees whether or not you chose to be a member of the union at all.

You can't work at a private school or as a tutor or private instructor in Michigan without being part of the teacher's union? I dispute your characterization of the "profession" compelling union membership, at least in the case of teachers.

The Detroit Board of Education is a "shop", not a profession. Police officer would perhaps be a better illustration of your point, as one can't really be a "private police officer" but shrug the state has a total monopoly on that law-enforcement profession, so you've got more than unions to contend with there. (Why can't I start my own police department?)


You point out that I made a misrepresentation, which I did do by exclusion of a better example and citation.

In Harris v Quinn, the plaintiff quit work to care for a sick relative. Finding out that Illinois had a program to assist home health care workers to help defray the costs. She enrolled in the program and was awarded a grant to help her take care of her relative. According to the Service Employees International Union, this made her an employee of the state of Illinois. Because the state of Illinois was a "union shop", it meant that all people of this sort were de facto "home health care employees of the state", and all home health care workers who received grants of this sort were compelled to pay union dues, whether they were employed by the state, the individual to whom they were providing health care, or whomever else.

In this regard, anyone who the union deemed to be in the home health care profession, and who availed themselves of state assistance, were members of the union, and obligated to paying dues.

[1] - http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/politics/supreme-court...


Management is not allowed to fire union people and hire non-union people in their place.

Once the union is created, nobody has any choice but to join it.

Thats the law. Once the union is voted in, they now represent all workers, and it is highly illegal to just decide to fire all the union people. There is nothing voluntary about that.


When a company agrees to a contract, they are expected to abide by the terms of that contract. Why should unions be disallowed from forming exclusivity contracts when every other type of organization is allowed to?


If a union is allowed to make such an exclusive contract, then management should be allowed to fire everyone for starting the union, before such a contract is made.

The rights work both ways. Either everyone should be allowed to make exclusive contracts, INCLUDING a contract that disallows unions, or nobody should be allowed to do so.


3b. Mgmt decides to fire employees that are defaulting on their contract to work. 4. Mgmt hires new non-union workers.


Exactly. No one is "compelled" to do anything, the employer can fire everyone–that's their choice.


Employers can't fire people for being in unions. That's illegal.

Either everyone should be protected, ie you can neither be fired for being in a union or for NOT being in a union, or nobody should be able to be fired for these things.


There's a lot going on here.

> 1) that all employees regardless of their individual contribution get the same salaries, meaning that over-achieving workers will work less, and under-achieving workers will not work more. (a.k.a. elimination of incentives)

Union representation doesn't inherently flatten compensation. Managers and companies can still promote, hire, and fire employees. Also differences in compensation in non-union workplaces is typically determined by the employees negotiating skills more than merit.

> 2) That employees that do not like how the union is managed cannot work in that place, either because the union would not allow them, or because they have to pay for an organization that they do not belong to voluntarily

Yea the point of unions is to have collective bargaining power, that power is sapped when workers don't participate in the collective part. Also a union is typically run by employees, and union leaders are elected. If things are bad you have the power to change things. You're much more empowered to change things in your union than you are to actually change things in the running of your corporation.

> 3) That the union, having sole negotiation power for all workers, takes kickbacks from the company for lower compensation for all workers.

Unions do have a tendency to corrupt with age, mostly because corporations who are saddled with a union typically find it easier to corrupt its leaders than to actually negotiate. I'd argue that even in a corrupt union you're better represented than without a union. You at least have the structure in place to do things like strike and organize. Often when union leaders are corrupt or just not effective workers will take action outside of the union. Most of the recent teacher strikes were "wildcat" actions taken without the union's consent.

> 4) That even if the union is incorruptible, its optional but its subscribed by most employees, that it actually manages not to decrease productivity, then, there is another company that does not have the same problem, will attract more capital since it gets bigger returns, and the company fails anyway.

This is the same argument people make against raising the minimum wage. "Conform to exploitation or be replaced". A lot of workers worry that fighting for better lives will lead to worse lives, like losing your job, or your company going under. This isn't really shown to happen in reality, but corporations keep pushing the point.

This entire comment reeks of corporate propaganda. Unions aren't a silver bullet against worker exploitation, but having union representation is a hell of a lot better than not.


> Union representation doesn't inherently flatten compensation. Managers and companies can still promote, hire, and fire employees. Also differences in compensation in non-union workplaces is typically determined by the employees negotiating skills more than merit.

If unions dont get a say on who gets fired or not, they have no power. The company could retaliate at any point on an employee making a demand, and the union can only stop it by threatening to strike. Thus, the union is an association of power to control who gets fired or hired.

The fact that the union and the company sit down together to make a guideline can only mean workers get shafted: neither the union leaders nor the company will lose in a voluntary arrangement.

> Yea the point of unions is to have collective bargaining power, that power is sapped when workers don't participate in the collective part. Also a union is typically run by employees, and union leaders are elected. If things are bad you have the power to change things. You're much more empowered to change things in your union than you are to actually change things in the running of your corporation.

Its a structure of power like any other, but you are missing out on many things: that workers that havent joined yet do not get a vote. So unions have this clever economic way to increase their wages: prohibiting others from doing their job. Thats why unions that are powerful advocate for higher minimum wages (that dont affect them directly) and tariffs.

In any case, saying a union only works if it is applied by forced unanimity should be a red flag for a certain kind of organization.

> This is the same argument people make against raising the minimum wage. "Conform to exploitation or be replaced". A lot of workers worry that fighting for better lives will lead to worse lives, like losing your job, or your company going under. This isn't really shown to happen in reality, but corporations keep pushing the point.

The unions make the same argument! Because they want all the workers in a field, for all companies, to unite! They do know that the power of a local union is very limited if another company is not bound by it.

> This entire comment reeks of corporate propaganda. Unions aren't a silver bullet against worker exploitation, but having union representation is a hell of a lot better than not.

More like reeks of someone from a country that has constitutional protections for unions and have worst productivity, highest prices, high unemployement, tariffs and low purchasing power.


I wonder if it is the case that society can benefit from having organizations installed in economic instrumentation that act as a bulwark against the creep of the economic sphere. Perhaps market forces alone a detrimental to well-being and organizations that are in opposition to those are a necessary function of a larger social economy.


>I wonder if it is the case that society can benefit from having organizations installed in economic instrumentation that act as a bulwark against the creep of the economic sphere.

We do. Social mores have been doing this, for good and ill, for basically forever.

Part of the pernicious effects of neoliberal Thatcherism has been the slow removal of the idea that companies have any social role or responsibility aside from maximizing shareholder value.

The ethic has crept in everywhere and it has had seriously destructive effects for important public institutions whose primary social value is non-economic (such as journalism, the arts, or academia).


Many of you points are solid reasons why mandatory union membership/dues can cause problems.

However this is quite clearly false:

> Unions are not economically efficient organizations. They are politically efficient, so they serve a great political purpose, but their work in the economic sphere is only destructive.

Unions can be quite economically productive and at their best can provide productivity bonuses to companies that work with them.

The problem is balancing the power between the union and the company to get cooperation and increases in productivity. When Unions get too powerful, they start looking out for their own interests rather than those of their members, to the detriment of the workers and the company. When companies become to powerful, they can suppress union membership and the collective negotiating power of their workers, to the detriment of the workers and the market.


Unions in effect are powerful only when they can change their income without affecting their productivity. Voluntary unions can achieve productivity gains by being another form of organization, that I grant and thats why I see value in freedom of association.

But that is not the union people imagine or want when bernie Sanders calls for them. They imagine the power of changing wages at will.


> 1) that all employees regardless of their individual contribution get the same salaries, meaning that over-achieving workers will work less, and under-achieving workers will not work more. (a.k.a. elimination of incentives)

Why does everybody always assume that they will always be the overachievers? This seems to be a particular fault in the HN readership.

The problem is that you WILL have some off times. You will get sick and you will age. You will be "merely average" at some point.

Should the company be able to fire you after 20 years because someone new might be more productive?

This was far more critical in places like the steel mills where the work itself guaranteed that you would get sick. "Nobody ever retires from the car shop" was one of the mantras at Bethlehem Steel--you wound up dead of something caused by working around toxic crap all your life.


You are missing the point: when wages are negotiated by power, productivity is a secondary goal if any.

As soon as productivity departs wages, you will see it go to any direction, and most likely, down. And if productivity goes down, you better be damn sure wages are going down as well.

> Should the company be able to fire you after 20 years because someone new might be more productive?

That will be desired if by union negotiation you are forced to pay both equally. But if you allow for different wages that can be re-negotiated at any point.


This is a cartoonishly naive idea of the operations of a union.

1) Unions set wage minimums and working conditions. You're free to negotiate for more. Underachieving workers receive more, and overachieving workers also receive more because the floor for their negotiations are raised.

2) Employees who do not like the operations of their union have a democratic stake in changing it, or can run for leadership positions themselves. Without a union, their only option for a grievance is to work elsewhere, which is not always feasible (location, family, accrued benefits).

3) Workers have skin in the game and union dues to pay. It's not unheard of for workers to threaten union leadership with non-payment to force a radical leadership change, and there's always the more measured approach of union elections.

4) This is a critical mass problem. There was no decrease in productivity when unionized workplaces were the standard. Without unions you have skyrocketing productivity but wage stagnation. Eventually the wage stagnation turns into a drag on productivity, but in the meantime the company gets rich. It depends on what you prioritize.

EDIT: patmcc has a much better response than my own.


.


What is "the union?" What is "the contract?"

Each union has its own organizational structures, rules, and contracts that can sometimes including a ban on union members negotiating for higher pay for themselves. None of the unions that I am familiar with have such a restriction except for one union for civil servants.


You're not going to get an answer, because the person you're dealing with has absolutely no idea what they're talking about.


I have met a lot of people that have, at one point or another, been on the non-union side of the negotiating table, that sound exactly like this.


> If you think of union protections as something like a private form of OSHA, or say private car insurance, then opting out of paying for them while still receiving benefits is self-evidently not sustainable. Not enough people pay (essentially the same as having too many scabs) so unions can't maintain their bargaining power.

Unions are permitted to refuse representation to non-members, as long as they don't include them in the bargaining unit. If they do, then they are required to represent them.

So far, unions have ignored this and pretended that they are forced to represent non-members, because it makes it easier for them to "demonstrate" that they have to have exclusive representation over all members of the bargaining unit. In other words, they intentionally sabotage unions in right-to-work states, because they don't want to admit that they have the legal ability to engage in members-only contracts in right-to-work states, because then they'd have to admit that they have the ability to engage in members-only-contracts in all states.

The easy alternative is for unions in right-to-work states to require membership (and fees and dues) for inclusion in the bargaining unit. They would then have no obligation to represent people who don't join the union or don't pay fees and dues.


I'm sorry this comment is being down voted. It's possible that its tone is very slightly questionable, but the meat of the comment is actually an interesting point I'd never heard before. So, TIL. Thanks.


Thanks for this comment. I did not know this. I've never worked in a union job. My wife is now working in her first-ever union job and didn't want to be part of the union, but didn't have the "option".

My overall views of unions throughout my life have not been positive, however my opinion of them is slowly improving somewhat.


This is very misleading. Employers are under no obligation to recognize members-only unions. Also, the prevailing legal opinion seems to be that a members-only union can't negotiate better pay or working conditions just for members.


Why would the company bother hiring union members in this case?


A members-only contract wouldn't be able to be negotiated as the employer wouldn't come to the table unless strike was a risk.


A members-only union is unlikely to last. From the perspective of the employer they have two employee groups - union and non-union. If they pay non-union employees less those employees are just going to join the union, get increased pay and now the union is even stronger than before. Actually the best strategy from the business' perspective is to set pay/benefits for union members and non-union members at the same rate. As union members bargain for more, non-union members freeride, as non-union members freeride, union members defect, and you kill the union's bargaining power.

This is actually why we need traditional compulsory unions if a unionization vote succeeds, it's the only way to maintain the bargaining power of the workers. If you don't like that working for a certain employer requires paying union dues you take the same action as if you don't like the health plan or pay offered by a certain employer, you look somewhere else.


Union members have no incentive to leave the union except to save dues. If your dues are reasonable why would anyone leave?

> This is actually why we need traditional compulsory unions if a unionization vote succeeds

Never. If I don't want to join a union, who are you to force me to join and steal money out of my paycheck to boot?


> Union members have no incentive to leave the union except to save dues. If your dues are reasonable why would anyone leave?

Tragedy of the commons. Whether or not the dues are “reasonable”, they’re not nothing. And as long as union and nonunion employees are paid the same, as an individual employee, leaving the union lets you save that money without giving anything else up in return. But then if everyone does that, the union loses its bargaining power.


> Tragedy of the commons. Whether or not the dues are “reasonable”, they’re not nothing. And as long as union and nonunion employees are paid the same, as an individual employee, leaving the union lets you save that money without giving anything else up in return.

This is a common talking point based on a factually incorrect premise.

There's no reason union and non-union employees would necessarily be paid the same, because there's no reason the unions have to include non-members in the bargaining unit.

They are perfectly free to establish contracts that only cover employees who join the union.


I was replying in the context of frgtpsswrdlame's post stating that employers had an incentive to pay nonunion members the same as union members, at least in the short term. (pc86 responded to that post asking "If your dues are reasonable why would anyone leave?", and I responded to them.) In reality, there's no guarantee an employer would do this, and in theory the union could even negotiate to make sure it didn't – but it would have a pretty hard time justifying to its members why it was trying to keep other people's wages down. And in lieu of such negotiations, the larger the fraction of union employees, the less the employer has to lose by bumping nonunion employees' wages to match theirs, with the goal of ultimately weakening the union.


> but it would have a pretty hard time justifying to its members why it was trying to keep other [non-member] people's wages down.

They seem to have no trouble with that already at present.


Please explain.


>Union members have no incentive to leave the union except to save dues. If your dues are reasonable why would anyone leave?

Because they can keep their dues? Why is anyone going to pay several hundred dollars for a group which they perceive is doing nothing for them? (this is in the situation where an employer is trying to bust the union by paying both groups the same)

>Never. If I don't want to join a union, who are you to force me to join and steal money out of my paycheck to boot?

If you read the rest you can see that you're not forced to join the union in the same way you're not forced to accept subpar pay. Just go work somewhere else.


Someone could just as easily say "if you want to be unionized, go work somewhere else." That's not an acceptable answer then and it's certainly not an acceptable answer for you when explaining why you want to steal money from your coworkers.


>Someone could just as easily say "if you want to be unionized, go work somewhere else."

Well actually there's plenty of times when you literally couldn't go work for a union shop, there's not many left.

>why you want to steal money from your coworkers.

Actually in a shop with union members and free-riding non-union members it's the non-union members who are stealing. They are utilizing a public good (the power of collective bargaining) without contributing. In this sense making a workplace union compulsory is the best way to prevent workers from stealing from one another.

Also introducing compulsory unions moves us from a situation where (1) employers have massively more bargaining power than a worker and workers are structurally compelled to compete against each other to one where (2) bargaining power becomes much more equalized and workers can collectively choose in which situations it is appropriate for them to compete with each other. Changing that compulsory union back into members only just moves us back to (1). It does this because it grants structural control back to the corporation and it's in the corporation's interest to make union bargaining power a non-excludable public good which introduces free-rider problems and destroys the union.


> If I don't want to join a union, who are you to force me to join and steal money out of my paycheck to boot?

One argument is that you didn't choose to join the IRS, yet they are allowed to steal money from your check.


... so then you are saying that a union is a branch or department of the US government?

Hmmm ... I don't quite remember it that way. The US constitution specifically gave the right to levy taxes to the federal and state governments. I don't seem to remember them giving that right to unions.

In Michigan, the unions went for a kill shot in 2012, that backfired wildly. They tried getting a Michigan constitutional amendment in place that would have mandated their rights over workplaces in perpetuity. They lost that, in a very lobsided vote. The backlash, or karma as it were, was a bitch. People, collectively, realized that giving them as much unfettered power as they wished was only going to hurt us even more, so maybe it is time to rein them in. So we did that.

And now, curiously, we are seeing a nice little growth going on here, as companies consider us in their lower cost location decisions. Change that, change our cost structure, and we will lose companies again.

How is it that people don't get this?


If you can only maintain membership by coercing membership, you may want to consider taking a hard look at the benefits of membership.

If an employer wants to treat employees well enough that they feel no need to unionize, isn't that also a victory for workers?


> A members-only union is unlikely to last.

This is literally how unions work in most of the developed world outside the US.


Wouldn't it be smartest for the employer to actually pay the non-union employees more? Why let only the union collect fees on its members?


How do you feel about those who honestly do not want to work in a union? Is the response to try to convince them of why a union is good for them, and why they must want the same things you want? Or is the response to tell them they should work in another job/industry/area/whatever? Or some third response?

The problem is, the best response I can come up with is "tough luck, find another job". Which could be the same response one could give to someone unhappy with their (non-unionized) working conditions.


How do you feel about those who honestly do not want to work in a union?

Come on, you can't answer that question without first knowing why they don't want to work in a union. If that's the best response you can come up, you're being disingenuous.


I'm not, though.

Maybe the person doesn't want to pay dues. Maybe they don't want to work in an environment where they perceive that individual talent/effort is not rewarded. Maybe they're afraid it'll be a bureaucratic nightmare of un-fireable employees? These are the best reasons I can come up with, not knowing much about unionized environments. And it seems the answer to all of them is the same -- tough luck, find somewhere else to work.

If you're calling me disingenuous, fine -- I assume that means you have better questions or better answers, and I'd appreciate hearing them.


Would that person still want the same job with lower pay and fewer benefits? Because that’s what the union is providing.


Isn't the entire point of talking about this that it's not a sure thing? In my wife's case, the pay and benefits are roughly on par with what she's gotten at her previous non-unionized gigs. Some things are better, some things are worse. Of course, every environment is different, but there's no way to prove/disprove what's related to the union and what's not.

And, to play devil's advocate, you can't say for sure that her NON-union jobs' pay and benefits weren't indirectly affected by having to compete with unionized jobs (although they're the minority in her industry)


These are the best reasons I can come up with, not knowing much about unionized environments.

I suggest you learn about a topic before jumping to conclusions. I don't have much to add to the responses all over this thread, none of which are "tough luck, find another job", btw.


The cost of living and the average wage is generally higher in both of the states compared to Idaho. Could it be that this is not a function of indirect union influence and just the fact that Idaho is a depressed state compared to the others you mentioned?

You could say the exact same thing about wages in rural areas vs urban areas.


As someone who lives in Oregon. Eastern Oregon is incredibly cheap, only around select Western areas (Portland, Willamette Valley, Bend) are the costs much higher.


Seems like margins are far enough in Idaho that you could disrupt established players by competing on price.


Nah this was just some kids simplification of a business and some /r/iamverysmart material.

Like, not a single mention of overhead?


Sure, they could just ring up their VC buddies and raise the capital they'd need.


> I feel it's important to really stress this on a site like Hacker News whose readership prides itself on being informed and rising above propaganda.

It's hard to take this last comment seriously when all that's been provided is 15 year old anecdotal evidence about wage rates and an article about income equality which itself poses a different explanation for its cause.


What's quite funny is that "closed shop" (where all employees must be part of a trade union) is against the European Convention of Human Rights. You have a right to join a trade union, and hence a right not to. And the EU consistently has stroger, and more pro-worker, employment law than the US. Funny that.

https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/articl...


On the opposite side of the coin Idaho has also maintained a lower unemployment rate currently and historically as well as is much cheaper in cost of living. While I have lived in both, that is not entirely anecdotal - however in my early career I made much more money by migrating through the desert over to Idaho. The effect of this could be argued that there is not as high of a demand for public assistance and allows for a MUCH lower personal income tax paired with a small sales tax where as Oregon has no sales tax but is around 7% on personal income, Idaho is 1.6%.

I'll hold my opinion on California ;)


[flagged]


> No mention of marketing, recruiting, facilities, etc...

There is a difference between warranted overhead (what you mentioned) and excessive profit on the back of the laborers. First one is fine, but the second one is what drives the wealth inequality that is slowly tearing apart most Western societies.


Michigan is now (thankfully) a right to work state. This means that people can be hired without worrying about it being a union shop. The union used to have effectively a monopoly on labor at many sites here. This is no longer the case.

It is not propaganda to state very basic economics here. You budget X for a years wages for your team of N people, on average paying them Y = (X/N)/12 per month. They form a union, and demand a wage increase of delta per person. So, now, you are paying Y*(1 + delta). X hasn't changed. Number of months in a year hasn't changed. What can possibly change to allow the company to do this?

N. The number of people employed.

So yeah, you can get fewer workers more money. What are you going to tell the folks who were let go, in order to make room in the budget to pay this?

This is where politics starts rearing its ugly head, and you see people referred to as "evil capitalists". You know, the ones who know they can't really raise X, without directly materially impacting the companies bottom line.

Their choices are hard. 1) let people go. 2) raise prices. 3) report lower profits (assuming profits), or increase debt to cover.

Which of these 3 options would you pick?

In recent years, thanks to globalization, a 4th option has opened. 4) move work to a lower cost locale.

It is not rocket science to understand that this has been what has been happening since the early 90s.

Now with the push to 15, as it is sometimes called ... the $15/hour minimum wage, a new option, thanks to tech, is opening up. 5) automate as much as possible, and reduce the workforce to keep costs low.

So, in all those nice locales where the wage is being pushed to 15$/hour, companies are exploring how quickly they can automate those jobs out of existence.

None of this is propaganda, all of it is reality.


If the economics of Idaho are so awful for poor people then maybe they should move to California or Oregon where it is so much better because of the unions.


Unionisation essentially leads to more power the to Union leaders who invariably promote incompetence and make it less valuable to hire new employees.

Idaho has shown healthy growth and Boise has been the fastest growing city in United States. In general economic outlook in Boise is much better than a holes that Oakland or Stockton have become.


Unions always look like a good idea to workers. But to me a union is a sign of an industry in stasis or decline. There are no dynamic organizations that are adaptable, that are also Union shops. Everywhere and always unions are a force of conservation. They conserve the status as it exists today. Roles, processes, relations, all are frozen in time.

Unions work best for workers in places like the public sector where the employer is a government that literally cannot go out of business and where the state grants the union a monopoly so that other companies cannot enter the market and displace the union workers. Teachers, police, postal workers, firemen ... these are roles where no market competition is allowed and consumers are not given a chance to chose alternatives when service gets really bad. That's where a union is most beneficial to workers because they can extract a pound of flesh from the public and the public can't do anything about it.

But at a place like the New Yorker, where people can get news anywhere, and there are upstart competitors nipping at your heels, a union will just hasten the decline.

Now management will have to go through protracted union negotiations to make changes to the labor force at the company or to adjust roles and responsibilities.

I love the New Yorker. I hope enough rich urbanites are willing to pay a subscription to keep the magazine going even if times move on.


The New Yorker typically doesn't provide news, with some exceptions such as Ronan Farrow's reporting on Harvey Weinstein. The New Yorker provides the perspective of it's writers which is always going to depend on the editorial strength of the magazine and has always existed in a competitive environment. Admittedly today is an even more competitive environment than the past but my understanding is the publication continues to be profitable despite online competition and it has already outlived many of its internet born competitors.


> Everywhere and always unions are a force of conservation. They conserve the status as it exists today. Roles, processes, relations, all are frozen in time.

I'm not sure that's true in Germany. (It does seem to be the general trend, I'll agree.)


>There are no dynamic organizations that are adaptable, that are also Union shops

The entertainment industry and professional athletes are all unionized. I can't think of more competitive and dynamic industries than those outside of tech.


Hollywood, California, is unionized. The film industry as a whole is not. And Hollywood, California is not a dynamic part of the film industry. I would say the rest of the world is a lot more dynamic than Hollywood.

Indie film is largely non-union.

You can't with a straight face say US professional sports are dynamic. The NFL is one of the worst government-supported cartels in America. The players, I would argue, are screwed over by the NFL, despite having a union.


Can you define your terms a little bit? It seems like you're assuming we all have the same sense of what "Hollywood" means, but you're relying a lot on synecdoche to make a point here.


The part of the film industry that is unionized is precisely the part of the film industry that is not adaptive and dynamic.


Writers? Actors? Animators? Various skilled trades? All or most are unionized.

You seem to be shifting a lot of goal posts to suit your narrative.


What parts of the film industry aren't unionized?


But to me a union is a sign of an industry in stasis or decline.

Are you saying that growth is the only legitimate business goal?


No, TheMagicHorsey is saying that, once a business becomes unionized, it innovates much more slowly. In the actual world we live in, that turns out to be bad for customers.


Stability is bad for customers, or do you have some other criteria in mind?


I thought "innovates much more slowly" was clear enough.


What is the relationship between "more slowly" and "in stasis or decline?"


> Unions always look like a good idea to workers.

It's a great idea to older workers. Every union I've been part of sacrificed the benefits of younger or future workers for the benefit of the older ones.

> I love the New Yorker. I hope enough rich urbanites are willing to pay a subscription to keep the magazine going even if times move on.

Why would we pay a subscription for a magazine full of ads?

I'd rather support independent journalists, writers, etc than those working for establishment media. The only reason writers/journalists needed media companies was because they needed a delivery platform. Now they have the internet, maybe they should strike out on their own.


I think the problems you're ascribing to unions are problems with specific union structures. The definition of a union would permit you to create a structure where these problems don't exist.

If we took a snapshot of capitalism in the 19th century, with children working in mines, ridiculously long hours, and so on, we could similarly say "capitalism is terrible because x, y, z", but that was just a particular implementation at that time.

I'm not advocating for or against unions, just trying to make sure we're arguing for or against them for valid reasons.


Unions are the backbone of Swedish labour protection, your view of labour movement is very skewed towards your American biases.


There's a reason Sweden relies on the United States to provide new types of technology and services. Sweden is a nice neighborhood. It's not going to make anything that pushes industry or culture forward though. You need a messy, competitive place like America for that. Not an elaborate gated community.

Don't get me wrong. When I slow down and can't work anymore, I want to live in Sweden too. But when I'm young and trying to make a change in the world I would never go there.

It's a good place to raise kids and have a lifestyle though.


Good for them. I hope that this works out well for both parties (labor and management).

I'm curious about the details. I believe that in New York if a union negotiates your contract you are legally obliged to be a member of that union and incur whatever costs are associated (dues). My mother is a labor relations specialist for NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) and she is very concerned about a coming SCOTUS ruling that would remove that legal obligation. How does The New Yorker's new union plan to deal with that if/when it comes?


In a closed shop, you’re not obliged the join the union, but you’re subject to (and benefit from) the bargaining terms and may need to pay “agency shop fees” to pay for the overheads associated with that negotiation.

There are differences in how this works between public and private employers — the changes your mom is concerned about are specific to public employers.

For folks like your mom, teachers, and other public employees, that case may fundamentally change the nature of the profession. The folks finding and pushing the case have a pretty transparent agenda to break public unions.

It is a nuanced issue that tends to draw lots of fire. There are certainly lots of problems with public sector costs (mostly driven by stratospheric healthcare cost increases) that unions have been able to protect members from. If you work as a rank and file, non-political public employee, not unionizing is an incredibly stupid thing to do, but people will do anyway to make their extra 2% a week.


Closed shops have been illegal since 1947. What you're describing is an agency shop.

That's not just pedantry because many people still believe that new employees can be forced to join a union in a unionized workplace. Having to pay agency fees is a contentious issue but equivocating that with union membership as a non-negotiable term of employment isn't remotely the same thing, and simply furthers a particular (unfortunately very successful) political narrative.

Right-to-work is a classic political idiom that long predates pro-choice and pro-life. Using Google Ngram you can see it's use increase immediately after the 1947 outlawing of union shops. The whole point of "right-to-work" is to muddy the waters and confuse people. After outlawing union shops in 1947--which were just as controversial as they are today--Republicans needed a way to sustain widespread skepticism of union power. It's no coincidence that the vast majority of people assume right-to-work states are the only ones that ban union shops. If people realized union shops were already illegal nationwide it would seriously blunt public sympathy for Republican arguments. People can easily sympathize with arguments that one shouldn't be forced to join a union in order to be gainfully employed; but agency fees are much more technical and not something most people would have strong opinions about, especially because they generally only amount to a few dollars per month--mostly to cover the cost of the dispute resolution process, as mandated by the union contract, when an employee is penalized or terminated.

I don't have strong opinions about agency fees. But I do have strong opinions about transparent and honest public discourse.


You are being pedantic.

There is very little difference between being forced to join a union and being forced in an agency model.

They are basically the same thing, and are different in name only.

You still have to pay the same fees. You are still subject to the same rules. You are still subject to their collective bargaining agreement and are disallowed from negotiating on your own.

There are close to zero defacto differences between the two, even if you give it a different name.


In the interest of full disclosure, here's an example structure from the University of California: https://ucnet.universityofcalifornia.edu/labor/fees-chart.ht...

Those agency fees, paid in lieu of membership dues (i.e. mutually exclusive), are indeed much higher than I expected. I've had professional experience with police unions, and the fee structure for campus police is indeed much more like what I was familiar with, where the agency fee is substantially less than the membership due.


You really have to look at the details, when I was in a union, the union actually administered some benefits which accounted for a lot of the cost.


Forced membership of a union!? Seriously!? How awful. I’d rather quit than have it forced on me. If I was at the New Yorker I’d almost certainly join, but only if I could do so willingly. Ugh.


As an employee, you're already implicitly a member of an unofficial union whether you "join" it or not. Your employer will routinely treat you collectively, mandating extended hours during crunch periods, or changing the equipment they issue your team, or altering your health benefits package.

The only question is, does the employee collective you belong to have any collective bargaining ability or not?


You’re right,but you are a member of one or more implicit unions, not a single.

For example, the dev group could be treated differently than ops than sales than content than mechanical. And you can have different groups even within devs for example. So being able to choose as an employee before joining or through career is important to me.

I have never looked at a union’s value proposition for me and chose to join. Either through not joining a firm, or through not joining an optional union. But I’m a programmer-type and likely others will feel differently based on their conditions and principles.


If the majority of your co-workers join the union, at what point do you feel that you would be scabbing by not joining the union that is fighting for better standards for you?


> at what point do you feel that you would be scabbing by not joining the union that is fighting for better standards for you?

But what if I don't like the union's goals or the way it tries to achieve those goals? Not joining them isn't 'scabbing' it's standing up for my own principles.

People talk about unions as if they're some kind of benign force for unquestioned good. In your mind they're simply 'fighting for better standards' without any qualification of what they think those better standards are, how they're fighting to get them, what their end-state is, what other political campaigns unrelated to the job they support, and so on.

The the UK most unions aggressively support one of our main political parties. If you don't want to support that political party then don't join any union because your money will be going to them!

It's not 'scabbing' to stand up to not join a union.


> It's not 'scabbing' to stand up to not join a union.

Literally the definition of a scab.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scab definition 3b.


I don't think it's the literal definition that's being debated. The question was about 'do you think you're doing the wrong thing', because saying someone is a scab is a moral judgement, not just a factual one.


Most unions support Labour because like in most of Europe the Labour party was literally founded by and for the labour movement and the unions. Hence the unions are also represented in the governing organs of Labour as well, as is the case in most Labour parties in Europe.

Of course there certainly are people in unions who do not support Labour, but the historical connection is there because the Labour parties were largely formed as an extension of the work started in and around the unions.


I get the historical connections, but when you present it to a person today and tell them 'and some of your money will go to the Labour Party' and they say 'well why on earth would I want to fund those people?' it all starts to seem like a bad idea.

All arguments seem to circle back to a vague idea of 'but they represent you', for both unions and Labour. I'm sure that's what they think they're doing, but the Conservatives and the Greens also offer to 'represent' me. It's not convincing.


With the Greens that might be an issue, but I'd argue that most people who consider themselves represented by the Conservatives will be just as uncomfortable being represented by most unions - the very concept of a union is firmly left wing, and many of the large unions in the UK are politically left wing enough that they're a key support base for Corbyn. They're not supporting Labour for fun - they're supporting it because Labour is he closest to the unions goals. If members don't like the goals of the union then they should find another union that represents them better.


> If members don't like the goals of the union then they should find another union that represents them better.

They do, or they just don't join a union at all.

Wasn't this conversation about why people might not be to keen to join unions?

If the unions don't care about membership numbers then there's no issue. If they want to increase their membership numbers then aligning themselves to, and worse than that actively funding, one party, that many people don't support, will be an issue that makes that harder.

It's not just the Greens - people who could be interested in joining a union but wouldn't want to fund Labour might include Socialists, Communists, Liberal Democrats, yes Conservatives as well (Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists for example), UKIP, and so on.


> It's not just the Greens - people who could be interested in joining a union but wouldn't want to fund Labour might include Socialists, Communists, Liberal Democrats, yes Conservatives as well (Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists for example), UKIP, and so on.

In the US union membership is a big issue. In the UK not so much. The unions do certainly care about membership, but they also care about actually having influence over the issues that matters to their members, as that's what they're for. At some point you need to choose if it's more important to represent everyone, or represent those who do join you well.

As it stands there's very little indication it'd be worth it for most UK unions to lose the influence they have in Labour. Consider that trade union support for Corbyn was greater than in Labours regular membership, for example - in other words, most of the unions have tended to lean to the left of Labour, not towards any of the other UK parties. Labour leaning UKIP members have largely returned to the fold, after the Brexit vote (and many places contributed to Labours result in the 2017 election). The far left have either embraced Labour again under Corbyn or at least accept it as an acceptable choice. Even TUSC and CPGB recommended people vote Labour most places.

This is a "problem" that mostly seem to be a problem to people who are usually not themselves unionised or interested in being unionised but who dislike the additional support it brings to Labour.

Put another way: If a substantial number of unionised people in the UK wanted unions affiliated with other parties, they can form them, or someone would form them and people would join. The Tories have tried at least twice (with CWTU that you mentioned being the latest incarnation) - it hasn't worked.

Instead what's happened after Corbyn is that unions that severed links with Labour during Blair has re-affiliated (most notably the Fire Brigades Union). RMT has not reaffiliated, but instead supports TUSC, to the left of Labour, but endorsed Corbyn in the Labour leadership elections. There are still other unaffiliated union options as well, as well as options to reserve yourself against affiliation in most unions affiliated to Labour (which means your money doesn't go to Labour and you don't get a vote in Labour leadership elections), so this is an artificial concern.

But if anything, UK unions have consistently been to the left of mainstream UK politics, even when some of their members end up voting for parties actively opposed to the same interests they've voted for when electing their union membership.

The proportion of members that reserve themselves against affiliation with Labour has typically also been low.

> Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists

... is a group set up by the Tory party as an attempt at trying to win over union support from Labour, that has totally failed at getting any traction, because it was started from the top with basically no bottom-up support. It was presented in 2015 as a major thing, and then quietly shoved under the carpet when they didn't manage to get anywhere.

One thing is conspicuously absent from their gallery page [1] for instance: More than a handful actual workers and regular members, as opposed to Tory party staffers, MPs, MSPs, MEPs and Lords. If they can't muster a room full of actual workers to front a "union", that say it all.

If they succeed at organising workers that feel unrepresented by Labour-affiliated unions in sufficient numbers to actually influence Tory policy, then great. But so far it has been a PR stunt from the Tory party.

To put it in other terms: The largest Tory led "union" was Conservative Trade Unionists (now "Conservatives at Work"), which at it's peak had at most a few tens of thousands of members, at a time when there were more than 10m unionised workers in the UK. It's been in steady decline since.

[1] http://www.toryworkers.co.uk/gallery/


This is all interesting stuff and makes a lot of sense.

I'm thinking more about non-traditional potential unions. Like if people seriously tried to set up a computer scientist union and tried to unionise a large proportion of workers at white-collar places like Google in the UK, I would imagine that some of the push-back they would get would be, for example Liberal Democrat voters not wanting to pay for Labour election campaigns.

Maybe a computer scientist union could simply choose not to be associated with Labour, then.


I think any union covering more "white collar" type jobs probably would want to remain unaffiliated. Some also do for other reasons - e.g. Prospect [1], which is for engineers, managers and scientists. Their main reason has been that they organise a lot of people in the civil service and other parts of government, and e.g. BECTU (the broadcasting union) disaffiliated from Labour when it merged with Prospect for that reason, but it's likely that parts of Prospect's membership would also be more politically diverse than many other unions.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospect_(trade_union)


I would evaluate the union and choose to stay and join, stay and not join, or leave. There are lots of factors so it’s hard to say.

I think I wouldn’t feel too bad if I was in a position and co-workers joined a union, but I didn’t. But I would feel kind of scabish if I joined a majority union org and didn’t join the union.

Kind of like if you live in a house and your neighbors form an HOA and you choose not to join. I wouldn’t feel bad at all, as I bought the house with the expectation of no HOA.


At what point does the union feel bad for mandating that I join it, even if I don't want to?


What if your coworkers join the union simply because they have to? At my last job, everyone seemed to resent the union.


Roughly at the moment you elect to—or believe you ought to—enjoy the better standards negotiated by the union members.


I feel like I would be scabbing if I ever joined a union. The minimal Workers rights are something that society should collectively bargain for; anything beyond that is selling out the rest of humanity for the in-group. You should collaborate with your coworkers, sure, and make sure accurate (if aggregated) salary information is available, but getting a union to represent you basically screws you - the union has leverage on you more than it gives you on your employer. A union is a corporation that you've given a monopoly on your time - Do you expect that to work out well in even a slightly employer-favoring market?


The labor market always favors employers. Ideally, one would love for market conditions to also be favorable to wage-earners, but the market is never not favoring employers because it is laborers who must sell their labor time or starve/die. There is no labor market in which laborers are even mostly favored, or happily surviving and living without selling their labor time. Unions exist as a means to ensure the labor market is not entirely employer-favoring because laborers must sell their labor time or starve—which places them at an automatic disadvantage and maintains employer power in the market. Employers want to pay as little as possible for labor, while maintaining their power over laborers—which is why they’re either openly hostile to unions or (if they’re smarter like, say, tech companies) act in their own best interest by treating employees in ways they believe will prevent unions from being seen as necessary.


No, the other questions are:

1) Does your union represent you as talent or just by your seniority?

2) How much more (or less if you're talented) do you make now because you're unionized?

3) How much are you forced to PAY to the union for the privilege of having your job?


How much are you forced to PAY your employer when they choose to pay you $120,000/yr instead of $130,000/yr? Those kinds of decisions get made collectively (and often arbitrarily) by employers all the time, and you have no recourse other than to the market for a better job.

The right way to think of a union is as a force with similar (but radically reduced) power over your work conditions, but one with different incentives and for which you have some (depending on how healthy the union is) representation.

Unions can obviously be a bad thing! But the idea that they're intrinsically coercive is a little overwrought. All of employment is coercive; the median union simply peels off some of the coercive forces that apply to your job and hands them to the employees as a collective to manage.


Just curious if you’ve ever worked in a union job?

I have and my experience was that you will never get paid what you’re worth - if you’re talented.

So if you want to argue that people with less talent can make more money with unions, I would agree... in the short run.

Eventually talent will seek other means and leave the unionized industries. The brain drain will have two negative results, reduced overall productivity and a union demanding more and more for its members who produce less and less.

Ultimately, the company produces worse product and recieves less revenue. Less money to pay the hungry union members who demand even more.

Finally the company says fuck this and moves its production to another country where people will work harder for less.

The whole thing will be blamed on corporate greed and will be used as a rallying call to socialism. ‘Cause that’ll fix it.


Just curious, have you ever worked in a non-union job?

I have and my experience was that you will never get paid what you're worth --- unless you're ruthless and prioritize gaming review systems over working with your team.

So if you want to argue that people who work exclusively to maximize their short-term outcomes without developing skills or, for that matter, any actual software can make more money without unions, I would agree... in the short run.

Am I fairly characterizing corporate jobs? About as fairly as you're characterizing collective bargaining, is what I think.


I take it that’s a no for you.

I’ve only ever had one union job (at a young age) and that told me everything I need to know about unions.

Ultimately if you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, that’s on you. Or you’re wrong about what you’re worth.

I guess our difference is that I’d rather myself to blame for poor negotiating than some union boss, making twice what I make, telling me what I’ll be getting with no ability to negotiate.


"I’ve only ever had one union job (at a young age) and that told me everything I need to know about unions" pretty nicely sums this unproductive subthread up, doesn't it?


And you’ve never had one, ever.

So mock my limited, yet actual, experience while you arm chair philosophize about how many people unions have helped in your imagination.


Free services and better terms from a union that you don't pay for because you know that you will most certainly get all the benefits of the collective bargaining, ugh!?


Always wondered why aren't (some) unions free, staffed with elected volunteers? Perhaps like a floss project.


Because unions need lawyers (and other professionals) to litigate on their behalf. The Venn diagram between lawyers and iron workers/developers/journalists etc. is very slim. So money is required to hire this skill set.

However workers who represent the union are often unpaid. Or paid very little for their efforts.


Litigation can happen without unions, there was a class-action on overtime pay at one company I worked at that had a payout.

Could a kickstarter or contingency support more cases?


There was a very recent Supreme Court decision that impacts this - employers can insist (as a condition of employment) that employees use arbitration only for these kind of claims. Which makes class action suits impossible, and leads to more and more wage theft - since stealing $1000 from a bunch of employees would be enough to warrant a lawsuit if done collectively, but not if each individual has to go through arbitration.


> Always wondered why aren't (some) unions free, staffed with elected volunteers? Perhaps like a floss project.

In the US, unlike in most other countries, unions usually receive exclusive rights to representation. Decertifying a union is technically possible under the law, but almost impossible in practice, so there's no competition between unions for membership the way that you see in most other countries.

That gives the union very little incentive to keep its fees in check, because there's no risk of members defecting (they're legally required to pay) and essentially no risk of its members choosing to be represented by a different union.


What, so in the US people doing a certain type of job at a certain company can only join a single union if one is already recognised by their employer?!


> What, so in the US people doing a certain type of job at a certain company can only join a single union if one is already recognised by their employer?!

Yes.

There are a few exceptions, but by and large: once a union is granted authorization over a bargaining unit, the union exclusively represents all employees included in the bargaining unit (whether or not those employees voted for the union or are members of the union).


Because one of the roles of the union is to litigate to protect the rights of its members. It needs money to do so.


Unions usually do more than just bargain and organize, including setting up funds to buffer the members in the event of a work stoppage, and getting insurance benefits for the members.


for very good reason though.

Without these buffers, going on strike is basically impossible.


I believe the law is that you cannot be forced to join a union but, in non "right to work" states, you can be required to pay the union dues depending upon the collective bargaining agreement.


Game theory 101. It's to mitigate the free rider problem.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Logic_of_Collective_Action


Why wouldn't unions only negotiate for union members? Seems silly to call someone a free rider if the union willingly lobbies on everyone's behalf. Maybe there's something else?


Many benefits are not containable to only the union members - safety features of the workplace being chief among them.


> Why wouldn't unions only negotiate for union members? Seems silly to call someone a free rider if the union willingly lobbies on everyone's behalf. Maybe there's something else?

In the US, unions have two options:

1) Define a large bargaining unit which includes both members and non-members, collect fees from everyone in the bargaining unit (whether or not they are a member), and provide representation to everyone (and also have control over everyone in the bargaining unit).

2) Define a bargaining unit to include only members of the union, collect fees and dues from members of the union, and provide representation to members (and have control only over members).

In both cases, the union has full, exclusive control and representation of the bargaining unit - it does not compete with other unions for representation of members, and it is free to define the bargaining unit pretty much as it wishes.

In the US, unions have typically preferred to do #1, because it allows them to collect money from a larger pool of people, and it gives them a greater degree of control. In most other countries, unions either aren't allowed to collect fees from non-members or have to compete with other unions for representation of members, so they can't rely on exclusive representation laws to give them the right to represent (or control) people who decline to join.


> In the US, unions have typically preferred to do #1, because it allows them to collect money from a larger pool of people, and it gives them a greater degree of control. In most other countries, unions either aren't allowed to collect fees from non-members or have to compete with other unions for representation of members, so they can't rely on exclusive representation laws to give them the right to represent (or control) people who decline to join.

a major difference between unions in the US and for instance, western europe, is that the political foundations of unions is far better represented politically in western europe.

in western europe, social democracy and socialism are political powers who can influence the goverment, and unions usually use that to their leverage. There is very little competition between unions, because they are all part of the same political ideology.


Unions should negotiate on behalf of defectors?


“Forced membership” is a way to maintain the union’s power.


Essentially, sure. On the other side of the power equation, disrupting unions is a way to maintain the company's power. It's just a question of who you think should have how much power in that dynamic.


Membership is the power. If no one is a member, there is no power


Yeah, but when the union head starts paying themselves 300k and despite good living wages and benefits still maintain a large/expensive organizational structure and offices, etc... you still have to be a part of that union- you have very little sway to try to change anything.

Forcing people to join a union is not all that much better than preventing one in the first place IMHO.


I'd rather pay the union head 300k then the union members get 300k less pay or whatever.

By the logic above, working for a corporation where the head starts paying themselves 300k (or 3M!) and maintains a large/expensive organizational structure and offices is not all that much better than preventing incorporation in the first place.


Unions are democratic institutions. Officers can be voted on. The only way to effect change in the union is to participate. Much like democracy!


Yea, the idea that individual workers somehow benefit in these types of situations if there's no union in place is weird.

The Worker Vs. Company conflicts that come up always favor a Company because they have more time, resources, and connections than an typical worker. The union's goal should always be to represent the needs of most workers most of the time, but there obviously will be situations where that puts an individual worker and their union at odds. This doesn't seem like a fatal flaw in the system any more than people will be elected to federal office who don't share your worldview.


Delta flight attendants aren't unionized (my step mother is one) and they are very anti union. They believe pretty strongly that they have a good relationship with management and do no need a union. From what I gather it's pretty unusual at least in the (US) airline industry.


I just want to point out that when my mother was president of her local teachers' union prior to joining NYSUT her stipend was at most a couple thousand dollars for the year.


Forced unions are especially bad when it's for public servants.

That means you, the citizen, will have less power to fire them and you'll also have to pay them more out of your pocket through taxes (think how the police keeps settling for millions of dollars at a time for wrongful murder of suspects, just as an example).


> forced

You are working at a place where you are as forced to take orders from bosses employed by the Newhouse heirs. People work all day to get their wages and refurbish ongoing capital expenses, then at night they work for free to kick up expropriated surplus time profits to SI Newhouse IV.

Conde Nast, without consulting you, as they do for most decisions, has theoretically come to the agreement with a union that they represent you as a bargaining unit. This , of all the things you are forced to do seems to be the only one you have a problem with, the one giving you more autonomy and money.

It's a bizarrely convoluted logic where you have almost no say in Conde Nast's decision about your own management, revenue disbursement etc., but in solely this decision that they made, you are being "forced".


From the point of view of an employer, the easiest way to crush a union is to pay all employees according to the union contract even if they're not members of the union. That way, there's no incentive to join. So the way the union will combat that loophole is to specify in the contract that the employer agrees to only hire union labor or to charge agency fees to anyone that is paid according to the union rate. "Right to work" laws just make those kinds of agreements illegal.


“The NewsGuild said nearly 90% of staffers have signed on to the unionizing efforts.”

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/money/2018/06/06/me...

Nine out of ten of the people actually working there appear to be fans of unionizing.


Collective action doesn't work when free-riders can benefit from the work of the collective.

Unfortunately, most US labour laws are set up in such a way that most gains made by a union are extended to non-union-members. The only viable response to that is a membership requirement.


The equilibrium that I would like to see is the opposite: no forced membership and no requirement to represent non-members. I imagine after the impending Janus SCOTUS decision, this is something unions will have to push for as a last-resort (versus what they seem to want, which is forced membership and required representation).


> The equilibrium that I would like to see is the opposite: no forced membership and no requirement to represent non-members.

There is no requirement to represent non-members. There is a requirement to represent all members of the bargaining unit. The union is free to define a narrower bargaining unit that only includes non-members.

In the US, unions choose not to do this because they can always define a larger bargaining unit and collect fees from non-members, and there's almost no downside for them to do so. In other countries, unions aren't allowed to redefine bargaining units unilaterally, or aren't allowed to collect fees from non-members, or aren't allowed exclusive representation over non-members.


I thought that a bargaining unit always had to be all workers in a particular job class, such as all software developers in a company (but not designers or hardware devs). But this wasn't based on anything other than observation of US unions. So I guess that's not true!

Do you know of any unions that have atypical bargaining units, like covering everyone in a particular line of business or people in 2 very different jobs?


> I thought that a bargaining unit always had to be all workers in a particular job class, such as all software developers in a company (but not designers or hardware devs). But this wasn't based on anything other than observation of US unions. So I guess that's not true!

Nope, they definitely can do members-only bargaining. It just doesn't happen often, because the large union syndicates dislike or prohibit it.

> Do you know of any unions that have atypical bargaining units, like covering everyone in a particular line of business or people in 2 very different jobs?

Offhand, no, but I'm sure I could think of some. Again, in the US, the strategy taken by the major syndicates is to go for an all-or-nothing approach, in which it's preferable to have no union at all than to have a union that doesn't cover everyone (including non-members).

That's not the case outside the US, where unions don't have that legal right.


> Unfortunately, most US labour laws are set up in such a way that most gains made by a union are extended to non-union-members. The only viable response to that is a membership requirement.

This is 100% backwards.

In most states, unions are able to extract fees from employees, even if those employees are not members, as long as the employees are included in the union-defined bargaining unit. In exchange for this, the union is required to provide representation and benefits for all people in the bargaining unit from whom they collect fees, whether or not those employees are members.

The easy alternative to forced membership is for unions to define the bargaining unit to be the union members, which is analogous to what happens in almost every other country. However, unions in the US have taken an all-or-nothing approach for the last half century, in which they gamble that, if they can't use expanded definitions of the bargaining unit, they won't have a union at all. That worked for a few decades, but it's come back to bite them in the last 30 years or so.


Do you know what the rules are around defining a bargaining unit? Is this completely up to the union? Or are there rules?


> Do you know what the rules are around defining a bargaining unit? Is this completely up to the union? Or are there rules?

The union can basically claim whatever unit they want, within reason (and then some). It's completely legal to define membership as a requirement for inclusion in the bargaining unit. Beyond that, the boundaries are usually drawn by things like job title, role/responsibility, geographical location, etc.).

Unions can also retroactively redefine bargaining units after elections and use that as an argument to invalidate elections that they lose. In theory the NLRB is responsible for judging this, but they tend to favor the unions heavily, which is one of the reasons that decertifying a union is nearly impossible in practice - even if the employees win the election to decertify their union, the union could claim that the bargaining unit is different, and that they didn't get a majority of the new unit.


> Collective action doesn't work when free-riders can benefit from the work of the collective.

Can you elaborate on this comment?


That would be the Exclusive Representation rule.

https://www.flra.gov/exclusive_representation

The tl;dr of it is that if 50% + 1 of a workforce unionizes, the union bargains collectively for everyone. Even for free-loaders who don't pay union dues.

This is like being able to opt out of paying taxes, while still receiving all government benefits. If that were legal, then our public services would collapse by next week.


> The tl;dr of it is that if 50% + 1 of a workforce unionizes, the union bargains collectively for everyone. Even for free-loaders who don't pay union dues.

There are no freeloaders. The union defines the bargaining unit, and they can choose to define it to include only members. They typically don't choose to do this, because they prefer to make the bargaining unit as large as possible, and they are legally allowed to collect fees from non-members in the bargaining unit.

This is a quirk of US labor law; most other countries don't permit unions to do this.


Right-to-work laws prevent them from collecting fees from non-members.

That's the whole problem. Exclusive representation is fine. Right to work is fine. The two together destroy unions.


> Right-to-work laws prevent them from collecting fees from non-members. That's the whole problem. Exclusive representation is fine. Right to work is fine. The two together destroy unions.

That's a weird conclusion, given that in, most other countries that are considered to have strong unions, unions actually don't have the authority to collect fees from all non-members in a bargaining unit.


Why are laws that way? On the face it seems like overstepping.

I can see how union gains might be naturally extended to non-union (safety improvements in a factory, say), but I can also see that the union could negotiate for higher wages to cover the cost of running the union, which avoid free-riding concerns.

The issue I would expect is that mandatory membership (or at least mandatory partial-dues for partial benefits, as is common in some municipalities) is required because the union simply wouldn't work if half the labor force opted out and the employer could simply hire all non-union workers; and the Law decided that unions deserve a right to exist, similarly to how the Law decides that a State or City government is mandatory for all residents.


> the union simply wouldn't work if half the labor force opted out

Can't you see how weird this is? 'The law needs to make people be members of a union, because if they didn't the union wouldn't exist and people wouldn't be able to be a member of it.' That's so circular!

Just let people be in a union if they want to be, and not if they don't want to be, and let the union live or die based on people voting with their feet like that.

If your union isn't effective because people aren't joining then you need to change what it is your union offers them.


> but I can also see that the union could negotiate for higher wages to cover the cost of running the union, which avoid free-riding concerns.

You'll have to explain why this gets rid of free-riding concerns?


"Why are laws that way?"

Because the company wants to weaken the unions as much as possible.


> Why are laws that way? On the face it seems like overstepping.

To bust unions. Especially when you combine it with right-to-work legislature.

The end result is that theoretically, unions have a right to exist, as long as they don't actually do anything meaningful.


Why is it that conservatives, when faced with any other aspect of a job (pay, working hours, safety conditions) offer the defense of, "You know what you signed up for going in." But when it comes to workers organizing together to increase their bargaining power, it's suddenly the worst thing ever, and it should be banned from all jobs?


The opposition is not to unionization per se, but government laws giving unions special powers and privileges. Freedom of association doesn’t require employers to continue associating with workers who try to form a union to the employer’s detriment.


I'll believe that argument when those opposed to those "special privileges" start campaigning to remove the special privileges of incorporation.


As a conservative, I fully support the right to unionize. It's a bedrock of free association and the free market. I happen to also believe unionization is wrong for many industries, but folks should be able to make those choices on their own. Many conservatives I know believe the same.


I believe people have a right to unionize so long as that is balanced out with a company's right to not hire anyone from a union. Free association has two sides.


Should a union have the right to negotiate a contract to hire only workers from the union?


I just want it to be equal, whatever the situation is.

Either it is legal to negotiate union shop contracts, like you suggest, AND it is legal for companies to fire all union people, OR it is illegal to do both of those things.


If the company agrees to it, I don’t see why not.

It sounds like a bad idea for everyone except the union leaders, but I’ve seen other non-union based agreements like this where companies completely outsourced HR.

As a Union leader though, I now have a rather captive audience where I serve as the gatekeeper to any job someone might want at the company and gatekeeper to any employee the company might want. That seems like a recipe for abuse.

Low and behold, there are lots of examples of abuse by union leaders which a quick google search will show.


"It sounds like a bad idea for everyone except the union leaders"

How is it a bad idea for the union members? Cause the alternative is no union at all.

And how, exactly, does the employer being able to choose if they want a union not lead to abuse?

"Low and behold, there are lots of examples of abuse by union leaders which a quick google search will show."

For every instance of union abuse, you can find tenfold the number of examples of company abuse.


Assuming we’re still talking about a union having an exclusive deal with a company to provide labor...

>How is it a bad idea for the union members?

The paradox of this question is that you have to be a union member to get the job. If you have to be a member to work, then you must take what the union will give you and you must pay the union its dues. How is the union incentivized to keep dues down if you have to pay them? How is it incentivized to keep pay up, if you have to pay them?

>Cause the alternative is no union at all.

I’m not sure I follow. You’re saying that unions provide so little value to members that they wouldn’t voluntarily join the union given the option? I would have to agree with you.

>And how, exactly, does the employer being able to choose if they want a union not lead to abuse?

I’m just not sure what you mean here. Can people be abused if they don’t have unions? Can people be abused if they do have unions. Yes and yes.

Again, I get that voluntarily unions can have value, but being forced into a union has little value since there is NO motivation for a union to provide any value when your membership is mandatory.

Imagine if you had to pay Netflix a monthly due just because you had a TV. How hard do you think would Netflix work to get you the best programming it could deliver?

Answer: Not very hard. Sure maybe this alternative world Netflix started with good intentions...if every person who had a TV was forced to pay them money, Netflix could do great things...but then, after a while, the great things stop coming and people keep paying. There is no inducement for performance so performance will decline. These are immutable realities.


No, that's just you believing that no one should be able to unionize, just being too timid to come out and say so.


If a union is so good then a company would not be able to hire anyone outside of the union because everyone would want to be in the union.

It’s a voluntary system. Anything else is just tyranny.


Please don't put words in others' mouth, and please don't ascribe bad motives to posters (even if they disagree with you). Even if that's how you normally post, don't do it here.


I fail to see why it's a bad thing to give people heads up to what the actual outcomes of their positions lead to. Saying that employers should be able to not hire union workers means that they won't hire any union workers, meaning that the union won't be able to exist.


You're not just "giving people a head's up". You're also making a claim that IanDrake is, essentially, being dishonest.

You want to point out (what you perceive to be) the actual results of someone's position? Fine. Feel free to do so. But don't claim that they believe those results but are unwilling to say so. You don't have the knowledge to make that claim, so you are being dishonest when you do so.


"You're not just "giving people a head's up". You're also making a claim that IanDrake is, essentially, being dishonest."

Because I believe they are, if not just with us, then with themselves.

"You want to point out (what you perceive to be) the actual results of someone's position? Fine. Feel free to do so. But don't claim that they believe those results but are unwilling to say so. You don't have the knowledge to make that claim, so you are being dishonest when you do so."

And I disagree. Those outcomes are very, very obvious. If you do not realize those outcomes, then you are being dishonest.


Yeah, except that in reality there have been and still are working examples of people voluntarily being able to join unions.

So I’m not sure why you’re so sure you’re right when the real world contradicts your predictions.


I am not a lawyer or particularly well informed on the subject, but I believe the SCOTUS case you're referencing only applies to public sector unions (i.e. government employees).


That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for pointing it out.


Because NY Writers politically lean left and can influence election outcomes, I suspect the Union Members will be less concerned seeing a portion of their dues going to Democratic candidates.

The Janus ruling will only impact fee payers in "right to work" states. These union members are more politically diverse, and a large percentage do not want any portion of their dues going to liberal or Democratic candidates (even though they will continue to receive equal representation and benefits from the Union).


> The Janus ruling will only impact fee payers in "right to work" states.

This is wrong.

The Janus ruling hasn't happened yet, so we don't actually know how broadly or narrowly they will rule. But the case is about public unions (which NewsGuild is not). It's unlikely that Janus will affect anything about NewsGuild's operations directly.

> (even though they will continue to receive equal representation and benefits from the Union).

Not necessarily. The unions can redefine the bargaining unit to be members-only, in which case they will pay neither dues nor fees, and won't be entitled to benefits or representation.


The pre-ruling was a 4-4 split. Gorsuch is likely to favor Janus, so the Unions are already preparing for this scenario.

And "yes", the ruling will only impact right to work states... not this NewsGuild.


> Not necessarily. The unions can redefine the bargaining unit to be members-only, in which case they will pay neither dues nor fees, and won't be entitled to benefits or representation.

Do any unions currently do this in RTW states?


> Do any unions currently do this in RTW states?

This is how unions operate in most other countries around the world. The US is an exception.

There are a few unions that do members-only bargaining. But in the US, unions that are part of larger federations (like the AFL-CIO, UAW, Teamsters, etc.) are either strongly discouraged or prohibited (by the larger federation) from engaging in members-only bargaining, because it makes it harder for them to deny that they are legally permitted to do so.


> My mother is a labor relations specialist for NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) and she is very concerned about a coming SCOTUS ruling that would remove that legal obligation.

Or put another way, your mother is concerned that she will no longer receive money forcibly taken from others through the exercise of state power.


I would suggest looking into the free rider problem. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-rider_problem

Imagine everyone gets a 15% raise if a union is negotiating for them because of the increased bargaining power but union dues are 3%. Now it's in the groups best interest to have a union because they all make 12% more money after the union dues. However it's in each individual's best interest to collect the increased raise from the union's negotiation but not pay union dues. Effectively free riding off the union.


Why couldn't they pay union and non-union members differently? That would certainly allow free-market forces to entice people to join if it benefits them.


Because unions also try to keep secret who voted for/against a union.

If the employers know who's in a union and whose not in a union it's easy for them to push out union members and replace them with non union members.


Because most employers simply wouldn't want to deal with that. They don't want to have one set of rules for one group, and one set of rules for another. And what if you are a member, get the raise, and then leave the union? Do they dock your pay back to what you were before?


Yes, mother, as the social mammal she is, believes in government. It's not clever to parrot a long definition as rebuttal.


What uses of state power do you believe are permissible?


I have no problem with constitutional, democratically arrived at state powers, which at this time what I described above is, or at least is considered to be.

But we should call out rent-seeking for what it is. In so doing, sometimes democracies change their laws.

Also, in so far as public employee unions are little more than PACs dumping dues largely into elections, mandatory contributions due raise a free speech issue. By becoming a public school teacher, I am in fact a sponsor of a candidate I may loathe.


You're misusing rent-seeking here.

Rent-seeking would be if the union were attempting to extract these dues without returning a meaningful service to the worker--but membership needs to be obligated, systemically, for the negotiating power to be retained. This is how you get two truly corporate individuals determining compensation through negotiation. See other replies elsewhere for more details on why this works.


I feel that many of the people complaining about "rent seeking" by unions are perfectly fine with the same actions taken by large companies, who happen to have far, far, far more power and impact.


The pros and cons of unions and right to work have been endlessly debated. But the question is one of if you believe unions should be democratic institutions or if you think any number of employees should be able to opt-out OR opt-in without the entire workforce being onboard.

So for example, should unions be recognized that are just two people in a team of 50? Currently federal law says no, no matter what state you're in. You can't be in a union unless a majority of the voting bargaining unit says yes. Same for no. If a majority says no, no union for anybody.


Yes, I think that should be allowed, but only with binding effect for the employees in the union, not the others.

Certain protected concerted activities are already allowed with even 2 out of 50 employees. E.g. a a man could legally go to his employer saying "please fix [my female colleague]'s salary to be more in line with what you're paying me, since she's performing comparably. I feel strongly about this and might not stay here if this gap persists."

The employer may value his services more than hers due to sexism or personal relationships, so this could help - and is NLRA-protected even without a union, assuming neither is a supervisor and both are in the US private sector.


I appreciate the consistency.

I disagree and think in both cases it should be democratic, but your views are certainly valid.


How about "none"? The state is, by definition, a monopoly, with all the usual ill effects upon the "customers". We see these ill effects all the time, from the big corporations that the state helps to prop-up against their inherent diseconomies of scale. Yet magically the state is excluded from the sorts of criticisms that are daily leveled (rightfully so) at Facebook, Microsoft, etc.


It is weird how there's no criticism or activism against the US government. Edward Snowden and Barrett Brown are Russian psyoperatives, you see, along with Glenn Greenwald and the Intercept and the New York Press Club Awards For Journalism they won, and


It's not just about privacy and the Fourth Amendment; I'll admit that my examples were limited, but there aren't many unambiguous non-localized monopolists outside the tech industry.

It's more generally the problem that there can only be one single federal policy, and one single territorial policy per territory; and that therefore, any disagreements of policy can only be resolved by imposition of tyranny over one group by the other.

Setting aside the inherent evil of tyranny, it is also readily observable that anyone with sufficient time and resources can gain a tyrannical majority (either in elections or in the legislative bodies themselves) and that this prize is so valuable that there is no system by which corruption can be prevented.

Ergo, the state is inefficient at best, and evil at worst.


No. That is an extremely uncharitable, and very, very uncivil way of putting it.


The SCOTUS case has to do with membership in public unions, which is different because it involves a government- sanctioned union requiring membership as part of employment with the government. It does not affect private sector unions.


Am I right in thinking this arrangement maximally benefits the employer and tends towards a single union situation?

When a union fails to represent its members, they should form another union. If they do so, they will be forced to renegotiate their contracts - which allows the employer to influence a "best contract" thereby choosing a winning union; thus a union can't fall too far out with the employer for fear of being supplanted by a new union. Even though the employee remains the voting piece, they lose an awful lot of power.


What about companies with offices accross the country where it would make sense to have an union per office? It can already be hard to be heard at "HQ" by being in another state imagine the heads of the union are in another state and unresponsive.


it's only members of a particular "bargaining unit" that are required to pay fair share fees - in other words, if the union helps negotiate your contract, you pay a fee. You could certainly have unions in different offices with different leadership; or even some unionized offices and some non-union offices.


Usually there is a union local that represents a business unit, geography, or job title.

It gets wonky for national organizations with all of the different rules, especially as former backwater places like the South have become more prominent economically.


I've never been part of a union and really don't know much about them. Could be a dumb question, but could someone describe the pros and cons in layman's terms? I usually hear the terms "workers rights", "wadges" and "unions" in the same sentence, so I assume unions are a way to ensure members are all treated the same - in terms of salaries, PTO, etc. If I had an opportunity to join a union, would I accept the wadges that were previously agreed upon by the union/administrative reps? Or, would I have some wiggle room in my salary? For instance, let's say I feel that I'm worth $40/hr, but the union is only paying $30/hr, could I negotiate the higher rate? Sorry for my lack of understanding on this, but I appreciate any helpful comments.


One way to think about it is in terms of economic theory. Negotiations are fairest when both sides have equal power. But you have approximately one job, and a company typically has way more employees. It's more painful to lose a job than to have 1 employee quit. So the negotiation is fundamentally unfair.

So when it comes time to negotiate your annual raise, it's not you alone dueling with your boss (and the whole corporate hierarchy backing him up). Instead it's you and all your colleagues getting together, sending in some representatives, and saying, "Profits are way up this year, so we all deserve decent raises. Let's talk numbers."

(This is less interesting to tech workers, in that we already have a ton of salary negotiating power due to supply/demand differences. But personally I'd still like to see more collective action to deal with other issues. A good example is the way employees recently forced Google to get out of military contracting. Or imagine how different Uber might have treated employees if they'd had a union that helped keep awful managers in check.)


I think we should all be less confident in this idea that software engineers have tons of bargaining power. The salary is relatively high compared to the US average, but it's not obscene compared to say, product managers, high performing salespeople, etc.

On occasion I've tried to pick up side jobs for 10-20 hours per week for a second company, and I've always been refused, not because I wasn't technically qualified but because they just weren't interested in considering non-standard work arrangements. If there were TRULY such a huge gulf in supply/demand, I would've been able to get a side job at 60-70% of my normal hourly-equivalent rate, for 10-20 hours per week, is my thinking.

I've also observed a lot of stubbornness in salary bands and so on.

By the way, I speak as a person who has previously made in excess of $200,000 per year in non-stock compensation.


Exactly. We should also keep in mind that developers have already seen their wages depressed by collusion between the big tech firms (which was punished with a slap on the wrist). And that's just the case we found out about.


Sure. I mentioned we have decent salary negotiating power because for many other industries that's the #1 reason to unionize, but I don't think many tech workers would find it compelling.

Also, I'm not entirely sure your case is proof that there isn't a big supply/demand difference. I would be very unlikely to hire a developer 10 hours per week because software is collaborative intellectual work, and I'd have a hard time using somebody who wasn't around for much of the thinking and constantly needed to be brought up to date. Their efficiency (in terms of hours of actual coding versus hours of communication and keeping up with codebase changes) would be low, but their cost in terms of time spent by other workers would be at least the same.

Occasionally I'll see small units of work that could safely be done by part-time contractors working on something solo. I definitely looked for this at my last startup, as my cofounder was correctly eager to accelerate things. But it was pretty rare that I found things where the cost/benefit ratio was at all decent.


Is there economic theory supporting unions? Asymmetric negotiating leverage is not generally recognized as something that undermines market outcomes.


To the extent that it's difficult or impossible for the workers to get another job, the employer has buyer's market power (in the extreme, a monopsony). It's a well-recognized phenomenon in economics literature.

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/monopsony.asp https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopsony

Like a monopolistic market, a monopsonistic market is inefficient compared to a competitive one. Employers gain "utility" at the expense of workers, but less than the workers lose compared to a competitive market.

Unions can remedy this by becoming a monopolistic (or near monopolistic) supplier of labour, by negotiating a higher wage (price floor), bringing the wage closer to it would be in a competitive market.

Long story short: if you're pro competitive markets, you need to recognize the benefits of unions. They're not an ideal solution, but the alternative is not a competitive market outcome.

Edit: this seems like a pretty good explanation: http://www.economicsonline.co.uk/Business_economics/Monopson...


But you don't care about market outcomes, but about your own personal outcome (and I assume the economic theory alluded to wasn't macroeconomic but micro). The market can converge to fair non-union wages, or it can converge to fair union wages, which would be higher. Capitalists claim that unions reduce overall profit and harm the market, but workers shouldn't care about that (i.e. lower stock performance and higher wages are better for workers, at least in practice, given actual wealth distribution).


You are forgetting about customers. I own no companies and work for one company, but I am a customer of many. A personal cost/benefit analysis like the one you're describing would have to take that into account.


The way it works is that management involves the union in its decisions, and they reach compromises. After all, it is also in the union's interest that the company stays viable. If all the increase in wages gets is paid for by an increase in prices, and management isn't willing to cut profits, then that's unlikely to be acceptable to the union. The goal is to keep the company performing well, but to even the playing field when negotiating the distribution of profit among management, shareholders and employees. This is called co-determination: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-determination


Individuals might prioritize personal outcomes over market outcomes, but societies and governments should prioritize the latter.


> but societies and governments should prioritize the latter

Societies should prioritize according to their values. I don't think that maximizing GDP is a universal value.


Yeah. The consumer optimum is heavily exploited workers, as that drives labor costs down as much as possible. We're looking for a reasonable balance, so the value created by labor is shared between consumer, producer, and the many other people in the value chain.


I'm not an economist, but, free market theory favors lots of competitors, fully informed customers, and low barriers of entry which can be thought of as trying to keep consumer and supplier with a balanced amount of leverage (too much leverage on the supplier's side creates monopolies, for example).

Also, it's not really about positive market outcome in general (optimized market), but about positive outcomes for the employees.


> I'm not an economist, but, free market theory favors lots of competitors, fully informed customers, and low barriers of entry which can be thought of as trying to keep consumer and supplier with a balanced amount of leverage (too much leverage on the supplier's side creates monopolies, for example).

That's a pretty strong argument against unions in the US, then, since (unlike in other countries) there's no competition between unions at an employer, there's almost no ability to deauthorize a union in practice (ie, choose a different union), and very high barriers to entry (very difficult to authorize a different union for representation in place of an existing one).


But the problem is that employers also have high barriers of entry (it's not easy to switch jobs, especially if you have to relocate), and there's usually low competition for blue collar work, since there's higher demand, which makes employers have overwhelming leverage. There are industries where that doesn't apply as much, and you can see that workers can get better compensation and benefits in those. Unions can equalize that leverage.

I do think that unions could also have too much leverage, but I think that finding a happy medium is a worthy legislative goal.


Asymmetric negotiating leverage is a key element of Marx's theory with regard to profit.


The power of unions is not just negotiating on behalf of a large group of employees. Imagine if instead of forming a union, the employees formed a worker's cooperative to contract out their labour. The two companies could then negotiate as equals. However, that cooperative would still not have nearly as much power as unions can have, because it would not be guaranteed an exclusive contract.


> One way to think about it is in terms of economic theory. Negotiations are fairest when both sides have equal power. But you have approximately one job, and a company typically has way more employees. It's more painful to lose a job than to have 1 employee quit. So the negotiation is fundamentally unfair.

This is not correct. The company competes with all other companies for the same job. Not only that, but companies go bankrupt more often than people do. Businesses are the frail side of the equation, if you make any.

> o when it comes time to negotiate your annual raise, it's not you alone dueling with your boss (and the whole corporate hierarchy backing him up). Instead it's you and all your colleagues getting together, sending in some representatives, and saying, "Profits are way up this year, so we all deserve decent raises. Let's talk numbers."

Now let me answer with actual economic theory: microeconomics. The fundamental way to make something get a higher price is to increase its utility or to decrease its supply. Unions can increase salaries if they increase productivity (which they dont, in fact they do the exact opposite in the majority of cases, worker health being the best exception to this rule) and decrease supply (not allowing to hire other workers).


Suggesting businesses are the frail side of the equation is absurd. If you ever talk to anyone stressed out by being unemployed, by applying for jobs, by worrying about leaving a terrible job but staying because of risk and transaction costs, this would be quite obvious. So strong is the business side, that business in many industries can afford to be quite terrible to their workers for a long long time.

Regarding your other point, unions can also increase salaries by getting workers a larger piece of the pie. Not sure why you left out this obvious aspect of any negotiation?


Thats because you are looking at the businesses that survive, not the ones that die off. 8/10 businesses fail in 5~10 year range.

The fact that you havent seen people stressed out for their business running into the ground is entirely due to not talking to people that have businesses that can be run into the ground.

> Regarding your other point, unions can also increase salaries by getting workers a larger piece of the pie. Not sure why you left out this obvious aspect of any negotiation?

Because that is a labor theory of value proposition. The pie does not work that way: the moment a businesses loses its competitive returns due to higher demands, it will stop investing capital unto itself and remain stagnant, while the capital goes to areas where it does not have such restrictions.

Companies compete with each other fiercely, and a company that has workers that cant unionize will very much welcome such problems on their competitors!


Competition among companies is not so tough, because many employees can't easily move cities or countries to find another job, but companies can (and do) always import workers from all over the world, or outsource projects.

When it is tough, companies collude so that they can keep salaries down (see Google & co).

Negotiating as part of a group is not about supply and demand, it's about reaching a fair agreement between a specific company and a specific group of workers. Nobody cares about supply and demand on the market, most people would rather have a stable place to work and get decent raises if the company is doing well, instead of all the profits going to the management and shareholders.


I'll have to ask for a more objective criteria to say competition is not tough. Businsses are very hard to bring about to profitability and sustainability. And they are vulnerable to market wages and capital returns just like any worker.

I agree that there is a different flexibility of labor and capital, but unions do not make labor and capital more flexible or inflexible. If anything, it makes labor inflexible and affects capital in the short term.

> Negotiating as part of a group is not about supply and demand, it's about reaching a fair agreement between a specific company and a specific group of workers. Nobody cares about supply and demand on the market, most people would rather have a stable place to work and get decent raises if the company is doing well, instead of all the profits going to the management and shareholders.

That sounds all good and well, but the union's interests are not its worker's interest. Its another organization that can feed of workers. Unless they make the pie bigger, they eat a generous slice, and if the company goes bust they will not eat at all. Unions have strong incentives to work in tandem with the company than with the worker.


Start-ups are very hard to bring to profitability and sustainability. An existing business, once off the ground can usually live for a long time unless the management team really screws up or their market gets disrupted. Even in these cases they can drastically reduce their costs by firing personnel and limp along to better times.

There are also huge conglomerates which gobble up smaller brands, e.g. Kraft Heinz, Time Warner, Alphabet, 3M, etc. They couldn't give a fuck about fragility.

Established businesses are in no way fragile. It's so ridiculous having to read this type of defensive argument.

Employees are a bunch of peons for the big corps, but they shouldn't try to organise because it will be somehow worse for them, right. Any type of group dynamic will not perfectly represent the interests of the group, and yet there are very successful unions out there even in the US, where capital had an long and bloody history trying to suppress them.


There are more employees in small businesses than in big ones..

Also management and corporate are employees as well.


You are conflating startups vs small businesses. And small businesses are mostly irrelevant in unionization discussions. Employees rarely bother to unionize at a small business because the more equal balance of power and the closer human relationships between employee and employer yield more reasonable outcomes.


You're conflating two different things. It's obvious in the case of a monopsony, like a company town. Employees can raise productivity all they want, but they will not see a bigger paycheck, because if employees don't have negotiating power, the employer will capture all the cash from that.

Your "pity the poor companies bit" is just bizarre to me. It's true that companies compete for workers, which is why employees have any negotiating power at all. But it doesn't change the fact that employers still have more negotiating power because of relative size. The same is true when companies negotiate with one another: Walmart, for example, is famous for jerking suppliers around because of the relative need.


>Businesses are the frail side of the equation, if you make any

If this were true, real salaries would have increased as the GDP increased. Instead they've been stagnant for over 30 years. You're argument is incredible and would need some sort of evidence to back it up against what is being observed in real life


Salaries and Profits do account for GDP, but that doesnt meant that all salaries and all profits are divided equally.

There is concentration on both sides of that equation. Small businesses do not have the profits and margins big companies have.


You weren't specifying small businesses and even then I'd say you have to get super small, <20 employees for that effect to start making them equivalent.

I will concede that if every business was a small business, then unions likely would be unnecessary as the negotiating power is more equal


I didnt, i mean all business which includes small business.

Unions are a super-business organization, they affect both big and small business, and unions dont represent all workers.

If all workers were unionized, there would also be little point for unions.


Dane here - we have a pretty mature union culture which is about more than just maximizing the salary. Unions actually become a boon for both employer and employee.

The way we see it, unions are best used when there is a power discrepancy between employer and employee. In the end, your value as an employee is how much it costs to replace you. Simple as that.

So if you are educated in a specialized field, you have bargaining power (and you don't need a union). If you are working in a more generalist area, you have none whatsoever - it is an illusion (exception being if the demographics means 100% employment).

What the union does is of course to band generalists together so they have strike power. That sucks for the company. But what the Danish unions tend to do is demand eduction, lifting the generalist work into a more specialized position. You can always get good at a job.

This means that the company may have to pay a more expensive salary, but get a much improved worker and/or product. Paying 50% extra for twice the productivity is a good investments, even if you have to pay for some of the education of the former generalist.

So rather than just demand more pay, the unions demand more education and higher standards. They also demand better pay, of course - but in the end they are interested in many members working rather than few members getting ridiculous payments.

Mature unions are good for the economy. Corrupt or immature unions can be a terrible ball-and-chain for a society.


Well, that is until China can make the same technology for a fraction of the price...

Btw, this doesnt address how unions can benefit things like commodities. From your post, it wouldnt. It can only benefit if you are leading the industry.


But 'China' (as in 'current boogeyman') has been around for a while now, and so have strong European economies with strong Unions and employee-friendly laws. In itself, your statement does not refute the op.


If there is one thing you are underestimating-

Change.

Things do not stay the same, and while Europe has survived this far, I have watched my company remove Europe from the supply chain and development of products.

Everything is made in China or south America.


That is an even better argument for unions pushing for education and ensuring people qualify for specialist work rather than being solely focused on salary.


But if specialist work is a commodity in china, wouldnt that make it no longer 'specialist'?


Well then wouldn't you be surprised to hear that labor strikes are also common in China.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_relations_in_China#All-C...


Usually there is a salary scale, and usually that scale is consistent and favors tenure. People start at a consistent level -- "Bob" doesn't start as a "Developer 2" making $80k, while "Sally" starts as a "Developer 2" at $50k.

The biggest "upside" is that there is usually more stability in terms of work rules, benefits and compensation, and when there are changes, you know about them. There are defined work rules, disciplinary procedures, etc. Your health insurance doesn't randomly change every year, etc.

The union itself is at least a nominally democratic institution. The downsides are that shitty employees can work the system. And just like how you have bad IT, HR or other teams, some unions suck. Dealing with a shitty union is difficult.

In general, if there are a bunch of people around you doing the same things, the company is making money, and you'd like long tenure, a union probably is a net benefit. If you work for a mega-org or .gov, it's essential. If you're in a high-growth business, or a profession where you expect to bounce from employer to employer, it's not a good value.

Everyone on HN is a 10x employee making a $500k/year, so it's not a good value in that situation either. ;)


Also, sometimes your union might decide to tank your employer to strengthen their negotiating position with another employer. A shitty union can go really shitty.

This isn't a hypothetical worst-case scenario. I mean, it is a worst-case, but it did actually happen to Hostess.


Sort of.

The union and Hostess had already agreed to a round of salary cuts and decreased benefits. When the management still "couldn't" make it work that they went nuclear.


If memory serves, there were two unions Hostess was negotiating with. One represented most of Hostess' workers and was negotiating in good faith. The other represented a small percentage of Hostess' workers, and was willing to sacrifice their members at Hostess to gain an advantage in their negotiations with different companies who had more employers.

Arguably, this is a reason unions shouldn't get too big. It creates scenarios where some workers get their interests sacrificed, precisely the thing unions exist to forestall.


That may well be true, but doesn’t really make any point.

Oracle is an awful software company. Does that mean that we should use paper ledgers for corporate accounting?


No, but it might mean you should be careful about proprietary databases.

Which is to say I believe there is a point to be made in there about what can and has happened. And what there is to be cautious of.


The point there is that you don’t really have much of a choice once you’re a business of a certain size, you pretty much do Oracle Financials or SAP!


> If you work for a mega-org or .gov, it's essential.

Government jobs?

People dont get fired from those anyway.

You have a monopoly service and monopoly workforce. This is recipe for disaster.

At least a monopoly workforce in the private sector can bleed a company dry and force it out of business.

The government? Well they raise taxes + increase debt... Or the service just sucks.



>or .gov, it's essential

No. That is wrong. All of government is overhead, it's like an operating system that way. Public employees should not be collectively bargain to extract more money from taxpayers. If compensation is so bad in the gov't then the employees can organize to get someone else voted in to turn things around. Furthermore, because so much of what happens in government is subject to public scrutiny (as it should be, it's our money) there's much less space for the government to poorly compensate its employees or treat them like crap.

Edit: did people forget what a great contribution to society police unions have made?


It does vary some based on the nature of the workplace and the union.

Usually, the best pros of the best unions are: Strong representatives negotiating for better PTO, healthcare, work practices, wages/salaries, etc. Some recourse besides quitting or suing if your manager is treating you badly.

The cons can be: Fixed salary ranges and benefits - want more money as a star employee? Want to try to negotiate a different benefits package? Too bad, you get what the union negotiated. Pay and promotions may be based on time in role rather than productivity or skills. It's usually difficult to fire poor workers.

Essentially, unions foster an environment of distrust between management and workers, so they generally try to remove any way for management to affect your work. Management evaluation of who is a good and bad worker is not to be trusted, since they are presumed to want to use that power to stop the union. Management is less encouraged to care about giving the workers a fair shake - that's the union's job now, management isn't expected to push for anything but more money for themselves.


I suspect that this may vary depending on your country of residence, industry and union, but what you're describing is at least not how it works in my country and within the unions I've been part of.

My situation is such that the union together with the employer negotiate a base agreement. It might detail things like making sure you received compensation for overtime, what the requirements for termination are, rights in regards to parental leave, minimum annual wage adjustments, etc. My country has very little legislation in regards to workers rights, because we've traditionally had very strong unions instead, so workers rights could be mandated through agreements rather than law. To give you an ideal, the standard collective bargaining agreement within my industry is a few hundred pages. If you are not part of such an agreement, it is instead on you to make sure that your employment contract covers all those aspects.

The benefit for the employer is that they have to deal with less legislation, don't have to negotiate a complex contract with every employee (i.e. we already agree on the vast majority of issues, and can focus on the few things where I want individual adjustment), and finally, as long as the employer follows the agreement, the workers through their union agree not to go on strike.

Now, to your question, just because you have an agreement through your union does not mean that you cannot exceed that agreement. You can certainly negotiate a higher salary, for example. It only ensures the minimum level.


From my understanding, wage scale is often a point that is negotiated, so it varies from union to union.

Some unions have rules where you can get more pay based on performance, holding certain certifications, or experience. Other unions have rules where pay is related to tenure, and employees compensation is directly proportional to their tenure.

The concept of white-collar unions is really interesting. I know a lot of white-collar workers think unions would mean that their crappy coworkers would abuse the system to make the same money while doing just enough work to avoid being fired.

I can understand the argument behind that, but I think unionization could help certain white-collar workers force their employers to support changes that improve quality of life and reduce burnout and stress.

For example, a sysadmin union might be able to dictate only a certain number of on-call nights a month, or prevent companies from calling sysadmins while they are on vacation. A developer union could mandate a certain number of hours a developer could work before getting comp time or paid overtime. A union could give developers who are worried about what they are being asked to do might be illegal or immoral the ability to say no without being punished (think the VW scandal).

A lot of white collar fields already have a body performing the role of a defacto union because they have licensing bodies. I can see why techy types don't have a licensing body, since techy types are a bit more rebellious than engineers as a whole, and we haven't had any 'major' disasters to force regulation of the profession. That being said developers are constantly working in environments that hurt their productivity and the quality of their work and at some point we need a way to enforce better working standards on organizations.


This is casual observation, but in the US, it seems like unions are much more likely to form when there are fairly egregious labor practices in a company. Though there are practical salary benefits to unions, it seems that safety and/or quality-of-treatment are bigger drivers of union formation. And I think a lot of news organizations are seeing them now, in part because of the decline of the profitability of those businesses leading to harsher labor practices.


Unions (usually) put a floor on your salary, not a ceiling. I'm a member of a union, and my salary is a good 20-30% above the union minimum.

I've never had to contact my union (though I've benefited from it indirectly), but my sense is that they're useful as advocates for their members interests, especially in larger organizations. Often, this can even be for simple "common sense" proposals that are not controversial, but are difficult for individual employees to make happen. Navigating the bureaucracy of large organizations is not easy, and unions help with this (by creating an additional bureaucracy admittedly, so they're not a perfect solution).


Variable and performance based pay is entirely possible within a union. Actors and professional athletes are all unionized and have these things.

The best way to think about a union is using the collective power of workers to set a floor on wages and labor conditions, not a ceiling. And best of all, they're democratically controlled, so they're members can create whatever structures and rules they think best serve their interests.


Pros: Collective bargaining for benefits, legal counseling, unemployment insurance

Cons: Union dues to pay for the above, possibility for corruption

It's basically like joining an additional, tiny government.


> possibility for corruption

Did we prove 99.99999=1? Not sure if that was a youtube myth or a reality.

Whatever the case, union corruption is worse than the petty fee they charge.


Simply put, a union just refers to the formation of a formal group of employees for the purpose of collective bargaining. I.e., the workers feel like individually their attempts to negotiate are not working so they get together to discuss rules, compensation, safety conditions, whatever as a group.

The questions you are asking likely have different answers for every union out there. The pros are collective bargaining. The cons are variable.


It is possible to get paid above the union negotiated rate, called above scale, or to start out at a higher than entry level pay step. It depends on the specific circumstances and collective bargaining agreement.


It depends a lot on the union and a lot on the culture of the union (and a lot of that culture is largely dictated by country), and on the agreement with the employer.

There's plenty of unionised workplaces (especially when it comes to professionals) that have large variation in pay, and there's other examples where pay is based on some formula with no variation (this is vastly more common when it comes to labourers and tradesmen).


I have only been a member in one union, it was during a summer job where the hourly employees were unionized. There was some special deal where I didn't have to pay the annual dues but got a prorated cost.

However, I did have to sit though the day long session where the union told everyone how they were there for the members and what that meant in terms of their interaction with the employer. Most of it was around insuring that I knew what things the union had negotiated and that I should not feel bad about demanding the employer honor their commitment when that happened. For example there were two 20 minute breaks (10AM and 2PM), there was 50 minutes for lunch including time to get to and from the lunch area, and if I was asked to work more than 40 hours a week it had to be paid at 1.5x my hourly rate, weekends at 2x my hourly rate, and holidays 3x my hourly rate. There were medical benefits that I pretty much ignored, and a formal grievance process if I felt I was being asked to do something outside my job scope.

The big message was that if my manager didn't live up to their obligations, the big union would make sure that the manager was made to understand what they could and could not do.

Every other job I've held I was not in a union. The difference in experience was pretty stark. Managers at non-union companies had no problem with intimidating employees to work additional hours to meet an unreasonable deadline that they had set, I've known managers who played head games on their direct reports to instill confusion and obedience, and have known managers who have gotten away with grossly unfair pay discrepancies between people they liked and people they disliked with little to no regard to their performance at the company.

Is it all managers? No of course not. And I have been extremely fortunate that if things were ridiculous and I couldn't influence change within the company I could leave and work somewhere else. That is much easier in the technical/engineering world than it is in a more trades oriented type of job.

On your question of wages, of the unions I've been in direct contact with, and the ones we've read about their negotiations in the news (Transit, Teachers, SEIU, etc) the wages are negotiated. You get what you get. Although at least some people augment their salary with overtime (for example a member of law enforcement providing security for an event).

Unions can also create definitions of when someone can be fired, which would be different for tech workers in California. Most employment in tech is "At Will" which means you can quit for any reason at any time and they can fire you at any time for nearly any reason. Unions often replace 'At Will' with contractual terms which define what it takes to fire someone and what their recourse is.

One of the most amazing things about unions I found in my career is that talking about organizing one at a tech company will get you fired faster than having relations with the CEO's spouse. It is a really touchy subject.


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