What Are Unions Good For?

This question isn’t asked enough. Here is my take on workers’ unions.

Leaving the economic jargon aside for the moment, my dad (and uncle) happens to work for one of the biggest unions in the country. He is a mechanic that works off the port of Long Beach, California, and has been in the union for more than twenty years. He and my uncle are the hardest workers I know, and they both happen to dislike the unions. My dad ran into problems with the union when upper management recognized all his hard work and wanted to offer him the opportunity for more training. The training would increase his pay by a significant amount – a matter of great importance for someone who is the sole provider to a family of five. The problem was that the union wouldn’t allow it. They said that if the company was going to do that for him, then they would first have to do it for everybody else who has more seniority than my dad. So after a few months of arguing, my dad decided to leave the union. This was a very big thing back then because everybody was part of the union. But my dad struck a deal with the company where he would only work off site, not on the port, thereby not technically violating union rules (union rules stipulate that every non-manager worker on the port be a union member). Since my dad had so many years with the company and was really liked by all of the workers, this caused a huge ripple throughout the union.

To make a long story short, the company ended up paying for my dad’s training and he was able to get the promotion he wanted. But a few years later, he lost the lower half of his leg in an accident at one of the junk yards he was working at. After the settlement (which, my dad says, was bigger than it would have been had he still been in the union), he went back to work, but was not able to work off the port anymore since the driving would be too hard on him. He had to rejoin the union in order to comply with union rules, but he still stands firm that if you are a hard worker, you don’t need the union to protect you.

My dad is in his mid-fifties, a minority, continues to have a difficult time speaking English and works in a somewhat dangerous work environment, all factors that should increase his need for a union. Yet he still tells me that it is primarily lazy people that benefit from unions and that the hard workers are given less opportunity to grow because seniority rules protect those who have been there longer. In short, you don’t really need a union to protect you if you are a hard worker because the company has an incentive to keep you and please you.

Now, I’m not saying that unions don’t come in handy sometimes, there certainly are instances where unions stand up for the little guy. But I would be willing to bet that most of those cases could have been handled by other means. For example, if your complaint is about basic safety environments, those can be handled through legislation. If your complaint is about child labor, that too could be handled by legislation. In other words, the true benefit of the union is becoming less and less prominent, while the negatives are still very much there. Some of those very real negatives are things like how unions reduce the competitive edge of companies to compete with others (just look at the Wal-Mart versus Ralphs debates). They also force companies to artificially raise prices on goods (an act that primarily hurts poor people), they increase unemployment (another act that hurts the poor), they push down wages in other fields (yet again, bad for the poor), they create incentives for companies to go overseas, and increase the barriers for new businesses to come in and compete (which limits competition thereby helping keep prices of goods high, again, primarily hurting the poor), all in all, it becomes less and less economically prudent to have unions.

That is not to say that unions have absolutely no purpose at all. I would find my support for unions rising in areas that serve an inherently dangerous work environment for workers. Unions are notorious for raising the cost of labor so much that it pushes companies to invest in machinery to do the same thing. For example, my dad was telling me that a few job openings (I think it was around 500) had opened up for longshoremen, and my dad says that they received more than 500,000 applications. Why so many? The reason is simple, the unions have forced the companies to pay these longshoremen so much over the market price that they were essentially creating a surplus of people who wanted the job (It’s interesting that liberals are often the champions of income equality, but when it comes to unions they turn a blind eye – union wages benefit the few select people that work in unions at the expense of the overwhelming amount of people that don’t – a perfect case of severe income inequality). When you push wages above their market levels, you give companies extra incentives to find other ways to accomplish the same thing (think of the coal mining industry and its decline). In areas where it is inherently life threatening to work, this is a good thing. Therefore, unions serve a good purpose in getting us closer to that than would be the case had unions not been involved.

I’d like to end with just a little bit of economic talk. The great economist of the twentieth century, Milton Friedman, explained it this way in his book on economics, Capitalism And Freedom,

“If unions raise wage rates in a particular occupation or industry, they necessarily make the amount of employment available in that occupation or industry less than it otherwise would be — just as any higher price cuts down the amount purchased. The effect is an increased number of persons seeking other jobs, which forces down wages in other occupations. Since unions have generally been strongest among groups that would have been high-paid anyway, their effect has been to make high-paid workers higher paid at the expense of lower-paid workers. Unions have therefore not only harmed the public at large and workers as a whole by distorting the use of labor; they have also made the incomes of the working class more unequal by reducing the opportunities available to the most disadvantaged workers”. — Milton Friedman in “Capitalism And Freedom

83 Responses to “What Are Unions Good For?”

  • wow! good post! 🙂

  • Good post. I agree with you for the most part on this union argument. I am a democrat, but I do see the excesses that unions can cause. However one thing that I do feel that needs to be added to your post is that unions do provide benefits for laborors who work in seasonal short term projects for various different employers like construction workers, actors etc…

  • I was screwed over because the freaking union!

    Last year i was hired for a Technology Technician job at nearby city. I passed the test, and was chosen for the position after a couple of interviews. They asked me to place my two week’s notice for my other job so that i could start working. But on the last day of my two weeks’, these freaking idiots call me to tell me that HR screwed up because they had to give the Tech position to another employee in the union due to seniority; Also, as time passed i heard that the person that was promoted to the position was not the ‘best fit’ person for the tech job. So yeah, unions blow!

    • I had applied for and won a much higher position in the company I worked for, several days before starting a less qualified “brother” filed a grievance over seniority, I lost the position but for the rest of the year I was constantly asked to fill in or take over certain functions of the position because my more senior “brother” could not perform them. The company compensated me behind the union’s back until the end of the budget year then created a lateral position just slightly out of union’s reach, restructured the positions to place those “fill in” functions under my new job description then severely reduced my “brothers” pay. In almost 40 years I have never been screwed by an employer but have been a few times by a union.

  • Like several others who have commented here, the union where I work (a university) hindered me in the early years of my career and hurt me again more recently by getting rid of early retirement buy outs and effectively destroying post-retirement contract opportunities.

    At the same time, my wife worked in a gubmnt enterprise. She suffered from abuse , and the union was a terrific help for her, assisting her with negotiations for workplace accommodations and, eventually, a buyout. But, of course, that was a gubmnt enterprise….

  • Jesus Looks like you didn’t get screwed over by the union looks like the union protected a member like it should. You know there are somethings people forget. If you can stand on your own two feet that’s great but what happens when your just a small piece of the puzzle? Unions can keep a workforce puzzle together. Hardworkers are in the union it’s a shame that this man’s father believed that he was some how better then a union worker because he believed they were lazy. The fact of the matter is if you are in a union and posting here you need to read what is in the article the author basically just said your LAZY! there was no really Positives here given toward the union. I’m 26 years old and worked in the unions for a good amount of time and I’ll tell you what union work is good work. Union workers are good workers.

    “Only a fool would try to deprive workingmen and workingwomen of the right to join the union of their choice.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • When you look at the economics of unions you don’t just look at the union members, you look at non-union members as well…and when you do that you realize that it is a net drain – a drain to the unemployed, the industry, and the society at large. Just ask the people in Detroit what unions have done to their area….

  • Yea… Unions blow. I work for UPS just because I needed a job and it was open. Since it is peak (Christmas), we are getting really screwed right now and we are unable to fire those lazy workers. Everytime he screws up and misloads packages into the wrong trailers the customer is screwed over. He works slowly and shows no work ethic. The union makes sure that all of the lazy workers can not be fired. If we work hard, you don’t need a union; The company wants the hard worker so they don’t need to worry about job security. Think if this was your company, would you want a union to make sure you can’t fire incompetent workers? They only screw over the company. I am also unable to recieve a promotion because of the D*** union. I work my *** off and pick up the slack from the lazy workers but I am still unable to recieve a promotion because of the freaking seniority BS. Unions suck. +1 HispanicPundit.

  • I ask that all of the people that are anti-union, please take a history of labor class. Many colleges and junior colleges offer them, and you are never to old to learn something new and release yourself from the ignorance that radiates from you.

    We, as an American society, enjoy what we have today in the workplace because of unions. Unions fought for child labor laws. They are the reason why each one of us only are required to work 8 hours each day, and that we get paid for those full 8 hours. Unions fought for safety in the workplace and benefits for those workers.

  • Child labor laws were being pushed outside of union organizations as well. Also, the primary reason that one can enact child labor laws in the first place is because of the efficiency of the free market – something that unions hamper. So one can make an argument that unions actually slowed down the progress of child labor laws.

  • a couple of stories here and all of a sudden unions suck. hardly the big picture. i’d suggest as the other poster did. take a class or a history lesson.

    the free market? without regulation and unions you’re looking at where the free market will take you. greed run rampant. a disappearing middle class. have a look around.

    no, they’re not perfect. but this is?

  • Rick,

    The United States has the lowest percentage of unions both currently and historically…and our standard of living and employment levels are significantly better than all other industrialized nations, especially for minorities – a coincidence? I dont think so.

  • This is one of the better blog posts I’ve read in a long while.

  • I would have to agree that some uions spent a lot of time defending habitual offenders of a myriad of issues. If you work, you really don’t need a union. I work for a school district, and the stuff the union does is amazing. They are very arrogant and they think they can do whatever they want. I have looked at the history of unions, and the history has not always been a good. There may have been a time when unions were really important, but now they have become havens for lazy people, who are habitually causing problems.


  • This piece of writing is in fact a good one it helps new net visitors, who are wishing in favor of blogging.

  • Thanks for any other informative web site. Where else may I get that kind of information written in such an ideal manner?
    I have a mission that I’m simply now working on, and I have been on the look out for
    such info.

  • Hello, I do believe your site may be having internet browser compatibility problems.
    When I take a look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however, if opening
    in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping issues. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!

    Besides that, great site!

  • Hi! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could find
    a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?

    Thanks a lot!

  • Hello friends, how is all, and what you desire to say
    regarding this article, in my view its in fact remarkable in support of me.

  • If some one desires expert view on the topic of running a blog afterward i suggest him/her to pay a quick visit this web site,
    Keep up the nice job.

  • Very descriptive article, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

  • hi!,I really like your writing so a lot! share we keep up a correspondence extra about your
    post on AOL? I require an expert on this area to unravel my problem.
    Maybe that’s you! Taking a look forward to peer you.

  • It’s remarkable to go to see this site and reading the views of all mates on the topic
    of this article, while I am also eager of getting experience.

  • This is a topic that is close to my heart… Cheers!
    Where are your contact details though?

    my web site … Bill

  • Can I simply say what a comfort to find somebody who really knows what they’re discussing over the internet.
    You actually realize how to bring a problem to light and make it
    important. More and more people really need to look at this and understand this side of the story.
    I was surprised you’re not more popular since you surely have the gift.

  • Valuable info. Fortunate me I found your site accidentally, and I’m shocked why this coincidence didn’t
    took place earlier! I bookmarked it.

  • As soon as I detected this internet site I went on reddit
    to share some of the love with them.

  • You are a very capable person!

  • What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered
    It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads.

    I hope to give a contribution & aid different users like its helped me.
    Great job.

  • If some one needs to be updated with latest technologies afterward he must be
    visit this web site and be up to date daily.

  • I used to be suggested this blog through my cousin. I am no longer certain whether or not
    this publish is written by him as no one else understand such certain about my
    trouble. You’re incredible! Thank you!

  • I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your sites really nice,
    keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back down the road.
    All the best

  • May I just say what a comfort to find an individual who genuinely knows what they are discussing on the net.
    You actually know how to bring an issue to
    light and make it important. A lot more people really need to
    look at this and understand this side of the story.
    I was surprised that you aren’t more popular given that
    you surely have the gift.

  • Great delivery. Solid arguments. Keep up the great effort.

  • I’d like to find out more? I’d want to find
    out more details.

  • I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog.

    Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog
    like this one these days.

  • This design is steller! You most certainly know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
    I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.

    Too cool!

  • Excellent, what a webpage it is! This website provides valuable data to us, keep it up.

  • 8a99Gy dngzfcootlza, [url=http://gnwcdbkeyvxd.com/]gnwcdbkeyvxd[/url], [link=http://yvglvytvmrdt.com/]yvglvytvmrdt[/link], http://rlwmeaydycpj.com/

  • Awesome blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?

    I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed ..
    Any tips? Thank you!

  • hello there and thank you for your information – I have definitely picked up anything new from right here.
    I did however expertise some technical issues using this website, as
    I experienced to reload the web site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly.
    I had been wondering if your hosting is OK?

    Not that I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement in google and could damage
    your high-quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords.
    Anyway I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for much more of your respective interesting
    content. Make sure you update this again very soon.

  • Very rapidly this web site will be famous among all blogging
    users, due to it’s fastidious articles or reviews

  • My coder is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.

    I have always disliked the idea because of the costs.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress
    on various websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform.
    I have heard good things about blogengine.net.
    Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into
    it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

  • This is a topic that is near to my heart… Best wishes!
    Exactly where are your contact details though?

    My homepage Jim

  • I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This piece of writing posted at this web site is in fact

  • I love reading through an article that will make men and
    women think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  • You really make it appear really easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would
    never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and
    extremely large for me. I’m looking ahead in your
    next put up, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

  • Very good write-up. I definitely appreciate this website.
    Continue the good work!

  • I think the admin of this web page is truly working
    hard for his website, as here every stuff is quality based stuff.

  • Have you ever considered creating an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs?
    I have a blog centered on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some
    stories/information. I know my visitors would appreciate your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me
    an e-mail.

  • magnificent issues altogether, you just won a new reader.
    What may you suggest about your publish that
    you just made some days in the past? Any certain?

  • We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your web site offered us with helpful information to work on. You have performed a formidable task and our whole
    group will probably be grateful to you.

  • Your style is really unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from.

    I appreciate you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity,
    Guess I will just bookmark this site.

  • I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer
    to create your theme? Great work!

  • Nice blog here! Also your site loads up fast!

    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate
    link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours

  • Terrific work! That is the kind of info that
    are supposed to be shared around the internet. Shame on Google for no longer positioning this publish upper!
    Come on over and visit my website . Thanks =)

  • Terrific post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.
    Thank you!

  • Hello there! This blog post could not be written much better!

    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept preaching about this. I’ll forward
    this post to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a great read.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • I have been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.

    It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally,
    if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet
    will be a lot more useful than ever before.

  • I am really impressed together with your writing abilities as well as together with the format
    with your weblog. Is that this a paid topic or did you modify it yourself?
    Anyway keep in the excellent quality writing, it can be rare to peer a great blog such as this one these

    Here is my homepage JanIGenova

  • Right here is the right site for anyone who would like
    to understand this topic. You understand a whole
    lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really would want toHaHa).

    You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject that’s been discussed for many years.
    Excellent stuff, just great!

    Feel free to surf to my homepage; RaymondGSpar

  • Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if
    that would be okay. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

    Have a look at my web-site: NohemiZEfron

  • Hello, just wished to let you know, I enjoyed this blog post.
    It was practical. Carry on posting!

    Here is my blog … DorianVKleen

  • This part of writing is in fact a fastidious one it
    assists new net users, who are wishing in favor of blogging.

    Here is my page ShelbyGDumag

  • We absolutely love your blog and find the majority of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for.
    can you offer guest writers to write content for yourself?
    I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write in relation to here.
    Again, awesome website!

    Check out my webpage; ColinQHonour

  • Hello, Neat post. There is a challenge with your website in internet explorer, would test this?
    IE still will be the market chief and a huge element of others will pass over your wonderful writing due to this challenge.

    my webpage: TrevaBDriver

  • I feel that is on the list of this sort of lot important info for me.
    And i’m satisfied reading your article. But wanna
    commentary on some normal issues, The website style is great, the
    articles is in fact excellent : D. Just right task, cheers

    My web page … ArdenYBachar

  • Tremendous things here. I’m very glad to peer your post.
    Thank you a lot and I am looking forward to contact you.
    Will you kindly drop me a mail?

    Also visit my website :: AdamARoloson

  • If some one needs expert view regarding blogging and site-building then i propose
    him/her to pay a visit this web site, Maintain the fastidious work.

    Also visit my web blog; ToraESancken

  • In the event you want to obtain a great deal with this article then you must apply such
    methods to the won blog.

    Feel free to surf to my site; AlmetaOHizer

  • Great blog here! Also your website loads up really quick!
    What hosting company are you presently using?
    May I get your affiliate backlink to your host?
    If only my site loaded as fast as yours lol

    Also visit my blog – DanitaIDixie

  • At this time it sounds like Expression Engine is the best blogging
    platform available right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

    my blog AngelaVWhyne

  • Hello there, You have done an incredible job. I will definitely digg it and personally recommend to my friends.
    I’m sure they will be benefited from this site.

    Here is my blog – AlishaFFuhri

  • I adore it when folks gathering and share thoughts.
    Great blog, stick with it!

    my web blog – BellaWMuzzey

  • Ridiculous story there. What occurred after?
    Be careful!

    My blog :: DevinQMoretz

  • Very rapidly this site will likely be famous amid all
    blog users, due to it’s good posts

    Feel free to surf to my weblog; SaraiACubr

  • Hey could you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re dealing with?
    I’ve loaded your website in 3 different internet browsers and I must say this web site loads a whole lot quicker then most.
    Is it possible to recommend a great internet hosting provider in a honest price?
    Thanks a great deal, I appreciate it!

    Here is my web-site: LucasAKint

  • Thank you, I’ve recently been looking for information about this topic for ages and yours is the best I have came upon so far.
    But, what in regards to the conclusion? Are you positive concerning the source?

  • I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your sites really
    nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back down the road.

  • It’s amazing to pay a visit this website and reading the views of all friends about this post,
    while I am also keen of getting know-how.

Leave a Reply