However, it also makes it harder for younger workers to get ahead. Opponents of unions argue that even if unions are good for their workers, they cause more harm than good to the economy as a whole. Problems unions can create include:. Unions can also increase the cost of non-union labor by pushing for higher minimum wages. That makes it much more expensive for businesses to operate, especially small businesses with narrow profit margins. That, in turn, can lead to higher unemployment in an area.
When the OECD Employment Outlook looked at 17 studies on how unions affect employment, it found that three of the studies showed that having more unions in an area significantly drove up overall unemployment.
Power and Privilege: Labor Unions in America
However, nine studies found that unionization either had no significant effect on employment rates or had a mixed effect, improving employment for some groups but lowering it for others. They may also need to hire extra staff members to negotiate with the union, settle grievances, or handle the collection and payment of union dues. When employers have to pay more for labor and other costs, they often make up for the lost profit by increasing the prices of the goods and services they sell. Unions can also drive up prices by pushing for trade restrictions, such as limits on cheap imported goods.
That means that powerful unions can raise the cost of living, wiping out at least part of the benefit of higher wages. Most union members in the U. This can lead to budget problems in their town or state, forcing the government to choose between raising taxes, cutting other government services, or piling up debt. Although individual union workers are often more productive than non-union workers, unions can actually cut productivity for a business as a whole. Also, unions often resist new equipment and processes that could improve efficiency because they fear these will result in fewer jobs.
Backing pro-worker political candidates and policies is part of what unions are meant to do. However, some people think that the biggest unions hold too much sway in the political arena. In some states, union endorsements can make or break a candidate, especially in a Democratic party primary.
Because of this, some candidates pander to the unions, changing their positions to earn those endorsements rather than focusing on the voters as a whole.
Americans' Approval Of Labor Unions Reaches 16-Year High
Another problem is that public-worker unions sometimes play a big part in electing the very officials who will have to negotiate with them over their salaries and benefits. A leader who was elected with the help of a union will be more likely to put its needs first rather than looking at the big picture. Finally, unions sometimes push for policies that benefit their industry at the expense of society as a whole.
For instance, a union of California corrections officers has lobbied heavily for policies that have vastly increased the number of Californians in prison, as reported in Ordinary Times. The most serious charge against unions is that some of them are involved in crime, including violence against non-union workers. The developers experienced repeated threats and vandalism from union workers, and some non-union workers were physically attacked.
The group also claims that since , there have been more than 2, indictments against unions for racketeering, or fraudulent business dealings. For workers, union membership is a pretty good deal. Both the benefits and the drawbacks can be significant, so it comes down to a question of priorities. Of course, the ideal outcome for everyone would be to keep the benefits of unions while minimizing their drawbacks.
Changing the way unions work could remove, or at least mitigate, some of their most serious problems. Unions could make these changes on their own, or the DOL could intervene to impose them. Either way, they would help make unions more viable in the long term. Rather than always giving top priority to senior workers, unions could develop formulas that make seniority just one of the factors in decisions about pay, benefits, hiring, and firing.
For instance, in the case of teachers, priority could be based on a combination of seniority and student performance. That would help the best teachers rise to the top while still protecting those who have served the longest. Changing the rules would also make it easier to fire workers who are truly incompetent. In , the Los Angeles Times explained that it was virtually impossible to fire a public school teacher in California, even one who mocked a suicidal eighth-grader in front of the class.
Similarly, The Atlantic wrote in about how union rules protected a police officer who had blasted pepper spray into a crowd of peaceful student protestors. Protecting grossly incompetent or even criminal workers makes unions look bad. Changing the rules that protect these workers could be a smart move for unions, greatly improving their public image. Unions need to learn to be realistic about their demands when negotiating.
64% of Americans support labor unions but membership is at a record low - CNN
In the long run, unrealistic demands like this only end up hurting workers. In order to end abuses like these, unions need to be open with their members about how their dues are being spent. For instance, there will always be a tradeoff between paying workers more and keeping costs low for businesses.
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However, many of the problems with unions that people object to the most can likely be fixed without having to get rid of unions completely. Moreover, in the wake of the Janus decision, members of public-sector unions, which account for most of the union members in the country, can opt out of paying union dues in every state in the country.
All Rights Reserved. Money Crashers. About Money Crashers. Recent Stories. Brian Martucci. Under the law, any worker fired for supporting a union must be reinstated with back pay, but the company can deduct income he earns elsewhere in the meantime and owes no additional fine. In some cases, the only penalty is having to admit wrongdoing on a bulletin board. A survey found that union supporters were illegally fired at thirty-four per cent of companies where the management opposed a union.
Greenhouse interviews a nursing-home employee in Florida who was awarded less than two thousand dollars at the end of a five-and-a-half-year investigation of his unfair firing. In the Presidential election, a union of air-traffic controllers bucked tradition and endorsed the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan. After Reagan took office, they demanded a hefty raise and a four-day workweek. Even so, in August, , the controllers walked off the job.
It was illegal for federal workers to strike, though they had got away with it before. Reagan had led a strike himself as the head of the Screen Actors Guild, and, as the governor of California, where it had been illegal for state workers to strike, he had resolved more than a hundred walkouts without punishing strikers. Not this time. His Administration fired more than eleven thousand people, banning them from ever working for the federal government again, and decertified their union, fining it twenty-nine million dollars.
Dozens of strikers and union officials were arrested; there were bankruptcies, divorces, and suicides. To return planes to the air, the government hired permanent replacements for the strikers, a tactic that had been legal since a court ruling but had been considered socially unacceptable. Almost overnight, strikes became scarce. There had been two hundred and eighty-nine large strikes a year, on average, during the nineteen-seventies, but there were only eighty-three a year in the nineteen-eighties.
The yearly rate so far this decade is fourteen. Accordingly, real hourly pay for the average American is lower today than it was in In , when the Democrats took the House, the Senate, and the White House, labor leaders hoped that politicians would level the playing field. In , a law proposed by Scott Walker, then the governor of Wisconsin, stripped public-sector unions of most of their bargaining power; Greenhouse interviews the president of a Wisconsin local whose membership dropped from eleven hundred to eighty.
Throughout the next half-dozen years, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Kentucky passed so-called right-to-work laws, which make union dues optional and were once common only in former slave states. Some labor groups have met the setbacks by refocussing on old ideals of economic justice and workplace democracy. That may sound utopian, but Rosenfeld suggests a hardheaded justification.
A more strategic goal is to establish a wage floor across an economic sector. It began in with fast-food workers in New York City and a year later won a law, in a Seattle suburb, phasing in a fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage.
In a similar strategy, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group that advocates for tomato pickers in Florida, boycotted one fast-food chain at a time in order to persuade the businesses to buy tomatoes only from growers certified as providing rest breaks, shade tents, drinking water, and fair pay. Their steady decline may be having an impact on inequality.
In , just The drop has been particularly steep in the private sector. Just 6. Healthcare, restaurant, and hospitality jobs are among the fastest growing and, historically, these industries that have not had high unionization rates. By contrast, manufacturing, a much more organized sector, has been losing jobs over the past few decades.