Hanna Brooks Olsen | Paradoxes of Engagement | I Don't Dream Of Labor | A New Restaurant Business Model | Factoids
I worked in a union once, for 11 years. I have often remarked that it was like being on a ventilator in ICU - it was essential and life-saving, but that doesn't mean I liked it one bit.
The first problem with the union - and I see this in reporting of union issues in the media - is they felt compelled to stand by and protect every member, no matter how egregious the conduct. In my workplace that meant the union's objective was to bring everything to the lowest intellectual common denominator. "Fairness" meant no one got treated better than anyone else, and that included performance based on intelligence, ingenuity or initiative. Rewarding those characteristics was forbidden, because this other person could not be disadvantaged, despite being a useless sloth.
The second problem with the union was rejection of all change. Jobs, once created, could never be eliminated without a holy war and a strike. This was particularly irksome to me working in IT, and seeing my own colleagues, whose very purpose as IT people was significant labor elimination through automation, arguing that their role as labor eliminators should not in any way eliminate their own labor.
As long as unions protect the worst of us and act as unthinking anchors to the progression of workplaces to new models, they're not an answer I can support.
(And I'm what half of Americans would derisively label a socialist. I do not believe companies have an obligation to protect jobs, but I do believe companies have an obligation to protect the people in those jobs. Those two things are different. A few months ago my employer closed a division and laid off the entire workforce. While some of their layoff compensations for workers significantly exceeded minimum requirements, and the company was generous in that respect, I am critical of them for making ZERO attempt to facilitate the movement of laid off workers to other parts of their enormous workforce. That's just wrong.)