Read any story online today about companies shutting their doors and you’ll likely see it accompanied by a lively comments section debating the worth of unions. I’ve seen it several times in the past couple of days alone, most recently today on a newspaper story about a local UAW chapter voting down a new contract that asks members to make some concessions.
I don’t want to get too far into the particulars of that story, but I’ll say the union has now thrice voted down the contract, despite the fact that the company has said it will close the plant — which it loses money on — unless the union gives in a little.
Union members argue they are worth more, and they’d rather see the plant close than to have to accept anything less than a “fair wage.” Community members, fearing what the plant closure will mean for the region, argue that anything is better than nothing, and workers will get nothing if there’s no job to go to.
Anyone who disagrees with the union members’ decision is immediately labeled “anti-union” and told they should “thank unions for bringing them things like weekends.” I’m not afraid of being labeled anti-union. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced unions have long since outlived their usefulness, and are now merely bleeding every ounce possible from every government and company they’re entrenched in.
There was a time when we needed unions — when business owners forced workers to toil long hours in factories for little pay. Only by banding together could those workers be guaranteed a modicum of fair treatment. But today, we have government regulations to protect workers. And, more often than not, union workers are given perks far beyond what workers in the open market enjoy. Union members will tell you that’s what it’s all about — making sure they get their fair share.
But the truth is we all pay for that “fair share,” from the costs of our automobiles to the cost of our children’s education. I’d not argue against paying a bit more if it meant the highest quality cars or the best educated students, but we as we’ve seen in recent weeks, American cars are rated well below foreign cars in terms of quality. And our education system is a laughingstock.
Unions attack Wal-Mart as anti-union and hope to unionize Wal-Mart workers in the not-too-distant future. Wal-Mart employees, they say, make too little, while stockholders get fat and happy. But nowhere do they mention what unionizing workers will mean for the consumer — folks like you and me, who just might rely on Wal-Mart’s low prices to make ends meet.
I have seen unions destroy businesses time and again in the name of “workers’ rights.” A local cutlery went out of business after workers refused to pick up a higher portion of their health insurance premiums. A local trucking company shut down because it couldn’t afford the raises the union demanded, so the union workers walked out. The list goes on.
Interestingly, though, you hear stories in the free market — especially in today’s economy — where businesses are forced to ask employees to take salary cuts or contribute more to their health coverage packages. And those companies manage to stay in business because workers are smart enough to realize the best companies aren’t set up as “us against them” propositions; everyone must work together to keep any company viable.
I suppose now I should find a union member and thank them for making sure there’s a weekend. But instead I think they should thank those of us who keep the country humming by working anyway, by doing our part and by working as members of a team that sees the world beyond its own paycheck.