I’m probably going to tick off a few people with this posting.
What I am relating here is my own viewpoint based on observation and my own experiences. I have never been a member of a union, but I have been in a shop which became union shortly after I left. Because I was not especially enthusiastic about voting the union in, I was physically threatened with thug-like violence. Further, shortly after the union got into that facility, the company shut it down because they could not afford to meet the demands of the union, and around 800 people were out of work as a direct result of union activity (i.e. greed). All this happened almost 40 years ago. I should also mention that several members of my immediate family were union members.
I told you all this so you would have that background to evaluate my thinking since then. Now, here are my thoughts on the subject:
Unions have had two major stages in their existence:
Unions had a purpose once, and it was a good purpose. They served to keep working people from being oppressed by unscrupulous employers. This was Stage One. They drastically improved working conditions, hours, benefits and wages, at a time when the worker’s only choice was to take the job, or try to get work somewhere else; sometimes an unpalatable choice, due to the greater difficulty of travel and the job market at that time.
Unfortunately, the tool at their disposal to do that good work was, and is, extortion, pure and simple. In effect, they say to an employer, “Do what we want, or we will shut you down until you do.” My dictionary defines extortion as “the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats”. It certainly sounds like extortion to me.
I find this ethically distasteful, but just barely possibly justified in Phase 1; back when they were actually correcting a real wrong.
Unfortunately, the unions have long since passed “correcting a wrong” and have moved on to get those workers pay and benefits that often far exceed the fair market value of the actual work involved; and they have became no different than a mobster extorting money from honest people. This is Stage Two. In Stage Two, it is often possible for an uneducated clod to have a much higher income and much better medical and retirement benefits than anyone in the non-union private sector, regardless of skill level, education, or real value to a company.
If this was a truly fair, unregulated capitalist economy, most of these union members would simply not be worth their wages. I mean, come on – would you pay somebody $28 an hour in wages to, say, operate a screwdriver on an assembly line?
Now, personally, I have a bit of an ethical problem with extortion. People that join unions, apparently do not – if they ever think about it at all. I suppose that many of them probably never give it a thought. But extortion is what it truly is. I cannot see it any other way. And union members condone this extortion, even if they don’t directly participate, simply by paying the union dues.
It is my considered opinion that unions operate on the same moral level as a schoolyard bully taking a smaller kid’s lunch money.
This would also account for the general perception that unions (or maybe just some union members) are often willing to use force to achieve their goals. Here is a very current example, in Idaho. There were several examples of this in the 2008 campaign, and historically there are so many examples that it is part of the cultural “image” of unions, along with ties to organized crime. And whatever happened to Jimmy Hoffa?
Now, as to the present troubles in Wisconsin; the teacher’s unions are playing the victim card, big time. But I don’t think they qualify. Here’s an article by AreWeLumberjacks that is worth a read. Among other things, he looked up the actual salaries of some of these teachers, which is available online. If his research is correct, most of those teachers are really doing quite nicely, thank you.
I just don’t have much sympathy for people who want everyone else to pay more, so they can maintain their privileges. And that is exactly what is going on in Wisconsin. Everyone else in the United States is finding it necessary to tighten their belts a bit to get along; why not teachers? Or any other union member, for that matter.
One last observation, on a tangentially-related subject: Obama is so clearly in the pocket of the unions, that it is almost embarrassing. And everyone knows it.
That’s what it looks like, from where I sit.