July 17, 2009

Norma Rae Ought To Retire

Found on WillCollier.com.:

Yes, my liberal Readers, that is really what we right-of-center folks think of unions. It's pretty much because of the UAW and the Teamsters as opposed to other unions. I understand that the commercial relies on caricature and stereotype in order to get its message across and the real world is more nuanced than that.

But the basic message strikes a chord with me. In many cases, the individual employee has appreciable bargaining power against the employer, unions frequently disregard the preferences of their members, and frequently do not allow members to express their opinions if they differ from that of the union leadership during bargaining efforts. And striking is pretty obnoxious to me in almost any setting; I always think less of the union and its members than I do of management when I see a strike going on. I have no moral qualms about walking past or around a picket line.

I'm not so far right of center as to think that an employer is always so benevolent as the boss in the commercial is depicted -- but often, employers are benevolent to their valuable and skilled employees because the market effectively compels them to offer good compensation to such workers. My professional experience is that more often than not, employers do bargain with their workers, whether unionized or not, in good faith. And the law itself provides for minimum levels of worker compensation, safety, and non-exploitative working conditions (yes, in part thanks to the efforts of unions to lobby to change the law to be thus; unions certainly deserve credit for helping make that happen).

Unions are better-suited for unskilled or semi-skilled labor pools, and even then only when membership in the union is demonstrably better than non-membership in the union -- which is why I am opposed to "closed shop" rules because that prevents workers from deciding for themselves if union membership is advantageous. The law at issue would require votes to unionize, de-unionize, and joining unions to be made in an open ballot. The reasons unions want open ballots as opposed to secret ballots is because they believe that there will be substantial peer pressure on employees who are otherwise undecided to go along with votes to unionize. In other words, an open ballot gives the union more power than it has earned.

If the union offers its members good value in exchange for their dues, workers will join voluntarily. If I don't want to be unionized, or I don't want to be in a union, I should have that right. If the union can't persuade me that I'm better off with it than without it, then the union has not earned my support, and must instead coerce it. That is an obnoxious proposition in a free society, and that is why the secret ballot should be preserved.

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