Over the course of my working life I have joined two unions the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Service Employees International Union where at one point I was on the contract negotiating team. In management positions I have manged non-union and union employees. I have found that as rule union shops tended to have the better working condition, wages and benefits. As a manager, working with a union allows both employees and management better working conditions as both have a spelled out set of rules to work with. Management must abide by the rules and employees as well must abide by their agreed upon contract. The upshot was that it allowed management to do the job of managing rather than baby sitting which tended to be the case in non-union shops.
I have likewise worked in so called “right to work” state. These states tend to have lower union activity. In these states not only did employees not have union protection but also the states tended to have poor state labor boards that accorded workers little state protection. I recall in Mississippi and Alabama workers pay was the Federally mandated minimum wage where in a state like California with strong labor representation the state mandates by law a higher minimum wage that helps worker enjoy better living conditions. Without union representation there is no way for workers to negotiate for better wages. Required uniforms in California must be provided by the employer at no cost to the employee by law. In Mississippi and Alabama uniforms are required but employees must pay for them. Without active unions there is little motivation for states to provide adequate coverage for workers.
I recall as a director at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto California how management, though required by law to allow and not interfere with union organizing activities, spent many hours in management meetings actively looking for way to get around the laws that protected union organizing activities within the Hospital and on Hospital grounds. Much of the talk was very derisive.
One of the definitions of union from the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary: “a political unit constituting an organic whole formed usually from units which were previously governed separately…” That is what a labor union is “an organic whole” and its history developed from the specific destructive working conditions that grew out of the industrial revolution. Union growth reached its peak in the US in the 30s,40, and 50s. Unions seek a resolution of problems in the workplace by joining together as “an organic whole” responding to a real problem.
Two interesting notes on Labor Unions from Wikipedia:
“The percentage of workers belonging to a union (or “density”) in the United States peaked in 1954 at almost 35% and the total number of union members peaked in 1979 at an estimated 21.0 million. Membership has declined since… . Private sector union membership then began a steady decline that continues into the 2010s, but the membership of public sector unions grew steadily (now 37%).”
“In 2010, the percentage of workers belonging to a union in the United States (or total labor union “density”) was 11.4%, compared to 18.6% in Germany, 27.5% in Canada, and 70% in Finland.”
There have been concerted efforts in the US since the 50s to undermine union activities, one of those being the so call “right to work” (but as some commentators say “to work for less”) laws. Union busting efforts in Michigan follow this path lead once again by the reactionary Republican Party.
But it is my opinion that this latest “union busting” is doomed to failure as union and non-union supporters press once again for a redress of grievances and take the only course of action available when government sides with those who would deny people the right to organize in their own behalf. The streets of Michigan are filling as we speak.
Death of Indian Sitar Master 12/12/12
This morning I saw the notice that Ravi Shankar died at age 92. Over the years I have had three remarkable experiences at Ravi Shankar concerts. The first in 1968, recently back from Vietnam, I sat through a most remarkable concert at the Greek Theater in LA. I experienced a true standing ovation where the audience was literally lifted out of our seats, I do mean literally, we could not stay seated. In the 80s I attended a concert a UC San Diego and in the 90s at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
in San Diego where Shankar and his students gave a symposium and concert on Indian Classical Music. Each experience for me was a revelation at a perfect moment, a journey into the magical realm of music where healing and spirit brought life and love into the world. I have been blessed and may Ravi Shankar continue his journey of love and life. Blessing to you Ravi Shankar.