When we do not understand the cause in our human lives, we can look to the Animal Kingdom for clues, insight and an explanation of human nature in the driving, evolutionary, animalistic and ruthless behavior, that is evident in the preservation of the individual being in purpose and want. 


When a male baboon becomes the leader
of the troop, he will seek out any baboon infant that is not his and
kill it by crushing its neck in his jaws.

The mother of the doomed
infant will run, hide, and fight to save her baby — but the baboon
leader will kill her if she does not hand over her infant for killing
— and so, after an appropriate fight, the infant is handed over by its
mother to discover its end. The baboon leader kills the infants because
they are future competitors who do not share his bloodline.

One
may think it is too much of a leap to connect baboons breaking the neck
of competitive infants and how unions murder their young, but the
intent, purpose and destruction of the troop are identical and
inevitable.

There was a time in American when Unions meant something. The working
man had a voice in the workplace and found protection in the law and
the solidarity of others and was celebrated in the political process.

In 1935, playwright Clifford Odets produced a play called “Waiting for Lefty” that ignited and inspired the call for unification of workers in America:

Waiting for Lefty is a vigorous, confrontational
work, based on a 1934 strike of unionized New York cab drivers.
Explicit political messages dominate the play, whose ultimate goal was
nothing less than the promotion of a communist revolution in America.

Appearing at the height of the Great Depression, the play’s original
1935 production was a critical and popular sensation….
More than most dramas, it is the product of a particular tune and
place–for its overriding concern was to influence that time and place,
not to create “immortal art,” and certainly not to create diverting,
light-hearted entertainment. It faced its grim times squarely and
offered its audience a stirring vision of hope.

In this sense Waiting for Lefty is seen as an important dramatic work that offers historical evidence of the social power and aspirations of theatre.

“The Union Label” used to indicate a sign of quality and caring in the
production of American goods in an ever-expanding world economy.

Then came the PATCO strike
in 1981 when Ronald Reagan broke the Air Traffic Controllers Union and
thus began the long, slow, decline of real Union power in America.

With his busting of the 17-month strike, Republican
President Ronald Reagan sent a message to the labor movement that he
and his big business backers were in charge. It was Act One in what
would be a decade of unprecedented greed for Corporate America at the
expense of U.S. workers.

Yet despite their defeat, the 13,000-strong air traffic controllers
union demonstrated inspiring militancy, unity and
determination–conducting an illegal strike against a popular president
with little support from other unions.

We still have unions in America but they are weak and wanton and when
in negotiation for higher wages and better working conditions, Unions
today are too quick in offering up the necks of their young to the jaws
of power in order to preserve the old order and lock down the
protections of the established workers.

In New York City alone, I recall many recent examples of
Union-negotiated Union-busting.
The recent, failed, MTA Strike
where Union givebacks were more beneficial for the company than the
workers. It was shocking. New hires were less protected than those who
currently served their vicious masters.

I am also reminded of the NYPD’s recent union negotiation
where the established elite hierarchy were protected, but new recruits
had their starting salaries slashed so much the requirements to become
a New York City Police Officer had to be lowered to fill the classes:

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association last week charged
that the NYPD dropped its 2.0 college grade-point-average requirement
in order to garner enough candidates to fill its just sworn-in class of
recruits under the new, drastically reduced starting salary.
Paul J. Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesman, vehemently denied that the
department had relaxed the academic requirement.

“It’s not true,” Mr.
Browne asserted. “The Police Commissioner instructed the Chief of
Personnel that there would be no lowering of standards.”
Al O’Leary, a spokesman for the PBA, asserted that the NYPD eliminated
the 2.0 GPA requirement this class. He added that the department was
struggling to recruit and retain officers under the previous $36,878
starting salary, which was reduced based on a binding arbitration award
issued in June.

That award provided incumbent officers 10.25-percent in
raises over two years in return for several concessions, chief among
them a reduced pay scale that will cost new officers $48,000 during
their first six years of service compared to those hired in 2005.

The New York City firefighters also gave in to city demands and the
result was a punishing of future, yet-to-be-hired, FDNY recruits:

The Uniformed Firefighters’ Association has already agreed
to a 50-month contract, which provides a 17.52-percent wage increase
funded in part by a cut in starting pay for new hires and other
concessions.

The first two years of the contract replicate the PBA
raises and concessions; the last two years of that deal give
Firefighters raises of 3 and 3.15 percent. City negotiators have
asserted that those additional years have set the new pattern for this
round of collective bargaining.

When the New York University adjuncts union — run by the ACT-UAW
— negotiated terms with the university, those who had been teaching at
NYU for a long time were richly rewarded with prosperous contracts that
protected seniority and guaranteed reappointments, but lost in the
hubris of such an extravagant contract was the non-protection of newly
hired adjuncts.

At NYU, new adjuncts are set on probation — without Union protection
— for a period of 10 semesters. For those of you who don’t remember how a university operates,
summer semesters don’t count in the Union equation and so 10 semesters
of probation works out to an astonishingly punitive probationary period
of: FIVE YEARS!
NYU can also fire you at will and not reappoint you any time during
that FIVE YEAR probationary period and you have no recourse, grievance
process or Union protection.

NYU adjuncts desperately needed to unionize because they were not being
paid a fair wage even though they were teaching 70% of the
undergraduate courses. It is alarming, however, to realize how quickly
the old guard Union and the established adjunct faculty made out like
robber barons while future adjuncts and new hires were sacrificed to
suffer cemented into a never-ending probationary purgatory.

Are Unions dead in America?

If so, did they earn their deaths by offering up the necks of their
young or is this just the natural evolutionary progress of industrialized nations?
Have
we come so far as a nation that protecting workers is no longer an
issue that needs to be resolved with collective bargaining agreements?
Are we destined to become a nation of work-for-hires and independent
contractors?

Other than protecting the aging, power, majority in the Union, what is
the advantage of sacrificing the interests of new hires who seek the
protection of the Union in order to keep the Union alive beyond the
prosperous lives of the present membership?
Why even join a Union if the result is an immediate death blow on your
neck by not just one pair of jaws, but two: Your Union elders and the
company hiring you — and both demanding undying loyalty from your
grave?

28 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    I was a member of a union when I worked at the grocery store. I remember there being several different contracts. People with a lot of seniority did very well for workers in the service industry. However, new employees — like I was when I was hired — ended up getting the short end of the deal.
    We didn’t get any of the special perks given to the old guard. We didn’t get paid extra for working on Sundays — unlike the people on the older contract — so all of the new employees ended up working that day. We did get nice insurance benefits — if we worked for a full year — but most young people never used them because they were covered under their parent’s insurance policies or would quit before they had put in a year’s worth of time to find a better paying position someplace else.
    Unlike non-union shops, we weren’t allowed to get raises unless there was a new contract. People routinely quit to find better paying jobs. One worker did get a raise to keep him from leaving, but that was quickly ended when someone filed a grievance with the union. After a while, the best and brightest workers ended up leaving for better pay elsewhere — like McDonalds — leaving behind those who liked the flexibility or the work.
    The kicker was when we did get a raise. Everyone voted on a new union contract. We ended up getting a little pay raise of 5 cents per hour. But, along with the pay increase, we ended up with increased union dues of $2 per week. 5cents x 40 hours = our union dues. I think I was making $3.45 or about that per hour at that time — maybe 10 cents above the minimum wage. We did end up getting a pay increase when the minimum wage was increased to $3.80, but that was required by law.
    The problem with the union was that it protected people who didn’t work too hard, made it difficult to reward those who did, and generally didn’t get us too much more than what we probably could have gotten ourselves if we were to ask.

  2. HI Chris!
    Your experience reflects my union experience and that of many others. Unions are created to protect the older workers who are in power and since they do not care about anything else or anyone else beyond themselves — if they did they’d fight to their deaths for the lives of new workers — the old Union guard is in bed with company management because they share the same interest: Lower costs at the price of new hires.
    You’re also right about dues. Many contracts mandate they get stripped out of paychecks automatically and any new company hire IS REQUIRED TO join the union even if it is not beneficial to them. That’s a strange disconnect.

  3. I remember seeing some stories a couple of years ago about a union hiring non-union temporaries to protest Wal-Mart. The temps from a temporary service — who had no benefits — were making $6/hour to hold informational picket signs in 104 degree weather.

  4. That’s a shocking story, Chris!
    I know big businesses don’t want any unions because the startup costs are so great — there aren’t any “newbies” to punish. Everyone who votes to join will get the same contract because you can’t split out the old from the new unless there are new hires.
    It can take a decade of embedding before having a union help ruin your young employees is set in place.

  5. I thought of another problem with unions as I experienced them. They didn’t encourage any movement upward within the company because they made it hard for people gain additional experience outside of their job class.
    When I worked at the store, I remember being asked to help out in another department because someone was out for the day. The manager said that I’d get bumped up to the higher pay for the department for the time I was working there. It was nice to get an easier gig — the lowest paid people usually have the hardest work assignments in terms of having to do tiring labor — and a little more money for that day’s work.
    I remember someone asking me if I had transferred to the new department. I said I was just filling in for someone who was absent. I didn’t think anything about it.
    A few days later, I heard that someone had filed a grievance with the union. I didn’t know the specifics of the grievance, but it seemed that it hurt someones chances to gain new experience in different departments because the managers never gave anyone the opportunity to “try out” different jobs after that time because someone probably griped that they weren’t getting a chance to make a couple of more dollars an hour.

  6. That’s an excellent point, Chris!
    In many unions your “hire level” remains the same throughout your employment and you never rise above that initial categorization. Sure, you can always get a raise and better benefits if the union gets that for you, but many promotions and access to more responsibilities are determined by that initial hiring status. Those who know the union game understand how to fight to get a better lot number than newbies who just show up off the street and eagerly gnaw on any bone thrown their way.

  7. That’s very true. If I was to try to transfer into another department, I’d have to allow anyone else who had been hired before me to have a shot at the job opening.
    When I was getting ready to graduate with my undergraduate degree, the managers asked me and a few other people if we wanted to join their management training program. It would have been good money — I’d heard that some store managers were pulling in high five-figure incomes in the early 1990s.
    If I had decided to make that my career, I would probably would have had to move to a different location because I would have never had the respect of anyone that had had more seniority at the store where I worked.

  8. Hi Chris!
    You again make excellent points. You’re right about hierarchy helping the unions manage and help those they prefer over those they don’t.
    I know a grocery store manager for a major chain in the Bronx who was “brought in” to run the store. He makes three figures and manages 35,000 products. It’s a massive job but he’s doing really well.
    I’m sure some people are surprised to learn how much a “Super Store” manager can make these days and it is really because of the early Union movement that protected workers from being fired without cause and for creating an established chain of ascension that is sorely missing from many new union contracts today.

  9. It’s almost too bad that the chain of ascension isn’t like that in the military where people move up through the rank based on competency. People don’t just get promotions because they’ve managed to stick around for many years.
    If someone enlists in the service, then works his or her way up through the NCO ranks, then into the officer corps, that person usually has the respect of everyone because they knew that person has done some hard work to rise through the ranks. In a union, that same type of individual is likely to cause resentment because there are some people who feel entitled to positions based upon their longevity with a certain company.
    When I was in the store, I remember people talking about trying not to improve their work speed because that could result in work rules changes that would require more speed in the future.
    I worked as a utility clerk — so that meant working in the front end and doing all of the trash cleanup stuff that nobody else wanted to do. When I was younger, I hated getting assigned to do the trash pickup assignment that required one to clean the restrooms once so often, check and change trash can liners throughout the store, and make sure bottles were stacked for return to their bottler. I could never figure out why the clerks with more experience always seemed to enjoy the job so much.
    It was only after thinking about it a little bit that I realized why people with the most seniority wanted to get assigned to be “trash boy.” They were assigned 4 hours to do a job that only required about 1 1/2 hours of actual work. The rest of the time could be spent talking to customers — which was encouraged and allowed — or just moving around looking like he or she was working on some project related to the cleaning duties. Of course, the guys with the most seniority would “disappear” not to be seen until their time was up.

  10. Ha! You know the process, Chris! Very funny! Love the specifics.
    I do know in the military, though, if there’s a tie, the preference goes to the one the promotion committee likes better. I have a good friend who was up for full Colonel and all the qualifications were similar between those up for the slot. The top guy chose the guy he went to school with to fill the slot and there was nothing the others could do to complain so they all just took retirement because by the time you hit Colonel you either get it and go on or miss it and get out because staying is too much of a humiliation and once you’re passed over for promotion in the military you don’t get the chance to move up again at that level.

  11. The military at the upper levels gets to be very political and sometimes people get promoted into incompetency because they know someone. But, when people get into field grade positions — Major through Colonel — they are being groomed to possibly move up into the rarefied “upper management” levels of the military. At those levels, just as in the business world, it requires a lot of political skill to be able to compete for the few slots at the top of the pyramid.
    I remember the cashiers always were keeping an eye on the required “scan rate” because it was the same deal. If everyone started working a little faster, there could come a time when the union would allow management to require faster scan rates.
    I

  12. Hi Chris!
    That’s an excellent PDF! Where did you find it?
    I’m glad to know once you hit Lt. Colonel you’re into chits and favors and performance is sort of out the window.
    Scan rates are fascinating. Not too much. Not too little. That’s a lot of pressure to remain average! 😀

  13. Hi David,
    It’s interesting to note that Rumsfield was against the rule that you had to be promoted or you had to leave.

    The most powerful advocate for change is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a critic of the “up-or-out” officer promotion system. The military adopted in 1947 and hates to give up. Up-or-out was designed to keep the officer corps young and vigorous, and allow only the most qualified to reach the upper ranks. It replaced a strict seniority system that had left much deadwood in the senior ranks of the U.S. military as World War II began.
    Under up-or-out, officers stand for promotion at set points in their careers and the percentage promotion opportunity is well known. If passed over twice for the next higher rank, officers are discharged or retired.
    Rumsfeld says up-or-out is too rigid and wasteful, as it forces out many expensively-trained and still capable officers. His staff commissioned the think tank, RAND, to develop alternatives to up-or-out. The RAND report, “New Paths to Success: Determining Career Alternative for Field-Grade Officer,” serves as a blueprint for demonstrations DoD wants to run.
    One key feature of the Army foreign area officer test will be ending up-or-out so that FAOs who are twice passed over can remain in service as long as their skills are in demand, Carr said. Up-or-out is especially inefficient for FAOs who don’t begin their specialty training until they are captains and become FAO as new majors, after immersion in the language and culture of a foreign country. They serve typically serve as military attaches, military-political officers, on intelligence staffs or as security assistance officers.

    Here’s the RAND study of the issue: “New Paths to Success: Determining Career Alternative for Field-Grade Officer.”
    I personally think “Up and Out” is silly as well. My dad was a major when he got out of the military — he worked in finance and accounting and his office went from being staffed by active duty military people to being all civilian by the time he got out and joined the DoD on the civilian side for more money and more job freedom.

  14. Hi David,
    This is so interesting, because “Union” – be it teachers’ or trade is so powerful in some states in India that they can just “stop” the flow of daily life – any time.
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/34095087.cms
    http://www.hindu.com/2006/12/15/stories/2006121516161800.htm
    In fact, people are fearful about the word “union” which sometimes (!) follow the path of aggression instead of collective burgaining.

  15. Hello my lovely, Katha!
    Outstanding links!
    Unions used to be all-powerful here, too, Katha. In the 50’s and 60’s they could be a city to its knees with a proper strike. Garbage workers were especially effective in calling strikes and winning big contract concession with their cities. No one wants garbage piling up in the streets and decaying…
    Then states like NY got smart and passed legislation — like the Taylor Law — that outlaws strikes against the vested interests of a city. Unions can still strike, as the MTA foolishly did with their subway and bus strike in NYC — but if they do they risk incredible fines and the imprisonment of their leaders:

    * grants public employees the right to organize and to be represented by employee organizations of their own choice;
    * requires public employers to negotiate and enter into agreements with public employee organizations regarding their employees’ terms and conditions of employment;
    * establishes impasse procedures for the resolution of collective bargaining disputes;
    * defines and prohibits improper practices by public employers and public employee organizations;
    * prohibits strikes by public employees; and
    * establishes a state agency to administer the Law- The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).

    http://www.goer.state.ny.us/CNA/bucenter/taylor.html

  16. Hi David,
    It is so interesting that you mentioned about ’50s and ’60s – the following article also tells the same!
    http://travel.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/travel/tmagazine/15T-INDIA.html?ex=1184990400&en=dc14cf3af3079f26&ei=5070
    I understand the importance of the union being powerful but a continuous abuse of any system has an adverse effect –
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/47000080.cms
    Now a days – it basically boils down to fulfilling the agenda of the union leaders – the mass is often ignored.

  17. Now that’s a great link, Katha!
    Yes, you’re right that when unions become too powerful those who are “first in” are “first out” at the slightest hint of any trouble. There isn’t universal protection in a union. There is only protection for some. The whole idea of banding together as one must be to serve the greater purpose of the one in the all — to separate that power willfully is to destroy that which was nobly anticipated.