Friday, September 28, 2012

Unions

In the last two weeks, the news media has reported on a myriad of events regarding unions:

-- Chicago teachers strike
-- Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians strike
-- The NFL Referees locked out by the NFL over contract dispute
-- NHL owners and players cannot agree on a contract and it looks like the NHL won't have much of a season
-- In the Twin Cities, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians and Minnesota Orchestra musicians are locked in a stalemate with their respective managements and Board of Directors over their contracts.

Nathan Weber for The NY Times

In each case, it's union vs. management, or management vs. union, depending on your point of view.  The first three above have been settled, essentially.  I'm waiting to hear about more unions and managements at odds over a contract.  Is it something in the air?

Full disclosure: I am not a huge fan of unions.  I've managed to live my life so far without becoming a member of one.  There have been some close calls.  At the moment, I'm happy for my independent status.  Unions have not had a positive effect on my life, actually.  I sometimes wonder if they still function as a protection for the worker as much as they did when they were first formed.  I wonder about union leadership a lot.

My most painful experience with a union occurred several years ago when the public transportation drivers and mechanics walked off the job and organized a strike.  As a result, public transportation came to a halt and was not available until the strike was over 45 days later.  For the duration, I was without daily transportation.  I don't own a car.  I'm not wealthy enough to take cabs everywhere or hire a car service or rent a car for the duration.  I went where my feet could take me which wasn't as far as I needed them to take me, unfortunately.  This did not make me happy.

Credit: Foursquare.com

To be fair, I understood why the union members were striking.  I also understood why management was not giving in to union demands.  What I didn't understand was how the two of them could treat their customers with such blatant disrespect and cruelty.  Yes, cruelty.  I wasn't the only person without transportation.  It really hit the working poor hard.  Neither the union nor management had consulted with the customers to find out if they'd be OK with not having transportation until they could settle their differences.  There was no sympathy for the customer.  The union expected the customers to sympathize with them.  Management wanted the customers to side with them. 

Something as vitally important as public transportation, like police and fire department workers, should be categorized as an essential service.  This would prevent the union members from striking.  I think it would also force the two sides to work harder to reach agreement before contracts expire.  I deeply resent having my life held hostage by a union whose members have walked off the job to strike.

Right now, American Crystal Sugar workers have been out on strike for over a year.  The company has hired replacement workers who are non-union.  We've seen this in the past also.  The most public example occurred recently with the replacement refs the NFL hired while their union refs were locked out.  The replacement refs did their best but were not experienced in officiating NFL games and subsequently made mistakes which caught the attention of the fans.  I did learn something interesting as a result of this situation, i.e. the disparity in income between the union refs ($30K-$70K per year) and NFL players (millions of dollars per year).  What is wrong with this picture?

So, I'm happy with unions only when they are quiet and do not cause me any problems such as denying me daily transportation.  But there is one thing that seems to connect so many of the problems we're having in America at the moment -- money and its acquisition. 

I swear, Americans are all becoming Ferengis!

2 comments:

Daughter Number Three said...

To be clear, the American Crystal workers are not on strike -- they were locked out.

Gina said...

Thanks for the clarification, Pat. I thought they were on strike. It looks like management there is trying to break the union.