Professional Unions And The Labor Struggles Of The 21st Century

from the unionism-resurgent dept

When one thinks of unions, a number of common conceptions will come to mind. Union members are typically thought of as blue collar industrial workers constantly engaged in some sort of zero-sum tug-of-war against management or shareholders. To further the interests of its members, unions have a number of tools at their disposal like strikes (or the threat of strikes), or pro-union laws that make it hard for a company to hire outside of the union. There’s also a sense among many that the era of the union is over, which is closely related to the idea that the US is no longer an industrial nation. As more and more factory jobs get shipped overseas, the thinking goes, the traditional industrial unions have lost their clout. This is compounded by the fact industrial jobs aren’t as sought after (particularly by young people) as once they were, no matter how much people try to romanticize them. The official story is that we’ve traded in the industrial economy for a service economy, much to the regret of many. Today, instead of building things, Americans help consult on and design projects, while the CAD drawings get sent overseas for manufacturing. This is, of course, a cartoonish, network nightly news description of the US economy, but it is handy. The US economy is increasingly made up of free agents and professionals that have never spent a day on the factory floor, where the tools they use and build are made. As such, the union is thought to be a relic of our economic past. Sure, every once in awhile you hear about some strike here or there (grocery baggers in California, UPS deliverymen, pilots, etc.), but these come off as isolated incidents. The union that’s in the news most often is the United Auto Workers, which is constantly battling against the the Detroit car makers over things like healthcare and job cuts, but again, that whole industry, in its current model, comes off as a blast from the past.

But while membership rolls for the traditional unions might be on the decline, it’s a mistake to assume that they’re going away, or that labor struggles are a thing of the past. What’s actually happening is that they’re evolving to fit the times. Let’s just take a recent example. The popular website Zillow was recently dinged in Arizona for not having a real estate appraiser’s license, and a state board ruled that it was not allowed to give out home value estimates in the state. It seems absurd that a website would need a special license to give out data, but the board was made up of professional real estate appraisers that were worried about Zillow hurting their business. Essentially, when it comes to real estate appraisers, Arizona is a closed shop state. Either you have to be licensed, or you can’t operate. You can probably see where this is heading, that there really isn’t any meaningful difference between what a traditional union might do, in terms of looking out for the welfare of its members, and what the group of professional appraisers have done.

Now most people would see the above example as fairly cut and dry. The professional appraisers are engaging in monopoly rent seeking to keep a website that competes with them from operating. But that group is just one example of a modern union. Many other professions have similar setups whereby a professional organization-cum-regulatory body is in the position to decide who can or cannot engage in a particular line of work, and on what terms they’re allowed to do their job. Other examples of these groups include the Bar Association, the AMA and the National Association of Realtors. To give a quick legal-related example, an insurance agent was recently found guilty of the “unauthorized practice of law” because she helped a client draw up a will using Quicken software. This case was decided on existing laws, but they were laws nonetheless crafted to help lawyers preserve their monopoly on will making.

Over a series of posts, I will argue that these groups are best thought of as unions, just like the UAW, and that significant and difficult labor battles loom on the horizon. As the share of our GDP that goes to things like healthcare and legal services continues to climb, the market will inevitably produce new technologies designed to automate the tasks of highly paid practitioners. As such, groups like the AMA and the Bar will increasingly find themselves standing athwart these technologies, and other low-cost solutions in the interest of their membership, just as a union would in the face of similar conditions. Let me state at the outset that this basic idea isn’t a new one. The famous economist Milton Friedman was hated by the AMA for arguing that the control it exerted over the medical industry was preventing patients from getting low-cost care. So, much of this series will draw on the ideas of others. But it will hopefully convey a sense of urgency, by explaining that this isn’t merely an academic issue, but something that needs to be examined and dealt with now.

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Comments on “Professional Unions And The Labor Struggles Of The 21st Century”

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Simon F. (profile) says:

Looking forward

I’m looking forward to this series of posting because I don’t agree with the main idea (which is good, because if I agreed with it, why read it?).

Professional organization are more like trademarks in that their main goal is to protect the public, while unions are more like patents in that their goal is to protect themselves.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Looking forward

Protection of the public is how professional organizations justify their government granted monopoly powers. Before the internet how easy was to get information on a medical professionals? Surely, if ‘protection of the public’ is so important, shouldn’t I, the lay person, know everything about a professional like a doctor or lawyer?

Reed says:

Proffessional Associations are Unions

Of course professional associations are unions. They operate on the same principles (protecting professional rights) they are just called a different name. You pay dues to be part of them, they help to demand better working condition, and they have a code of conduct.

It is kind of like calling sweet potato pie (Blue Collar) pumpkin pie (white collar) just to separate the two. They both look similar, smell similar, and taste similar. Trying to say one is a union and the other isn’t is just silly in my mind.

sam says:


just out of curiousity… how many people here actually have either 1) ever belonged to a union, or 2) had a close relative/friend who’s belonged to one…

the fact that a group of realtors seeks to keep zillow out ot az.. doesn’t make the realtors in az anywhere close to being a union in the traditional sense. unions manged to grow, and were in fact a good thing, as they were a force to require management functions to deal with worker in a fair/reasonable manner. the fact that there were union managers who then abused their power over unions wasn’t a fault of the concept of the unions..

i’m not talking about basing your understanding of the history of unions from some movie.. i’m talking about having close knowledge/understanding of the overall situation that has led to unions being responsible for the rise of the middle class in certain portions of the US…


Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hi Sam,

i’m not talking about basing your understanding of the history of unions from some movie.. i’m talking about having close knowledge/understanding of the overall situation that has led to unions being responsible for the rise of the middle class in certain portions of the US…

You probably shouldn’t make assumptions. I have a degree in labor relations, which included quite a bit of labor history (both US and foreign), as well as multiple levels of labor economics, collective bargaining, etc… classes. So, yeah, I’m fairly familiar with unions.

Guru80 says:

Re: Re:

I belong to the UAW but since I live and work in Michigan just about everyone either has had a Union job, a relative has or they at the very least know someone who has. Unions, especially in the manufacturing and automotive industries are becoming irrelevant simply because we are losing our jobs. In my factory the vast majority of workers are now grandparents and my particular plant has only hired 2 times since the 70s. Kind of hard to keep membership up when nobody is replaced when lost to retirement and even though the workforce is getting older in a lot of circumstances they are doing more work than they have since the 70s. Anyone who romanticizes an UAW line assembly job has never been inside a factory in the last 20 years. It sucks, it is tedious and mundane and you stand on your fee for 10+ hours in the same 20 foot section of floor doing the same job 400+ times a day ever 60 seconds.

rob (profile) says:

Re: @ sam

I have belonged to a union and my father was a member of a union. I worked for a long time for a college in Washington State and was a member of the Washington Educators Association. This is the union that protects teachers in k-12 and Colleges and Universities. My father was a lifelong member of an Operating Engineers union (Local 701).

Insofar as I have experienced unions as a member and a dependent, I will say that the professional associations that manage certain careers have far more power than any union has had in the last 80 years and quite possibly ever.

Licensing bodies like the ABA AMA and Appraisers for that matter hold the keys to employment for the entirety of that field. No union could possibly tell you that you cannot operate a backhoe or drive a forklift, a union’s power is limited to the employer that is part of the union’s shop. And even that is limited these days as unions almost always have to allow a prospective employee to join the union if the employer wishes to hire that person. This is certainly true in education where membership in the union is both voluntary and unnecessary to be eligible for the benefits and protection of the union while at the job and even after if you have a grievance.

A traditional union would be useless to a non-member and in fact would most likely be quite a hindrance to an employee who shirked the union membership for employment (they are called scabs and while there are rules against it, scabs are often informally blacklisted when discovered).

The problem with Unions today is the same problem that plagues FDR and the new deal programs that saved the working class during the last depression. We forget our history. In the information age, there is little time to look at any problem deeply enough to really understand the reasons that certain programs and safeguards exist. In theory we all know that unions improved working conditions and saved lives as we became an industrial power after the first world war. We can see that 16 hour days in unsafe factories which were employing children as young as 7 or 8 in hazardous jobs was a bad idea. What we don’t see is the root of that problem. That employers who are left to their own devices will extract the most production out of as few people and as cheaply as possible because the financial benefit is too great to pass up. Without regulatory agencies, enforcement agencies and a coordinated, educated workforce, you cannot prevent employers from returning to the days of company towns and exploited workers.

That being said, we need to re-evaluate the way we regulate ourselves. It seems rudimentary to institute unbiased and independent review of employee qualifications and working conditions. How does a licensing agency qualify as independent if it is made up of the very people that benefit from the scarcity of qualified workers? A union of workers in the information age does more than just preserve its members, it routinely trains and motivates new members through apprenticeship programs and education. A licensing agency on the other hand seems more involved with the limiting of the pool of available resources, often by means that have little to do with the improvement of the existing workforce. Look at the number of rules and regulations that proactively prevent otherwise capable people of going into a field based solely on unrelated events that have occurred in their lives. Tell me when the last time you heard a union tell someone that the possession of marijuana charge they had 5 years ago prevents them from working for them? Ask that same question of CPAs Attorneys Insurance Agents Nurses etc etc. What really drives me nuts it that it is these same pseudo managers that are members of the service-licensing industry that decry unions as too powerful. Just compare the real power of a union to a regulatory or license granting group and see if you don’t come to the same conclusion that I have: Unions only wish they could be that powerful — and it’s a good thing they aren’t that powerful. Likewise, licensing agencies should be free of conflicts of interest that arise from the scarcity of resources under their purview. A free and independent watchdog who serves to promote the growth and accessibility of services would best serve the overall economy. There is a reason that unions spend a great deal of time negotiating training and upgrades to the existing workforce’s skill set as well as working closely with trade schools and apprenticeship programs to assure that the workers that do join are as qualified to be on the job as the non-union workers who learn their trade either less formally or simply on-the-job.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:


There’s nothing “modern” about the concept you’re talking about. It’s exactly the same idea as the professional and trade guilds in Europe in the Middle Ages. They were granted monopolies by the authorities in their particular areas of expertise, I suppose in return for ensuring some consistency of quality in their work.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Guilds

Guilds are different than unions, in that a guild would make you whole if you employed guild members. In other words, if I hire a union electrician and he screws up my job, the union would send another electrician to make it right, on them, in order to preserve the union reputation. Consequently, membership in a union was not automatic nor guaranteed.

Contrast this with how unions typically operate in corporate settings, for example, and we see how much it has changed since the days of guilds. I have yet to see the CWA or Teamsters boot someone from a union for non-performance.


The Man says:

Unions = Evil

I was a member of a union (UAW and California Police Officers Association), my wife was in a Teachers Union. The union is only in place to make money for the union. Both police officers and teachers could make more money and have better working conditions without unions. (so can all other workers, I am sticking with what I have experience in because someone will claim I have no experiance so I am stupid) Unions limit the amount of money that can be earned by an individual and then take an manditory cut. The only way my wife could opt out was to have the union dues go to a charity instead of the union. When I had her request the due money be donated to the NRA or the NRC, the freaked out and gave a list of ultra left orginizations that the money had to go to.

Any back to free market. Lets take a good teacher and a struggling school for instance. The school could recruit the best teachers and pay a higher price or better working conditions to them to get them to go to work. A school could then have a great team of teachers and raise test scores. To ward off the poor inner city kid crying, in California the schools in the poorest areas get the most money. In this instance a school could work on quality teachers. No one is saying that a school would be able to pay private industry wages, just that teachers would be free to make as much as they can, not as much as the union says they can.

reed says:

Re: Unions = Evil or Good

“Both police officers and teachers could make more money and have better working conditions without unions. (so can all other workers,”

Yes I have heard this stance before. Care to explain why this is so?

If no Unions existed then what would stop Schools from lowering the bar on education level to teach and hiring in grade school teachers at $12.50 a hour?

I read this from the Labor Research Association about Union benefits

“The bottom line is that union workers continue to receive benefits that are far superior to those provided for nonunion workers”

And then from a national compensation survey

“In 1997, unionized white-collar workers earned an average of 20.82 an hour, compares with 18.18 with their nonunion counterparts”

Of course I would imagine these comparisons are created on dubious grounds.

“Unions limit the amount of money that can be earned by an individual and then take an manditory cut.”

I am not in a union, but I find it hard to believe they really limit wages and benefits compared to private industry. The market has already show us it has little stomach for benefits or retirement packages. Why would you think that if unions weren’t around to compete with they suddenly would?

I think just the opposite would happen. Wages would fall just like they have over the past 30 years (5% down for inflation) along with the well known decline in union membership.

Unions aren’t for everyone, but to say they no longer serve a real and good purpose, particularly for low wage earners, seems rather silly.

Ron says:

Re: Re: Unions = Evil or Good

It’s absurb to suggest that people could make more money if unions did not exist. I suggest the opposite would take place. Maybe the union needs to be retooled to fit the 21st century workforce. The fear that most businesses experience is the inability simply fire its workforce at any cause regardless of the problem of the employee, with a union in place. In effect businesses use scare tactics to force its workforce to work longer hours regardless in place work rules. This process allows for workers to be discarded at will and a cheap workforce worker to replace, the discarded when a manager creates the perfect picture that saves the company expenses. In addition business in the US are pushing for expansion of technical/non-technical workforce outside of the United States which offers cheapen labor rates. It may be that business leaders are creating more of a workforce class disparity in the name of revenue and resource management.

john says:

Re: Unions = Evil

Your comments about schools and test scores are simplistic at best. There is nothing preventing districts from paying bonuses to teachers who work in schools where the students need the best. It would be similar to paying a police officer more for working in a more difficult area. If you work harder, you should get more.

sam says:

#9 and others…

don’t get me wrong.. i caovered the fact that some management of unions abuse their power, just as some politicians do. but i’m pretty sure no one here says we should do away with democracy…

unions as a group have raised the level of the members. i worked in a steel mill, used to hang around flint mich.. so i’ve been a part of how unions can be, both good and bad…

in some areas, the growth of the individual would have occured without a union’s galvanizing force. in other cases, ie coal miners.. never would have happened! you would have simply had more deaths, more abuses by owners..


Nick says:

I strongly disagree with this post

I will grant that some aspects of professional organizations make them look like unions (protecting their members, dues requirements, etc.), but these are merely superficial similarities.

I would distinguish unions and professional organizations by the fact that professional organization membership requires some sort of certification. The ABA exists for lawyers (those with law degrees) and the AMA exists for doctors (those with medical degrees). Last I checked, traditional unions only required that you be employed in that trade.

When professional organizations strike out against competition, one needs to be careful to separate what is done to protect the trust that is placed in certification as a professional and that which done to leverage the power of a large group of people. Labor unions use their weight to enhance the benefits of their members (higher wages, better working conditions, more benefits) while professional organizations use (or should use) their weight to protect the legitimacy of the profession. Saying that someone is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law is less about securing a monopoly for lawyers than it is ensuring that people are dealing with people certified to help them with their problems. If I need a lawyer or doctor, I’m better off knowing that a self-regulating organization exists that ensures I’m getting the help I expect. I’m not sure that a labor union makes my car any safer.

Of course, this is not to say that some aspects of a professional practice don’t need to be exclusively handled by professionals. To take one example, I know that Chilling Effects has DMCA takedown notice generator. Is that the unauthorized practice of law because a computer is drafting a legal document? Is the site liable because it wrote the program? In the example above, if Quicken came with a will template or will generator, would that be the unauthorized practice of law? These are interesting questions yet to be resolved.

I think the argument here should be what kinds of activities require membership in a professional organization. As more information migrates online and people increasingly become adept at learning on the fly through search engines, it means that more people are enabled to do for themselves what they used to need a professional for. Similarly, as technology progresses, more tasks can become automated. Even if a profession exists to protect members who merely plug numbers into a formula to tell you how much your house is worth – a task easily automated – there is still the issue of whether that number comes with any official weight. Arguably, every profession can be automated if we were smart enough and all that would be left would be how to have people trust the system.

But we are not there yet and I doubt we ever will be. As an example, take the guy that represents himself pro se against Google. There’s lots of stuff on Techdirt pointing to IP articles that a person might think makes him able to represent himself in court. But he’s no where near skilled enough to be effective, and soon there’s a bad decision on the books that can be used as precedent. Now the guy’s screwed it up for everyone. Was Techdirt giving legal advice? No, but you can see the problem. So perhaps there’s a possibility that professional organizations will be irrelevant in the future, but certainly not yet and perhaps not even likely.

I actually think these professional organizations become more important as info becomes democratized. If anyone can purport to be an expert online, how can one distinguish between legitimate experts w/ proper training and those who just read a lot of blogs? If you’ve been closely following YouTube’s legal troubles and don’t have a legal degree you might not be able to spot some of the subtle errors in some of the of the legal arguments made in blog posts and news coverage. If these articles appear to be giving actual legal advice (if sued do this) and don’t come from an attorney, it should be stopped out of respect for the guy that will follow it and end up getting screwed if its wrong.

I’m sorry this is long and disorganized, but I strongly disagree with this article and am trying to through out a lot of complaints here at once. For full disclosure, I’m taking the bar exam this July so you know where I’m coming from. If on some issues there’s an easy low-cost automated solution I think it’s a no brainer that it should be used. But in the end, it’s all about trust and certification in a way that protects consumers. If that can be resolved, I may be more inclined to agree with this post.

Ebbe says:

Re: I strongly disagree with this post

The argument that guilds, such as, the AMA, APA, ABA, stockbrokers or realtors, have as their primary function the maintenance of superior expertise in their respective fields (and not improvement of benefits for the members of the guild) is an interesting one. It is true that these fields require quite a bit of education (in science, in the law, and in required or standard practice) as well as various requirements to stay abreast of recent developments in the field. It is also true that one of the ways many people evaluate expertise in a given area is by looking at experience and education. Those who have more of each should have greater expertise. Diplomas, degrees, and associations belonged to, all provide evidence of the superior skill set of each guild member. The trust that consumers have in these service providers is based on the assumption that the decisions and actions taken by the guild members will produce better results than decisions and actions taken by the consumer without the help of a guild member. Unfortunately, this is where the argument made by Nick seems to break down. The measures of expertise used by consumers may be rather poor indicators of the actual expertise of the guild members. Diplomas, association memberships, and other general signs of academic success may not be particular predictive of true expertise. The quality of critical decisions made by an MD, a dentist, a realtor, or a lawyer is much harder for consumers to assess (larger because members of the guild do not make this data available), yet it is the expectation of superior decision making that the consumer is buying by paying the expert.

We can compare outcome measures (measures like accuracy of diagnosis, rate at which patients improve, complications that develop, amount of settlement in a civil case, win/lose rate in criminal trials, survival rate in medicine, rehospitalization of individuals deemed to be cured, selling price of a home, profit made in the stock market, etc.) of decisions made by experts with those made by lay individuals or with what might have happened just by chance. While research like this has been done in some fields (stock brokers, radiologists, psychiatrists, music critics, to name a few) using various (but not all possible) outcome measures, it has not been done with diverse enough outcome measures for all decisions made in all of the various guilds. What is interesting, however, is that in many areas, people who claim expertise by virtue of their education often do NOT make decisions that producing better outcomes than either chance (in the case of stockbrokers, for example) or lay individuals (in the case of psychiatrists, for example). When decisions have produced outcomes that are better than would have been achieved by chance, the amount of improvement varies over individuals within the particular guild, i.e., some do better than others but education is rarely the explanation for these individual differences. In fact, for some guilds (e.g., Psychiatrists), the more educated the guild member, the worse the outcomes produced by their decisions. In addition, measures such as self-confidence in one’s decisions are not particularly predictive of the quality of the outcomes produced by those decisions.

So what we have is a system in which consumers of services provided by guild members are not provided with the key evidence needed to choose among guild members (or even whether to bother with the guild at all). For example, stock brokers do not provide data on the number of times their stock picks resulted in earnings higher than would have been obtained by putting one’s money into a broad index fund. Realtors do not provide data comparing the price, time to sale, etc. that they have achieved in the past compared to those who sold their homes on their own or via a website. And so on for virtually all guild members. Note that historically guilds tended to produce items that many consumers could collectively evaluate, e.g., a building, a painting, bread. As a result, consumers of those guilds’ services had more direct access to the quality of the decisions and actions taken by the guild members. This is not so with lawyers, doctors, realtors, and so on. Consumers are forced to choose guild members on the basis of what may be poor predictors of good decisions, namely, education, word of mouth, friendliness, office decorations, bedside manner, self-confidence, education, and so on.

The upshot is that I don’t think guilds really are designed to insure that its members provide quality service to consumers. If they were, the kind of outcome data discussed earlier would be routinely collected by the guild and made public so consumers could make rational decisions about whether to employ a guild and which member of that guild to use. One could infer from this that the guild is really designed to protect its members by insuring that the best will not attract all of the work, that consumers will necessarily be forced to choose on the basis of easily produced “signs” of quality, e.g., a fancy office. If you buy this analysis, then one might agree with Joe that present guilds really are more similar to unions of today than they are to guilds of yesterday.

LemonJoose says:

Re: Re: I strongly disagree with this post


I agree with most of what you said. Professional organizations (i.e. guilds) do often seem to be in place merely to serve the interests of guild-members. I just read an article from a new “executive coaching” journal that talks about the urgent need for the profession to establish an accrediting body and credentialling standards due to the large amount of “unqualified” individuals who have read a few books and decided to call themselves executive coaches, which have been putting downward pressure on the fees that existing executive coaches can charge for their services. Of course, all of the existing executive coaches would be grandfathered in under this scheme, even though they may not have had any more formal training than the recent entrants to the field. Never mind that the executive and personal coaching “professions” are already bumping up against the professional “turf” of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers (who already squabble amongst each other over “turf” issues as well). With the exception of the prescription-writing ability of psychiatrists, fundamentally these are all just variants on paying someone to give you advice on how to improve something in your life. Instead of relying on credentials, wouldn’t consumers of these services be better off if there were standardized customer/patient satisfaction statistics to review and a *reliable* database of written customer/patient reviews? However, the problem is often getting everyone to agree on what metrics matter and thus should be standardized, and even then there is the problem of getting customers to complete these ratings and reviews so that the estimates are unbiased due to sampling issues and reliable for each practitioner. Attempts have been made along these lines, particularly in the medical profession, with mixed results. The data can be collected, but often it does not appear to be very useful in differentiating practitioners from each other. It might be natural to think that there would be a lot of variation in average outcomes from practitioner to practioner, but often there is not (especially after adusting for differences in patient mix on such variables as age, gender, presence of comorbid conditions, and pre-treatment disease severity).

Myself says:

I was in a union, which initially bumped my wage up to scale, but then inhibited my growth because their concept of advancement was based on time served, rather than skills mastered. Since leaving, I’ve advanced at my own pace and doubled my wage. Overall I support unions, I just think sometimes their self-interest gets in the way. Just my two cents’ worth.

Another point I’d like to raise with unions is the argument that American unions have priced themselves out of the labor market. That may be true, and one way around it is to lower American wages. Another way is to raise wages around the globe, and one way to accomplish that is to support labor organizations overseas. American unions should be doing everything they can to support strong labor laws in Mexico and other places.

docwatson223 (profile) says:

Re: Another way is to raise wages around the globe, and one way to accomplish that is to support labor organizations overseas. American unions should be doing everything they can to support strong labor laws in Mexico and other places.

..and here is where unions go off the flywheel into Marxist Dream Theory and economic idiocy; the fixed cost of an item is ‘x’ because the labor to produce said item is added to the cost of the raw materials used to produce it. Add some profit and taxes and you have the final, moderately flexible total cost of an item.

Lower labor costs usually means lower costs for items. To whit, WALMART – and it’s US comsumers – benefit from this arrangement with cheap labor in China and SE Asia. In relative terms and over time, raising the cost of labor would mean that everything is more expensive (even where it is produced; cars aren’t any cheaper in Detroit) and we’re back to where we started since the only thing achieved is to raise the bar on the cost of everything.

Unions are *NOT* the answer in bad economic times – especially for professionals with brains and creativity.

Katie S. says:

Re: Re: Another way is to raise wages around the globe, and one way to accomplish that is to support labor organizations overseas. American unions should be doing everything they can to support strong labor laws in Mexico and other places.

Lower costs on items are not good when they come at the expense of the desperately poor people in China and elsewhere who make them. People like you live in an ethics-free, value-free universe where the only thing that matters is the dollar – not my world, thanks!

Myself says:

I was in a union, which initially bumped my wage up to scale, but then inhibited my growth because their concept of advancement was based on time served, rather than skills mastered. Since leaving, I’ve advanced at my own pace and doubled my wage. Overall I support unions, I just think sometimes their self-interest gets in the way. Just my two cents’ worth.

Another point I’d like to raise with unions is the argument that American unions have priced themselves out of the labor market. That may be true, and one way around it is to lower American wages. Another way is to raise wages around the globe, and one way to accomplish that is to support labor organizations overseas. American unions should be doing everything they can to support strong labor laws in Mexico and other places.

AvroArrow says:

Re: Communism

No, Ronnie did that ( mr. anti-communist ).
the soviets were weak on oil production efficiency. It was Ronnie
that asked the Saudie Arabians to keep the price of oil low and they did.
It cost the Soviets 1.5 dollars to put 1 dollar worth of oil
into thier economy and no Russians noticed.
Headstone reads: Rotted ecconomic carcass died where it fell.

Doug says:

In all things, there must be balance

It’s an annoying fact of life that few things are clearly 100% good or bad. Usually, an idea doesn’t catch on unless the idea has at least some merit. On the other hand, very few ideas are good when taken to the extreme.

Unions and professional organizations can do significant good in helping their members work together. They can help assure some minimal quality of service, they can negotiate for better employment terms, they can provide opportunities for collaboration, training, service, etc.

I like knowing that if I go to any doctor, he/she has at least a minimal level of training. On the other hand, I’m glad that there is no law preventing my friend from advising me on ways to get rid of a headache. It’s reassuring to see a tech school diploma and a Better Business Bureau membership certificate on the wall at the auto repair shop, but I would be very frustrated if I were prohibited from changing my own oil.

I think it is a good thing that lawyers have a bar association. The only grey area is in what legal protections this bar association should have. Should it be illegal to practice law without proper credentials from the association? And what exactly does it mean to “practice law”? That’s where things get sticky.

I’m generally against involuntary (legally-enforced) professional association. But there are exceptions to every rule. I’m glad that civil engineers have to pass tests before going into practice and that buildings must be inspected by a certified professional before they are occupied. It’s all a matter of finding an appropriate balance.

Phil says:

Those aren't unions. They are...

When you talk about the professional appraisers complaining about website-generated valuations, or the lawyers protesting software-generated wills, those people don’t belong to unions. What you’re describing are the actions of GUILDS. Think back on the history of renaissance Europe, and remember how guilds behaved, and compare it to what you’re seeing today.

Calling the appraisers and lawyers unions will lead to the wrong conclusion, since it will establish the wrong mindset. These aren’t unions.

KipEsquire (user link) says:

Union v. Guild

“But that group is just one example of a modern union.”

No, that’s an example of a modern guild, which is an entirely different animal.

Unions are meant to keep people in, via closed/union shops, compulsory dues and never-vested defined-benefit pensions.

Guilds are meant to keep people out, via licensing/credentialing, quotas (e.g., taxi medallions) and other maneuvers.

The only similarity is that both artifically inflate prices at the expense of consumers.

Jared says:


Unions are a major factor in the destruction of the american manufacturing environment. Look at the “Big 3” and their financial troubles. Union people complain that they’re losing pensions and benefits and such…that’s because these companies can’t afford it anymore. The unions have squeezed all they can out of them and they are demanding more. “I want this higher wage, and these stellar benefits, and this pension, and i want to take breaks during the day.” Everyone wants these things. You want a higher wage, get a job and work your way up. You want to take breaks? I can see one break during the day, but you’re paid to be there working, not sitting on your butt. Unions also protect the lazy and incompetent. They make it SO difficult to get rid of someone it’s ridiculous. Point in case: We had two people a while back here where i work take two of the in factory vehicles (approx the size of golf carts) out back and race them behind the building with the lights off, at night, hoping they wouldn’t get caught on security cameras. They burned out the transmission on one, and the brakes on the other. Were they fired? No. They got a couple days off work and were right back. Because of the union. Anyone else would have been out of a job and maybe even charged with criminal property damage. The rest of us have to work to keep our jobs while union members have to work REALLY hard to lose theirs. Unions served a purpose once, but are antiquated institutions now that do nothing but continue to destroy the american work ethic and manufacturing economy.

Teachers unions are also bad but for other reasons. The benefits teachers get, at least in my state, are amazing. Anyone else would kill for benefits that good. Yet they’re only good for the teachers, not the districts or the taxpayers. Teachers have to pay absolutely nothing out of pocket for their health insurance. The rest of us pay quite a bit of money each month so why shouldn’t they? Say $100 a month per teacher? That would save districts a LOT of money which could be used for other things like language and music programs in the schools. Unions need to die. They do more harm than good now.

Kay says:

Re: Unions

You obviously are not familiar with all teacher’s unions. I have a relative who is a teacher who DOES pay for her insurance. Our state bases it’s education funding on mostly property taxes, so guess what? The teachers who work the hardest educating the lowest income students make the least money. Their pensions are funded by the state, which keeps raiding them to fund pork barrel programs. Many teachers now nearing retirement were not eligible – by law – for most of their careers to contribute to Social Security. And now proponents are advocating a constitutional convention with one of the major goals being to remove the pension funding requirement from the state. If this happens, since the state continually spends all this money, there will be no money for these teachers to collect in their retirements. So please think again and do not generalize.

rob (profile) says:

Re: Unions

Unions are the furthest thing from the destruction of the american manufacturing environment. NAFTA and every trade agreement that promotes the benefits of moving a plant to a needy third world country has been the primary cause of the transfer of manufacturing jobs from here to *there*. Without the tax incentives given to businesses that move to targeted countries and systematic deregulation of pension protection programs these factories could not have made the move and these jobs would still be here. China may be able to produce the widgets cheaper than we did, however they could not have had the import advantage until Reagan and Clinton assured that protective trade practices were repealed in the laws like NAFTA. The only things that seem to remain protected are the fat subsidies that we pay to industries that haven’t needed protection in more than 3 decades. When was the last time you heard of a major oil company or multinational agri-farmer go out of business?

On the other hand, with the destruction of of a national manufacturing base we have seen the near destruction of the auto industry, the complete removal of most electronics manufacturing as well as a host of other *labor intensive*, low value jobs. I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial but it doesn’t strike anyone as odd that the US automakers experience a higher part failure rate than foreign manufacturers experience? Afterall, aren’t most of the parts that go into an american made vehicle made somewhere else? One would think that if you were in control of the quality of the parts going to your competitor that at the very least you would cherry pick the parts and at worse? Oh I don’t know – maybe you would revert to lead based paint in children’s toys — because what? you didn’t get the memo that there are laws about that? Listen, if we give up all the manufacturing jobs, if we let them build it all, then all they have to worry about is supply lines — america can be lead around all day long if we cannot control the basis for the well-being of our own people.
Now, are unions a little too 20th century? A little too mafia-hindered? Probably, but lets not blame them for what they didn’t have a part in creating. Unions do really poorly when plants go out of business. Unions do really well when all their members are gainfully employed. Thus we come to the perception of unions protecting the lazy and the inept.

Are you freaking joking me? You mean that your supervisor or the manager at your place of employment didn’t immediately get the police involved with the destruction of property claim? How bout the negligent driving? How bout wreckless endangerment? And you are telling me that there wasn’t a single crime that they could have been charged with that would have nullified their union protection? Well sir, I would say 1. You haven’t read your employment contract 2. the employees that were goofing off / destroying equipment / acting like idiots should have been immediately placed on no-pay leave while the HR department went over to finance and got their final checks written up. I have been a member of a union and while it is true that the employer was obligated to train / re-train and then go through seemingly insurmountable processes to get rid of some people, they were able to do it in cases of gross negligence in no time. In cases of poor training, yeah — it’s a pain that some reap the benefit of the protections that others had to live without long before they were ever able to have the security of mind that comes with the idea that a small mistake wouldn’t cause their family to lose everything. I think Uninos, like all power centers are out of control. I think employers who fail to recognize and reward good employees do a disservice to their customers and themselves because happy well-trained and safe workers are generally more likely to do a good job for the employer. I think the Information Age makes it easy for me to negotiate my own wages and protect myself from the evils of an oppressive industry. Likewise, the spread of information has made the protections afforded us by licensed *bounty hunters* *hair stylists* and other dangerous professions is probably at least AS destructive a force — and the force that is used in that regard is one that benefits only those already licensed. A union cannot and does not prevent people from working in a field that they want to work in. At most they make working in those fields a safer more equitable arrangement than would otherwise exist

Reed says:

Unions good or bad?

“Unions need to die. They do more harm than good now.”

Let me get this straight, Unions pay their workers a good wage, they give good benefits, they protect the workers and now you say they need to die?

Yeah I guess your right, people who work in dangerous manufacturing environments should be getting crap pay and benefits like the rest of us?

All this because we just can’t “afford” to give people good pay or benefits… sounds like a tenuous argument.

Jose says:

A strong responce

I can see by the replies, that this is a topic that is being framed to be provocative. On the face of it the similarities between guilds and unions are interesting. There are a lot of communalities but clearly there are differences as well. I am familiar enough with the AMA to know that to say it is a union is a big stretch; most of the union activity you mention has never or only rarely even been tried by the AMA. It will be interesting to see if you can build a strong arguement.

Ian says:

re: Unions

“Teachers unions are also bad but for other reasons. The benefits teachers get, at least in my state, are amazing. Anyone else would kill for benefits that good.”

I’ve been part of many conversations with people where teachers will list all the amazing benefits they receive, pension, health care, and lets not forget that vacation time!

But the thing is, while everyone acknowledges that these are great benefits, getting them still requires teaching High School for a living. I don’t know about you, but I consider not having to go back to High School, in basically any capacity, to be one of the great luxuries in my life.

So while I take the point that Uninos have managed to secure good compensation for the teachers and that that might be seen as grasping or some sort of over payment for services, I think the fact that we have a national teacher shortage argues strongly that most people don’t think it is enough compensation.

Patton (user link) says:

Tomato - Tomahto

Given what appears to be a general undercurrent trying to separate the definition of “union” from that of “professional association”, there may be a benefit in examining a superset of the two: the cartel.

The existence of cartels is not itself a bad thing. When those cartels (union, professional, OPEC, &c) are in a position to restrict normal market reactions, that changes. The pernicious result of such excess market power is that the benefits to the cartel members are great, yet the detriment to the public is diffuse, enough so that other than in extreme circumstances, it’s not possible to muster the will to break the cartel’s stranglehold.

I’m no fan of market positions secured only by the theory of large numbers, and thus look skeptically upon cartels of all types.

See:, or almost anything Bastiat ever wrote.

dddave says:


“I think the fact that we have a national teacher shortage argues strongly that most people don’t think it is enough compensation.”
It’s not the pay and bennies, it is the lack of support from management and parents.
In oregon at 30 years you retire at 108% of your current base pay. MORE than you were making on the job, so at 52, we could by paying your retirement for 40 years. NO ONE deserves this kind of benefit.
Unions hold a pocketbook hostage. If it is a free pocketbook, like investors, they simply go elsewhere. Unions now only thrive in Govt. Why is GM broke and Delphi in chapter whatever? If no private corp can afford unions, why can we afford them in govt?

Patt says:

Unions, associations, good& bad

Professional Associations limit membership by requiring degrees; pay, benefits, working conditions develop from common usage, and from comparison with the compensation for low-lvel laborers. Entry-level positions are tedious [drawing (CAD), working out details, schlepping, filing, cleaning, research] and under close supervision. Trade unions have limited openings for entry level positions, and have a strict process for advancing to the journeyman and master ranks.

Non-trade unions [UAW, SEIU, AFGE, AFSME, 1199, …] spur higher pay and better benefits in non-unionized companies because owners see the higher benefits package as cheaper than unions [except for Wal-Mart}.

No one today would have an 8-hour work day as the standard for measuring overtime, or safety requirements or health benefits or vacation or sick leave or pensions without the early work of unions. Pay scales [even for professionals, indirectly] descend from the early union struggle for decent wages, for those times.

Professional associations do not replace unions, but expand some of the same roles into professional work. It isn’t clear in any of the writings here what other professional associations than the ABA and AMA have the licensing monopolies they do. The IEEE has some relationship to the IBEW.

What will professionals and laborers need in the globalized workplace?

|333173|3|_||3 says:

Proving credentials

Since the main requirement for entry into the professional organisations is a degree (such as LLB for Law and MBBS for medecine, although that does have other requireemnetns for the differenct colleges), the issue of accreditation could be reduced to forcing someone claiming to be a member of a profession to reveal their academic transcipt on demmand, or at least what class pf degree they achieved (First, Upper Second, Second, Third). Since universities must have lists of equivalent clases of degrees for other universities (specifing that they consider a First from such-and-such university to be equivalent to a second at theier own university), for use in alloacting PhD places. If this was published, then the public could see how well qualified a lawyer, doctor, or engineer was. There does need to be some regulatory body acting as a specilaised ombudman, but that needs to be seperate to teh professional bodies in any case.

MEDIAEMPYRE (profile) says:

I’ve read quite a few of the responses and think that I been helped to understand both sides. I still have some questions that I hope someone can answer.
-How do the unions pay anybody?
-Do the unions use union labor at their facilities?
-How much money do the unions bring in and what do they do
with it?
-Do the unions contribute anything to the business? How do
they have so much power?

wahwahweewah says:

Posner has an excellent article on the legal industry-as-cartel (or guild). I tend to agree that making the comparison with unions will be a tough sale — the leap is a bit far for the typical reader to make without lots of thought — but it’s hard to see what the principled difference would be between, say, the UAW and the AMA (or the state bar associations). Most of the proffered differentiating criteria in this thread are pretty flimsy: the AMA and bar associations, etc., are just cartels that have more history and better legal protections than the labor unions, which in turn are semi-failed attempts at cartelizing particular classes of labor and which enjoy weaker legal protections than their more-successful peers.

About cartel incentives:
(A) a cartel has a strong incentive to provide a barrier to entry, for the obvious reason that it keeps the supply down, preventing “destructive” intra-cartel-member competition (aka: it avoids the situation of having a large excess of lawyers all chasing each others’ business). Counteracting incentive: the fewer lawyers there are, the stronger the incentive to produce substitute goods (eg: binding arbitration performed by nonlawyers) that compete directly with cartel goods.
(B) a cartel has a strong incentive to keep the perceived quality of the services high enough that their customers are not too unsatisfied. They can do this 2 ways: (1) ensuring the services provided are high-quality; (2) obfuscating the services offered to the point that customers cannot reliably assess their quality. (2) is substantially easier than (1) provided a certain baseline level of (1) is obtained, making the overall incentives point towards being just-good-enough to avoid mass dissatisfaction, and then expending most effort in obscuring the customer’s ability to ascertain quality.
(C) a cartel has conflicting incentives about price vis-a-vis exclusion: keeping the price of their services high is of utmost importance, but if too much of the population is excluded there will be strong incentives for a low-cost substitute to be developed to tap into the excluded’s demand; if an acceptably effecive lower-cost substitute is develoepd the cartel should be concerned that its current customers will defect to the low-cost substitute. Typical responses are the occasional charitable offering on the part of cartel members, such as pro-bono work (which has a nice side effect of drumming up work for the cartel: when’s the last time you saw both sides of a case being pro-bono?).

Thus the AMA, legal industry, realtor’s association, etc. are certainly cartels. What is new with “the internet” and “the information revolution”:

(A) The non-statutory barriers to entry go down, for two reasons:
(1) information is more available, and easier to find
(2) software makes it increasingly possible for nonexperts to perform expert roles
(1) is the simpler to understand: lexis-nexis is still $$$, but looking up statutes (and eventually case law) is something that is getting ever-easier to do, and the same picture holds for medical information. The confident lawyer and doctor will point out that their years of experience and professional information provide utility above and beyond that a nonprofessional will be able to get from the information, but it isn’t clear that, if given a choice, the consumer would value that additional utility at the price the lawyer and doctor want to charge.
(2) is a little more complicated: the basic information (laws, medical differential diagnoses criteria) being available means that ordinary folks can now look up at little cost what it would have taken them a long time to look up previously. The lawyer may say “well yes you can read the statutes pertaining to inheritance, but without additional education you will be unable to write up a will, because you don’t know what to do with that raw information”. If that were true, the additional availability of information wouldn’t be a large threat: the ordinary person would be better-informed but still reliant on professionals for completing the taks. However, for simple cases — probably 80% of any given market — software like Quicken’s is capable of providing services equal in value to that of a real lawyer, and at a much more reasonable expense (both in terms of actual outlay and in terms of difficult to quantify expense like the hassle of finding a reliable lawyer and in dealing with a potentially uncomfortable business transaction). The same is likely true of medicine, as technology advances: difficult cases will require a doctor, but simple cases (80%, again) can probably be handled by an expert system, if the law were to allow it.

Thus it’s like copy protection schemes, in a sense: if everyone had to decipher how to break them, they’d work well, but in fact it only takes one smart cookie — to break the scheme or write up the software — to break it for everyone.

The modern-day cartels have the advantage of very strong statutory assurance, but statutory protections can only fight economic reality for so long.

(B) The ability to maintain a not-too-unsatisfactory customer experience will also be under assault, for these reasons:
– progress on reducing perceived barriers to entry will raise the public’s expectations for low prices, etc., and reduce any natural deference towards the profession’s professional judgments
– increasing access to information will make it harder to obfuscate the quality of services offered, thus setting up a dangerous double gambit: obvious obfuscation leads to dissatisfied customers, but de-obfuscating a substandard product will also lead to dissatisfied customers

Thus there will be tremendous pressure to increase the quality of cartel services. You can already see this in the medical industry with the rise of the malpractice suits: the medical industry demands so much deference from customers that customer are only satisfied when everything goes 100% correct — the customer-assessed price for such an arms-length, obfuscated product is 100% reliability, which the industry can’t quite meet.

(C) is the hardest to assess: the lower the perceived barriers to entry are, the more it will seem like the removal of statutory restrictions on the practice of the cartel’s service is a better “charity” move than simply asking for pro bono work. In other wordS: if law or medicine is outside my ability to perform AND I cannot afford it, begging for pro bono service doesn’t seem to bad; if the law or medicine I need seems to be within my ability to perform (if it weren’t for those pesky laws preventing me) AND I cannot afford those services, begging for pro bono work seems a sight less nice than removing those pesky laws.

Joseph says:

I work in a unionized I.T. department and it is a mixed bag. The single best thing about it is that we are paid overtime so management doesn’t make us waste a lot of our time sitting around in case something “might” happen. That happened all the time in my last job where we had to stay 7-8 hours after already working 8 hours “just in case”. Now, if we work late or on weekends we are compensated for it. The downside of this is that salaries are lower than private industry, partly because overtime pay is unofficially already factored in.

The worst thing about it is that there are no rewards or bonuses, and promotions are all seniority-based. This has tended to make most people mediocre except for the hard-core geeks who really like technology and are always experimenting.

As for the questions earlier:

-How do the unions pay anybody?
From Union dues, which are about $100 a month

-Do the unions use union labor at their facilities?

-How much money do the unions bring in and what do they do
with it?
You can read their annual reports

-Do the unions contribute anything to the business? How do
they have so much power?
On a local scale, the unions are really just a group of employees banding together. On a national scale, I think they’re getting a bit out of hand and no longer serve their membership, particularly in terms of their endless support for illegal immigration for some god-unknown reason.

TexasTommy says:

Forget Protecting the Public?

As an attorney who seen so many prospective clients seeking rescue from DIY legal claims and documents, I say protecting the public is a very legitmate reason for restrictive practice legislation. Really, no lawyer makes real money on writing some will, that’s just silly talk. Most lawyers are happy to ignore all those “legal forms to go” businesses, those consumers will find out the value of their bargain the hard way…

Unauthorized practice of law, unauthorized practice of medicine, and similar constraints on a free and open market for advice and services are based in other concerns than maximizing revenue for the licensed practicioner. To suggest it’s just another unionizing tool is just weak thinking.

chris says:

License to Practice?

I just came across this thread recently and the reference to “Professional Unions” in the title of the lead article caught my eye. I happen to be a mechanical engineer and got a P.E. license (NY) back 1997. Over the years I’ve heard rumors about the formation of professional unions related to various engineering disciplines but nothing seems to have come of it – and I for one am glad!

I suppose it would be hard to argue that conventional labor unions had no place in U.S. (or world) history, but didn’t that have everything to do with the situation that existed as labor moved from the farm to the factory? All through that period there was a huge influx of relatively unskilled labor (immigrants) and employers could get away with low wages, long hours, no benefits, etc. That’s what the market would bear. (It’s interesting to note the same condition exists today for the lowest tier of labor, but the immigrants are illegal. If the unions have a role to play today, it would be the fight against illegal immigration.)

Unions (artificially) changed the market conditions and employers were forced (in every sense of the word) to raise wages and offer benefits. The conditions that exist now became the “norm” over a long period of time, so what roll can a union play today? (See above side note.) In upstate NY I’ve seen companies shut down facilities (and destroy the towns they support) because the union was clueless about how markets operate. I’ve seen guys with union seniority sit on their butts reading the paper (and comment on the slide in their companies’ stock performance!) while waiting a few hours for a MANDATORY 4 hour overtime shift to kick in! All I can do is shake my head and think WTF!

Professional organizations (or “guilds”, if you want to call them that) typically require their members to pass a test and get a license. It’s no small feat to get a professional engineers license. My wife is a veterinarian and she also must be licensed to practice. Some professions require an academic degree (law, medicine, etc.) but that’s certainly not true in all cases. I view the license to practice any particular profession or trade as a “minimum requirement” – beyond that other factors (word of mouth, references, etc.) will guide consumers.

As far as the anecdote about Zillow and the Arizona real estate appraisers is concerned, I’m not sure I understand your complaint. If the law in Arizona says you have to be licensed to generate home value estimates (in Arizona), then Zillow should get the license. What would stop them? Sure it’s a barrier of entry, but it’s also state law. If enough people in Arizona don’t like it and get a law-maker off his or her butt, they can change the law.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that while all doctors have to be licensed to practice (within the law), they DON’T have to belong to their respective guild (the AMA). I’m not sure about each and every profession and the related guild, but all I have to do to practice as a professional engineer in NY is pass the test. I also have to keep up my CE (continuing education) – 36 hours worth every 3 years. It’s the law.

Katie S. says:

Re: License to Practice?

Just because the “market would bear” something doesn’t make it ethical. Low wages, no benefits, and long hours for hazardous manufacturing jobs are a moral outrage no matter how you laissez-faire capitalist cheerleaders try to spin it. Would you work 14 hours a day for $1 an hour? If not, shut up.

cool people says:


Jason says:

Unions Good For Average/Poor Members

In my experience (and yes, I have been in a union, as well as being around them), unions protect average and poor members at the expense of the good members. It is basically socialism within the area of the union.

How does this happen? Union rules generally “legislate” how someone can be paid, promoted, and all other means of reward. This is generally done based on seniority, but also sometimes includes requirements outside the job, such as a degree, and nearly always excludes actual job performance, talent, ability, and efficiency, the tools that would determine reward in any rational system. That means that someone who has been doing a job for 5 years is more highly rewarded than someone who has been doing it for 3 years, but is MUCH better at the job… and that person who is very good likely gets almost exactly (if not exactly) the same compensation as someone who is very POOR at the job and also has 3 years of experience. Thus the person who is good at the job is, in effect, limited in compensation to what is acceptable for the poor performer, or at best the expected average, rather than being able to be compensated in a manner reflecting their actual ability.

Granted, some non-union places of employment (possibly even the majority) use the same general practices… but those practices were made standard by unions. Unions, however, ENFORCE that system… the employer has no choice.

This is not to say that unions never had use, or even that they have no use today… they certainly did, and possibly do now. They also certainly have problems, though, including the fact that they give no consideration to the impact of their demands on the ability of the companies employing their members to continue to do business.

Pwdrskir (profile) says:

Taming a Tiger?

Tiger Woods was fined by the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) for speaking his mind, in America. The PGA rule, Section VI-D in the PGA Tour’s player handbook says, “It is an obligation of membership to refrain from comments to the news media that unreasonably attack or disparage tournaments, sponsors, fellow members, players, or PGA Tour.”

It is very sad that expressing your opinion is punishable if you belong to a professional organization like the PGA. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights are being destroyed day by day.

b4upoo (profile) says:

If It Works!

Obviously technology displaces workers and that is usually a good thing as workers adapt and move to more useful work.
But is the pattern really working out for us? Sure, we no longer need fifty men to cut our lawns as we have power mowers. But we now have too many unemployed who drain the system’s wealth. We may no longer have huge numbers of women working at the phone company but talking on the phone is still expensive. And factories no longer hire huge crowds of workers but the price of a new car is far worse than in 1920. So is technology helping us or drowning us? So far it’s a toss up.

Hankelvis says:

Union President

Conservatives are saddened that union employees are coerced into demonstrating for the privilege of paying more taxes to pay for their own health care. This will let large organizations off the hook and reduce the rights of all workers. Unions are now partnered with big business with no function left but to control the workers. The Unions exploit the grievances of the worker as well as the socialists and progressives. They appeal to factions of gullible millennial youth. Particularly those in Europe and the U.S. that have been groomed by the Union-led cable-news political-­machine-conglomerates. Like Obama, they present vague promises open to interpretation. They offer up empty promises. A perfect deception fueled soley by self-imagined eventful futures for a generation of bored, low-acheiving, outcome-based learners with short attention spans. Union exploitation is selective and opportunistict. Their tactics are devoid of concious or mercy with no thought as to consequence. They are a ligitamized crime-spree in progress. Democrats, thirsty for power, trade their ethics for Union “support” to gain power in a “devils bargain”. Unions now hold patriotic Americans hostage as they double-cross the witless politicians and take control for themselves.

Chris Watson (profile) says:

Professional Slackers, errr....Unions

My biggest issue is that unions, like fractions, appeal to the Greatest Common Denominator; you get get paid X $$$ no matter what you do or how good you are so you can be next to a slug who is getting rock star pay for doing as little as possible. Never mind that you *are* a rock star and want more, the contract says you get ‘X’.

If I work hard, do a great job, and can negotiate for myself (like I have for the last 17 years) then I don’t need a union, representation, collective – read Borg – bargaining. If someone is a professional – particularly in IT – and can’t bargain for themselves after a few hours of research, then they should just quit thier ‘professional’ job and go be a stock monkey somewhere.

Unions in a professional environment are as outdated as that 1970s lava lamp the union president at CRS kept in his office. There’s just no need for them; there’s no ‘great struggle against the man’ and there isn’t a ‘Socialist struggle againt the Capitalist expoliters’ post 1975. They have outlived thier usefuleness in the United States.

Pwdrskir (profile) says:

Public vs Private Unions

Bureau of Labor Statistics news release on Jan 22, 2010 states that there are currently more unionized public sector workers now than private union workers.

Is this because the world economy is shipping labor jobs away from America or is the US government growing too big? I would suspect a combination of the two.

The AFL-CIO along with the AFSCME and AFGE are constantly lobbing and using collective bargaining to increase wages and benefits at the taxpayers expense. BLS report – In 2009, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings
of $908, while those who were not represented by unions had median weekly earnings of $710. (See table 2)

* In Oregon, public employee unions are funding ballot initiatives to raise personal income and business taxes in order to protect gold-plated medical benefits from state spending reductions.

* In California, the Service Employees International Union spent at least $1 million on a massive television ad campaign demanding that desperate state government officials raise oil, gas and liquor taxes instead of cutting spending.

The scary part is the increasing number of people who are reliant on the US government for their livelihood and healthcare either through employment or entitlement programs. Europe is about to have the largest restructuring of their European Union ever and it will have decades of blowback. The riots in Greece are the tip of the iceberg for the EU and the financial insecurity it will create will hinder our private economy. With the US headed in the same direction, as the Baby-boomers come of age, we are all about to have the worst financial hangover ever, all compounded by our risk adverse unionized government.

Are you going to volunteer to stand up in front of those people and tell them they can’t have their Medicare? Neither are the politicians.

Fiber Cleaver (user link) says:


When you talk about the professional appraisers complaining about website-generated valuations, or the lawyers protesting software-generated wills, those people don’t belong to unions. What you’re describing are the actions of GUILDS. Think back on the history of renaissance Europe, and remember how guilds behaved, and compare it to what you’re seeing today.

Vash the Stampede says:

Unions VS Non Union

Full disclosure: I have worked for the UAW at a Ford Plant as well as my Dad (now laid off), my Uncle (now laid off), and my Granddad (retired after 48 years or something).

A scam:

Ford would hire people on for a probationary period of 89 days. If you made it to 90 you would be fully hired and receive full benefits. If told to not come back you were SOL. They managed to get thousands of people to leave there jobs for the promise of the heavenly union job and most were thrown out with the garbage. I would say out of a group of 250 people 10 were usually chosen and they went through plenty of groups.

A little help:

When I had a problem the Union rep had my back and fought for me – something I’ll never forget and has never happened in a non Union job. On the other hand, while working for a fortune 100 company I voiced my complaints about my job and guess what? I magically got laid off within a month. People still there are getting furloughed, laid off, forced to work for 40 hours as part time so they don’t get benefits.

Some slackers:

Were they people making big money pushing a broom? Yes. How many were there? A hand full. Were there people that were bad at their job? Of course.

The Management Myth:

Quite often when talking about this subject I hear the same ole BS of “Unions are bad and inefficient” which goes hand in hand with “The Government can’t do anything right Private business is better!!!!”. I can assure you that private business is in no way better at anything than government. Any organization of more than 1 person is bound by the law of human existence to be somewhat wasteful and retarded.


While I worked at the Ford plant on the trim line I had to install the heater cores on the trucks. Well, if the units were put in the wrong order (there were 5 types: A,B,C,D,E) then I would have to stop the line to get the correct one. As a suggestion after that happening several times I asked for an extra of each type just in case so I wouldn’t have to do stop the line. Did the Supervisors (non union) do it? Hell Fcking NO. All the while they try to scare you by saying that it’s $10,000 a minute lost if the line goes down. So I guess I wasted a MILLION dollars through no fault of my own because the Supervisors had their head up their asses.

Moral of the Story: don’t feel sorry for unionized companies or blame the union for their shortcomings.

AudibleNod (profile) says:

License to Practice?

I would work 14 hours a day for $1 an hour if my daily cost of living were about 95 cents. It is unethical to exploit workers, but if the daily cost of living is y then I would agree to work for about y times 1.2 or so. As for the poor working conditions, all of those issues in America have been legislated away after union members demanded the government fix it. Without capitalists elevating a small fraction lower class people above their original stations and (sadly) without some robber-barons exploiting many workers we wouldn’t have had the modern labor movement. Only after exploring the darker side of capitalism was the labor movement born.

Christopher says:


I assume that by out of control you mean things like:

1. Mandating unpaid overtime.
2. Having everyone getting the minimum wage who are their real workforce.
3. Not offering health insurance.
4+. Whatever you wish to add.

Yes, in that case, even in MARYLAND a good bit of employers are severely out of control. It is the ‘dirty little secret’ that everyone knows yet are afraid to acknowledge out of fear of losing their jobs.

Christopher says:

Professional Slackers, errr....Unions

Yes, and there are still MANY businesses that without unions would take advantage of their workers.

Why do you think the corporations are pushing for ‘loser pays’ legal system….. to make sure that people are FRIGHTENED of suing their employer for fear of getting a crackpot jury and losing more money.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Well, I think your analysis makes a serious mistake. There is a difference between unions (organized groups of workers who seek to bargain collectively to gain greater market power) and union-laws that prohibit the hiring of non-unionized workers. On case is that of gaining market power through cooperation while the other gets government enforcement. That makes a huge difference in practice and in theory. A union still has to appeal to members and cannot be too unreasonable to the employers it bargains with because there are other options. They face a market. A mandated union has no need to please members, the employer or anyone. They effectively become a little government with no accountability whatsoever.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Unions VS Non Union

It’s not that the private sector automatically makes you more efficient. The big advantage of the private sector is that if your company does a bad job, you’ll eventually be run out of business by somebody doing a better job. Of course, if the government then saves you because you’re too big to fail, that won’t work.

Also, it seems to me perfectly legitimate to say that if you don’t like your job, you’re welcome to not having it as a response to a complaint. Probably not the smartest answer, but sometimes, it does make sense.

As for the union rep having your back, I’m glad for you. There are people who the union rep don’t like and who get fired just as fast as if the boss didn’t like them. The union isn’t pro-employee. It’s just pro-some people who you may or may not end up being.

willbates (profile) says:

Worth a look

Interesting points, obviously there are massive differences between unions and trade organisations but it would be interesting to see the analysis of similarities. Could there be cross-firm strikes? I doubt it but there is definitely an incentive to limit labor supply to drive up wage. The issue is that competition legislators should, if independent, maintain a level playing field and trade organisations shouldn’t have enough power to significantly influence.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Unions VS Non Union

“…It is more to blame on management and business being too damned greedy….”

Let me guess. You’re one of those who believe “the fat cats” make their money on the backs of their employee’s…. am right?

1. What company is in business for the sake of keeping people employed? That is not their purpose. Their purpose is to make money. Sometimes that means having to spend money to keep your employee’s happy. But that is an investment – not charity. (it takes lots of man hours and money to constantly fire/hire/train. If you best people are leaving for other companies i.e. brain-drain, you’re screwed) On the flip side it would be commercially stupid to keep 500 employees when you only need 50. Keeping non-productive employees hanging around will do nothing more than drain your capitol – and you will go out of business – which means everyone looses their job.

2. If you’re not being compensated adequately for your skill set then why the hell are you at that company? If it’s the only game in town, then why the hell are you staying in that town? How about some personal responsibilty for improving your own situation?

Union people love to talk about how “their the ones who built the company…” That’s BS. You got hired to do a job at a certain salary. That salary is all the company owes you and all it has ever owed you and is all it will ever owe you. $50K for 10 years is Half a million dollars. And you think the company somehow owes you more than that?


Anonymous Coward says:


FDR would agree, as would I.

“The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, “I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place” in the public sector. “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.”

And if you’re the kind of guy who capitalizes “government,” woe betide such obstructionists.

Harry Johnson says:

Unions = Evil

You are full of crap. I have worked as a tool and die maker and as a degreed mechanical engineer. In the tool and die trade, management fought tooth and nail against craft unionization in several shops where I live. After the fight was over a couple of managers admitted privately that the toolmakers were worth far more than they were being paid but the management would never, ever give it up willingly. In the two machinist and IBEW union shops in the area, the union prevented one thing. It prevented the implementation of a brown nose system where the rewards go to brown nosers and faorites over the high performing workers.

In my current profession, I am regularly approached by recruiters and companies trying to get me to move from my present position. They butter me up, saying I have rare and valuable skills. When I suggest that if my skills are so rare then supply and demand should bring better wages, I am told it does not work that way. So much for free markets and supply and demand. Whoever has the gold makes the rules, then whines because people don’t rush right in to take whatever he gives them.

Harry Johnson says:

Looking forward

That is nonsense. Professional organizations look to protect themselves under a veneer of looking out for the public good. They are unions with better public relations. Pharmacists, for instance, are paid very, very generously to put pills from the big bottle into the little bottle. Nothing more. But their organization protects them. Any organization of salesboys, like the fake estate agents are just looking out to pad commissions. There is no reason for fake estate agent licensing except to keep people out of the game. There is a long, long list of similar occupations. There are a small handful such as medical doctors and structural engineers, which require extensive education to be effective and the poor execution of their work may put the public at risk but these are the exceptions.

PopeRatzo (profile) says:


You probably shouldn’t make assumptions. I have a degree in labor relationsAh, but it’s all in the context. If you use your degree in Labor Relations to protect corporations, your understanding of union history could well be suspect, but if you use the degree to protect workers you might have something worth hearing.

If you don’t use your degree at all except to post comments on blogs, then you’ve probably been screwed like everyone else.

Jonathan says:


So basically, unless someone is suffering and hating work, they’ve got it too good. Wow. What is it with USians and their single-minded authoritarian-sadistic drive to deliver pain to people they don’t even know?

I think you’ll find that most of the dead weight and waste in education are not due to the educators, but administration and athletics. This is so at all levels, K-12 as well as secondary.

CheeseHead says:


This is clearly a hot hot topic and surely will continue to be for the long term future. After reading all posts, what I’ve taken to heart is the evolution of unions and guilds over the past century or so due primarily to technological advancement. Government and private “industries” are clearly far different beasts especially as they relate to themselves through leadership ( ie left vs right). It’s scary to think union members, for a blue collar industry, are now paying forced dues so the union boss can slip in bed with a certain political party all in the name of protecting one job…the union bosses. Is scary the right word here?

Yes there are apples and oranges, some industries can utilize a labor union more efficiently than others. Finding a happy medium does not include, however, allowing the labor union to prohibit private expansion via political agenda.

ChrisH (profile) says:

I think it helps to break it down into two types of unions, the difference being the nature of the employer.

For most jobs there are far fewer companies than there are workers. This means that a company has a much stronger negotiating power than an individual employee (try negotiating the terms of your next cell-phone contract). The purpose of a traditional union is to even out this relationship so that the employees as a whole have the same negotiating power as the employee. This is the logical thing to do from the employee’s perspective.

The second type of “union” would be one where the members are self-employed such as real estate agents, plumbers, etc. Since these workers are hired by individuals instead of a large company, they aren’t needed to ensure fair pay or other negotiated items.

It’s unfortunate that some unions are able to use their power to create laws barring non-union workers, or do other things that harm society as a whole, but this kind of abuse of power is a feature of any large company or organization.

Pat says:

Predatory Democracy follows Predatory Capitalism

What happens to societies that lose the very thing that Unions were created for: the work?

If Unions had been stronger, jobs would not be overseas in the first place. It appears Unions were playing one game: to apply pressure politics to get a greater share of the profit pie, and what the Job Creators/Managers were playing: cultivating a work force cheaper, who work harder, and faster. It just happened to be overseas.

Neither Unions, nor Managers were on the same page, and it arises from lack of communication. – secret backrooms agreements, etc.

What now? What to do with an organization long dedicated to organizing, using leverage to intimidate those with superior resources to share those resources? When turned to politics, the beat goes on……except now it becomes intimidation democracy, with minions for and minions against candidates. The FEC has allowed managers the privilege of continued intimidation and leverage too – by the Citizens United decision, etc.

We are at the same place, but without jobs, and the work down benefits only insiders – a political class growing exponentially.

Without jobs, what should human energy and effort be used for except remuneration to become the minions of promoters or opposition forces?

Clearly, America is disorganized in that it is unorganized using the same tactics for similar, but entirely different objectives. That world leaves out many, and creates a hostle republic. Having lost our trading nation, inequality inevitably must follow – much like the Russian Revolution.

No one wants to live in an oppressive, predatory democracy!

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