Monday, March 07, 2005

Union Dues? I read, for the first time, Inc. Magazine while I was getting my oil changed this morning. I think about business a lot less frequently than Flyer does, but I did used to be in the construction/real estate racket long ago, and I tussled with the unions on occasion. Thus, an article titled "Why the Unions Can't Win" caught my eye.
I've been thinking a lot about rank-and-file union members lately, and I have to say it's a shame how the guys at the top have let them down. Union leaders must be the only people on the planet who haven't figured out that if you want to get anywhere today, you have to think and act like a businessperson. You have to market yourself. You have to make the case why someone should purchase your services. If what you want are jobs for union members, you need to treat employers like potential customers, not like adversaries you're going to force into submission. In a competitive economy, nobody buys because they're forced to. They buy because they want to.
The author, Norm Brodsky, goes on to tell a story of his own union/non-union woes. There was a time, obviously, when business in America was the realm of robber barons, sly oil swindlers, and billionaire stock waterers. It's interesting that the one part of the American business environment that hasn't come along into the 21st century is the unions. It's true that unions were, at one time, the enemy, shut out on principle by so-called capitalists (cronyists is more like it). True, too, that today some big companies (like Wal-Mart) opt to run without unions -- which would have been a big deal 30 years ago. Unions are simply more and more irrelevant, thanks partly to such archaic tactics. Wal-Mart isn't run by specie barons lighting cigars with c-notes. It's run by a board of stockholders who just don't see any benefit from unionizing. I mean, why bother when affirmative action rules, minimum wage requirements (which are higher than the fed minimum in many states), and legal precedent has set in stone much of what unions (theoretically) represented?

The only growth area for unions these days is service occupations (let's see Upton Sinclair write a story about customer service reps being turned into sausage) and government employees (not a famously competitive field; plus, the last time the fed got tough with a union was when Reagan -- thought to be a union-friendly Republican based on his SAG days -- bitch-slapped PATCO). There are reasons for this, a lot of which I hadn't thought about until I read this piece. It's interesting stuff. I wonder what kind of success would/could be had by unions treating an open shop as an RFP? A little bit of "Look what we can do for you" might go a lot further than a lot of "Nice store/company/restaurant you got here; it'd be a shame if anything happened to it."

1 comment:

Razor said...

Don't forget the tragic plight of those poor hockey players. Where would they be without their union? I mean, god, they might have lost their jobs...ummm....