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Strike revisited (4) Thu, Dec 22, 2005
I mentioned my strike breaking idea to someone, and it was brought to my attention that many of the transit workers are on strike against their will.  And they're being fined daily for it.  They were forced to go on strike because otherwise they'd be kicked out of their union and never be allowed to work as a transit worker again.  That's a shame.  Seriously.  But if I were in a powerful position (which I'm not), I would get rid of that entire union and hire back everyone who actually wanted to do some work, starting with the people who were originally in the union. 

I realize that many people in unions don't really want to be a part of their union, but were forced to join as a requirement for the job.  That's the case with my mom (now retired).  She was a secretary at my high school and was forced to be a part of the evil teacher's union.  I understand why unions exist and I realize that they can promote some amount of good.  But she received little to no benefit from being a part of the teacher's union.  She worked more hours.  She worked summers.  She worked winter breaks, spring breaks, and teacher convention holidays.  But she was still forced to fork over some of her hard-earned cash to some big, litigious body that didn't care about her. 

I was listening to the radio this morning, and I found my new hero.  In 1981, President Ronald Reagan gave a 48-hour warning to the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, which was on strike because they wanted more money for doing less work.  After the 48 hours, he fired all 11,359 of them and replaced them with people who wanted to work.  That's awesome.  It just goes to show that it's a relatively feasible thing to do.  However, it was only feasible because the replacements were some of the people who weren't on strike and also some military personnel.  Hiring 33,000 new transit workers might be a bit difficult. 

So in conclusion, I feel bad for the transit workers who don't want to be on strike.  It sucks for them.  But I don't feel bad for the people who want to make more money for doing less work.  I hope that the people who deserve a raise will get a raise, and the rest of the people will be replaced by people who are willing to work. #business

Britt Mon, Dec 26, 2005
Sorry to be serious here for a moment, and I don't want to be too confrontational, but I can't help but mention a few things:

1)  Most employees want to make more money and/or do less work. (Don't you?  Honestly?  If not, you've clearly got a pretty sweet job there.)  And most employers/management want their employees to make less money for doing more work.  It's just basic self-interest on both sides.  I think it's pretty logical that when they're pulling in opposite directions, that's how you get closest to what people actually deserve.

2)  I'm sorry your mom didn't feel like she benefitted from her union.  I wonder what the salary and benefits, etc, were for her position before and after the union started, but of course I don't know the details.  But obviously a majority of folks there saw a benefit, or they would've voted the union out.  Sometimes democracy and majority-rule stinks for the minority, all the way up and down the line, but that's sort of how democracy works, huh?  Sometimes I'd sure like to get out of paying taxes to a government I didn't vote for and don't think serves my interests! ;-)  But regardless of its flaws, I think democracy's a pretty good idea. whether it's on a national scale or whether it's in the workplace where we spend a huge portion of our waking hours. 

3)  You don't honestly think that people go on strike because they don't want to work, do you?  A strike is not a vacation.  It's a huge sacrifice for people to make.  So I'm really confused why you keep saying that the NY transit workers or the PATCO folks or other strikers don't "want to work" or aren't "willing to work."  Unless it's just that you think union members are more likely to be lazy than non-union members.  I'd like to hear your argument for that, because it just sounds like an unfounded assumption to me.  I know a lot of union members, and in most ways, they're just like anyone else.  Some union members are lazy, and some non-union members are lazy.  Most aren't lazy, but they do want to be treated fairly and get the best they can for themselves.  That's just what people are like.

4)  I would never say that unions are always in the right, because that's dumb.  A union is just a kind of structure that workers have, and they vary tremendously, and sometimes they're completely right and sometimes they're completely wrong but usually they're somewhere inbetween.  But I do think that it's a basic human right for people to be able to form unions if they want them, because otherwise the workplace is a non-level playing field where each individual is at the mercy of a huge employer.  Unless you're irreplaceable, the leverage is completely off, and that's just unfair.  It would be nice if we lived in a world with warm fuzzy bosses whose top priorities were making sure employees got the pay and benefits and time off they deserve.  (And where they give raises and promotions to the people who most deserve them, instead of based on office politics and personalities and brown-nosing, etc.)  But it's illogical to expect that when employers have tremendous pressures to keep budgets as low as possible, that they'll be altruistic and fair.  So employees have to stand up for themselves, and to make it a fair fight, they have to stand together.  That doesn't make them lazy or evil, it makes them smart. 

Disclaimer:  I don't know much about the details of any specific cases here, including the transit workers, PATCO, or the Kittatinny teachers' union.  I just know details about a lot of other situations.  I'm not defending the union's position specifically in any of these cases; I'm just defending workers' right to have a union if they want one.

Britt Mon, Dec 26, 2005
Sorry that got so long.  I wanted to add one more thing that I left out--  I could write tons more about this too but I'll try to keep it short.

Unions are not just about the money.  At their best, they're about respect, they're about fairness, they're about accountability, they're about having a voice in the decisions that affect your life, they're about people promising eachother that "an injury against one is an injury against all."  They're about improving the quality of the work that gets done by including the input of the people who actually do the work and not just the people in corner offices who last did real work thirty years ago if ever.  They're about people fighting to get their employers to respect their need to have time off so they can have strong loving relationships with their kids, partners, and friends.  They're about people who work incredibly hard at crappy jobs for low pay, who've been told they're stupid and a dime-a-dozen, who can finally afford to support their families and help their kids step up to a better life.  Yeah, not all unions are like this all the time, and I certainly understand that.  But they have that potential, and they can really be pretty amazing sometimes.  I've seen it, and I believe in it. 

As you can tell, this is something I feel strongly about.  I didn't intend to get so long-winded, and I'll stop now for real!

Anyway, a (belated) Merry Christmas to you and Wendy.  And Happy New Year!

Dave Tue, Dec 27, 2005
Thanks for posting something knowledgeable.  Although I'm opinionated, I appreciated being proven wrong by someone who knows what they're talking about.  In rebuttal response to your points:

1.  I feel like I make enough money.  I know that sounds weird, but I think I'm an exception.  But anyway, I understand your point. 
2.  I didn't know a school could exist without a teacher's union.  But you're right:  the union is there to help people.  I realize this. 
3.  You're absolutely right:  My assumptions and opinions are completely unfounded.  I don't have much evidence to back up what I say.  But I used to work at a place with a union and I know that certain people are trained to do certain jobs and it was illegal for them to perform a job outside of their job function.  So if they were trained to operate a broom, they would claim that they're unqualified to operate a dustpan and brush.  To me, that sounds lazy.  But to them, it's a serious argument and they could lose their job if they broke that rule.  It all depends on whose side you're on how you look at it. 
4.  You're absolutely right.  I'm sort of an idealist:  I think that people can run a business and do it nicely.  You're a realist:  You know that business and feelings don't mix.  So I agree with you. 
5.  I see your point and I believe what you're saying. 

So let me restate one of my original points:  I think it sucks that millions of New Yorkers had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and find other ways to get around in 30-degree weather just because some union went on strike.  It seems a little unfair to the people who depend on that service.  But I suppose I also see the perspective of the union workers, though I still have the same opinions as I originally had.  Good points, Britt.

Britt Wed, Dec 28, 2005
I really appreciate your response to my own opinionatedness-- thanks for being so open!

And I don't think I gave you full credit for the point you made about your mom.  It's seriously problematic and unfair if one job classification is in the majority in a bargaining unit, and they "sell out" the minority.  If that was the case, your mom and others could have petitioned to set up a separate bargaining unit for non-teachers.  They could argue that they were not a "community of interest" with the teachers, and if they won, your mom and the others could have voted on whether they wanted a union for just themselves, or no union.

I hear what you're saying about your former co-workers; I think you're absolutely right that it depends on your point of view.  And hey, I'm sure that some of them really were lazy.  But it sounds to me like this is more a case of union rules than the laziness or non-laziness of the union members themselves.  Sometimes union rules end up being really dumb and inefficient, though.  As I said, I definitely don't think that particular union policies are always in the right. 

And I agree 100% that the results of the strike sucked, and were unfair to New Yorkers.  I'm sure I would be really frustrated if it affected me.  And I think it's perfectly reasonable for people to think that the union shouldn't have gone on strike.  (Although I think it's also really important to keep in mind that the strike wasn't just about the union's decision-- it was also a result of management's actions.  The union wouldn't have gone on strike facing huge fines and possible imprisonment if they didn't think they had something to gain that they could reasonably win, which means that management was probably holding back things they could afford to give AND they were refusing to negotiate any further.  Usually in these kinds of situations, management is calling the union's bluff, daring them to do it, gambling on the union taking the brunt of the bad public opinion.  And no union ever goes on strike lightly.  I mean, it's still the union's decision, but you shouldn't discount the management role as well.)  But as I was saying, I totally respect people thinking the union shouldn't've gone on strike.  What I disagree with is that the transit workers should be fired for going on strike, and that they (and by implication, everyone else) shouldn't be allowed to have a union at all.

Thanks again.  A respectful exchange of opinions is a wonderful thing.

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