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Better off without unions?

By Tyler S. Clark (Contact)

Published July 6, 2009

I ran across an interesting opinion piece in Newsweek today. It's called "Unions: We're Better Off Without Them." It's timed to campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would modify some of the rules surrounding the process of employee union elections.

Depending on your view, either despite the prevalence of unions in this area or because of it, there are many negative perceptions of unions here, some of which are repeated by Kevin Kelly, the CEO of Emerald Packaging:

We worry that a union might attempt to drive up wages higher than we can afford, or foist a health care plan on us more expensive than our thin margins can handle. Our past experience with a union taught us—and many of [our] employees said as much—that too often the union protected employees with the lowest production or worst quality. We also know that some union contracts strictly limit the ability of managers to help run or setup machinery, something that would deeply hurt our company, where supervisor's [sic] often wield wrenches.

 Kelly bemoans the hard work of fighting off the union's advances:

About 13 years ago our company's employees voted to get rid of the union they'd had for nearly 30 years. But the six weeks before the vote were horrible. Union organizers, including one flown in from headquarters, descended on our company, pigeonholing employees on the plant floor. Production crashed, and our scrap rate tripled. Determined to stay neutral, we finally had to speak up once rumors began to spread that we'd close the plant if the union won.

All of this does leave the impression that the company is better off without the union. What about the workers?

Truthfully, we hadn't been prepared for life without a union. We didn't build a human resources department, failed to craft a wage scale to guarantee timely increases, and didn't reach out enough to hear employee concerns.


The mere thought of new labor law has inspired some companies to react. One business in my city has started to pay more attention to employee communication, publishing a monthly newsletter and holding meetings with shifts to explain how the company is doing. "We hope by opening lines of communication that folks will feel better about the company," the owner told me. "And, of course, less likely to embrace a union." Another business owner has gone so far to hire a firm to conduct an employee survey so he can identify and resolve any festering problems.


[T]he process refocused my mind on our plant floor relations. So I hired a labor consultant to do an employee survey which turned up some issues we've begun to address, like putting an emphasis on internal promotion rather than outside hiring. We should do many of the things he turned up. All too often the day-to-day struggle of running a business muddles priorities. Now, with some union likely to target our company once the new labor law passes, I won't get distracted again.

All of this sounds like the unions, even when unsuccessful in getting employees to organize, serve as a catalyst to refocus employers on how they're serving their employees. That can't be all bad.


1TonyBudak(5 comments)posted 7 years ago

Should anyone wish a crash course on U.S. labor unions and labor law, see, Labor Law for the Rank and Filer by Staughton Lynd and Daniel Gross, at

Best Wishes,

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2cambridge(4158 comments)posted 7 years ago

Ask the 7,142 people that are about to lose their pensions if the wished they had a union or some government regulations that made Forum honor the contracts they signed and what their employees worked for all their lives.

More companies every day turn their back on their employees and "reorganize" and are cheered on by the neighbors of the people they are screwing.

No union, no regulations, no government oversight equals no accountability. Think it wont happen to you?

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3UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 7 years ago

My name says it all. They are what made this country great!

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4apollo(1227 comments)posted 7 years ago

Cambridge, of course it won't happen to me. Most of us in the real world don't have pensions. We have 401K's which are contributed to by the worker and the company. The money is completely ours and completely controlled by us. The idea that future compensation is guaranteed (pension) is a flawed concept that is dependent on the business environment that can't be foretold. The stock market isn't a guarantee and that's where most pensions are invested. Aren't we glad that the Republican idea that social security should be invested there didn't come to fruition?

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5apollo(1227 comments)posted 7 years ago

City Dweller, there is nothing wrong with it. But, then don't cry when companies go bankrupt and cut many of the wages and benefits those unions extracted. The thing the unions either don't understand or don't care about is the company needs to be competitive and profitable in order to survive. See GM, Steel, Delphi, Forum, and others.

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6Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago

Better off without Unions, especially if you are a hardworker. The labor market should drive wages. We do not need a minimum wage, union wage or any other type of forced wage. If you are good at what you do, work hard and prove your value to a company you will earn more. Unions protect the lazy. It is a pyramid scheme that taxes the workers to provide wealth to the union bosses.

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7VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 7 years ago

What we really need is a Union in China. If we can organize their workforce, we will do wonders for those of us who still work here in the States.

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8DoctorGonzo(728 comments)posted 7 years ago

Unions are most certainly necessary in the work force, however, sometimes they overstep and create avoidable problems, like so many other things in America.
Having said that, the author could have done more to depict both sides of the issues rather than cut and paste from a magazine article and write seven sentences that just take up space. What a journalistic savant you are.

Also, remember that a company's objective is to serve its shareholders first and foremost. I am not sure what "serving the employees" means exactly. Having a safe work environment, fair wages, and a team atmosphere are important, but I am not sure about serving them. That is kind of a ridiculous statement from someone with apparently no successful business experience.

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9VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 7 years ago

Employees are the backbone of a business. Labor costs are always the largest costs a business has. The way many businesses are treating their employees today reminds me of why unions became so popular.

Just because the economy is bad is no reason to think you can abuse your employees by forcing unreasonable hours, work conditions or loss of benefits. The unfortunate story here is that with today's economy businesses are willing to turn over employees by letting higher paid people go (age discrimination) and later bringing in younger people at lower wages.

Good, hard working people who have put in 10 or 20 years with a company are losing their jobs today because they make too much money. These same people are now seeking work at 7 to 10 dollars an hour just to pay the bills. This is a sad way to do business in America today.

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10Stan(9923 comments)posted 7 years ago

There is no need for the worker to have any input on their wages ! Why vote on any tax increase ! Bureaucrats can manage on their own when it comes to increasing taxes . Government officials can be installed and money can be saved by not having elections .


Hitler had total control and people were forced to work for free to support the fatherland . Of course he also decided on who lived or died and enforced it with death camps .


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11cambridge(4158 comments)posted 7 years ago

apollo....I agree 401's are the future for a persons retirement. But how many people go to work for a company that match's their 401 contribution and later on down the road the employer eliminates the employer part of the contribution? Project that take back over the course of a persons career and that's a huge hit.

Worse yet, work your whole life with a pension as part of your compensation package (union or non-union) and when it comes time to retire or are already retired, top management decides to give themselves a raise and a bonus and file chapter 11 to pay for it with your retirement.

Unfortunately that's the real world for more and more people every day.

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12Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago

There is always need for the worker, most succssful businesses could not be where they are without them, especially good employees. Workers always have an input ontheir wages, if they do not like what a company is paying them, and they are talented enough at something, they can leave teir current company and go out and find a new job. As a recruiter, I help people do this all the time. I have seen companies get rid of high paid workers to replace them with lower paid, mostly it was due to the fact that the higher paid worker was making more then the market dictated.

Look at GM in Lordstown, those wages are WAY OVER INFLATED. What does a worker their make now, $25 per hour. How many people would be lined up, wanting to work their if they paid $20 per hour? The average for the area is about $16 per hour. How many more people would GM be able to employee or but back to work, even if they kept their total labor costs the same? Seems to me that the ones that complain about the rich getting richer, are also doing a good job of not letting new people get a slice of their pie either.

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13valleyred(1103 comments)posted 7 years ago

Unions were great at one time, but now all they care about is being greedy and protecting their lazy workers. When people see GM workers make enormous amounts of money for putting a car together, people grow angrier and angrier with unions by the day.

Unions will be less than 5% of the USA population by 2020.

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14Stan(9923 comments)posted 7 years ago

You are right Woody ! If they don't like a cut in wages at the fancy of the company they can leave and be replaced with cheap undocumented and or imported,documented foreign workers . How long will it be before companys import labor on a massive scale ? They are already doing it now with some restraints . It is the attitude of others like you that is reducing the American Worker to the status of a slave . This is nothing more than the stealing of a nation from those who have built it ! Without a union you are at the mercy of whatever befalls you . Union breaking is nothing more than the elimination of all the prominence that an American worker has in the workplace and any control over what his or her labor has helped build .

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15Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago


You do not need to import people to do the job for less. The unemployment rate in the valley is at 12%. There are people there that would do the job for less then what GM is paying their workers now. It is simple economics, supply and demand. I am not talking about paying someone 50 cents a day. I am talking about giving the average GM worker a 20% reduction in pay, getting more people into work there at the reduced rate, hence opening more jobs up for those not working now and making the vallet stronger as a whole. The Unions are all about the redistribution of wealth, well I guess as long it does not hit their own wallets.

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16redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

I also agree that 401's are the future for a persons retirement. It was the future 20 years ago, but took current problems for the masses to understand it. I do not believe the union types would of bought into it back then because they were programmed to believe that making the company continue to pay them after retirement was their last snicker.

My employer did a company match on the first 6% of the 12% yearly that I invested and also added two types of profit sharing. The key is that it was set up so that each year once the funds went into the 401, the company no longer had any access to them. This prevented any retroactive actions by the company. The funds were managed by Fidelity and Janus with a number of different investment options from Growth to Money Market selected by the employee and able to be changed on a monthly basis. Also each year the employee could not allocate more than 10% of his yearly investment to buy company stock. This of course eliminated any Inron type of fiasco. This is the way the better run 401's are managed.

Would I of traded this for a conventional pension? Of course not. I wanted control of my money even back then. Would a lot of GM etc. people trade their "maybe" future funds for this type of 401 if they knew then what they know now. Of course.

Back to the original subject, I remember this old saying, "If a company has a union it probably deserves it"

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17Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 7 years ago

What was life like before unions? No job security, no eight hour day, no weekend, no work rules etc. The passage of the Wagner Act and a recognition for organized labor was a huge boon to the creation of a vast middle class in this country. When you hear people blame unions for the state of the economy it is rather sad. How many union members are wall street ceos or politicians beholden to corporate interests?

We should never forget that people died, right here in this very valley, for the right to organize; they died so that future generations might have some say in their own working lives.

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18Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago


People have a choice. If they do not like the conditions a company is making them work under (i.e. wages, work hours, PTO, benefits, etc.) then they can go find another job, or put up their own money and start their own company. And guess what, if enough people were not willing to work for a certain company, and that company needed workers, they would change their compensation and work policies to attract the workers they need. Or if they were looking for higher skilled workers, they would adjust their policies to attract better employees.

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19Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 7 years ago

People have a choice? The mobility of capital nowadays insures that companies have a choice, not people. Corporations pit city vs city, region vs region, in a competition for the lowest wages and the most tax abatements. Have you ever noticed that the least union friendly, right to work states are all the poorest in the country? Look at South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi etc. they are all very anti union yet what has it gotten them? Those states are among the poorest, and least educated in the whole country.

The rabidly "pro-business" and anti union administrations of the past few decades have done next to nothing for most people. Please take a look at real wages since the early 1980's: They have stagnated for the middle class and gone down rapidly for the working class; inversely, incomes for the top tier of American earners have skyrocketed.

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20cambridge(4158 comments)posted 7 years ago

Ytownboy....I couldn't agree with you more. The most amazing thing is that the poorer and least educated are the ones that scream the loudest at someone that's looking for a living wage, health benefits and a little dignity. It seems as though it's "if I don't have it you shouldn't either". I wounder how many of those people would turn that opportunity down if it were in their grasp.

All of these companies being run into the ground by a hand full of people paying themselves top dollar and outrageous bonuses while they demand the masses pay for their ineffective management. And all the while their victims cheer them on.

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21Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago

Looks pretty comperable to me. Sure states in the South have a slightly lower Avg Hourly Wage. But cost of living is also lower.

Union States:
Unemployment Avg. Hrly Wage
(Production Wrks, ie
typ Union occs)

Nat AVG 9.4 $13.99

Ohio - 10.8% $14.86
Michigan- 14.1 15.75
PA 8.2 15.06
Indiana 10.6 14.72

Non Union

SC 12.1 13.88
Tenn 10.7 13.46
Ark 7.0 12.16
Miss 9.6 12.61

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22Stan(9923 comments)posted 7 years ago

Anyone who supports the elimination of the unions deserves to be a slave woking for a sub poverty wage or none at all .

Personally I like to live with dignity . Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, without hunger pangs, reliable personal transportation and savings for a rainy day .

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23Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 7 years ago

The states with the lowest median household income

State Income
Montana $40,627
Tennessee $40,315
Kentucky $39,372
Louisiana $39,337
Alabama $38,783
Oklahoma $38,770
Arkansas $36,599
West Virginia $35,059
Mississippi $34,473

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24redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

Stan wrote: "Personally I like to live with dignity . Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, without hunger pangs, reliable personal transportation and savings for a rainy day."

Never worked for a union but I do just that, Ohio 6 months in the summer, Florida 6 months in the winter. Two homes and commercial rental property paid for. Pickup truck, classic car. Felt that I would succeed in life on my own merits. I didn't need locked in seniority. Felt my performance would assure seniority. Retired after 30 years with a very respectable 401K that is completely in my control.

Would not work for a union because I did not like someone else speaking for me.

Have no problem with union rank and file. Always felt that the union bosses never really worked for the best interest of the rank and file like they should have.

I posted this once before but it is appropriate to look at again. Back before Delco was split off, GM considered offering a stock option to the rank and file with Delco as the test bed. As you can expect, the union bosses turned it down flat. No way did they want their underlings to actually think of what might be good for the company and thus their investment. As long as GM was the enemy the union bosses had control over the rank and file.

I am sure those union bosses are just as worried about their retirement and health care as the rank and file is...........

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25Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago

"Personally I like to live with dignity . Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, without hunger pangs, reliable personal transportation and savings for a rainy day."

Personally, I like all that. But I also like living in a nicer house, driving my BMW, and getting rewarded more for my accomplishments, instead of making the same as my coworkers who slack. I like having the chance and the opportunity to earn more and provide a better life for my family. A Union job would keep me in line and supportung my coworkers who might be underperforming.

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26Ytownboy(142 comments)posted 7 years ago


How do we know you are actually getting rewarded for accomplishments? Rick Wagner made a million dollar salary while his company lost billions. Top guys at AIG got million dollar bonuses while their company went bankrupt! It is only because of the government that dozens of banks will survive and not collapse; they never had the foresight to see what repackaging and selling mortgages would do.

Are their lazy union workers? Sure there are! Are their lazy and incompetent people in the private sector? Yep, they were the folks who engineered a wonderful world of deregulation and economic collapse!

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27Stan(9923 comments)posted 7 years ago

The goal today is to have the worker locked into a position of dependency on government . Self sufficiency is contradictory to total control . You should ask yourself who would be better off without unions ? Surely not the worker .

Lets look at some facts . GM stock is now worthless . Retirement funds and pensions continue to be looted and jobs are disappearing . Now the worker will be forced to work for next to nothing to fuel the gluttony of others . Its all about the worker making do with less and others keeping their status quo .

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28Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago

Ytownboy, I will assume you were respnding to me and not Stan.

Rick Wagner or the AIG guys did not get those positions over night. Someone didn't just walk up to Rick and say, "hey wanna be the president of GM". They had to go to school, work hard, probably put in long days working their way up and get a little lucky. In the end did they fail, sure. Half of all businesses do.

All banks repackage and sell mortgages. They hardly hold onto them. What do you think Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are all about. They are a quasi-government clearing houses for reselling mortgages. Because some of the loans were made to people who should not have had them (to big of a mortgage, bad credit history, no document loans) at the urging of people like Barney Frank, that is where we got into trouble.

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29cambridge(4158 comments)posted 7 years ago

The only fault of government in the mortgage crisis was by the Bush administration and the Republicans to not regulate the lenders. The people writing those loans were the ones in the best position to know the outcome of their handy work. They were predators for the sake of the almighty dollar. It's easy to know where the responsibility lies in the mortgage crisis, it lies with the people that made the money.

Woody.... and the rest that feel the need to paint union workers as the scum of the earth, if you don't like unions don't belong to one. If you really feel the need to address these people in that fashion why don't you stand outside a union shop at the shift change and express those feelings to their face.

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30redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

Whoa cambridge, It is time to introduce one of California's finest, the infamous MAXINE WATERS along with BARNEY and friends and of course BO himself IN THEIR OWN WORDS!!!! Now explain how the republicans were at fault.




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31redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

Never seem to get a reply to my favorite little videos.
Maybe because the libs have no defense when they see and hear their idols.
They have to be so proud.

Maybe next time.

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32redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

10 hours and still no reply. I guess I will have to try again another day.

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33redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

A small part of the mortgage problem!!!!. The republicans knew they didn't have the votes to make a change with the "Spectors" in their party. Well you did the best you could.

Notice you didn't discuss Obummer's part in it.

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34redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

And who pushed Fannie and Freddie to buy these mortgages? The likes of Obummer. You still haven't commented on his dealings with Acorn. In his own words saying how these mortgages should not have been risky. How they were spread out so that the risk would seem reasonable. In Maxine's own words, "100%" mortgages. Mortgages to people who could not afford to buy homes, no equity, nothing to lose. If you can not afford a mortgage you know it. It is the lib way of always blaming someone else, never taking personal responsibility.

Do a little research on Franklin Raines who Maxine was worshiping so much. Here is a URL that shouild tell you all you need to know about this clown. How he agreed to give back salary and bonuses to avoid possible jail time.
You saw these libs talking about no risk in single family home mortgages. Right!!!


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35Woody(493 comments)posted 7 years ago

Looks to me like Billy Boy holds a big stake in the mortgage crisis.


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36redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

Well stated Eric!

Yes Woody, Billy Boy was right in the middle of it. Your article covers pretty well where he among others including Obummer and his buddy Raines were responsible for the fiasco. I like the part about how everything would be okay during flush times but when things change like they have now that the bottom drops out.

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37cambridge(4158 comments)posted 7 years ago

The question is "Better off without unions". I still can't figure out why, if someone would want to belong to a union they should be ripped and ridiculed for it. How is that any one's business but their own. For all of you that think it's your business have you ever:

Ran unto a burning building ( Firefighter )

Had to carry a gun at work, been shot at and had to hunt down criminals. ( Police ).

Ever saved someones life ( EMS, nurse, medical technicians )

Been responsible to educate children to be prepared for their next level of education, 40 at a time. ( Teacher ) ( I would bet half of you lose you patience with your own kids in five minutes )

Connect steel on a superstructure hundreds of feet in the air, { Structural iron worker )

Built cross country pipe lines, oil refineries, power plants and chemical plants where one wrong move and it could be your life or someone else's. ( Industrial Pipe fitter )

Like I said before if you really find the need to rip these people, the next time you drive by a school, hospital, police station, fire house, high rise construction project, oil refinery, chemical plant or power plant at the shift change or see some EMS worker bent over someone in the middle of the street trying to save their life, just stop and tell them to their face.

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38redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

Not ragging on you but you have listed all these occupations where it is true that most of the participants at least in the rust belt states are union members but not all. You haven't explained why being a union member makes a difference or provided the data to back it up. Tell us why a EMS technician is better if he/she is a union member. I think you need to do that to support your stance. Real facts, not just generalizing. While you are at it explain what makes all your other examples better also

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39cambridge(4158 comments)posted 7 years ago

I never said anyone that belongs to a union is any better than anyone else. I respect everyone's right to make a living any way they want. I don't presume that it's ever my right to judge anyone making an honest living and feeding their family union or non union. I have never made a negative comment regarding anyone that chooses to work non union.

The occupations I mentioned are for the most part union in America and I'm just pointing out who the people are that so many of you like to talk so negative about. I'll stick with my comment, say it to their face if you've got the gears.

Maybe you can explain to me why people deserve to be ripped and talked about like they are scum because they belong to a union. Real facts, not just generalizing.

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40redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

cambridge said: " I'll stick with my comment, say it to their face if you've got the gears."

We are all badazz's when we sit in front of a keyboard but I do respect your right to your opinion.

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41cambridge(4158 comments)posted 7 years ago

redvert....we finally agree on something. It's real easy to bad mouth a segment of society when your sitting behind a keyboard. I'm not telling you to fight anyone just tell them what you type. Pick a really small female nurse if it makes you more comfortable.

cambridge also said: " maybe you can explain to me why people deserve to be ripped and talked about like they are scum because they belong to a union, Real facts, not just generalizing." I attempted to answer your question. Why don't you answer mine?

It's OK your still behind that keyboard. Have at it.

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42redvert(2240 comments)posted 7 years ago

cambridge, I am back, was such a nice day that I took the vette out for a spin. Top down, going thru the gears, life is good!

Lets use GM for example. Now if you will look back at my posts #18 and #27 in this article you will see that my complaints are with the union higher ups. My only disappointment with the rank and file is that they did not understand what the the bosses were doing to them back then or ignored it cause everything appeared to be great. You have to admit that the higher ups had them by the "you know whats" job wise so there wasn't much they could do. In all fairness though, they had no reason to think that it would ever come to what it is now.

Whether I agree or not with some of the stupid things in the contracts over the years I do believe that an AGREEMENT IS AN AGREEMENT that must be honored WITHIN REASON. If the situation changes to the point that it can not be honored then a fair and honorable solution should be reached. A legitimate bankruptcy falls into that category.

Should your or my taxes be paying for their health care. No! Profits out of Government Motors needs to pay their health care or they can bite the bullet like millions of other people have and absorb part of it. Obummer said it was time for change. Hey, that fit right in!

ps: You got something against small female nurses? Maybe one of those little illegal senoritas!! Trade in that "high class" schoolteacher you met in the bar

80 degrees, time to fire up the vette again!

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43boardmanneedschange(364 comments)posted 7 years ago

Unions have become a punchline.
They are single handedly ruining business in America because of their strongarm mentality. There was a time when a union protected the American worker, now unions are run by fat lazy non working wanna be mobsters who try to squeeze business owners for as much as possible. I am of the opinion that if you don't like the employment or employer that funds your status symbol driven lives, then find another job. Heres a thought, all of you manufacturing drones can be replaced by a machine. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all union members for destroying my country's economy and letting foreign countries overtake America in almost every industry. You should be proud of yourselves, now excuse me while I go buy a foreign product that will last ten times longer than yours.

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