7 Myths About Unions in America

Posted on by Igor Derysh (IgorDerysh)
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Ever since the Reagan Era (though really long before that), Republicans have been after the "big and powerful unions" that are "ruining our economy." In order to build support against the unions, which are simply groups of workers using their collective power to accomplish better working conditions and compensation that they ever could individually, the Scott Walkers of the world have thrown around a lot of anti-union talking points - many of which are simply not credible.

These talking points are not new and, despite their lack of evidence, have been used for decades. Here are the 7 biggest myths about unions in America.

7. Unions Destroy Jobs

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If ensuring that people be paid decent wages, have decent working conditions, a decent amount of time off, sick leave, health insurance, vacation time (that in no way measures up to the European standards for length of work days and work weeks, as well as vacation time and number of sick days) means businesses have to pay extra, that is simply the cost of doing business. Protecting workers does not destroy jobs, it ensures that the people who have those jobs are compensated properly.

6. Unions are Unreasonable

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A lot is said about the union bosses' demands, but each union is controlled by the workers who decide on the necessary provisions of their union contract. Sure, a lot of the union bosses may be hard asses, but if you are going to pay union dues each month then you want the best representation possible. Workers will always demand as much as they can get, just as employers will always offer as little as possible, and that is why we have negotiations.

5. Unions Strike Too Much

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Actually, almost all union negotiations end without a strike. A strike benefits no one, but it is the only weapon that workers have against unfair treatment and wages. Take away the right to strike (and the federal government and eleven states have done just that from public employees) and there is little unions can do to stand up for themselves. Thankfully, just because they are able to strike, unions very rarely do.

4. Unions Protect Bad and Lazy Workers

Unions protect all workers. It's kind of like saying the Constitution protects bad people. No, it protects all people. Do some bad workers keep their job that shouldn't? Sure, but that's the cost of ensuring job security for the 95% of other workers. Besides, firing people is a hassle. Take a look at non-union businesses. Do they only keep the best and the brightest?

3. Unions Just Want More Money

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Actually, unions came to be because work conditions were so poor and jobs were so insecure. Today, the unions obviously push for higher wages to keep up with the inflation of the dollar and the amount of money being made by the industry, but they also ensure that workers get a decent amount of sick days and vacation and benefits (which still doesn't compare to EU standards) as well as continuing to ensure worker safety, labor regulations, etc. Arguing that businesses simply want to pay employees as little money as possible does not mean businesses are bad, does it? It's simple economics.

2. Union Pensions are Too Generous

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By what standard? In the past, a good pension was what you got for an honest life's work. Many people blame a lot of problems with government overspending on pensions, but actually the problem is not that pensions are too high. They are on par with what they've always been. The problem is that there are more government workers than ever before because the population is greater than ever before. People are living longer and longer and thus collecting more and more pensions. When you have more people living longer, the cost of paying out all of those pensions is high, but that is the price any nation has to pay for having a growing population with an ever improving life expectancy.

1. Unions are Too Powerful

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How? Federal workers and government workers in 11 states do not have the right to strike. 22 states are "right-to-work" states where workers can enjoy the benefits of union contracts without paying dues or fees or joining the union. Businesses have the right to hire replacement workers and never re-hire workers on strike.

Many Republicans also claim that the unions own the Democratic Party (you know, that efficient bunch). Well, consider how powerful unions are compared to huge corporations that have both parties in their pocket? Consider that businesses can now donate unlimited amounts of cash to political campaigns. Consider that even long before they were allowed to do that, they already were. Who does the government, on both sides of the aisle, really work for - workers or corporations?

Unions are not perfect and absolutely need to be reformed - from within. Abolishing union rights, as was just the case in the controversial bill in Wisconsin and may soon be the case in other states as well, does not fix the real problems that unions have. It only eliminates workers' rights to negotiate for better conditions and compensation.

Those are the seven biggest myths spread around the country about unions. There is but one important union truth: the politicians that are coming out with strict anti-union measures are not really ideologically against the American worker, the people that fund them are. The Koch brothers and folks of similar ilk simply do not get to stuff their coffers as much as they want by cutting as much cost out of their bottom line if unions keep demanding their workers get a bigger slice. In a country where the top one-percent of the people control 34% of all the nation's wealth, the top 10% control 72% of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 50% have just 2.5% of the nation's wealth, who but the unions will stand up for the American worker?

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