Conservatives and Unions – Oil and Water?

 

union labor

In the course of my life, I’ve been exposed to the undeniable malignant effects of large scale labor unions and — whether in the form of the massive teacher’s unions, public sector unions, or countless others — they all seem to have more or less the same ultimate effect. That is to say, burdening the companies and governments with whom they “partner” with vast and unreasonable entitlements that they cannot hope to meet over the course of time.  

The influence the labor union is undeniable in today’s political landscape.  Almost every conservative campaigner has something to say about unions being an undue burden on the state and the taxpayers. This is good. Scott Walker, in particular, has some first hand experience deep in the trenches of this particular war. And he has won battle after battle in this war.  

On principle I agree but, In my work, I’ve come to realize that the idea of a union can be helpful.  Let me back up for a minute. I’m an Actor. I know for a fact that without a union backing up my efforts to work as an actor there is no way that I’d be paid anything close to a living wage for my work.  My affiliations with AEA and SAG have allowed me to make some king of a living in my business. Rob Long may have something to say about this as well, as I’m sure he is or has been a member of the Writers Guild (WGA).

Now since the recession began, I’ve worked outside my profession a number of times due to necessity. This last year I have been employed between gigs as an Uber driver. Here’s where I run into my question for the day: what should my conservative principles guide me to when I have been taken advantage of by a corporation or employer? Details? All Uber drivers are independent contractors. This gives us the ability to work for ourselves under the Uber platform, but also gives Uber the ability to not provide benefits (something that, while nice to have, isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for most people – especially since Obamacare has saved us all… er… well…) and to drastically cut our pay from time to time. Over the past year I’ve seen my pay from Uber cut nearly 55%. That pretty egregious. The problem is that the gig is so flexible and convenient between acting gigs, that it makes no sense to leave even if I have to work almost twice as much to make my bones for the week. 

On principle, I can’t argue much with Uber’s business practices as they are growing exponentially, but I can see that I’m being taken advantage of on a couple of different levels. There has been a great deal of chatter on social media about Uber drivers unionizing, and I suppose the idea sounds nice, but I can’t see it actually being a good idea in practice. 

So, what should I do? How ought I reconcile this situation in my mind? Can a conservative justify union membership or support? Where do we draw the line on unions being helpful versus harmful.  Is there such a line?

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  1. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Chris Lang:

    Thoughts?

     I’m a former member of two different unions, and I came by my low opinion of them honestly.

    That said, I also know that there are other unions out there, which seem better run than mine. For example, I once came across a campaign card for a union election, lying in the parking lot. It was for the union’s “business manager,” which says something  about that particular union, I think. And in my experience those guys are all top-notch.

    The SAG/AFTRA seems to be that sort of union.

    Speculating, my guess is that if you need an actor for a particular role, and if he/she can’t do it, you’ve got an immediate problem. Your production fails, and you’re gone. Outfits in Hollywood dumb enough to hire bad actors die.

    Maybe they once existed, but I bet that by now a quasi-Darwinian process has eliminated them. Similarly, Hollywood people seem to be mostly leftists, but Hollywood itself seems to run on thoroughly capitalist principles. 

    Whatevs. But my guess is that a union for Uber would end up like my unions, not like SAG/AFTRA.  Hence, my earlier comment.
     

    • #31
  2. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Chris Lang:

    James Of England:

    At what point, however, is the employer manipulating the market to set the so-called “market wage”? In my case with Uber, since it’s a market they have entirely created from day one, they control to a great extent the perception of the value of goods and services within. And it’s mostly perceived value as opposed to actual value (Are those the same?).

    Here’s another question? What avenues of power do I (or any of us) have at my disposal to argue an alternative market value outside of a union of some sort?

     Tom’s answer is precisely right. If the wage they’re setting is not as high as the market wage, you (or people like you) will move to competitors, and Uber will not have enough drivers. If Lyft does not problematically steal Uber’s drivers, then the perception that Uber is paying below market wages is almost by definition misinformed. 

    Prices are set by the market, not by argument. You might be able to show that you, personally, are a particularly good driver (I don’t know what Uber’s incentives are) but you cannot, by argument, alter either supply or demand, and thus cannot alter your price. 

    • #32
  3. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster
    • #33
  4. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Severely Ltd.: Why do you think anyone has a right to work in a new market monopolized by one provider? Why are some people owed those jobs at a generous wage? Where does this entitlement come from?

    Darlin’, I said nothing about generous wages. In one example I’m talking about people mowing lawns and plowing snow. They’ve bought some capital equipment, hired a few guys, and made a go of keeping the parking lot clear for Bank One in their neighborhood for some years. They’re already working on the margin.

    Then one day they get a letter from a bundler who has negotiated terms with Bank One to provide the same service. Only now the bundler gets a cut, so small business guy ends up providing the same labor, using the same capital equipment he purchased, for a cut in pay he can’t afford. He has to pick up new business  (read work longer hours) just to tread water.

    The “innovation” the bundler provides comes at small guy’s expense. That seems unjust to me. Not to you?

    BTW, my brother, the president of his own successful small business, told me this story. He disapproves.

    • #34
  5. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    Western Chauvinist:

    Severely Ltd.:

    Darlin’, I said nothing about generous wages. In one example I’m talking about people mowing lawns and plowing snow. They’ve bought some capital equipment, hired a few guys, and made a go of keeping the parking lot clear for Bank One in their neighborhood for some years. They’re already working on the margin.

    Then one day they get a letter from a bundler who has negotiated terms with Bank One to provide the same service. Only now the bundler gets a cut, so small business guy ends up providing the same labor, using the same capital equipment he purchased, for a cut in pay he can’t afford. He has to pick up new business (read work longer hours) just to tread water.

    The “innovation” the bundler provides comes at small guy’s expense. That seems unjust to me. Not to you?

     I’m using generous to mean more than the market calls for. The situation you describe may be unfortunate and even opportunistic on the part of the bundler but I don’t see how unionization addresses the problem.

    • #35
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Severely Ltd.: I’m using generous to mean more than the market calls for. The situation you describe may be unfortunate and even opportunistic on the part of the bundler but I don’t see how unionization addresses the problem.

    Right, I wasn’t calling for unionization. I said I don’t know of a conservative “market” solution.

    I think there’s an ethical issue, though, and would hope “bundling” as a business model would be frowned upon by most businessmen. These guys are leeches. They add minuscule value while diminishing the livelihood and standard of living of workers.

    I also think this is a good example where right-wingers earn their reputation for favoring cruel Darwinian economics. These are real people being exploited by bloodsuckers. You’re not going to get their vote by telling them they’re misreading labor market price signals.

    • #36
  7. Mark Belling Fan Member
    Mark Belling Fan
    @MBF

    Western Chauvinist: These are real people being exploited by bloodsuckers.

    Can you be a little more specific in your example? To be honest, I’m having trouble finding out what the problem is, other than the fact that someone else (so called “bundler”) figured out a more efficient business model than the original provider.

    It sounds like something that happens in local government all the time. School district has full time salaried janitors on staff receiving full health and pension benefits. School board decides to eliminate the full time janitor positions and contract out custodial services. Custodial contractor hires the former full time employees at a reduced wage. Is this “bloodsucking”? Or were the janitors lucky to have been so overcompensated prior to the switch? Sure, that isn’t a politically advantageous narrative, but isn’t it the truth?

    • #37
  8. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    MBF:

    Western Chauvinist: These are real people being exploited by bloodsuckers.

    Can you be a little more specific in your example? To be honest, I’m having trouble finding out what the problem is, other than the fact that someone else (so called “bundler”) figured out a more efficient business model than the original provider.

    It sounds like something that happens in local government all the time. School district has full time salaried janitors on staff receiving full health and pension benefits. School board decides to eliminate the full time janitor positions and contract out custodial services. Custodial contractor hires the former full time employees at a reduced wage. Is this “bloodsucking”? Or were the janitors lucky to have been so overcompensated prior to the switch? Sure, that isn’t a politically advantageous narrative, but isn’t it the truth?

    Yeah, except these are private, small-time businesses being eaten out by big bundlers. They never were “overcompensated” with “generous” benefits.  After bundling, I say they’re being exploited. They’ve also lost their incentive to provide good service, as they’ve essentially lost ownership of their business. Bundlers hire “managers” to crack down, and then exploit the managers too.

    • #38
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Western Chauvinist: Bundlers hire “managers” to crack down, and then exploit the managers too.

    I know this because my sister-in-law worked as a manager for a bundler. She’s an incredibly hardworking, talented person. Even she couldn’t take the hours and environment after a while. Their margins are so tight, they fail to provide the administrative resources any healthy industry would.

    She had the luxury of quitting, though, because my brother’s business is so successful (and, btw, he and his partners, including another brother, would never treat people this way. It’s not necessary for success.).

    What happens when people are stuck? They end up working harder and harder for the same or less wages. 

    I do not think it reflects well on conservatives to ignore the realities imposed on good people by such crappy business models. I’m not suggesting “government is the solution,” but I’d like us to at least acknowledge there’s a problem!

    • #39
  10. Mark Belling Fan Member
    Mark Belling Fan
    @MBF

    Western Chauvinist: Yeah, except these are private, small-time businesses being eaten out by big bundlers. They never were “overcompensated” with “generous” benefits.

    If the customer (Bank One) is now getting the same service at a lower price, where is the “failure” of the market? If the “bundler” ends up providing a degraded service, the customer will have to decide if they value better service or lower cost.

    I fail to see how this is fundamentally different from complaints about how Walmart is destroying “mom and pop” retailers. As long as the “bundler” isn’t committing fraud or using government to its advantage, where is the “exploitation”?

    • #40
  11. Mark Belling Fan Member
    Mark Belling Fan
    @MBF

    Western Chauvinist: Their margins are so tight, they fail to provide the administrative resources any healthy industry would.

    If the business model is so unhealthy, and so detrimental to every employee downstream of the executives, it won’t last. And if it does last, perhaps your perception isn’t completely accurate?

    • #41
  12. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    MBF:

    Western Chauvinist: Yeah, except these are private, small-time businesses being eaten out by big bundlers. They never were “overcompensated” with “generous” benefits.

    If the customer (Bank One) is now getting the same service at a lower price, where is the “failure” of the market? If the “bundler” ends up providing a degraded service, the customer will have to decide if they value better service or lower cost.

    I fail to see how this is fundamentally different from complaints about how Walmart is destroying “mom and pop” retailers. As long as the “bundler” isn’t committing fraud or using government to its advantage, where is the “exploitation”?

    I’ve thought of the Walmart example. It is a problem, imo, that Walmart exerts such massive influence in places where economic opportunities for small-time entrepreneurs are so limited — small towns. But, there’s a difference between Walmart and bundlers.

    Walmart’s inventory tracking and resupply innovation is genius! Walmart adds value to all the consumers within its influence by providing more for less. Mom and Pop understandably can’t compete.

    Such is not the case with snow removal. It’s the same old process it’s been for decades.

    • #42
  13. Mark Belling Fan Member
    Mark Belling Fan
    @MBF

    Western Chauvinist: Walmart adds value to all the consumers within its influence by providing more for less. Mom and Pop understandably can’t compete. Such is not the case with snow removal. It’s the same old process it’s been for decades.

    So why can’t the snow removal entrepreneur match the rates of the bundler? I am really not familiar with the background specifics here, so maybe there is a key piece I am missing.  

    • #43
  14. user_526659 Inactive
    user_526659
    @ChrisLang

    MBF:

    If the customer (Bank One) is now getting the same service at a lower price, where is the “failure” of the market? If the “bundler” ends up providing a degraded service, the customer will have to decide if they value better service or lower cost. 

    Your point is well made, however I think you are ignoring a crucial point.  The lowering of prices is good for the consumer – it’s always nice when your dollar goes further.  The lowering of prices is not necessarily good for the worker.  In my case with Uber, it’s very bad.  The market isn’t one sided, it isn’t just the consumer, there are lots of sides that we tend to overlook for some reason.  The biggest overlook is that of the employee who we imbue with special powers of being able to leave a job whenever he or she wants (something not necessarily possible especially in an economy like the one we’re enjoying right now). 

    There must be a way to break down the labor market in moral and ethical terms without becoming hopelessly lost in the “good intentions = good policy” game that the liberals use.  Thoughts?

    • #44
  15. user_526659 Inactive
    user_526659
    @ChrisLang

    If the business model is so unhealthy, and so detrimental to every employee downstream of the executives, it won’t last. And if it does last, perhaps your perception isn’t completely accurate?

     In the end you’re right, it probably won’t last. But ought we not, as conservatives, to seek to look past the purely theoretical implications of this problem?  We often accuse liberals of living in a fairy land where socialism works wonderfully, and everyone is an egalitarian nomad, sharing all he owns with his neighbor. 

    Are not the real life, real world implications of socialism far more damaging to actual people?  So too, are not the real life, real world implications of the “market” potentially damaging to people (though the argument is made that it is ultimately much better (and moral) than socialism)?  If so, do we not have an obligation to protect those that would be hurt by the market’s changes.  Is slavishly bowing to the market like a deity potentially no better than the liberal’s propensity to bow at the alter of state?  We must be mindful of the actual human costs of these practices.

    • #45
  16. Mark Belling Fan Member
    Mark Belling Fan
    @MBF

    Chris Lang: If so, do we not have an obligation to protect those that would be hurt by the market’s changes. Is slavishly bowing to the market like a deity potentially no better than the liberal’s propensity to bow at the alter of state? We must be mindful of the actual human costs of these practices.

     Family, friends, neighbors, churches, charities, etc. These are the appropriate avenues for expressing compassion for the human costs of market dislocations.

    But since my views are pretty much fringe on that front, I’ll also note that we already have a massive wealth transfer apparatus set up in this country to compensate those that come out on the short end of the stick. Is it not enough?

    • #46
  17. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    It seems like the discussion has settled into agreement that business should be fair and compassionate. No one is arguing the contrary. I think a solid case has been made that laws giving unions  coercive power don’t advance that aim, rather they distort the market and help a narrow slice of society at the expense of the rest of us. The rest of us being non-union workers and business owners.

    • #47
  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Chris Lang: Are not the real life, real world implications of socialism far more damaging to actual people?  So too, are not the real life, real world implications of the ”market” potentially damaging to people (though the argument is made that it is ultimately much better (and moral) than socialism)?  If so, do we not have an obligation to protect those that would be hurt by the market’s changes.  Is slavishly bowing to the market like a deity potentially no better than the liberal’s propensity to bow at the alter of state?  We must be mindful of the actual human costs of these practices.

     I think that this is true. There are times (trade with Russia, for instance), where the consequences of trade outweigh the benefits. Conservatives should not be ideologues. Can you identify a consequence to respect for the market in this instance that would justify a coercive response? 

    • #48
  19. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    Chris Lang: – Are the perceived value of my worth as an employee (actor in this case) and the actual value of my worth as an employee the same thing? Without union protection actors would (as was the case pre-union) be paid nothing or next to nothing for producing their art. Actors often tend to accept this arrangement as producing the art is a reward in its own way, and artists can sometimes overlook the one low form of compensation in lieu of the other. But how does one define “Market Value” for art?

     

    I ran across this at David Thompson’s excellent blog that touches on this question:  

    http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2014/01/the-humble-among-us.html

    In the article Thompson references, the ‘artists’ want taxpayer support, but making art a special category is arbitrary, particularly when your ‘art’ is also the source of your income. Asking the government to compel businesses to accommodate a union and require all of its employees to join is just another form of rent-seeking and invoking ‘art’ doesn’t justify it.

    • #49
  20. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    I can tell you the problem with unions in a paragraph. 

    I work for a small concrete subcontractor.  When we figure union jobs, which we have to if we want to work in Oak Ridge, first we plug the union scale into our software, which ups the cost considerably, then we triple the labor cost because of their poor productivity.  Other contractors that I’ve talked to do the same.  Actually, because of their work rules, we’d just as soon not do work on which we have to use union help.

    • #50
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