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Mi Abuela and the Toll of Unions

 

At four-foot-ten and 60-something, as always she greeted me with a warm smile, two lattes in her hands and her signature “hellooo Meester David.” I never ask her for the high end “rainforest” coffee for me and my colleague to give us the energy boost before we start our seminar, yet, each month she greets us in our hotel boardroom with a genuine desire to make sure I am happy.

We discuss her daughter’s new beau, her grandson’s soccer games and what’s new with my own sons. Yet on Saturday, the normal gleam in her eye was missing. Her open heart betrayed that she was covering up a sadness. I asked, “what’s wrong, everything ok?” After a pause, she looked around as if she was to impart what happened to D.B. Cooper. “Aww, Meester David…” tears welled up “I need a new job. I now to sell my house. There is no money here anymore. So very slow.”

I just finished running a series of seminars we do for my business, something we have done for 25 years. We frequent a high-end boutique brand owned by a large hotel chain (rhymes with Chariot). The hotel sent our recent BEO for my signature and reviewing it I noticed the cost for using the exact same boardroom with the exact same “AV equipment” skyrocketed (AV = television screen/monitor attached to the wall which we hook up to our computer). The charge for the boardroom would stay the same, but we would now incur a fee to “use” the TV. The additional cost would be 175 percent of the room fee, daily. For just one day of using the flatscreen, we could buy a couple of decent new TVs and we are there multiple days. My eyes Marty Feldman-ed. It’s not hard to do the math why mi abuela is about to be out of work.

We have had our pricing in place, only increasing ever so slightly (maybe 5-10 percent every few years) since GW Bush nominated his cleaning lady to SCOTUS. We are a reliable, long-time customer that not only spends on the events but uses the hotel restaurant, pays for multiple guest rooms, and too many other costs to list.

I called my Banquet Manager, whom I have known for a decade, to discuss this in person and he showed up yesterday morning donning a pro-union button on his lapel. I asked him why the hotel seems on intent on losing a loyal customer as we certainly cannot afford such a large price increase. He said the reason is the AV “Engineer” (a 26-year-old donning a hair-bun) will have to stay on premises because you are using our monitor.

He continued, “This is now required by the union.”

I replied, “you are charging your guests an exorbitant fee for some guy to sit in the back of the hotel and do nothing?”

He looked down and muttered his department is now a union department.

Pointing to his lapel, I asked: “how’s that working out for you?”

He stood up straight and proudly proclaimed they are trying to unionize the rest of the hotel.

I told him we would have to make other plans. Small businesses like ours can’t absorb price increases like this just because you all decided to unionize.

We worked out a deal where they would honor our original pricing but our next seminar will be on the new contract. He left the room and I had to shake off my anger before getting back to the podium.

There was once a time when workers needed unions to safeguard against dangerous working conditions. Now, there are laws on the books that cover all workers. Unions today are simply a demand-driven entitlement creation machine going against any rational supply-side economic theory.

With their massive stranglehold on the Democratic Party, last year they went all in for Hillary Clinton and lost. In light of their embarrassing failure and large capital expenditure in Wisconsin where Governor Scott Walker successfully cracked down on collective bargaining, we could now see Walker’s right-to-work win serve as a template for President Trump who suggested he would overhaul the federal workforce.

As more right-to-work laws are passed across the county, unions will be prohibited from requiring all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. This will continue to financially squeeze cash-strapped unions even further until we only see them in remaining leftist enclaves, like California, causing clients like my firm to find more business-friendly climes.

Union membership today is only half as much as 30 years ago. People understand the days when unions benefitted workers are far behind us. Now, many see them as the cause of job destruction to the very people they claim to be working for.

They promote “Work Union” so a few union leaders can “Live Well.”

Mi abuela just wants to work.

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There are 27 comments.

  1. Member

    I hate unions as well. I refused to join the Public Employees union when I worked for Sacramento County. However, I was required to donate the amount of union dues to a charity of my choice. So the dues went every month to The Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund at Congregation B’nai Israel for some 15 years. Hope it made the union happy.

    • #1
    • November 6, 2017 at 7:47 pm
    • 13 likes
  2. Member

    If you understand economics, you will understand that unions never benefited workers. Well, perhaps the workers who were in unions — but not even the more skilled of those workers. And unions certainly didn’t benefit the workers who couldn’t get jobs because unions were able to obtain above-market compensation because employers were forced to recognize them and negotiate with them. Nor did unions benefit consumers — most of whom were working-class people — because in the bad old days before globalization U.S. manufacturing companies were above to pass above-market compensation along to consumers. Read my post “Why I Am Anti-Union” and the comments appended thereto.

    What about “working conditions”? Improved working conditions don’t come free. They either come out of worker’s compensation or consumers’ wallets.

    This kind of half-baked, touchy-feely, compromise “conservatism” is exactly why the country is so screwed up. Give an inch and “they” take a mile.

    • #2
    • November 6, 2017 at 7:52 pm
    • 11 likes
  3. Member

    So true.

    • #3
    • November 6, 2017 at 8:39 pm
    • 3 likes
  4. Member

    If you dare speak against the unions, they act like it’s 1936.

    • #4
    • November 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm
    • 9 likes
  5. Inactive

    Unions … no longer needed & destructive. Generally, they make me feel like Marvin the Martian…

    • #5
    • November 6, 2017 at 9:21 pm
    • 4 likes
  6. Member

    I am not anti-union. We’ll, I’m absolutely, 100 percent opposed to public employee unions, but I’m not opposed to real labor unions. I even belonged to one once, in a life long ago. (“Amalgamated Meatcutter and Butcher Workmen of America, an AFL-CIO union,” it said on my union card. I’ve done harder physical work, but I never had to work faster than at that job.) But there is only a limited amount of good they can do, and sometimes they are counterproductive, as your example shows.

    At my university job my counterparts on the main campus were unionized, but we were not. That meant I got to do neat things like ride a Hi-Ranger to install wireless equipment in high places. This was work that my counterparts on the main campus didn’t get to do, due to union work rules.

    We had one classroom with computers whose software configuration and login authentications were controlled from the main campus. At one point I got a call from our campus liaison (a good person) saying that they were going to replace their computers of the same vintage as ours, due to increased memory requirements of their new configurations, and that we should probably do the same. I said if the computers need more memory, we’ll buy it and pop it in. Long pause. Then she said, “Well, you can probably do that, but we can’t.” Union work rules. They had to pay the workers of the proper classification from another department to do it, and it was cheaper for them to just buy new computers. We, on the other hand, bought the new memory and installed it — a rather trivial task.

    Because of stuff like this, we were always successful in getting technology dollars from the administration on the main campus, partly because we were able to get a lot done for the money. Nobody would ever tell me that’s why we got more than our proportionate share of funds, but the people who made the allocations weren’t dumb, and liked to be able to show off their accomplishments, too. (It also helped that I was able to meet some difficult installation deadlines. Nearly killed me on one of those occasions, but it helped establish our reputation as people who actually got things done with our allocations, to the point that we were sometimes offered extra end-of-year funds if we had projects lined up that we could get done by the end of the fiscal year, or at least get all the expenditures made by the end of the FY. It was not always easy to accomplish. If you’ve ever worked in a public university environment, you probably understand. If you haven’t, it probably sounds like a strange way to operate.)

    Some of our wireless and fiber projects involved the hiring of outside contractors, and they had to verify to the university that they paid prevailing wages to their workers. But because our department was not unionized and we ourselves were not throttled by union work rules, we were still able to get a lot more than the usual done for the money allocated to us.

    I’ve heard some of the people on the main campus argue in favor of their unions for having represented them in certain grievance situations or whatnot, and I imagine it has done some people some good. (And we in our department were in fact beneficiaries of employee contract terms negotiated by the unions, even though we weren’t officially represented by the unions and didn’t pay union dues.) But overall, I just don’t see how it’s worth it. It certainly doesn’t make money fall from the sky to help get things done. We still have to live with the constraints of finite resources.

    • #6
    • November 6, 2017 at 9:28 pm
    • 11 likes
  7. Member

    This is how Michigan ended up a Right-to-Work state.

    • #7
    • November 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm
    • 8 likes
  8. Member

    I’ve had differing experiences with unions. I built a restaurant in Columbus, OH, and had to hire union help. Because there weren’t enough workers in the union, they allowed our regulars to join. The ones we hired from the union were the last two sitting on the bench, and they were worse than useless. I would have done better hiring two strangers off the street.

    A bit later, I built a restaurant in St. Louis. The unions there told us not to even bother trying to work; they’d shut us down. So we hired a local union contractor, and I was liaison between the owners and the contractor. There were guys working for that company who were third generation. They wanted you to know that if you hired union guys, you were getting the best you could get, and they were out to prove it. I was impressed.

    • #8
    • November 6, 2017 at 11:20 pm
    • 10 likes
  9. Contributor

    What a shame, Dave. The fellow obviously has not made the connection between the ultimate impact of driving customers away and his job. That’s such a fine hotel chain, too. In these times, nobody benefits from unions except the union management.

    • #9
    • November 7, 2017 at 3:25 am
    • 6 likes
  10. Member

    Anger is right. Unions did not benefit workers. Their only useful role was during the cold war, they kept the communists out of the organized workers. Most improvements in working conditions did not come from government regulation either. Improvements in conditions, wages, benefits were driven by competition and economic growth. Since they were a combination in restraint of trade they were able to extract benefits for a narrow set of unionized workers at the expense of the organized industries and all other workers. Now that government unions dominate there is not even a pretense that they benefit workers, citizens tax payers or the government services that are organized. Right to work laws are essential.

    • #10
    • November 7, 2017 at 6:10 am
    • 3 likes
  11. Thatcher

    Some unions are conscientious about skills development and rigorously maintain an apprentice/journeyman/master process. Others, not so much.

    When I first moved to Florida some were still picketing the rail company they had put out of business.

    Earlier, in south Texas, you could go union or non-union for some types of work. Non-union was cheaper and could be just as good, but not necessarily: Caveat emptor was the rule.

    • #11
    • November 7, 2017 at 7:33 am
    • 2 likes
  12. Member

    There was once a time when workers needed unions to safeguard against dangerous working conditions. 

    What are the unsafe working conditions faced by Government Employee Unions? Paper cuts?

    Now, there are laws on the books that cover all workers. Unions today are simply a demand-driven entitlement creation machine going against any rational supply-side economic theory.

    Oh, never mind.

    • #12
    • November 7, 2017 at 8:06 am
    • 3 likes
  13. Member

    Pilli (View Comment):
    What are the unsafe working conditions faced by Government Employee Unions? Paper cuts?

    Tea Partiers and Trumpists who complain about overreaching government are a threat to their well-being. They need safe places where they are not subject to disapproval.

    • #13
    • November 7, 2017 at 8:12 am
    • 3 likes
  14. Reagan

    Dave Sussman:

    In light of their embarrassing failure and large capital expenditure in Wisconsin where Governor Scott Walker successfully cracked down on collective bargaining, we could now see Walker’s right-to-work win serve as a template for President Trump who suggested he would overhaul the federal workforce.

    I will not argue that Unions are ultimately self defeating, but I need to challenge this part a bit. Federal employees can “elect” to join a union. I see perhaps 200K do belong to a federal union out of ~ a 2.5M plus federal workforce. They cannot force a federal employee to pay dues and the bargaining power of the Federal unions is fairly toothless (see PATCO vs Reagan).

    I know there is a local branch of the union for my spaceflight center (GESTA) they are essentially a joke, and in 30 years I have only known of only one person who was a dues paying member. (In the end it did not protect his from the various behavioral infractions he was seeking to have the thwarted, he was still fired, it just took a few years and was almost comical).

    So to expect Trump to do something about killing the unions for Federal employees, they are essentially already tooothless since one could say they have always operated in the “Right to Work” mode. We still have OPM rules that make it difficult to fire trouble makers, but I have seen it done on several occasions in the last 30 years.

    That said I would not use my Federal experience as a guide since the vast majority of folks who get to work for NASA consider it a privilege, have a high cognitive abilities, and behave accordingly. As a group we are pretty condensending to the entire union thing, even though I would suggest the majority vote blue.

    If you want to correct the problem with “government unions” you need to focus on state and county employment. There it is a much cozier (and corrupting) arrangement between the Pol’s and the Union rep’s, with a larger impact on the quality of service for the constituents. (I.e. schools, local police, permits, zoning, infrastructure maintenance….).

    Walker knew this and I wished he could have been given the chance to promote the “right to work” thing for the remaining 22 states as he did to Wisconsin.

    • #14
    • November 7, 2017 at 8:57 am
    • 6 likes
  15. Thatcher

    Chuckles (View Comment):
    Some unions are conscientious about skills development and rigorously maintain an apprentice/journeyman/master process.

    I find this to be more a theoretical possibility than a reality. Could it happen? Sure I guess so…. Does it ever? Very rarely.

    • #15
    • November 7, 2017 at 11:37 am
    • 3 likes
  16. Member

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    We still have OPM rules that make it difficult to fire trouble makers, but I have seen it done on several occasions in the last 30 years.

    I’d add that OPM rules are much less a barrier for federal managers than is the fear of having to defend against an unfounded discrimination complaint.

    • #16
    • November 7, 2017 at 12:02 pm
    • 2 likes
  17. Member

    Kay of MT (View Comment):
    I refused to join the Public Employees union when I worked for Sacramento County. However, I was required to donate the amount of union dues to a charity of my choice.

    Absolutely incredible that that’s legal. So you do not own your earnings. Wow.

    • #17
    • November 7, 2017 at 1:30 pm
    • 3 likes
  18. Thatcher

    At one job site, I unplugged an oscilloscope, rolled it on its cart to the other side of the lab, plugged it back in, and got written up for three grievances.

    • #18
    • November 7, 2017 at 1:41 pm
    • 9 likes
  19. Member

    Given my posts on the other thread

    (Read them first, I’ll wait.)

    I think the solution to unions overstepping their power is pretty straightfoward… legislation that outlaws union contributions to political parties.

    It’s a vicious circle, so break the circle.

    • #19
    • November 7, 2017 at 1:59 pm
    • 7 likes
  20. Thatcher

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    If you dare speak against the unions, they act like it’s 1936.

    Yeah, they apparently think if it weren’t for labor unions, we’d all be working for Ebeneezer Scrooge or C. Montgomery Burns.

    • #20
    • November 7, 2017 at 2:12 pm
    • 3 likes
  21. Member

    Percival (View Comment):
    At one job site, I unplugged an oscilloscope, rolled it on its cart to the other side of the lab, plugged it back in, and got written up for three grievances.

    At a trade show in Chicago, we started taking our booth down so we could go home, but a Teamster showed up and made us stop and wait for a union guy to do it.

    • #21
    • November 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm
    • 1 like
  22. Thatcher

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    At one job site, I unplugged an oscilloscope, rolled it on its cart to the other side of the lab, plugged it back in, and got written up for three grievances.

    At a trade show in Chicago, we started taking our booth down so we could go home, but a Teamster showed up and made us stop and wait for a union guy to do it.

    McCormick Place, probably.

    • #22
    • November 7, 2017 at 5:53 pm
    • 3 likes
  23. Thatcher

    Percival (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    At one job site, I unplugged an oscilloscope, rolled it on its cart to the other side of the lab, plugged it back in, and got written up for three grievances.

    At a trade show in Chicago, we started taking our booth down so we could go home, but a Teamster showed up and made us stop and wait for a union guy to do it.

    McCormick Place, probably.

    A few months ago I read an article about the crooked practices that go on there. It seems that McCormick Place is run by kind of a union/mob alliance. Chicago apparently has lost a lot of the convention trade because of exhibitors being ripped off.

    • #23
    • November 7, 2017 at 7:01 pm
    • 3 likes
  24. Thatcher

    Concretevol (View Comment):

    Chuckles (View Comment):
    Some unions are conscientious about skills development and rigorously maintain an apprentice/journeyman/master process.

    I find this to be more a theoretical possibility than a reality. Could it happen? Sure I guess so…. Does it ever? Very rarely.

    You may be right, I don’t know: But I have known an IBEW branch that was pretty tough, and a sheet metal workers union that was likewise careful.

    (Haven’t you changed your picture? Is this now the real you?)

    • #24
    • November 7, 2017 at 7:53 pm
    • 1 like
  25. Thatcher

    Percival (View Comment):
    At one job site, I unplugged an oscilloscope, rolled it on its cart to the other side of the lab, plugged it back in, and got written up for three grievances.

    Yes and an electrician left his tools at the work site, it looked like it was gonna rain so I thought I would do him a favor and pick them up: I was filling in for the regular supervisor, and I collected a grievance.

    • #25
    • November 7, 2017 at 7:56 pm
    • 3 likes
  26. Thatcher

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    At one job site, I unplugged an oscilloscope, rolled it on its cart to the other side of the lab, plugged it back in, and got written up for three grievances.

    Yes and an electrician left his tools at the work site, it looked like it was gonna rain so I thought I would do him a favor and pick them up: I was filling in for the regular supervisor, and I collected a grievance.

    The shop steward was a real piece of work. Everything I ever gave him was wired backwards and had to be redone. I don’t know whether it was incompetence or dyslexia.

    • #26
    • November 7, 2017 at 10:14 pm
    • 2 likes
  27. Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    At one job site, I unplugged an oscilloscope, rolled it on its cart to the other side of the lab, plugged it back in, and got written up for three grievances.

    At a trade show in Chicago, we started taking our booth down so we could go home, but a Teamster showed up and made us stop and wait for a union guy to do it.

    McCormick Place, probably.

    A few months ago I read an article about the crooked practices that go on there. It seems that McCormick Place is run by kind of a union/mob alliance. Chicago apparently has lost a lot of the convention trade because of exhibitors being ripped off.

    Yes, it was McCormick Place. We were hungry and just wanted to go home. But we had to sit there for one hour waiting for a Teamster, and we weren’t even allowed to put one item into a box. It was ridiculous.

    • #27
    • November 7, 2017 at 10:25 pm
    • 5 likes