12/23/2013

#31 Unions, Double Failure (1999)

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

[In retrospect, I have misgivings about this Rat Rant. I don’t disagree with the general proposition that the existence of a union is a sure sign of mismanagement. However, I do disagree that unions are unnecessary. All human activity is corrupt, so there is no special information contained in the idea that unions are often corrupt.]

A sure sign of a mismanaged business is the presence of a union. Union membership is also a sure sign of a mismanaged career. Here's what the existence of a union says to me:

1. This business is so abusive that the people who work there need Jimmy Hoffa to "protect" them from mismanagement's idiocy.

2. The lives and careers people of who work at this place are so screwed up that they need Jimmy Hoffa to keep them off of the unemployment line.

The recent foolishness in Seattle, the protests of the World Trade Organization meeting, gives us a great picture of the capacities of the second group. Pretty much every one of our great unions was represented in the protesters. While an occasional speaker provided some useful information and analysis, too many were self-serving and simpleminded. In particular, the union speakers were pointedly simpleminded. Their speeches were full of the same "common man" drivel that they've spouted for the last 75 years. Sooner or later, you'd think one of those guys would get tired of being called "common."

A union leader from the American Federation of Teachers was especially proud of that organization's turnout. (Which made me wonder who was minding their classrooms?) Speaking in a pre-riot interview with a NPR reporter, this union representative convinced me that there are far too many teachers in today's classrooms. Students would be much better off spending their days with comic books and video games. Babbling about solidarity against everything from the "unfair" prices for farmers' produce to the loss of minimum wage, unskilled manufacturing jobs, the AFT bureaucrat proved to me that she had absolutely no comprehension of market forces and economics. Without the protection of a union, this particular "educator" would be asking us if we "want fries with that" for a living. It's scary to think that anyone would believe hiring more "teachers" of that caliber would improve public education.

My father was a high school math teacher for thirty years. A big part of the reason he didn't protest his mandatory retirement was due to the declining quality of people he had been surrounded by in his last decade of employment. Even worse, for him, he had predicted this would happen twenty years earlier when the teachers in his school voted to join the union.

In the debate over the arrival of the union, one of the most incompetent high school teachers ever to grace the long lineage of incompetent Kansas teachers had said something like, "When the teachers of this institution join this union, the standards of education will improve. I will stake my professional reputation on that." In my father's finest moment as a professional, he stood up and said, "I'll put my reputation against yours, anytime, and I'll guarantee that, once this school system is unionized, the schools will belong to the teachers, not the students." And he was right. Since that time, the sole focus of the education system has been on those who are employed by that system.

And that's the way it goes for everything that's unionized. From the perspective of a customer, it makes sense to avoid anything that's been touched by union labor. The presence of a union tells a consumer at least two things about a company: 1) the management was so incompetent and arrogant that the employees were driven to join a union to get the minimally fair treatment that unions provide, and 2) now that the company is unionized there is no chance the company will ever get a functional quality control system in place or find a way to convince employees that customers should be treated differently than serial killers.

The usual spiel about unions is "they had a purpose in their time" or "they're a necessary evil." The purpose was supposed to be protecting unskilled labor from the whimsically brutal hand of management. In most cases, what actually happened was another brutal hand was added to management, union management. From a consumer and competitors' perspective, the purpose has turned out to be to protect unskilled labor from losing their jobs to skilled labor and automation, and, if there are any spare resources, from the usual management idiocies. Unions have become a self-serving refuge of the incompetent and, otherwise, unemployable.

Sometime, in the near future, I'm going to write a Rat Rant about how we can determine which occupation will be automated next. One of the indicators is the presence of a union in that occupation.

December 1999

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