Are labor unions attractive these days?

I was a little perplexed by the title of this post by Rita McGrath (post here).  Perhaps it is simply my temperament and perception of today’s unions.  Even when I was washing dishes and slinging hash, I never only once seriously considered entering a unionized workforce (I had a brush w/ UPS).

I would find it hard to work in a seniority — not performance-based — culture.   The union label on a product used to mean something.  Is still does in highly-skilled trades.  But too many white collar unions have lost the focus on craft and quality; in fact, they seem hostile to it.  Not my cup of tea…

However, I think McGrath has a point about how greed, bailouts, and globalization may well drive employees to try collective action, bargaining, or representation again:

To me, it’s a powerful testament to the laws of unintended consequences and the idea that every action prompts an equal and opposite reaction. If the ways in which large corporations wield power over their people is increasingly seen as unfair or even illegitimate, we can expect a lot more momentum on the part of labor.

Given all that, does the labor movement look more attractive to you these days?

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Paul,

    It shows how much our world has changed in 20 years. Like you and some of the people Rita wrote about, I used to view view unions as somewhat of a relic from a harsher time when businesses cared little about their people and society offered few if any safety nets.

    Suddenly, it seems as if most white-collar jobs have become more or less temporary for a lot of people. In such an environment, anything which offers the promise of a little safety is very attractive.

    Alec

  2. The public image of traditional labor unions has certainly taken a beating in the past, but I see hope for them if they go from being the hidebound advocates for senseless rules at work to a force that balances out the power imbalances of the workplace. I still can’t describe myself as ‘pro union’ but I sure can sympathize with workers who feel a lack of control or unfair treatment at work. Some of the old ideas – seniority-based promotion, job security at all costs, and inflexibility about hours and tasks – have certainly got to go, having no place in a modern workforce. But there are many new things a union could promote that would make them far more palatable to many constituencies.

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