Thursday, June 14, 2012


The Agony of Paying Union Dues

Americans prefer not to pay dues to unions but prefer to be represented by union representatives in case there is disagreement with an employer. Unions have a long history in the American workplace and that is why they continue to exist in public and in private businesses. American unions emerged stronger and effective in the mid-twentieth century with the materialization of a form of leadership akin to Soviet totalitarianism (Lipset, 1961). It was a period marked by the rise of realpolitik where attachment to oligarchic rule thrived and dominated American landscape. Oligarchy reigned supreme when the likes of oligarch Maurice Hutchison had absolute control of the Carpenters Union and when Philip Murray consolidated power in the Steelworkers Union (Lipset, 1961). There is much skepticism among workers as to whether unions are delivering the right goods to member employees by either prevailing in the bargaining tables or by providing wages that are consistent with their hard work.

In broader spheres of society, the general public perceives unions as having the ability to reduce existing wage disparities, enhance industrial democracy, and raise output (Freeman & Medoff, 1984). However, unions have two faces: collective and monopoly. Since they have the power to persuade businesses, raising wages give unions the power of monopoly. On the other hand, the collective face empowers unions to bargain collectively so that the employee can be assured of better pay and better conditions. In the collective face the union member enjoys privileges not enjoyed by the nonunion employee. According to Freeman and Medoff (1984), protection from layoffs, 401K Plan, better sanitation, heating and lighting, wage increase, promotion, and other amenities not available to the nonunion member are some of the packages enjoyed by the union member.

Americans may not be supportive of labor unions as has been in the past. However, in a Zogby Poll carried out in June of 2004, 63% of the nationwide participants said they were in support of labor unions. Congress would long have stripped unions of the special privileges and immunities they enjoy had there been public dissent or universal outcry (Denholm, 2004). Union members have every reason to be suspicious of how unions conduct themselves economically and politically. Lack of reforms and failure to disclose union expenditure puts a wedge between the union and union member. The current public sector debate in the U.S. is politically motivated. Debates over union significance usually sprout up during election times. The American union system is stronger and better managed than other democracies. Massive unemployment and broken economies in many European and other democracies gives the American union system a degree of superiority.

References

Denholm, D.Y. (2004). Do Americans support labor unions? Washington, DC: Capital Research Center. Retrieved from http://heartland.org/sites/all/modules/custom/heartland_migration/files/pdfs/15351.pdf

Freeman, R.B. & Medoff, J.B. (1984). What do unions do? New York, NY: Basic Books.

Lipset, S.M. (1961). The law and trade union democracy. Virginia Law Review, Vol. 47, No. 1.

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