According to Investopedia, the biggest benefit of unions is that they give workers the ability to negotiate their pay, benefits, working conditions, and more. This can help make the company a better place to work overall, and actually help increase productivity and motivation. However, one downside of unions that Investopedia consistently pointed out is that they can make it hard to fire unproductive workers. They can also drive costs up because union workers make more on average than non-union workers. While these benefits only extend to workers and the company, there is also evidence that states with more union density are better off overall. According to the Economic Policy Institute, states with the most unions have higher minimum wages, a low uninsured population, and fewer voting restrictions, among other positive things. This demonstrates that unions are good for everyone, even those not directly connected to a union.
The lecture for this week mentioned that companies sometimes resist unions because they constrain what managers can and cannot do. Although not stated explicitly, this applies to the idea that unions can make it harder to fire unproductive workers, which corroborates what I found in my research. The lecture also mentioned that union workers tend to receive higher wages and more benefits, which is consistent with what Investopedia stated as a con for companies. However, there was no mention in this week’s lecture of the ways that unions can be helpful on a community level.
My dad is a member of the teachers’ union in his school district, so I had a chance to ask him some questions about his thoughts on the union. He has mixed thoughts on the union, and most of them coincide with what was mentioned in lecture and what I found through my research. He appreciates that he has access to legal counsel if he were to be fired or disciplined without clear cause. He also agrees with the idea that unions help in increasing wages and benefits. However, he cited the fact that the union protects all teachers, even those underperforming or engaged in questionable behavior, as the reason why he has mixed feelings. He told me a story about a teacher who put on a video for students in class and then watched pornography on his desktop in the back of the room. This teacher was not fired – he was just moved to a different school in the district. Since he was not misusing funds or making direct sexual advances toward students, the district couldn’t find enough cause to fire him that would satisfy the union. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it speaks to how difficult it is to fire teachers when their performance is not up to par.
My key takeaway from this week is that unions are not as black and white as I once thought they were. There is a lot of grey area in terms of how things are handled and there is a fine line between a helpful union and a hurtful one. Overall, though, I still have a positive view of unions, and I would join one if given the chance. I think they do important work in making sure workers are paid and supported fairly, and I want to support that cause. I think the United States has a far too work-centric view of life, and I want to support the idea that people can have a healthy work-life balance and still be a valuable asset to their company.