I briefly watched part of a documentary on striking coal miners in 1973 recently , and it got me thinking about unions.
I'll state up front, I've never been a member of a union, and I'm sort of anti-union. I think they were important and useful when they were created, but I question whether they've outlived their purpose, and whether they can still be considered to truly serve their members.
In the past 5 years, we've seen at least one union drive a company out of business (Hostess Brands). As a voter at annual Town Meeting, I have to approve budgets that contain bargaining agreements that ensure raises through the following five years. In today's unstable economy, it doesn't seem prudent for a company--which a town essentially is--to be guaranteeing specific raises and pensions well into the future when we have no idea what the future will bring. With our new president, it seems very likely that local aid to towns will be cut, but those bargaining agreements will have to be funded nonetheless and the money will have to come from cuts to other programs. Luckily for my town, no one sees the town as a profit enterprise, our finances are public knowledge and everyone comes to the table with reasonable expectations.
But company finances aren't always public knowledge. Workers--and I see this at my job--take perks such as paid health care and vacation days--for granted. They do not consider them as a part of their salary. They see the company as a cash cow, with no real idea of the weekly expenses. Payroll, payroll taxes and worker's comp are the single largest expense the company I work for has, and that is almost certainly true for most companies. So you can see why, when unions put pressure on large industries for increased pensions and raises and insurance, those industries move their workforce overseas.
I do not feel that the unions have worked wholly in their members' interests at times. If constant demands for increases lead to fewer jobs--or none at all--can that really be considered serving your members? And yet you never hear union members complaining that the union did them a disservice. It's always the company's mismanagement. And now almost the entire middle of the country is bemoaning the lack of factory jobs, but those factories either shuttered or moved overseas in large part due to payroll costs. I'm not president, and I don't have a solution, but it does seem that if a company is telling its union it can't afford increased pensions or what not, perhaps the union should listen.