Unions Have Changed
About the Author: Mr. Conrad is a retired college Economics Instructor who is hoping to remove a lot of the confusion, misunderstandings, and myths that surround contemporary economic thinking.
We used to think of unions as the UAW, Teamsters, and AFL-CIO, but times have changed. Now they’re the AMA, ABA, and the NBA! They’ve gone from being job protection and advocacy for the WORKING MAN, to being job protection and advocacy for the PROFESSIONAL. What does this mean to the economy?
In the US, UNIONS began to gain a foothold in the economy with the passage of the Norris-LaGuardia Act in 1932, which protected them from the abuses of business, and the Wagner Act in 1935, which created the National Labor Relations Board giving labor the right to organize and bargain collectively. These laws led to a surge in union membership and activity which eventually forced Congress to pass the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 to protect businesses from the abuses of unions.
As SERVICE SECTOR and PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS began to flourish in the 60’s, increasingly establishing themselves in the food handling, retail, transportation, and government sectors, the 80’s saw the decline of unions in many areas, especially in industrial jobs.
Most employers disdain unions, claiming that they interfere with production, overstaff positions, and irresponsibly raise wages and benefits. Many workers even resent unions because they feel that seniority rights hold good workers back, job classifications limit learning opportunities, and they resent the dues that are collected and used for purposes for which they don’t always approve.
Those who support union activity see it as the only way to protect themselves from employer exploitation, the financial selfishness of management, and to have a voice in the decisions that are made which affect their lives. Many even see the emergence of non-union shops benefiting from union efforts because employers raise wages and benefits above what workers would receive in union shops to keep unions from forming in their businesses. Even management often benefits from union efforts because when unions win wage and benefit increases, management increases wages and benefits for its own workers to keep them above those of the union. This means that, not only do union workers gain when they bargain for higher wages and benefits, but management and non-union shops quite often also gain.
But, it’s also clear that many of the benefits bestowed upon workers resulted from the sacrifices and persistence of unions, whether white collar or blue collar ~ medical insurance, life insurance, overtime pay, pensions, bereavement pay, maternity leave, sick days, vacation pay, holiday pay, minimum wage, night shift premium, prescription drug coverage, optical and dental coverage, seniority rights, tuition reimbursement, safety equipment, and retirement protections. These were never granted at the benevolence of the owners of businesses. Additionally, unions didn’t create sweatshops, don’t outsource your work, cut your benefits, or replace American workers with cheaper foreign workers. It’s the unchallenged, ill-considered, deeply-damaging decisions of management that implements those practices, and they are often driven by the greed, mistakes, incompetence, and sacrifice of employees to maintain their own positions of dominance. It is very common to see the executives of a business convert corporate success into individual treasure.
Industrial and craft unions have been beaten down, voted out, and even scorned as an anti-union fervor of hostility and derision has replaced the brotherhood and unity of what once was a much stronger bond for hourly wage earners. However, a new group of workers has emerged to take up that collectivized banner of advocacy and influence that strengthens their voices and magnifies their influence with employers, politicians, and the public – the PROFESSIONAL!
Leading the way, with very little embarrassment or shame at their staggering salaries, are the Professional athletes. The NBA (National Basketball Association), the NFL (National Football League), MLB (Major League Baseball), the NHL (National Hockey League), USTA (United States Tennis Association), PGA (Professional Golf Association), even the newly-formed women’s teams in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association), USWTA (United States Women’s Tennis Association), and WPGA (Women’s Professional Golf Association) are all craft unions who bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions with their various leagues and sponsors.
ALPA (Airline pilots), NATCA (Air Traffic Controllers), AICPA and ACCA (professional accountants), as well as SAG (actors and actresses), MU and AFM (musicians), and AAUP (university professors) also join FOP and IAFF (police and fire associations), APICS (American Production and Inventory Control Society), NAPM (National Association of Purchasing Management), APWU (American Postal Workers Union).
IIAA (Independent Insurance Agents of America), RIMS (Risk and Insurance Management Society), NASW (National Association of Social Workers), ACCE (American Chamber of Commerce Executives), BPW (Business and Professional Women’s Association), UIA (International Union of Architects), PAII (Professional Association of Innkeepers International), IFPTE (International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers).
Then, some of the huge membership groups who greatly influence policy and practices: APA (American Psychological Association), ADA (American Dental Association), AMA (American Medical Association), ABA (American Bar Association).
These listings were not meant to be comprehensive by any means because there are THOUSANDS, perhaps TENS of THOUSANDS, of these groups throughout the country. While many of these may not “technically” be considered UNIONS because they often collect fees instead of dues, they don’t bargain with a specific employer, and they even call themselves associations, leagues, organizations, and societies, they still provide many benefits to their members that UNIONS provide.
There are magazines and newsletters published specifically for these organizations that alert them to trends, laws, and new products; there are membership rosters distributed, conferences, seminars, and social gatherings sponsored for their attendance and interaction; advice, research, and legal counsel is provided; discounted benefits and educational services; very active and extensive lobbying efforts are maintained; advertising, consultants, hiring services, investment counseling, and even special vacation plans are offered to members.
Another wonderful feature is that their BUSINESSES most often pay the membership fees and costs to belong to these organizations so that these expenses are fully tax deductible. If you are actually a UNION member, the cost of dues come out of your earnings and are NOT tax deductible except for that part which exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). So this not only makes membership in these organizations stronger and less of a personal sacrifice but it allows them to pass on the cost of funding to consumer products and services. NOW you know why there are so many LOBBYISTS in every legislative building in the country!
Union members who used to, and many still do, walk the picket lines to get improvements in wages, hours, and working conditions have, in great part, been replaced by lobbying and representative organizations who do the work for them. With tax deductible expenses, extensive outreach programs, nearly limitless resources, incredibly abundant financial contributions, and protections of their PROFESSIONAL status through licensing, certifications, and other legally conferred credentials, these NEW UNIONS are strangling, embellishing, dominating, freeloading, extorting, and victimizing the American economy in ways of which we are often not even aware.