Most respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll said unions play a negative role in the local economy.
Nearly 80 percent said unions role was negative, while 14 percent said unions are good for the local economy and 8 percent said their effect is neutral.
Union membership nationwide rose in 2008 for the second straight year—and by the largest amount since the 1980s. Among the states, New York had the highest union membership rate—24.9 percent.
Of the poll respondents, 17 percent said their households included at least one union member.
Roughly 810 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
In your view, do labor unions play a positive, negative or neutral role in the local economy?
Do you or does a member of your household belong to a labor union?
Here are some readers’ comments:
As an architect, I am quite familiar with union labor in the construction industry. They are all highly trained and skilled and perform effortlessly. They are a positive influence because they all work together to produce the best products at the best price.
I firmly believe the labor unions’ power over our elected officials is the biggest reason for our government’s inability to cut costs/spending. That, in turn, results in higher taxes, which then cause people to seek other states to live and work—a real-world death spiral for New York State.
Not only do unions have a negative effect on the local economy by driving up costs on almost all government projects through the prevailing wage laws, which drives up taxes, they have virtually bought the state Legislature and the Congress. Unions are the primary reason that so many businesses and jobs have left the state and the country. They have driven the cost of pensions and other retirement benefits out of sight and demand more and more from the taxpayers. Under the pretense of protecting the worker, they have destroyed many more high-paying jobs than they ever protected. Now they are demanding universal health care. It must end, or we will all end up in a socialist society—which is happening right now. Wake up!
—Bob Brinkman, chairman, Brinkman International Group
I believe unions played a significant role during the Industrial Revolution, but they long ago lost their usefulness and have turned into bloated organizations more interested in maintaining their infrastructure than their members’ well-being.
Unions are providing opportunities such as apprenticeships that allow new workers to acquire skills that are critical to our economy and society. They have also been a counterbalance to poor management at many large companies around the country. They do not have a great track record at making this country cost-competitive, but locally I do not see a negative impact. I have long felt that the need for unions would be eliminated if management addressed the needs of its workers. Unionism has dropped over the decades due to companies taking the lead in providing for its workers; sometimes only because the government forced them to. The current trend toward more union membership is indicative of backsliding in this area. To those who dislike unions, I suggest you eliminate the need for them.
—Bill Lanigan, Chamberlin Rubber Co.
I did belong to labor unions and found that they did not do any more for me than a good, reputable company. I guess they are good for companies that do not want to take care of their employees. I now see the big unions running business into the ground with their demands versus working with the company during hard financial times. They always want more and more; sometimes finances do not dictate that. Also, the pay scales do not foster pay for performance; hence many workers get away with poor output and still get big raises. I believe the pay structure of unions should change to pay for performance.
—Judy Pfoltzer, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics
Unions are a negative force in the employer-employee relationship. They encourage the situation to be confrontational, add to the expense of doing business (for the company and the employee) and add nothing to the interpersonal environment, the productivity or the profitability of the business. They are a drain on our businesses. They make a profit, causing problems.
—Bob Vance, the HRM Group
Unions definitely had their place and time in society, but that time has passed. It has turned into a money-eating machine that survives only to support itself.
At one time, labor unions played a vital role in creating rights for the working class. Today, however, the unions are all about making more money and getting more power for the union bosses. There is no concern about the health of our economy.
If people just knew their own social history, they would know the important role that unions have played in this country.
—Cris Zaffuto, president, CSEA, Monroe County Unit 7400
Unions stop progression of people who want to achieve more than the status quo and increase mediocrity of employees.
The era of big unions (except for unionized government workers) is over. In the book “Good Capitalism/Bad Capitalism,” the authors change the three drivers of capitalism from Big Government, Big Business and Big Unions of the ‘50s to ‘70s to Big Government, Big Business and the Big Universities of today. The advent of the non-bankrupt Asian car companies being more efficient with non-union workers in the Southern United States has created the irony of these non-unionized autoworkers bailing out their higher paid unionized workers in the North. Unionized nurses and physicians in Canada have gone on strike. We’ll soon see if the UAW on the board of GM (Government Motors) will ever "vote a rod unto themselves." The unions got Obama elected and the pre-bankruptcy government bailout of GM was payback to the UAW who didn’t have to renegotiate their contracts. Much of the stimulus package is just a temporary bailout of the state governments and their unions. What will the states do with their unions when the stimulus runs out? We can’t borrow our way to prosperity. We can’t spend our way to wealth. My grandchildren will know who to blame.
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
No, sorry, but most of my family, including myself, had to work very hard for what modest economic success we’ve been able to achieve. Our parents and we paid for our education to further our economic wellbeing and secure our future. On the other hand, many (not all) of our union brothers and sisters paid dues to a quite a few liberal-oriented organizations that adopted the attitude that sucking the life out of a community through taxpayer funding of government union worker’s payrolls—including the infamous teacher’s union—was somehow going to make all of us more prosperous and give us all a higher standard of living and more financial security. How far from the truth is THAT! The municipal workers unions, some of the industrial labor unions and the teachers unions have done nothing but throw temper tantrums and called foul each and every time they have been even asked to share in the burden of balancing any of the budgets from which they enjoy the largesse of the taxpayers. Of course they have a negative impact on our local economy. By adopting a "not me" attitude in offering up any substantive cost savings, they are effectively suppressing the economic well being of any number of non-union workers who MUST take the hits imposed by their management. If and when our political leadership gets any "guts" or whatever you want to call them, the unions will join the rest of us real working people and maybe we’ll even see some growth for everyone.
There are the people who own the bus, and people who drive the bus. They are the famous and they are the money makers. We must remember that there are hundreds and thousands of workers who build all of the individual parts, then assemble, and maintain the bus. There are the workers who make all of the tools that are needed to make all of the parts. The there are the workers who drill for the oil to run the bus, and the workers who refine and ship the oil. Without organized labor unions, all of these workers would not be able to afford a ride on that bus. Then there are the public servants. They make sure that the roads are built and maintained. They make sure that the roads are safe to drive. All of these workers are also the consumers. Without organized labor unions, we would not be able to afford a ride on that well-built, well-maintained bus, as it rolls down the safe streets.
—David Zimmerman, Rochester Police Locust Club, union member since 1977
The teacher’s union is the worst, in my opinion, making it so difficult to objectively evaluate teachers, and quickly and appropriately deal with those who are not competent—or, worse, are a danger to our children.
Forty-eight states are in the red due to the "Great Recession." The excesses on Wall Street, deregulation and outsourcing of good jobs coincides with the decline in unions. There is ample evidence that the power of Labor Unions in the second half of the 20th century was the most effective check on corporate power and their excesses, and without that check they have given us the "Great Recession."
I think unions, in general, are the reason we are in this economic mess. Looking at the two states—California and New York—that are in the worst financial condition, they have a couple of things in common. One being that they are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 with the highest percentage of union workers (New York is No. 1). In New York State, we have superintendents of schools retiring at 55 and receiving $130,000 a year for life. Why shouldn’t they be forced to retire at 65 or 67 and then receive the $130,000 for life. We have teachers retiring at 55 and getting more than $50,000 a year for life. Again, why not force them to retire at 65 and then get their $55,000 a year for life. Not that long ago, the retirement was 62 or 65, and the average person lived to be 70 to 72. Now the public sector union employees are retiring at 55 and living to be 85. In some cases, people are drawing pensions for 30 years after working 30 years. I wonder how many people realize how underfunded these union pension systems are? To make matters worse is the fact that a good percentage of these NYS employees spend their pension dollars in the southern states, so we as New Yorkers are losing on that side, as well. In the construction trades, union leaders give their union contractors as much as $10/man hour for "market recovery money" when they bid on private work. Why aren’t they made to do this on the taxpayer-funded projects so we as taxpayers can see the savings, as well.
—Floyd Rayburn, president, FG Rayburn Mason Contractors, Inc.
We do not need labor unions anymore. All the reasons they were created for in the first place have governmental organizations to support the American worker now. OSHA exists for workplace safety, and any worker can call anonymously to complain about poor working conditions. Family Medical Leave Act exists for medical conditions in which you need to leave work. Discrimination laws are in place. The government has made all these and they work. I have also firsthand witnessed the unsafeness of unions in Monroe County Parks Dept. I was working as a seasonal worker in Mendon Ponds Park. A fulltime employee fell asleep while driving a gigantic lawnmower he hit a tree and chopped it right in half with a 20 foot lawnmower wing. This tree was about 6 inches in diameter. He claims he wasn’t asleep. This was the only tree in about a 1,000 square foot area. How can you not see it unless you are asleep? What if that had been a person? Or a child?! You know what happened because of the union rules he would have to make that exact same mistake three times in a 30-day period to be terminated. SO he wasn’t. This employee has committed many similar mistakes, but not the exact same ones three times in a row in a 30-day period. All of which had the potential to severely hurt or kill someone. So he is never going to be terminated. Even though each time he commits one of these mistakes it gives him that much higher of a probability of hurting someone since he hasn’t already. Competition in the workplace is a good thing; it keeps people on their toes and creates ingenuity. If you suck at what you do, you shouldn’t be doing it. Let someone else have a fair chance at it. Just because you have done the job for 20 years and sucked at it isn’t fair to the rest of the people who want that job and would be better. You are just keeping the job now for the benefits of not being terminated and the higher wage for being there for so long. Unions are supposed to be about fairness, but they aren’t fair. Don’t even get me started on the organized crime and bribery that comes out of unions. If you think that’s gone, then you’re just being arrogant.
—Eric Cornwell, Weco Manufacturing
The fact that I belonged to a union is what enabled me to go to school and get retraining and get back in the job market after the corporation I had worked for, Delphi, chose to outsource much of its work to foreign countries. After we gave up concessions to save our jobs, were loyal and dedicated workers, this company who mismanaged their business chose to leave many American workers in the lurch. God Bless the UAW. In solidarity.
With the advent of today’s labor laws, occupational health and safety laws, minimum wage and anti-discrimination laws, the union movement has achieved most of its important goals. Thus, in today’s economy unions are a neutral factor: while they help some members in some grievance situations, they also siphon funds away from workers’ pockets. Thus, neutral. Except that in public employment, and particularly in education, they have become a decidedly negative factor—not only by inflating personnel costs above market levels and above what should be affordable tax levels, but also by perpetuating mediocrity and by turning school boards into little more than labor contract negotiators. This taxes children and the quality of their experience and education as much as it does the taxpayer. The price that is paid for the distortions of public entities by union political power and cost inflation is that New York’s economy has been brittle in the face of economic changes globally and nationally, with a singular inability to adjust its priorities and spending and tax levels intelligently to foster a positive business climate.
—David Lovenheim, managing director, Keystones Global LLC
Good wages and steady employment are a bonus to the local economy. Those who can remember may recall that as long as Kodak and Xerox were steady employers, the local economy was more steady. Now, unions need more and more to replace the prior perceived steadiness, since businesses have shown to be uncertain and unreliable providers of good wages and benefits for their workers. However, I would like to see a more cooperative attitude between unions and company management, where both concentrate on the well being of their companies and all their employees (including the CEO), instead of ripping the companies off for their own private benefits. Of course, currently management conveniently blames the unions for all the evils that bad management practices have caused. More workers that spit at the unions would do better for themselves introducing unions to their companies, and insisting that they and the management work toward the growth and strength of their companies and shared fair benefits for all. I remember twice when Kodak management granted themselves more than 20 percent raises and gave nothing to their workers. Of course, they would have vehemently screamed at a 2 percent raise for the workers. Yes, unions can be a great asset, and even greater in cooperation with enlightened management.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
Labor unions served a purpose when government overlooked abuses in the work environment. We now have excessive and redundant regulations by both the state and federal agencies. Today, labor unions create a polarizing and adversarial environment in any enterprise. Their work rules and seniority privileges tend to (actually, they do!) delay or in many cases stop improvements in productivity. As a consequence, enterprises are forced to outsource and import materials and services as a means to maintain competitiveness, and counter threats from unions’ aggressiveness. It takes two to tango! But, much progress has been made in private enterprise unions out of necessity (e g; UAW). The real challenge to our wellbeing is the out-of-control government employees. The benefits and retirement packages are totally out of line with reality, and our elected representatives are now pawns to the organized public labor unions. The work rules prevent productivity improvements, and also are barriers to weeding out sub-standard employees to the detriment of those who actually perform and deliver quality and value. Unions are now powerful and uncontrolled contributors to candidates for election. I will add that there is a practical necessity to public employee unions due to the unprofessional and political behavior of some elected and administrative functions. A good example of this can be found in local volunteer school boards that tend to permit malfeasance in polarizing the teacher vs. administration roles all to the detriment of our students. The threats to administrative retaliation are real thus necessitating unions. Opinions on the will vary, but the consequences are real and irrefutable.
—Dennis Kiriazides, Xerox, retired
So 36.8 percent of government employees nationwide belonged to unions, versus 7.6 percent of private-sector workers? Any wonder why government spending is out of control at the federal level and here in New York. I’d bet during contract negotiations between the liberal bureaucrats in government and the union bosses, they all sit on the same side of the table.
—Mike Charland, Liebel & Merle Sales, Inc.
Labor unions were a necessity before workers’ compensation and the many local, state and federal labor laws that are currently in place. With these stringent labor laws, there is minimal need for unions today. One of the reasons for economic stagnation in Upstate New York and other parts of the country is the abuses of power by labor unions. Unions that dominated General Motors Corp., Bethlehem Steel, etc. helped bring down these companies. I had many friends and relatives who worked for these companies over the last 50 years who related stories of union abuse that helped make these companies uncompetitive. I was a member of a union more than 36 years ago in the auto industry and saw these abuses first hand. Our biggest problem now in New York State is the public employee unions, which include the school unions. They have literally hijacked the local and state legislative process from the taxpayers. Their average total compensation packages far exceed the private sector. The level of taxation which has resulted in Upstate New York is a disaster. The solution for economic vitality for everyone is to eliminate public sector unions and reduce the growth of private sector unions. Citizens should have the "right to work" in any job without a union if they choose.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates, Inc.
Labor Unions continue to play a critical role in today’s economy and in today’s work force. They provide stability and balance to an otherwise lopsided power struggle. In context, we should remember that labor unions are nothing more than associations of workers who unite to protect their collective interests—no differently than when employers join or develop associations solely designed to protect their own interests. Even more importantly is the role labor unions play in the multi-employer world, such as the construction industry. In these instances, they work collectively with their employers to provide safer working conditions and to provide stability in wages and benefits. Imagine trying to "renegotiate your life" every time you completed a construction project and then moved on to another job site with another employer! The facts are—thanks to the ongoing efforts of organized labor, owners and taxpayers alike save money and contribute to a better quality of life for all. During this Labor Day break, let’s all take a moment to give thanks to all those who have come before us and who have fought to bring us the weekend, the 40-hour week and so many other "assumed" benefits we enjoy today.
—Joe Leone, Sheet Metal Workers
Unions are similar to any other social organization. They have their strengths and limitations, similar to corporate, government and religious. Unions, like the other organizations, are needed to meet the needs of its members. At times, those needs are counter to the needs of another organization(s). At those times, the organizations need to negotiate the differences. If they don’t, then eventually one or both will lose members and strength. That’s life!
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results
From my experience, unions hinder productivity and work to eliminate individual accountability—two things that kill a company.
—David Kolczynski, QED Technologies
When I began my career in 1983 as a nurse aide, I actually earned more money and benefits than my own father because I had a union. Granted I had to do a good job and keep my nose clean, but it was still nice knowing I could go to the doctor and dentist when I needed to. It was also nice earning vacation and time off unlike my sister who has worked 18 years in a job without any benefits at all! Labor unions rose to their greatest height when the economy tanked, and jobs were scarce. Today, it appears times are beginning to repeat themselves. I am hearing daily, especially here in Buffalo, of those who are without jobs or lost their jobs to outsourcing overseas. Labor Unions have the strength and the ability to organize and unite against these hard times. We can rally people together and focus on the issues that count the most. Strengthening the work force! You cannot build the economy when your workers are in India, China and Mexico! If you do not employ the American man and woman, they simply will not have the money to invest into anyone’s product. Invest in these United States.
—Lynn M. Knoop
There was a time when labor unions did a lot of good. They were a place where “unsafe” work places could be challenged. They protected workers from unscrupulous employers who had people work extreme hours with little to no additional compensation for the time worked over 40 hours. They protected children from workplace abuses. Problem is today, government has taken on all of these roles! From child labor laws to OSHA and overtime laws that require employers to treat employees fairly. This has left unions in the position of bargaining primarily for salary and benefits. Both of which can make an employer noncompetitive with non-union or offshore companies. To me, the biggest abusers of unions are organizations like the United Auto Workers. Our grandparents recognized the dangers that monopolies bring to a free market and passed laws that prevent anyone from monopolizing an industry. Nevertheless, the United Auto Works did just that! There was a time when every car made in the United States was made by a UAW member. This is wrong—very, very wrong! Now, I have no problem with a United Ford Workers Union and a United GM workers Union. The members of these unions shouldn’t view members in the other as “brothers.” Instead, they should view them as the competition! Every clever thing that the Untied Ford Workers do to make better and less expensive cars should be viewed as trouble by the GM workers. In the end, this means jobs for the Ford workers and pink slips for the GM workers. I guess what I’m saying is, we desperately need to bring competition back into the automotive industry.
—Jerry Lighthouse, C.P.M., CPIM, Advanced Purchasing Technology, LLC
I did belong to a nurses union in the 1980s. The first for nurses in the city of Buffalo. In those days, nurses were treated unfairly, and the union gave us a voice with management for better working conditions. It is sad that a union was needed to give us strength in negotiations. Now I am retired, and not regretting starting the union at the time.
I grew up in Buffalo and watched unions chase the steel industry out of N.Y. Today, the Chevy plant is a ghost of its former self. Stromberg Carlson left here, in part to escape the unions. It isn’t just the high wages that make union shops uncompetitive; it’s also the ridiculous work rules. Now unions have taken control of our government workers. Just like the steel industry, our governments are going broke. The last thing the unions will do is help to reduce government spending. So as long as New York government is unionized, our taxes will go up. Our politicians don’t have the courage to fight the unions.
—Dennis Ditch, president, Delta Square, Inc.
Unions created the middle class in America. As a third-generation union supporter, I know that in today’s global economy we need healthy, growing unions to keep the American dream alive!
—Timothy Jennings, Esq., Law Office of Timothy Jennings
I was a union member for five years at the beginning of my working life. I believe unions served a purpose in the early 1900s when workers were exploited. They are not needed today. Today’s U.S. work force is better educated, mobile, litigious and will not tolerate working for tyrants. Union work rules can shackle private companies at a time when global competition demands flexibility. Union work rules penalize productivity and innovation, and reward mediocrity. Unionization of the government sector borders on criminal. The government is there to protect its citizens, and unionization was never needed in this area. Unionization of the public sector has fostered mediocrity at every level, especially education. Ever-increasing tax burdens to pay for the inefficiency, pension plans, generous benefit packages (which by the way are no longer the norm in the private sector, which the unions in the past demanded to emulate) are the only result. Are unions dinosaurs? No. They are badly needed in China, India, Mexico and all other third-world developing countries. Unionization in those countries can effect the "leveling of the playing field" everyone talks about.
—George Thomas, Ogden
Our economy has been driven by disposable income in the lower and middle classes. Apart from unions, there was no mechanism for steering profits to labor since each worker was on his own against a much larger and powerful machine. Using the historical models of the early industrial revolution, prosperity fueled the economy when all participated. A balanced system benefits employer and employee. Too much power on other side hurts everyone.
—Rustin Bennett, IBEW lu 86
Fortunately the Greater Rochester area enjoys a relatively low union density. However, we still feel the negative economic impact of strong union control in the education and public employee sectors.
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—Frank Cania, SPHR, Caniahr, LLC