Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Problem with Unions

I had been thinking about unions lately and wondering if they have become counterproductive. Then yesterday I heard that autoworkers at General Motors make around $71 an hour when you include benefits. Holy shit! No wonder the company is going broke. This is clearly not a sustainable business model.

And then there are the teachers’ unions, which many people believe keep bad teachers in their jobs and contribute to the decline in education. Before you get all riled up, I support teachers and think they should be better paid. (I wouldn’t teach middle school for any amount of money.) But I also think teachers should be held accountable for the job they do, and those that don’t cut it should be fired—like anyone else.

So what does this have to do with writers or books? Not much. But independent writers have no market protections and no real benefits (which is the case with most low-wage workers). Of course, there is a Writers’ Guild, but it’s mostly for scriptwriters who are already making good money and can afford the $2500 joining fee. Some writers are represented by agents, but an agent can’t guarantee anything. Health benefits? Hah! Paid holidays? Dream on. Livable hourly wage? If I ever did the math on my novels, it would make me cry.

I don’t begrudge anyone else these benefits just because I currently don’t have them. But as a taxpayer (who pays teachers’ and government workers’ salaries), I expect my money to be invested wisely. So if we the people bail out GM, its employees should have to live in the real world with the rest of us where there are no unions, no guarantees, and no one is fighting for you—but you. That’s life.

4 comments:

Wesley said...

Welcome to the Wonderful Land of Michigan. You are upset because you read about the autoworkers? Try living in a suburb of Flint, Michigan, birthplace of General Motors AND the United Auto Workers. Then there is the Michigan Education Association; one of the most strident and corrupt labor unions in the history of organized crime. The members have to buy their health insurance from one company which happens to be owned by the union. They resist the consolidation of school districts to improve efficiency and reduce redundancy in services. They pad new school construction projects. They insure that there are as many administration staff as there are teachers in every district. This state is like living in an East Bloc country under the Soviet Union. Welcome to Amerika, comrade.

Anonymous said...

I had an interesting conversation with a neighbor, who happens to be an author now, who used to be a 'union buster'.

She said there are no union contracts unless the company or corporate administration or government agrees to them.

So think about who is in collusion with the unions. I totally agree with wesley, we are living in Amerika.

Jean Henry Mead said...

My daughter teaches middle school in Salt Lake City, and has to buy her school supplies, including books for her students. Teachers are fed up with the "No Child Left Behind" policies of the Bush Administration, which enhances the "Dumbing down of Amerika."

Bill Cameron said...

The $71/hour thing is a highly inaccurate misrepresentation of the situation. Current auto workers don't make anything like $70+ per hour, even accounting for benefits. That figure was drummed to generate the kind of shock and outrage you expressed, while carefully misrepresenting the math.

What was done is a whole raft of liabilities, including worker wages and benefits, were added up and then divided by the number of workers and presented as "those coddled union workers make ridiculous sums of money! Indignation!"

This is not to say that reform and renegotiation of certain liabilities are in order. But anti-union types are, as is typical, lying about the workers and their compensation so as to gin up anti-worker sentiment. Typically, that anti-worker sentiment is fiercest among other workers. Welcome to America indeed, the place where the real villains whip average citizens into a frenzy against each other, all the while picking our pockets and whining about their stock prices.

We are all too willing collaborators in our own demise.