Common Misconceptions About Unions

The best way to avoid misconceptions and rumors is to go talk to employees who are currently under a contract with your local union. Go to a few stores or plants and talk to a few employees in each. Ask them if they like the union, if they are better off with it than without, and anything else you would like to know. It’s worth the effort to hear it from someone who has seen and used the benefits of a union first hand. Below are some common concerns and false impressions of union membership.

  • Unions are corrupt. Several studies have been done that have demonstrated that less than 1% of locals had corruption problems. Contrast this with a 1980 investigation into corporate corruption by Fortune magazine that found that corporate corruption ran at 11%.
  • You won’t be able to talk to your managers about problems. Even if unions wanted to stop you from talking to managers about problems (and why on earth would they?) federal law mandates that you have the right to go to a manager with a problem without union representation.
  • Unions would lead the company into bankruptcy. Unions are reasonable in negotiating and do not ask for more in a contract than a company can afford. They know that the worst possible disservice that a union could do to its membership is to drive the company they work for out of business. In fact, during hard financial times, most unions will do everything in their power to help companies stay in business. The most famous example of this is the Chrysler bailout in the 80’s – pressure from both Chrysler and the UAW led the federal government to give Chrysler the loans that saved the company. Also, concessions during this time by the union enabled Chrysler to turn the corner and become one of the most profitable companies in the world today.
  • The Union will be like having another boss. Actually, management reserves all “boss” functions (management’s rights) in a contract. So you won’t have to check with “the union” to go on vacation, justify being late, or any hiring or firing situations. What the union does do in these situations is to advocate for you if you feel that management’s decisions are unfair. For example, if you aren’t given a vacation you deserve, the union will do what it can to rectify the situation working with management. (The process by which they do this, known as the grievance procedure, is spelled out in the contract.)
  • You won’t be able to afford the dues. Union dues usually range between two and five hundred dollars a year, depending on the industry, the union, etc. Since no dues are paid until a contract is approved by the employees, employees can effectively insure that gains in the contract will be more than the amount paid per month in dues. Otherwise, the employees can simply turn the contract down and they never pay a cent.
  • Unions aren’t really democratic. All union officials must stand for election. Last year, for example, the Local UFCW in Philadelphia did its best to insure that everyone had the opportunity to vote, even setting up mobile voting “booths” so that they could reach rural areas were as few as three union members might be. And the most important union “official” in your life as a union member, your shop steward, is elected directly by you and your co- workers. Several of your co-workers are nominated by you and the other employees and then an election is held. It’s direct democracy. Furthermore, the employees get to choose members to be on the negotiating team and any contract must be ratified by a secret ballot vote before it is enacted. Even dues increases must be approved by the employees or they don’t pay one cent more.
  • You’ll go on strike. Strikes are actually very rare (Only 1 to 2% of contracts go to strike). The chances are much, much greater that you will end up with a fair contract. The only reason strikes leap to mind is that businesses stress the fact that they could happen in order to scare employees, the media loves to cover them, and the labor movement glorifies them. (Understandable, I guess. Signing contracts lacks the drama. I can see my grandfather now: “Yes sir, I remember the great contract signing of ’34.)