Unions: A Delicate Balance

Unions are a hotly debated topic in the political arena. Some find them to be business killers, while some find them to be saviors. It would be worthwile to employ our Third Way strategies and consider the values behind the Union vs. No Union stances to see if there is a new way to meet more values on each side. Readers not familiar with the Flexitarian Philosophy of the Third Way can become more acquainted with it's ideas in the links provided here 1) 2) 3) 4)

Pro Unions

The following are the micro arguments/positions that union advocates take when they say unions are good. Later we will compare the concerns and values represented within these micro positions to see if there is a better way to approach this highly polarized discussion.

  • Better treatment at work

The business owner has a goal, which usually involves lots of success and growth. To get there, he will need to be prepared to work with his employees to manage the working ecosystem while it is growing into success. History has shown some business men will treat their workers as property and ignore their imput on how to get things done. While the business owner ultimately has the right to make decisions about the direction of the company, the more they ignore the complaints of the workers, the more it feels like serfdom and not free enterprise.

Unions unify the worker into a large, organized collective. Should a business owner violate an employee's rights by, for example, sexually harassing them, it could be very difficult for that one person to bring the grievance up within the company to other higher ups. However, being in a union allows the worker to communicate the grievance and get massive support in seeing the grievance to it's appropriate justice. The same holds true for working conditions that are obviously degrading. One worker complaining might feel like they are insignificant and probably replaceable. A union of workers who recognize the shotty work conditions represent a much more powerful force in bringing change.

  • The Importance Of The Worker Is Celebrated

For companies that profit in the billions, their products are built by thousands and thousands of workers. Without the workers, there would be no company or product. Therefore, Unions try to take pride in the work the employee represent and they demand the business owner to give credit where credit is due, usually in the paycheck department. Union salaries are always higher than non union salaries. They also receive better benefits such as pension plans, less overtime and more vacation time. The thinking is that if all of these workers can work together to make a product or service that generates billions in profits, at least some of those profits, even ten percent, should be distributed down through the work chain and not left to the CEOs and management.

The importance of the working middle class is also emphasized by Unions. If a non unionized worker would make 35,000 a year and a unionized worker can get 50,000 a year plus better benefits, this bumps a lot of people hoovering between the lower class and middle class fully into the upper echelon. Is this greedy? Hardly, says the unions. Taking a look at income increase over 30 years, the people who are already mega rich (the 0.1% percent) have seen a 300% increase. The infamous 1% of income earners have seen a 150% increase over 30 years. The lowest 90% have had a measly 15% increase in income 5). Thus, Unions are wanting to bridge the gap between the poor and the wealthy.

  • Democracy Is Good For Us, Even In The Workplace

Does it strike anybody as peculiar that our mantra that constitutional republics and democracies are so important to the world, yet once someone walks inside a business the mantra dies out? No one can take the ownership away from the owner, but if we belive in a world where political participation by its citizens is a must, does the participation need to end at the workplace? Unions encourage the process of organizing individuals that carries over into political organizing. Many union members are active in the local government politics, something everyone should be happy to see.

Against Unions

The following are the micro arguments postulated when someone says they are anti union.

  • Historically Significant But Currently Driven By Power

People against unions cannot deny the value they brought in their first inception over 100 years ago. In a world that was transitioning from a predominatingly agricultural first half of the 19th century to the increasingly industrial and modern cities at the turn of the century, America saw that slavery comes in many forms. It was legally defeated by Abraham Lincoln with the emanicpation proclamation, and yet it would be another 100 years before the Jim Crow Laws were finally demolished. Not to mention, the workplace in factories represented heinous conditions, 12+ hour work days, and pathetic compensation for such work. Unions played the biggest role in making business owners respect their workers.

However, the movement of unions has led to the creation of federal laws that protect the worker. In 1938, the United States passed the Fair Labor Standards Act which codified much of the goals of unions. The 8 hour work day was established with this legislation, and so was a minimum wage, overtime pay being one and a half times regular pay, and it contained restrictions on child labor from dangerous work or missing school. This should have been the most celebrated moment of Labor Unions, but they continued to push for more unionization. They wanted power, not just workers right.

Then came the Civil Rights Act of 1964, finally putting a nail in the coffin of separate but equal and the seeds of racism. Title VII specifically deals with employers and their now legal inability to discriminate against an employee for their race, their gender, their age, their religion, or their cultural inheritance 6). This is another amazing victory that the Unions helped achieve, but they still want more and more. Most Americans can tell that the historical work of unions has been beneficial. Union membership was around 30% at the time of JFK/LBJ's administrations, and it has only declined since. 1970 saw around 27% membership in unions 7). Clearly, unions have already done their job and now they are sticking around for political power.

  • A Union For You Can Mean Less Work For Americans In General

Unfortunately, unions can only do so much for workers. Most of the developing world does not have unions. Considering the increasing globalization of the economy, business owners are more and more looking to non unionized work forces out of the country. People wonder why manufacturing in this country has faltered. Hate it or love it, unions have made it more appealing to business owners to take their places overseas where cheap labor is plentiful. Thus, the union is a good idea but it inevitably costs jobs. Unions pressure a lot of unskilled workers to be unionized, but if the work in question can be done elsewhere, the business owner will just pack up shop and move. Manufacturing as an industry has been on the decline since the 70s 8).

  • Efficient Organizations Must Remove Bad Workers

Teachers Unions are notorious for having absurd systems in place for principals wanting to fire a teacher. There is no need to waste space here, but rest assured that the process of firing a teacher involves committees, hearings, votes,school board meetings, court room like evidence proceedings and eventually a submission via State guidelines 9). Some schools admit they don't even try to fire bad teachers because the process is so lengthy and ends up costing too much money 10). Who can say this is good for the students or the public funding of schools, except the bad teacher? When unions overstep their bounds, they create problems in the work place, not solutions.

  • Too Much Protection Can Lead To Bad Workers

Ask anyone who has run a business that happens to have unionized workers. Many workers do just fine in terms of productivity and cooperation with plans of the manager. Sometimes, however, an employee pulls the “this activity is not in my job description so you can't make me do it” argument. Which is fine when the activity in question is something dangerous. But when it's as simple as learning a new skill relevant for the job, these sort of entitled union workers irk anti union people to no end.

  • Unions Do Not Unify But Divide

Unions claim they promote democracy. Well, people against unions value more than one viewpoint in the workplace, but unions are not a bi partisan affair. Unions in time have become so intertwined with the Democratic Party, you almost never hear of a republican union member. If you do, that republican keeps quiet at Union meet ups because the purpose of the union as a group isn't to practice democracy, it is to unite politically. Demoracy naturally involves juxtaposing positions and political parties but unions promote only one party. Unions do not encourage workplace unity, they encourage the worker to hate their management. It creates a relationship that is us vs. them. So perhaps unions unify the workers to an extent, but the union worker who holds different views just has to shut up because the mantra is “Democrat, Democrat”!

**Unions (And The Union Mindset) Overdo it To The Detriment Of The Public

At a time when people were under paid and not respected, the Union goal of increased pay for your work was obvious. Today, sometimes the push for “fair wages” get out of control. It used to be that you could retire around 60 or 65 and receive a pension to help you live without work. The pension was usually 50-60% of your salary. At the time, the average life expectancy wasn't too much different than the age you retired. Now, in the California public sector (where unions are highly represented), public safety workers, e.g. high patrol officers, can reach a salary of 100,000 annually. $100,000 is a lot of money. Then consider that California has tweaked their pension plans in a such a way that you could retire around age 50 and have 90% of your salary pensioned 11). While a majority of California pensioners take an actual middle classes amount, this minority beneficiary is no joke. Public safety officers alone would cost California around 1.75 billion dollars at this rate.

When unions talk about bringing up people into the middle class, this is not an example of that. This is an upper class salary and it is paid for by American tax dollars.

The Values: Room For Compromise Or A Third Way?

What can be seen on each side of the argument? Pro union activists see the benefits of previous labor actions in the workplace and continue to pursue labor changes via the unions to make the work environment better. They value a constantly improving work environment for the worker. The anti union side **does** value an improving work environment, but most of their micro arguments suggest they value the success and efficiency of the whole organization more than a better work environment. The fact that they **don't reject** improving working conditions give us a valuable third way to pursue.

There are other values to investigate but some likely come down to the axiom of “agree to disagree”. Unions believe their actions promote democracy while anti unionists believe they promote the democratic party, two very different things. Anti unionists might agree with promoting democracy but categorically disagree with how unions do that. Much of the anti unionist position is merely a critique of the unions dark side. In much of the same way that vegetarians would feel better if meat eaters treated their livestock with respect, people who don't like unions would feel better if their grievances where addressed by the Unions.

The fact that both sides agree that improving working conditions is worth pursuing is where this third way is going lead. In fact, it is already happening.

A Third Way Emerging: Your Happiness Is More Important Than Your Paycheck

Everyone agrees that unions have been on the decline in America for decades. Does that mean the work environment is degrading to an all time low? Not necessarily. Numerous complaints that come out about the labor unions is their perpetual living in the past. They work towards the goals of the past and they work within the confines of the past. The new generation, amply represented by the tech companies that have sprung up, show that a third way is possible by completely sidestepping the entire union/no union argument.

The goals of the union, such as to create a better work place and to celebrate the worker, can be done in more ways then just increasing their net pay. It is like an iceberg where 7/8ths of the ice is below the surface. Superficially, the money is what is important to us and we pay lip service to that fact, the part of the iceberg that is showing. Deep down, however, are substantial needs that will lead to our happiness if they are met. The following movement we are going to introduce to you focuses on the whole iceberg, not just the surface.

The new generation represented largely by the tech companies certainly agree that a happy and comfortable working environment is something worth striving for, the shared value between our two fighting sides. They just don't see the need to involve unions anymore, now that it is abundantly clear that happy workers can be more productive workers. Non satisfied workers apparently cost $300 billion annually in U.S. productivity, according to a study conducted by the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science 12). Right away, we can see how the business minded anti union position and the worker focused unions like this fact. If we make our workers as happy as possible (pro union), they are much more likely to produce more (anti union). This is where the new generation of jobs is taking us, to a work environment that doesn't just get us more money (via the union path) but makes us happier. Take a look at the following businesses and what they are doing to make work **awesome** for their employees.

Whole Foods

For starters, Whole Foods is owned by notoriously conservative John Mackey 13)). So we can expect horrible worker sentiment, low wages, long hours, no benefits, and Mackey laughing all the way to the bank right? Dead wrong. The following few paragraphs may leave you in a mouth agape, WTF position.

Well, you would be right if you said he was anti union. But his workers don't seem to mind. Whole Foods has been consistently voted as a top 100 company to work for in the last five years by Fortune and Glassdoor 14), and seemingly with good reason. The employees at Whole Foods make more than other retail outlets and grocery stores, with the CEO claiming an average of $15 per hour 15), while the entry level tends to be $10. (Interestingly, liberals want to see a minimum wage around $10/hour). They are given an opportunity to have a health fund, which isn't health insurance but money available for the healthcare of your choice (can you see the conservative/alternative in that statement?). They also provide dental, vision and paid time off. Other benefits include life insurance, retirement savings plan, the potential to earn stock options, plus a 20% discount on anything in the store 16). That is a lot of benefits for someone working at a grocery store! Could we call this unionized? Mackey wouldn't let you.

Furthermore, Mackey is a not accidentally running the largest health oriented grocery chain in the nation. He has been a practicing vegetarian for 30 years and now is a vegan, mainly because he knows what happens to animals behind the grocery store shelves. Even with his personal choice to be vegan, he is a grocery retail leader in setting animal welfare standards 17). He practices yoga daily and he is politically energized to make conscious capitalism the real opposition to cartel capitalism (as opposed to the socialism option). Part of his conscious capitalism push within his company is his transparent and giving nature to his employees. Not only is there the above benefits, but whole foods provides coaching for a healthy lifestyle and encourages all of its employees to be as healthy as they can be. The team of workers at Whole Foods aren't rallying around union meetings, they are rallying around principles of sound health.

Mackey also makes all of the salaries searchable within the organization. He refuses to be lumped into the cartel capitalism that has plagued America in the last 100 years, so the salary pay scale from entry worker into management would make a socialist union supporter blush. Front end workers make more than their competitors offer and top management makes way less…wait, are we still talking about the free market libertarian John Mackey?

The CEO also encourages workers to investigate who makes what and they can challenge him as to why someone makes more than them. If Mackey feels they can prove they are worth that, he will give them that salary. The highest salary in the organization was $250,000, for Mackey. But eventually Mackey made his salary a symbolic 1 dollar and he gave up his stock options to charity 18).

To top it off, Whole Foods provides a $100,000 emergency stash for employees to potentially cash in on if something catestrophic happens to them or their family. In the end, Mackey wins by showing he doesn't need unions to create worker unity, good environment, and good benefits.

You can close your mouth now.


Google is the king of tech companies. They also happen to have to coolest work environments in the world. It seems the goal for executives at google was to make the office such a wonderful, all inclusive space that they hope you will stay at work longer…because it really is so damn cool. They created a mystique around how awesome their offices are when guests are required to sign confidentiality agreements at the front desk. You cannot speak about what you see in Google.

Employees eat free food at any time of the day. They have multiple kitchens to choose from and various cuisine options. Google wanted their employees to be able to catch a snack without going to a kitchen, so they also have numerous kitchenettes stationed throughout their buildings. Designed like a literal home kitchen, there is a refrigerator with milk, juices and other beverages. The counter space holds coffee, cereals, granola and a variety of snack foods.

Google also conveniently stations game rooms that house big screen TVs, pool tables, ping pong tables and the like for break time. Other break rooms have things like video game systems. You can get your hair cut at most google offices, in addition to getting laundry and dry cleaning done in case of spills, rent a car (google picks up the tab) if you need to run out quickly, and shuttles to work related outings.

Health is also encouraged at Google offices. Gyms are available for all the regular weight lifting and cardiovascular needs one may have. A rather bizarre swimming pool is available as well, which uses jets to create a one directional current. Swimmers basically swim in place. Massages are provided at a massively reduced rate. Meditation, quiet centers and nap chairs are also available for the stressed. A doctor is on site if anything is going wrong for an employee. Should you or your spouse have a child, males get 6 weeks off (fully paid) and women get 18 weeks (fully paid). Should an employee at google die, their spouse or family can receive 50% of their deceased family member's salary for 10 years. Children get special compensation at 1,000 month extra.

The culture at google is fun and not always serious. Scooters line the hallways because, well, its more fun to take a scooter to a meeting than walk. Many of the walls contain special paint so people can write on them. There is a room that looks like a library but actually houses a secret room. Just like in the movies, the bookshelf swivels on its central axis and reveals a hidden room!

Google provides a unique work structure wherein a full 20% of their job is expected to be filled by collaborating with other people in the organization on projects they want to do. Gmail was a project created in this fashion.

Having been in a google facility more than once, this author has to admit it is the coolest work environment ever. (sources for this description of google come from first hand experience being at google, speaking with an employee and friend at google, and here –»> 19) ))

Linked In

Linked follows in the footsteps of Google and a host of other Silicon Valley type companies who want to make their work environment the best it can be. Like Google, Linked In has the video games and the complete game room; pool table, ping pong, and foosball. You can also play actual sports such as soccer, softball, and basketball at work if you so desire. The offices come with a gym membership, yoga studio if you swing that way, and a stern boot camp instructor in case you can't get off your lazy duff.

You can take 15 days paid time off and 13 days of vacation. There is no limit on the number of sick days. Ask your boss if you can telecommute some days as well and he is likely to say yes. Similar to Google, this company offers one friday a month (so 5% of their job instead of 20%) for employees to work on their own personal projects. Unsurprisingly, Linked In also has great benefits 20). Nary a word about unions, though.

A Smorgasbord of Fun

Rather than fill space with all of the tech giants' fully stocked and holistic approach to celebrating the worker, we will highlight here quickly the coolest of features. Trust us when we say much of what has been said above about Google and Linked In's perks also apply to these companies.Red Bull headquarters feels like a rec room…except there are swings in the office as well. Youtube keeps an artifical putting green available for their employees inside the office 21). Many of the above companies like Google, Facebook, Red Bull, etc have slides in their multi floored spaces 22). There are some companies where they don't even care when you work! It's called an unlimited vacation policy 23), and as long as your work get's done, everyone is happy.

Unions are Too One Dimensional

What did we just learn? Tech companies are blowing the lid off the one dimensionality of unions. Since the civil rights act of 1964 and other federal legislation that provides working safe guards, unions have become polaried around money. More benefits, higher salary, more pension money, nearly all of it revolves around the almighty dollar. This is only one way to measure contentment in the eyes of a human, and people are eagering talking about working at a tech company without a union rather than an auto industry job with a union. They see a brighter, more distinct image of happiness in the working world that provides stress reduction and other forms of happiness beyond money.

While some of these are conditional to the companies coffers, not all of them are. Indeed, this encourages employers to become creative once they realize how little money would be needed to upgrade their work environment to something their employees love.

Consider, for example…

  • Youtube's Putting Green

You can buy a 50 sq ft brand new, high quality artificial putting green for $3.59/sq. foot, which comes out to around $180 bucks 24). There will be used ones on things like craigslist or at your local golf shop. Hand me down putters from garage sales could be $10 bucks, and 10 golf balls at a $1 a piece puts this operation at somewhere between $200-250. Expect high satisfaction from your workers for years with this price.

  • Games

A Ping Pong table can double for a flat surface that your office can use when necessary. It can also hide a pool table. A brand new one costs around $200, used probably as low as $30-50 25). You can buy table top tables which are also much cheaper, closer to $50. Paddles and a fat supply of ping pong balls, another $50 if new, $20-30 if used. Donations could also be a possibility, leaving your range of costs for providing a fun, stress reducing, and collaboration inducing game from $0-250 dollars.

Throwback video games are always popular. You could acquire an old game system, like Sega or N64, for $50 with a couple of controllers and games thrown in for $20 bucks. Video games like this could cost you less than $100 dollars.

Employers can have a field day with these fun things to offer to their workers. All they have to do is look at what is fun in the world outside of work, hereby called the world of “play”, and find a creative way to import it into the working world. Because there really isn't any difference between the two. More on that in a moment. Now that we can see the addition of “play” to the working world doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, let us see how the zeitgeist of these companies reflect the values of the union and anti union arguments.

Finding New Ways To Include Values From Each Side

Key to the Third Way system is identifying values inherent in each side's argument and finding a new way, a third way, that meets these values collectively. In the beginning, we outlined the Pro Union arguments thusly:

  • Unions Promote Democracy
  • Unions Celebrate the Worker
  • Unions create a better work environment

Anti Union positions included the following micro arguments

  • Unions are corrupted by power
  • Provide institutionalized democratic party politics in the workplace
  • Encourage jobs to go overseas
  • Protect bad workers
  • Passes costs onto the consumer
  • They can overdo the negotiations to the detriment of everyone

Knowing what we know now, a number of fears found in the anti union side are assuaged by the new generation's approach to the workplace. Most of the micro positions are really just critiques of the unions and how they operate. With the exception that some of these costs to make the workplace badass might be passed on to the consumer, every other concern is met. In addition, we have highlighted how this cost could be drastically lowered with some creativity and frugalness.

Supporters of Unions have two key values met by this new movement. Employers realize in this new paradigm that healthy, happy workers are the core of their success. It is like Marx's dream come true inside a capitalist system; the worker is most definitely celebrated, protected, and taken care of! In the same vein, employers want their work environment to be supportive of their employee's happiness, not a source of discontent. Work hours are being relaxed and the work space is being accomodated for a less stressful structure. The value of democracy is not really being met here, and this could be a bone to pick for the pro union left. If, however, they are true to their progressive ideals and recognize this is progress in the making, they will happily accept this new way as a better way to achieve their other two values quite well.

Each side has to sacrifice one micro position for this organically forming third way to make both sides happy. To promote the general welfare and happiness of their employees, costs will probably be incurred and possibly passed on to the consumer. The anti union folks would have to let that slide. None of these examples promote the democratic party, although none of them restrict the possibility of democracy as a component. Union supporters would have to accept that they won't have a vehicle for their chosen political party into the work place (which is fine anyway because political parties will be replaced by political ranges 26) ).

When we started this discussion, each side has values and concerns that the other side was out of touch with. If they can each forgo one value, there could be a glorious end to the fight of unions or no unions and everyone would be better off for it.

Work And Play, The Ultimate False Dichotomy

The division we create between work and play is not real. We do it for convenience sake. The immediate duality created lends itself to the idea that they are fundamentally different. So long as you are doing work that fulfills you, it is not any different. If you can wake up in the morning and do the very thing you are doing for a paycheck just for fun, aren't you still having fun? Why does play have to become work when it's for a paycheck? Increasingly, managers and business owners want their employees to feel as though the fun doesn't stop when you get to work.

Can you see how employers can get creative? They can turn the old paradigm on its head. Home used to be fun and cozy while work used to be stiff and official. There is actually no one enforcing this culture except ourselves. Bean bag chairs and yoga balls can be cheaper than some office chairs. Building a tunnel from two distant parts of your office can bring memories of fort building as a kid. Why should we block the things that bring a smile to our face at the work place? Old culture cannot give a good answer to that. The possibilities are endless, and by the looks of it, some day soon we may all like going to work as much as we like going home at the end of the day. If the end goal of unions was to create this kind of fusion between work and play, we are on the beginning of that path and unions are no longer leading the way.

There was a point in time when labor unions were the driving force in creating a safe and humane work space. When we look ahead, we clearly see tech companies leading the way for awesome work spaces, and they are doing it without the help of unions. This is a trend that will continue into the future. The jobs that are disappearing are all the jobs that unions want to represent; education, manufacturing, coal, oil, any kind of driver (truck driver, cab driver, suttle, etc). Robotics will replace a lot of these jobs. Plus, jobs will be created by more and more tech companies to create, manage, fix, and replace robotics throughout our systems 27). Should these trends continue, the pool of union members will continue to shrink and the pool of technically oriented employees and their fun zones will continue to expand.

The Future Of Unions

Tech companies do not represent the fast food workers or the agriculture workers. Unions are no doubt still useful to teacher, coal miners, auto workers and many others. There is still employment out there that drastically needs upgrading, protection, and support. But the culture of unions are failing because they have become solely focused on balancing the scales of money from the front end of the business to the epicenter, where evil management resides. Once we recognize that the tech industry is applying the Third Way Philosophy and bursting open the possibilities, the truth becomes clear. There are a lot of ways to make us happy to go to work. Money is just a slice of the pie. Think about how different the world would be if we could break this work and play dichotomy. Within a couple generations, it could be the norm to go to work and love it. Not just the money, but the massages, the putting greens, the whole shebang. The reality is we are all better off if the rest of the pie *except* the money slice were taken care of, because all money represents is the possibility of happiness. Sometimes that possibility can lead to more frustration and despair, which is what unions will be feeling should they not listen to the new school of holistic work environments.

The offer has been presented by the new generation. There is a new way to meet the concerns and values of each side. Will unions do the right thing and allow progress to continue? Will conservatives even recognize this new paradigm as it emerges? For the sake of the Third Way, we hope they do.

Politics | Political Philosophy

http://www.historycentral.com/sixty/Economics/Laborunion.html). In 1983, the membership in unions slipped all the way to 20%. In 2013, membership looked to be around 11% ((http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

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