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Unions Need to Instill a Work Ethic

December 7, 2000
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Related Topics: Unions, Labor Relations, Featured Article
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I

don't really hate unions, honest. I just don't like what happens toslacker-prone workers when they belong to one and I don't like unions that gettoo big for their membership. 

   Years ago, I worked for an excellentCanadian airline carrier as a sales agent and I still consider this the best jobI've ever had. I enjoyed great benefits and the hierarchy did everythingpossible to insure good employer/employee relations. 

   It was a non-union shop but one year, representatives of the Teamsters requestedthe opportunity to recruit membership at our office. 

   Since I was subsisting on a hand-to-mouth existence, the idea of unemploymentgenerated by a union strike was suddenly plausible and my greatest fear. Icirculated a letter and petition throughout the office against joining the unionand in my letter I warned that our working conditions were excellent but ifanyone within the company had a grievance, the union might make us all go out onstrike. 

   The petition worked and the union went away. After I left the company to raise afamily, the union reps returned and this time were successful in completelyunionizing the airline.

   Oddly enough, the salary levels declined and shifted from merit-based increasesto standardized raises. How'd that happen? 

Thewoman who had trained me whispered to me not to work so hard because that's notthe way things were done. Wink, wink.

   Years later, I was employed as a hotel operator and had no choice but to jointhe local union. I soon found that my work ethic was sorely out of place with mymore seasoned union co-workers. 

   The switchboard was located in a closed off room with little supervisorymonitoring. New York hotels are always busy and this was an upscale businesscenter and one of the busiest. The phones were constantly ringing but I knew wehad enough staff to manage swift responses to the incoming calls. 

   What a fool I was. My previous New York Telephone Company extensive trainingbecame totally superfluous. The customer was not always right. In fact, thecustomer should be kept waiting as long as possible so that the phone lineswould be constantly busy. This would then necessitate the supervisors schedulingmore overtime. Get it? 

   I watched the other operators take long breaks and lunches, file their nails,and chitchat while the lines lit up the board. In my first day at work, I hadhandled four times the number of calls as the others. The woman who had trainedme on the switchboard whispered to me not to work so hard because that's not theway things were done. Wink, wink. 

   Of course, not all union workers are like those slackers but I believe that insome industries already regulated by government agencies, unions are ananachronism. Certain service industries, however, still require union protectionagainst employers who routinely dismiss staff based on economic trends ratherthan for just cause. 

   Nevertheless, I wish that unions would make some effort to instill a moresubstantial work ethic in their membership. Employers, at the same time, need toinsist that their management monitor employee performance more rigorously.Contract guidelines usually stipulate any grounds for dismissal, yet thisprocess can be unnecessarily long and drawn out. 

   It shouldn't be so difficult for employers to discharge those not deserving oftheir salary without the threat of a union boycott. I've always regarded certainstrikes as a form of extortion. Remember the NBA players strike a couple ofyears ago? Watching those mediocre millionaire hoop stars delay the start of theseason with their greedy demands turned me off the NBA for good. 

   Don't get me wrong. Some unions are great. But some deserve harsh criticism. Iwrite a political commentary column and many of my readers are rank and fileTeamster members who emailed me during the past election year to vent theirfrustrations. They feel the union's support for the Democratic NationalCommittee did not serve the members’ interests. 

   They get adequate medical and benefits for their family but imagine what that$25 million donation to the DNC would do for the membership coffers if not forthe political ambitions of their union officials. In fact, they're mad as helland they're not going to take it any more. Can't say that I blame them.

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