The unions in this country need to find a new ideology if they want to gain back the respect of the people. Personally, I would start with the word “union.” It conjures up images of the mob-run unions of decades past. “Organized labor” is a better choice. Organized labor organizations could be five times what they are today, as long as they were responsible and did the right thing by their members. Leaders today feel that the only way they can stay in power is to protect and support members who would normally be fired for not doing their job. Maximizing pensions and income would be a much better focus. It might take fifty years or more to get the unions straightened out for the whole country, but if we don’t start now, it’ll take a lot longer.
The unions in this country have done a great job of elevating the working man, but they’ve also helped their members lose jobs. They aren’t entirely responsible by any means, but it’s important that they take responsibility for their missteps. Here in Oregon, the unions took advantage of their members by taking too much money from them and spending too much on political lobbying. Many members disagreed with this, which caused them to lose faith in the union.
Lowering the rates for union members is a good start at reform. Instead of putting money into elections directly, what about companies giving employees credit that can be used to fund whatever political organizations they support? That way no one would be spending money in a way that might upset certain members.
People Bad at Their Job Need to Be Fired
Another policy that should be revisited is prohibitions on firing. For example, teachers in the public schools who don’t do their job shouldn’t maintain their job security. In Chicago, 70 percent of the teachers in the union voted to get rid of underperforming teachers, but then the union leaders went to court and stopped it. This is a case of the union not listening to its members and allowing the few bad apples to bring down the rest of the group.
This doesn’t change the union’s obligation to their members when they’re let go from a job. It just means that they should assist them to find a job that suits them better. A worker can still file an appeal if they believe their termination was wrongful, but this should be done after they’ve been removed from their position, not before. They can be paid for 90 days while their appeal is filed and while another position is sought, but removing them from the job where they’re underperforming as soon as possible is a vital first step. In many cases, a better job can be found, and most people will be able to keep the benefits from their old job.
Switching Pensions for 401(k) Plans
Instead of bleeding their communities on a pension system, unions should look toward a 401(k) answer for retirement security. The taxpayer should get enough to live comfortably when they reach retirement age, and this system rewards those who put off retirement. This is how they saved Detroit from the unlimited pension system that bankrupted the auto industry—they were allowed to fire underperforming workers and now steer workers into 401(k) plans.
Unions Need to Earn Respect Once Again
Unions need to gain back the respect of their members as well as companies. Many companies have moved operations out of the country, and one of the main reasons (besides cheaper labor and taxes) is that they don’t want to deal with the unions and their demands. When a manager or owner of a company can’t even talk to an employee or order them to do something and are forced to talk to their union rep instead, this doesn’t go over well to people who are trying to build a business and help their employees. One of the reasons companies like Google and Microsoft are so productive and innovative is that they aren’t stifled by organized labor’s leadership.
Unions should be allowed to have open voting if their leadership proves themselves to be irresponsible. Elected leaders who are not paid are needed to steer the organization correctly. It should be an honor to be chosen as the president of a union. As of now, expensive executive directors, expensive hired lawyers, and members are doing the work that should be done by elected leaders.
Reform Won’t Be Easy—But It’s Necessary
One right that I think is important is the right to protest. Unions and union members should be allowed to disagree, as long as it’s in a non-violent manner. Their right to have a difference of opinion and express that difference should be protected.
If organized labor leaders step up, take responsibility for their past missteps, and pledge to support their members going forward, we can begin the process of reform. Let’s build organizations members can be proud to be a part of and make organized labor great again.