The Real Problem With Unions

Ok, so you may be thinking, “What do Unions have to do with Enginerds?” but the reality is there are many unions out there that protect and lobby for engineers. In Washington and Kansas, for example, engineers in aerospace are unionized. Workers in assembly lines throughout the USA are represented by local chapters of national unions. For 10 years I was part of a union and even though there are many pros and cons in regards to being or becoming a represented employee, I know one thing is certain: From the leaders to the constituents, we, the people, are the issue.

You, yes you! The dude who is running every morning to work only to get slammed with extra work and overtime that take you away from your wife, kids and Xbox. You, yes you! The lady who can’t seem to have it all because her career keeps getting in the way of her life, having to prove to the men in the office that she is more capable or just as capable by taking on extra workload. I’m talking about you too old man! The many years of service you have put into this company have made the executives rich yet you dont have enough to retire. Wake up! They are using you to line their pockets. Don’t you know that as an employee you have rights and protections under Federal Law? Stand up and fight!

-Yes Mrs Enginerd. It sounds really good on paper that we are represented and have rights under the Labor Act, but I can’t risk this job!

Hmph! This discourse always drives me mad. When we talk about workplace demands a lot of people turn a blind eye to strikes and protests, keep their heads down and vote yes on whatever contract they are offered. Why? Because they have been taught that they should count their blessings. Society hammers deep into the unconscious the thought that being grateful to have a job means bowing down to the company that hired you, as if we all depended on the charity of our employers to survive. This is where the dissonance lies: the reason the corporations make money and have jobs to offer is because of the human capital. It feeds off the hard work of the people that comprise the enterprise. The workers add value to the raw material by turning it into products that can be sold to the consumer or industries. The resource alone can make a corporation or person rich, but it is the end item made from those resources that ends up bringing in the “big bucks”. Without you, the industrial complex has absolutely no leverage in the market place. We are not lucky to have jobs, they are lucky that we choose to accept them, that we bought into the mantra of “go to school and get a job”.

Hearing people say that they think they have no tools to fight against losing benefits or monetary compensation for a job well done always saddens me. Aside from the extremes of quitting and retiring, there are many steps one can take to let the bosses know who really is in charge, especially if there is a union. Yes, there is someone out there desperate enough to step into your shoes and take over your pay just so they can be better off, but if we all thought alike and valued our efforts alike, there would be no scabs. (And in some cases the collective bargaining agreement prohibits, as well as some state laws, replacing the workers on strike.) No one would be willing to step in if it meant we all lose. The lack of will power to enact strikes and walk outs, the inability to save and plan ahead, and the misfortune of acting like an indentured servant make us all prone to making this mistake; of not standing up for our rights and protect our pockets.

As a Millennial, I am grateful for unions. They helped me create a strong perception of the invaluable contributions I make to the workforce. I am a professional, a person paid highly because of what I know and what I can accomplish with that knowledge. I don’t need them, they need me! After realizing this it was hard to perceive that unions are evil; you can walk away from your desk to fight for your rights. The illusion is thinking the employer always wins. Society has filled our minds with the worry of not working for a big corporation when in fact at some point those corporations were men and women such as ourselves! The capacity to start your own business or partner up with someone is always there. The ability to enroll in business courses or investment funds is available to anyone who can take the opportunity. You can go back to school, get retrained, or get certified in skills you have already learned due to your employment. The sky is the limit if you free your mind and start thinking outside the proverbial box.

Some benefit compromises will seem good short term, but the longer you work at X company the more you will realize that they will continue to cut payroll and medical plan contributions in order to make a quick profit. Many corporations will claim this is done in order for the business to survive but the truth is they could cut their own salaries and make more of an impact to the bottom line. Why should we accept the loss of pensions and voluntary layoffs due to relocation of jobs when they could actually help fund the business they are so desperately trying to protect? Why can’t they lead by example, take a pay cut and help in the manufacturing line? After all the money we make them, isn’t this a reasonable thing to ask of them?

After 10 years of seeing my coworkers accept crappy deals that degraded the true value of our earnings and total compensation plans, I can tell you that accepting yet another cut in pay or benefits is a setback for all of us in the professional and technical unionized fields. By taking away the power of the union and not using the protections granted to us by the law, we play into the hands of Wall Street, who only cares about profit and short term gains. Kevlar took 20 years to make profit, and if it wasn’t for the souls at DuPont we wouldn’t have one of the best materials of the 20th century. If they had cut their budget and booked the loses we wouldn’t have many of the advancements in technology and everyday living that Kevlar has offered. Companies should foster competition but also collaboration in terms of scientific achievement. When our science and technology firms start scrapping projects because of the shareholders perceptions of value, we will start losing some of the skills and breakthroughs needed to fix the issues in this planet and go beyond the known galaxy. Instead of our children and grandchildren enjoying lunar trips or non-GMOs, we will be giving them expensive education and Happy Meals. Good luck living under the leaders of the future!

Please, I beg you, if you find yourself in a situation where you can protect the rights of those who will work in the same company and field as you are now, stand up and fight. Vote No! on bad contracts that take benefits away under the guise of long term returns. What they take away from you now will never be returned. Greed works that way.

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