United We Stand? Are Unions Still Relevant Today?

What are your views on the effectiveness and usefulness of Union organizations and the decision to go on strike to achieve their goals and demands?

The role of unions, and their relevance, has changed over the years. Personally, I’m of the mind that certain industries still justify their existence, while other do not. But one thing is certain – once a union is formed, it will not go gently into that good night. Like any other group, they are loath to disband, ever.

I have mixed feelings. As a believer in the individual, I will always support a persons right to make the best deal he can in his/her industry of choice. If acceptable terms cannot be reached, my first inclination is not to unionize or strike, but to simply seek out another industry. Let the larger law of supply and demand sort it out. Easier said than done, I know, but joining organizations of any kind is not my first choice, personally.

We are now competing in a world market, and the standards most unions attempt to uphold are making it difficult to compete globally. So we’re forced to choose between the workers standard of living, and the competitive strength of his employer. Tough call, and one that I’d never try to make in a vacuum. (Is the striking union providing service to a public company? How will the shareholders be affected? Am I a shareholder? Are we talking about air traffic controllers, cops, textile workers, or teachers, or in my case, actors? Will a strike bring riot, or simply more reruns and reality shows? The stakes are different.)

Jay Leno invited me back onto The Tonight Show before the writer’s strike had been resolved. Tricky business. I’m not a member of WGA, and Discovery is not a signatory, but I am in their sister unions – SAG and AFTRA, and sympathetic to their cause. I also had friends in those picket lines, and had to decide whether or not to cross. In the end, I did, for the simple reason that getting more people to watch Dirty Jobs is more important to me than any other professional issue. (I also have friends in coal mines and crab boats, I decided their stories were more important to promote than any show of solidarity I might have offered.) Now, if I depended on writers to tell me what to say on Dirty Jobs, I would have likely gone the other way, but that’s not the case, and the decision came down to one of personal choice.

Ultimately, a personal choice is what most Unions ask us to forego, in favor of a united stand. I think there are times in life when such decisions make sense. And there are times when they are counter-productive. But in this day and age, there are very few black and white truths regarding organized labor. Times have changed, and there’s little to be done about that.


8 thoughts on “United We Stand? Are Unions Still Relevant Today?

  1. I started as a Union Carpenter and I wish I could have stayed in. In the 80’s Developers and Generals used the Taft Hartley Act to break the Unions in So Cal. Mostly residential and small commercial. I did not like heavy construction and hi rise or sky scrapers were down in L.A. I didn’t want to do steel studs or drywall anyhow. So I made a choice to continue on with what I was doing and the Union was gone. I will have 15 yrs of vested pension, which is not much but a little something.

    With out the Union it’s up to the employer to provide medical insurance, if he wants (key phrase) or a IRA, 401k. In my experience most of my employers, if they did anything they did as little as possible.

    When I was in the Union there were jerk business agents, there was nepotism and it seemed as if the Locals were staffed with kiss asses. It took me a year longer to finish my apprenticeship because I was goofing off. 3.8 grade average, the curriculum was easy.

    I’d like to see another kind of Union because I think it helps keep wages up, and I don’t buy that Unions are greedy, I think that’s corporate PR. Or maybe some other kind of system that evens up the clout. I don’t buy the free market is fair to Trades People.

    Yeah, times have changed but we can tackle the problems and inequalities.

  2. When it comes to unions everyone keeps saying “times have changed”. I agree they have but the need for a union has not. I believe all workers workers should belong to a union and as long as the union must “represent” everyone I believe workers should not be able to work without at least financially supporting the union.

    Look at “AIG”. Those overpaid bastards had a “contract”. A union is simply a group acting together for the betterment of everyone and a “contract”. The stronger the group the better it does. I agree some unions are better than others however, as long as union leaders are elected in fair elections, we should accept and respect the opinions of those voting. The same goes for the strike vote.

    Unions in the USA are weaker today because the employers have the political strength. This is because political leaders are more likely to be company owners than workers.

    In the USA we have “right to work” states. I believe this is fundamentally wrong and actually promotes the undesirable elements in unions. In politics we vote to change leaders when we don’t like the actions taken. In a right to work state, when something is not right, we simply don’t partispate and the undesirable element continues. Right to work states promote bad unions. The greater the partispatation percentage in the union the better the union works. Bill Dameron

  3. I live in a right-to-work state and I thank heaven for it. I think Unions are a detriment to our society. Growing up in the Rubber City Capital of the World, I lived among all types of Union members and my parents were both unionized. Now, many of those folks have negotiated themselves right out of a job. There was a time in our Nation’s history when Unions were a necessity- not so any longer. I believe the individual can do better for himself in negotiations as long as he takes personal responsibility to research and present his case for incomce and benefits. Unions bosses are as corrupt if not MORE so as politicians…. union dues are a waste of money for the average member.

  4. I believe that unions are only needed if the company is unethical. I currently work in an environment that has is represented and the committeemen and the people at the union hall are absolutely horrible. They lie to the employees, tell them that the company could give them more money (which they can’t because it would have to be bargained), and the worst part is they only truly “represent” the people they like. With the laws and regulations currently in place, the union doesn’t help our employees, in fact the non-union locations we have, have better benefits.

  5. Unions were began for a real purpose, they served it very well, but then got way out of hand. I believe that a part of the reason for loss of factory and manufacturing jobs was first and foremost, the trade agreements, which were unfairly titled to other countries over the US. Next in line for blame is the unions who pushed the workers to demand wages that eventually priced them out of the market, and a job. Most union workers have health and retirement benefits that pale those of the private sector. Right now in my state, NY, the unions have helped to cripple our economy. I was told that union members have physically threatened those members who failed to go along with the union mentality. I thank the original purpose of unions,it was very noble, but no longer. Time for them to act like a tree…and leave. Or branch out into something much more lovely and balanced. Quit acting like a bunch of spoiled thugs.


  6. Gosh, were to begin… I worked in a unionized job as a paramedic for the country’s largest ambulance company and found it distasteful. The feeling that was percieved was that the union was only worried about the monies they could gain from the members, not what it could do to help the union members overcome some rather large hurdles. I do understand that maybe some industries they are necessary but it makes me wonder if the individual employees my benefit by not having them. Now I work in a family business, tire wholesale and we have been hit very hard by the chinese tariff. This tariff is designed to make, aka force, the large tire manufactures to produce more tires in the US. The funny part, this tariff was driven by the Steel Union who’s leader is not even an american citizen. But it is only my opinion, i just hope that anybody in a union will think hard and long on the benefits that they may recieve and are they truly good for them and the company they work for.

  7. Gee, it’s easy for you to say this, Mike. After all, we know how you are making money off the backs of workers. Will those workers have the pension and mega-bucks you make to retire on, when they do these “dirty jobs” without decent health care benefits. Most young people these days have jobs without benefits, retirement that unions forced from the hands of corporations with strike after strike after strike. People like you do not know the history, and you are like pimps on the working class, saying you love them and what they do, but not realizing that even the worst union gets more from the employer than they would by bargaining as individuals. You gain what you can by projecting a working class persona, but then pimp for the bosses with this kind of hemming and hawing.

  8. Unions were formed initially, for the common good and to protect. They gained too much power and abuse it now to the detriment of its members in most cases. Unions that threaten the common good like Air Traffic Controllers, Teachers or public workers, although maybe well-intended, do nothing short of hold the public hostage. Talk about something needing reform but it’s too bad there’s not really much we can do about it.

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