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Pros and Cons of Labor Unions

Published by Nanni on Saturday, June 30, 2012

Photo credit by sushiesque

The argument over the pros and cons of labor unions has been a popular platform for political parties since the unionization boom that occurred during the progressive era of the 1920’s. While the nature and use of unions has changed dramatically since the earliest inceptions of collective bargaining and fighting for safety in the workplace, there is still an incredible amount of differing opinion for and against these workers’ organizations.

There are many points which are arguable pros for the use of labor unions. In their most basic form, unions allow employees to band together to negotiate for better wages and benefits, and to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly by the employer. They even help protect minorities, and other subordinated groups, from being wrongfully fired.

But, some would say that today’s unions push wages to unreasonable, above-market levels that are unrealistic for corporations to grant. This hostile environment can often lead to a stalemate in which both parties find themselves unhappy with the resolution.

Another positive aspect of labor unions is that they give employees an opportunity to become a more cohesive community. Organizing puts the minds of employees towards fighting for the greater good of the employee base at large, instead of for individual gain. This encourages teamwork and cooperation.

However, dissenters would argue that through this collective voice, unions pit employees against employers in a way that is counterproductive to working successfully together and finishing a job to the highest standards of quality. Some even suggest it creates an "us and them" mentality which breeds distrust of management by employees and vice versa.

Of, course, one of the biggest powers a labor union has is to strike. Throughout history, strikes have been used to protect employees against dangerous working conditions, and unfair employers who are unwilling to give the workers what they deserve. And, strikes are still necessary today. Usually this is to obtain fair wages. They have helped employees across the United States receive better benefits and higher respect for the work they do.

Those opposed to striking, however, would argue that long strikes can often cost employees more than what they receive in a new contract. Further, there is always the fear of alienating customers, who, from a perspective outside of the industry, might see the employees’ actions as greedy or self serving. There is a feeling that sometimes unions take for granted already decent wages to strike for more.

In essence, labor unions seem to stand for the protection of their employees, and it is hard to argue that this is not a good thing. But, just like any other organization run by human beings, modern labor unions can be flawed. In recent legislation, there has been a great amount of argument over whether the power of labor unions should be restricted, or increased. Most recently, the Employee Free Choice Act, which moves to make the labor union system more easily accessible to employees, has been met with both cheers and shouts of anger.

What seems to be clear in the end is that, just like any system of governance, unions are something that are loved and hated, appreciated and resented. But, it seems fair, and democratic, that labor unions exist for people to choose whether or not they want to participate in them.

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