Kin Lane

On Being Captured By The Anti-Union Narrative

I’m always fascinated by the power of the anti-union narrative, and how so many blindly we are captured by it. It is another area where I’m stunned by people’s lack of awareness of the good that unions have and can do, but are so heavily convinced of the bad they do. Then, in the same breathe, they will declare to me how much good corporations can do, but completely overlook the bad that corporations have and continue do. In regular discussions with folks captured by this narrative I am regularly reminded that unions are a center of power and corruption! Ok. All of them? And, this argument doesn’t apply to corporations? Yet, we are are so willing to demonize unions, but not corporations in same breathe? Why is this do you think? Is it possible we are caught up in a narrative? Maybe we don’t have enough knowledge to make a decision for ourselves, and rely on the narrative of others to guide us.

Despite being in the AFL-CIO for about one year (long story), I’m willing to admit I know very little about unions, or the history of unions. I can still taste the anti-union narrative in my mouth, planted as part of my libertarian upbringing. However it is a narrative I can smell and taste is bullshit, even without much inspection and research. Meaning, I know enough about this to know I don’t know what the fuck I am talking about when I argue that unions are good or bad. What I do in theses situations, is that first, I shut my mouth in arguments, and second, I begin to work to educate myself more. I wanted to start with understanding what unions have done for us.

If I’ve learned anything from my libertarian upbringing, it is that along with my lack deep understanding behind complex issues like unions, comes with a huge amount of taking things for granted. Realizing that there are many good things in my life I’m completely unaware of, and willing to throw under the bus, for a good conspiracy theory story, or simply a single all encompassing evil that dwells “out there” story. Here are the things I’ve found myself taking for granted regularly in the union discussions:

Weekends, lunch and other breaks, paid vacation, sick leave, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), pregnancy and parental leave, holiday pay, social security, minimum wage, Civil Rights Act/Title VII, 8 hour work day, overtime pay, child labor laws, Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA), 40 hour work week, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, pensions, workplace safety standards and regulations, employer health care Insurance, collective bargaining rights for employees, wrongful termination laws, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, whistleblower protection laws, Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS), compensation increases and evaluations (aka Raises), sexual harassment laws, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employer dental, life, and vision Insurance, privacy rights, military leave, the right to strike, public education for children, Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011, and laws ending sweatshops in the United States.

Yes, I know unions are centers of power and corruption. However, if you are sitting on top of that foundation, isn’t it a little ungrateful to take such broad aim at unions? Sure, there are bad unions. Sure, unions have made some very poor decisions. But, we are all benefiting from these improvements. Next, capitalists will switch to saying that now I’m anti-business—this is the knee jerk reaction. No, I’m not. None of these things would exist without corporations-—they are two sides of the same coin. I’m just saying, quit falling prey to the narrative that unions are bad, when you will not apply the same critique to corporations. Quit being so privileged and taking these things for granted. These things help you. They might not be the thing standing between you and homelessness, or a life and death matter for you, but it is for other people who are less privileged.

Next, I wanted to understand a little more about what some the unions are beyond the classic teamster, mafia, power hungry unions we know through movies, TV, and storytelling. While not an exhaustive list, I wanted to put a face on some of the unions out there, before we grab our pitchforks and torches.

AFL-CIO - The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations is the leading confederation of US trade unions.

  • Air Line Pilots Association
  • Amalgamated Transit Union
  • American Federation of Government Employees
  • American Federation of Musicians
  • American Federation of School Administrators
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Postal Workers Union
  • American Train Dispatchers Association
  • Associated Actors and Artistes of America
  • Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union
  • Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
  • California Nurses Association
  • California School Employees Association
  • Communications Workers of America
  • Farm Labor Organizing Committee
  • Federation of Professional Athletes/National Football League Players Association
  • Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union
  • International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
  • International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers
  • International Association of Fire Fighters
  • International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
  • International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  • International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers
  • International Longshoremen’s Association
  • International Plate Printers, Die Stampers and Engravers Union of North America
  • International Union of Allied Novelty and Production Workers
  • International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
  • International Union of Elevator Constructors
  • International Union of Operating Engineers
  • International Union of Painters and Allied Trades
  • International Union of Police Associations
  • Laborers’ International Union of North America
  • Marine Engineers Beneficial Association
  • National Football League Players Association
  • National Air Traffic Controllers Association
  • National Association of Letter Carriers
  • National Nurses United
  • National Taxi Workers’ Alliance
  • Office and Professional Employees International Union
  • Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association
  • Professional Aviation Safety Specialists
  • Seafarers International Union of North America
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association
  • Transport Workers Union of America
  • United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada
  • United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union
  • United Food and Commercial Workers
  • United Mine Workers of America
  • United Independent Technology Technicians of America
  • United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union
  • United Transportation Union
  • United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers
  • Utility Workers Union of America
  • Writers Guild of America, East

Independent Unions

  • Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association
  • Allied Pilots Association
  • Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions
  • Directors Guild of America
  • Dramatists Guild of America
  • Fraternal Order of Police
  • Independent Pilots Association
  • Industrial Workers of the World
  • International Longshore and Warehouse Union
  • International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades
  • International Union Security * Police * Fire Professionals of America
  • Jockeys’ Guild
  • Major League Baseball Players Association
  • Major League Soccer Players Union
  • National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees
  • National Education Association
  • National Emergency Medical Services Association
  • National Hockey League Players Association
  • National Basketball Players Association
  • National Rural Letter Carriers Association
  • National Treasury Employees Union
  • National Weather Service Employees Organization
  • Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association
  • Philadelphia Artists Equity
  • Professional Hockey Players’ Association
  • Professional Lacrosse Players’ Association
  • Southwest Airlines’ Pilots Association
  • Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
  • United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
  • United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
  • United Independent Technology Technicians Of America
  • World Umpires Association
  • Writers Guild of America, West

I find this list of unions more humanizing. These are people trying to work together for a better collective life. Yes, I’m sure there is lots of power, corruption, and bad decisions made within these ranks. However, I’m guessing that there are also a lot of positive things happening. I’m sure the Jockey’s Guild is up to no good, looking to work you over. You know that the Dramatists Guild of America is all about the drama. Literally. When you look at this list, can you really say that these people are anti-business? Do all of the usual anti-union punch lines apply universally across these? Is the World Umpires Association a center of power and corruption? Maybe we should spend some time getting to know a few of these organizations. Meet a few of their members and engage in human discussion, before we demonize the whole concept. That is all I’m saying.

Corporations are centers of power and corruption. Unions are centers of power and corruption. Government are centers of power and corruption. They are also all doing good things, along with the bad things. They all could benefit from more transparency and honesty. However, us citizens can also not be so easily swayed by powerful narratives coming out of any of these camps. If you had to guess, which one do you think has a larger marketing budget to get stories out demonizing the other, and boosting their own position? Which one has the most polished narrative that ends up in your ear, and ultimately coming out of your mouth? Have you paused recently and scrutinized the narrative you are participating in? Or are you blindly spewing the same tired stories, and wallowing in your lack of awareness of what the reality on the ground is?

Personally, I am just working to continue my evolution out of the dark. The information I’ve provide here is the result of pausing for a few, and just Googling—it, which isn’t research. I’m going to continue my quest to understand unions, as well as the anti-union rhetoric, and where it might be coming from. I know enough to know I don’t know shit about unions. I know enough, that I should keep my mouth shut when it comes to pro or anti-union discussions. I know enough to know that even pausing and Googling isn’t enough. It is continued evidence that need to read more books, across a diverse range of domains and perspectives, and study the history of how we got here. Only then will I be able to help contribute a meaningful narrative regarding the state of unions in this country. I refuse to be ignorant any longer, and be swept up into the narratives that the centers of power and corruption put out for us to feed on.