Amazon workers voted to unionize, the truth about unions

Kevin

Administrator
Staff member
Over the past few decades union membership has been in the decline. Some people say this is because the United States has fewer blue collar workers now than decades ago. While it is true that we have fewer blue collar jobs, thanks to free trade with nations such as China, there is another reason why union membership continues to decline, and that is because unions no longer represent the working people. A lot of the people who support unions have never belonged to a union, and that is a large portion of the problem. One of the talking points of straight line democrat voters, especially wealthy upper class voters is they support unions and want workers to unionize. But chances are those people have never belonged to a union. If they had belonged to a union, or two, or three unions over their working career they would be anti-union.

My first experience with a union was at a manufacturing facility in Lake Charles. We were a welding / machine shop who produced new parts and repaired old parts for chemical refineries. I was at the facility for almost 5 years, and not once did I see a union representative. We paid union dues yet we did not get union benefits - no union health insurance, and no union retirement. For the most part we were union in name only so we could get work from unionized chemical refineries. When it came time for contract negotiations we were on our own. The union did not send a union rep to negotiate with the company. This was in 1992, the company had been in business for almost 100 years, and had several facilities through Texas and Louisiana. We worked in parts that had been in lethal service, such as Phosgene and Cyanide. We also worked on parts that had used to process chemicals that are known to cause cancer.

In 1992 the company offered an 18 cent raise spread out over three years. This was a raise to the top pay and equaled - 5 cents the first year, 5 cents the second year, and 8 cents the third year. Keep in mind this was a facility where skilled craftsman worked, such as certified welders and machinist. We were paying union dues but did not get union benefits, the union would not help with contract negotiations, and all the company offered was 18 cents spread out over three years, and they were firm on that 18 cents. After several days of contract negotiations the company refused to budge. Our normal work week was 10 hours a day for 5 days, two days off, then 10 hours a day for 2 weeks. So each month we were scheduled off 4 days. When the real overtime kicked in we may not get a day off for 6 weeks, and that was working 12 hours a day. Limiting the number of hours we worked through a union contract was not even on the table.

I finally quit that company in Lake Charles. The trigger that made me leave was when we were working on a part that had been used to make cyanide. I kept thinking to myself, why am I working on stuff that can kill me, and for a 5 cent yearly raise? We were working 10 and 12 hours a day, at the most we would get 4 days off a month, at the worst maybe no days off for 6 weeks - 2 months, take a weekend off then back at it again. There was no life / work balance, just work, work, work, and this was suppose to be a union shop.

The next union I belonged to was a maritime union when I worked on a tugboat. When it was time for contract negotiations the union rep did not meet with the workers first to see what we wanted to talk about. Instead, the union rep met with the company, got the company to look at the contract, and after the company agreed the workers got to see the contract. We were told the company had already agreed to the contract so we could not chance anything. There were times when deckhands were on duty for 20, 24, even up to 26 hours, and the union refused to even talk about it. Deckhands had not gotten a raise in 10 years. When I tried to address something with the union rep my concerns were dismissed. My concerns were that I wanted the deckhands to get a rest period where they were off duty. As it was they were on call 24 hours a day, which meant the deckhands had no set sleep schedule. When I asked the union rep about getting the deckhands a rest period where they were off duty, the union rep would not even talk about it. They spouted off the typical union talking points of without a union the company could cut your pay, cut your benefits and fire you at anytime.

A third place I worked had a union but did not join. This was a large manufacturing facility that had hundreds of people working there, but the workers made barely over poverty wages. The only way they made any real money was through overtime. I stayed at that facility for only around 5 months. This facility was a large welding / machine shop.

Through my working career that spans almost 40 years, 1984 - 2022, I have not seen a single example of a modern union that helped its members. Whether it was 5 cent raises and working 10 and 12 hours a day with sometimes just 2 days off every two months, to union reps refusing to talk to workers about changes to the contract, to union workers making poverty level wages, I have not seen a single reason to join a union. All I can say is if you do not like the pay and working conditions, get whatever training, education, or certifications the company offers, then leave. Getting upset and complaining to HR or your boss about the pay or benefits is not going to fix anything.

~~ EDIT ~~

If I had to make a comparison of the companies I have worked for since the 1980s, I would have to say unionized companies were just as bad if not worse than a fortune 500 company. With a large company the bean counters behind the scenes make financial decisions. you know the company will put profit ahead of everything else, including employees. If you have to sleep in your car and draw welfare for the company to save a penny, then so be it.

With the two unions I was a member of, and the one place that had a union but I did not join, the union worked with the company to keep wages low. Union reps would tell the members straight to their face, look them in the eye and tell them they are there to help workers, then talk to the company and look for ways to decrease benefits and keep wages low.

On the other hand, family owned businesses worked to provide more benefits and increase wages. Think about that for a minute. A small family owned business put forth more effort to retain workers than the fortune 500 companies I worked for.
 
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